Abuse investigation: Education Department failed to monitor post-ban isolation practices

The Department for Education admits it failed to adequately monitor schools’ practice of locking children in isolation rooms before it was banned in 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Senior officials from the ministry today appeared before the Royal Commission inquiry into the abuse of people in care.

They acknowledged the past failures of the former Ministry of Education, including the failure to support the use of te reo and Matauranga Maori.

Education Secretary Iona Holsted told the commission the department could not keep children safe on a day-to-day basis because it had no direct day-to-day oversight of schools.

For the same reason, he could not guarantee that schools were no longer using solitary confinement – locking a child in a room, she said.

The ministry relied on good systems and good people working in and with schools to make sure they didn’t break the law, Holsted said.

“A decentralized system, by its very nature, relies on an element of trust. We just don’t have a system where everyone could watch everything all the time,” she said.

Holsted said she had no reason to believe there were currently reports of abuse at schools that the department was unaware of, but she could not rule it out.

There were more places to which abuse could be reported than in the past, such as the Education Review Office (ERO), but most parents contacted the department if they had a complaint about their school, a- she declared.

The former Ministry of Education controlled private schools less than integrated state and public schools and that could have provided opportunities for predators, she said.

Education Secretary Iona Holsted

Education Secretary Iona Holsted. File photo.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The department also breached the Treaty of Waitangi by not supporting te reo and Maori matauranga, she said.

“I acknowledge that the Department of Education did not actively protect the te reo and encourage its use by iwi and Maori and that this was in breach of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and had a detrimental effect ongoing on the acquisition and use of the Maori language,” she says.

Consistently lower expectations for Maori students and other groups have hurt their success, Holsted said.

Unconscious bias could be devastating and the ministry was trying to reduce racism and ableism in schools, she said.

Lawyer assisting the commission, Michael Thomas, read statements from people who said in the 1960s and 1970s that their education had been interrupted because they were taken care of by the state, that they had been prevented to use sign language in a school for the deaf and that they had been sent to a boarding school. school for the blind at a very young age.

Holsted said “without a doubt” there was still work to be done to make schools more inclusive of students with disabilities.

“ERO is very positive about the quality of our inclusive curriculum and the resources we produce to support teachers, however, we also know that the majority of teachers do not use them,” she said.

She didn’t blame the teachers because they were busy and needed support to use the new material, Holsted said.

Interviewed by attorney Katherine Anderson, Holsted said in hindsight, now knowing the level of abuse in private Catholic schools in the 1970s, the government should not have given funding to those schools.

The department would try to help any school with disproportionately high exclusion and dropout rates for Maori and Pacific students, she said.

Changing schools required good leadership and teachers who could work well with a range of students, Holsted said.

“Some of the behavioral issues facing teachers today that weren’t necessarily there 10 or even five years ago are testing,” she said.

The department had been too slow to act on reports of problems in schools in the past and it would not make that mistake again, Holsted said.

The commission was due to hear from the Education Review Office and the Teaching Council on Friday.