3 Apr 2015

Boy placed in 'cage' at Canberra school

8:15 am on 3 April 2015

Australia's education minister has expressed "horror" at reports a special needs boy was held in a cage-like structure in a Canberra school.

Officials said the "entirely inappropriate" structure was used as a "withdrawal space" for the child, understood to be a 10-year-old boy with autism.

Education Minister Joy Burch.

Education Minister Joy Burch. Photo: ACT Government

It reportedly measured two square metres and was made of pool fencing.

Education Minister Joy Burch said between 10 March and 27 March the child was placed in a "withdrawal space" inside the classroom.

Words could not describe her disappointment and horror at the situation, Ms Burch said.

"This structure could not be deemed acceptable in any way shape or form, in any of our public education schools, hence it was withdrawn," she told the ABC.

"I have initiated an absolute thorough investigation as to the why and where ... this structure was allowed to be put in place.

"I have also made assurances through the school executive and through our support teams that the child and the family involved is given the utmost support over this time."

The school principal has been stood aside, but the name of the school cannot be revealed for privacy reasons.

The issue emerged last week after a complaint was made to the Children and Young People's Commissioner.

Ms Burch said the student remained at the school and two extra staff had since been assigned.

Diane Joseph from the ACT Education Directorate said it was an isolated example of very poor decision making.

"The space was basically a fenced-in structure inside a classroom," she said. "It was entirely inappropriate and unacceptable, and the structure has been removed.

"The decision to erect such a structure raises so many questions. This is not how our students should be treated."

The withdrawal space was built for a particular student, but the directorate conceded it did not know if it had been used for other students.

The Minister said an investigation would be conducted in two streams with the first stage expected to be completed within weeks.

Hugh Boulter from the ACT public school Parents and Citizens Association said he was most alarmed at the news and has called for a speedy, independent inquiry.

Liberal ACT MLA Steve Doszpot was horrified by what he had heard so far about the case and said many questions remained unanswered.

"Have these sort of situations occurred before? And do we have any other structures like this in other schools? Why has it taken so long for the issue to be escalated?" he said.

"I understand that the Directorate knew about this last Thursday, and it is now a week later.

"So these are questions that remain to be answered and an inquiry is the very least that should happen."

Meanwhile, the Federal Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield expressed his concern over the incident on ABC's Radio National.

"It's appalling what we've heard from the ACT," he said. "Regrettably, we do hear of instances around Australia in schools from time to time where there are inappropriate restrictive practices used.

Senator Fifield said the roll-out of the NDIS would improve safeguards for people with disabilities, and help implement uniform national complaint practices.