14 Oct 2016

School that shut away kids used 'outmoded' practices - report

7:14 pm on 14 October 2016

A Wellington school used a special room dozens of times to confine children but did not record every use of the room, according to a report for the Ministry of Education, released today.

The report said the room at Miramar Central School was used for time-out for children in response to hitting, biting, kicking, choking and slapping.

It did not say how many children were put in the room, and the number of incidents in total was not clear because of poor record-keeping by the school.

The report was conducted by psychologist Terri Johnstone after a complaint by a parent in July, who discovered her 11-year-old autistic son had been put in the room on 13 occasions over nine days.

She interviewed 19 staff on behalf of the ministry, and found the room had been used at least 46 times, but some occasions where children had been put in the room had not been logged and there was miscommunication between some parents and teachers over its use.

The report concluded the room should only have been used as a last resort intervention.

READ THE FULL REPORT ONLINE HERE (PDF, 6.2MB)

It found that while the school believed it had the best interests of children at heart, it had some practices that were "outmoded and do not embrace inclusive and effective pedagogy".

"There is a disconnect between the overarching school policy and the special needs unit, as it cannot be assumed the policies that cater to mainstream students are also suitable for students with challenging behaviours."

The school said the seclusion room was last used on 20 September and the door had now been removed, so it could not be used again.

School 'mucked up'

School board spokesperson Pete McFarlane told Checkpoint with John Campbell the room was used about once a week, and was only used for the most "serious, extreme behaviour".

He said the room was used to de-escalate and calm down those children, and was only used for a short period of time.

He said the practice was stopped immediately after the school received the ministry report last week, and the school admitted that it had "mucked up".

"Our record-keeping was not up to scratch and our communication to parents was not up to scratch."

Mr McFarlane said he was deeply sorry for what happened.

But Ngaire Mansfield - whose six-year-old autistic son was put into the room without her knowledge - said it was too little, too late, and she was disappointed that the school's principal still had not fronted up.

"That it took this much media coverage and personal anguish from a lot of people to force some transparency, and for the powers-that-be to take a closer look, it's gone a long way. I think that we and other parents should have had that transparency a long time ago."

The Chief Ombudsman confirmed today it would investigate the use of seclusion rooms in schools.