Ministry welcomes Ombudsman’s report

The Ministry of Education has welcomed the Ombudsman’s report into the use of a ‘time-out room’ at Miramar Central School, and says schools now have clear guidance on the use of physical restraint, while seclusion has been prohibited by law.

“Late last year we released guidance on effective behaviour management to minimise physical restraint and advised all schools that the use of seclusion must be stopped immediately,” says Deputy Secretary Katrina Casey.  

The Government announced at the same time that it would introduce legislation to ban the practice of seclusion. This came into force when the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 was enacted in May.

“We’ve also introduced statutory guidelines and rules to align with the new legislation.  These were developed with the support of a sector-based advisory group,” Ms Casey says.

The Ministry commissioned independent investigations into complaints about the use of seclusion at Ruru Specialist School in 2015 and subsequently in 2016 at Miramar Central School.

The 2015 investigation report made a number of recommendations, including that the Ministry establish a working group to consider the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

“As we’ve acknowledged previously, the Ministry should have acted with more urgency to stop the use of seclusion.  In October 2016 we made a public apology for the Ministry’s handling of the Miramar seclusion complaint.

“If parents or teachers observe any instance of seclusion, they should report it to the Ministry where it will be escalated to the Director of Education for an immediate response.

“We accept the Ombudsman’s finding that we should have provided schools with clearer guidance about seclusion practices earlier than we did.

“Schools are now in no doubt as to our expectations and their legal obligations however,” Ms Casey says. 

Training workshops on how to prevent and de-escalate challenging student behaviour are available and new rules have been introduced that require schools to notify, monitor and report if a student has to be physically restrained. 

Under the rules, parents and caregivers must be notified if physical restraint is an element of a student’s behaviour management plan or if it has been used during an incident.

The Ministry also has to be notified of any use of physical restraint.  This will give us a clear picture of how schools are managing and enable us to follow up with the school and provide appropriate support.

“We acknowledge the distress that this experience has caused the family concerned.  While we can’t change what happened, we hope that the steps taken since the investigation into their complaint provide them with confidence that schools now have a very clear understanding of acceptable practices for managing challenging behaviour and their obligations to keep parents informed,” Ms Casey says.  

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