A review into the ACT’s special schooling system has recommended systemic reform, including greater support for principals to ensure staff safety in the face of potentially violent students.
The review, which was released yesterday, was led by disability education expert, professor Tony Shaddock from the University of Canberra, and provides 50 recommendations among nearly 280 pages of findings.
The ACT Government said it supported all of the review’s recommendations, and announced it would allocate $7m in funding for special schools to help with improved training for teachers and aides.
ACT Education Minister, Joy Burch, said $3m of that money would be put towards "enhancing and developing sensory spaces in schools."
However, the review panel warned there was currently "a general lack of documentation, monitoring and oversight” of the use of restrictive practices in ACT schools.
It added that transparency and accountability were vital in reducing the use of restrictive practice and avoiding situations where “a well-intentioned response is inappropriate or becomes abusive”.
The review panel warned there was currently "a general lack of documentation, monitoring and oversight” of the use of restrictive practices in ACT schools. It added that transparency and accountability were vital in reducing the use of restrictive practice and avoiding situations where “a well-intentioned response is inappropriate or becomes abusive”.
The review also acknowledged that school staff were sometimes exposed to risk from students.
"(Schools) have a duty to protect the safety of staff and others in the workplace, through appropriate risk management. Employers must not allow staff to be subjected to violence without taking measures to minimise this risk, regardless of their dedication or willingness to tolerate this," it stated.
The review follows controversy over one ACT teacher’s use of a cage to detain a special needs student in April this year. Stephanie Gotlib, Children with Disability Australia (CDA) executive officer, told The Educator the incident was “potentially one of many others” taking place around the country.
However, the report made just one direct reference to the incident, which saw the principal of the school in question sacked. It noted there were “currently no formal oversight mechanisms for decisions about restrictive practices”, which it said was “left to the judgement of individual teachers and school leaders."
Another recommendation listed in the report was that increased school autonomy should be accompanied by "effective central policy making, oversight, evidence-based advice and timely support as there will be times where a school may struggle to meet the complex needs and challenging behaviour of a particular student or students from within its existing resources".
The review recommended all schools provide withdrawal spaces for students with sensory and other complex needs so they could reduce their exposure to stimulation in a safe environment.
However, these spaces should be designed and monitored carefully "to ensure consistency with human rights and discrimination obligations and that they support students' behaviour and learning", the report stated.
There are nearly 3,000 special needs students in the territory’s school system, accounting for 4% of total enrolments.