Challenging behaviour reforms hit bumps after ACT 'autism cage' review

By Stephen Easton

June 6, 2016

The ACT government has created a new role in its Education Directorate for emeritus professor Tony Shaddock, apparently in a bid to rev up the slow implementation of his 50 recommendations on how to manage challenging behaviour in the classroom.

Shaddock led a review of the relevant practices in ACT schools last year, after it came out that a Canberra school had a large metal cage installed as a time-out space for a child with an autism spectrum disorder and a shocking picture of the “inappropriate structure” — as it is euphemistically described in the reform plan — went viral.

The resulting report, Schools for All Children and Young People, delivered 50 recommendations for ACT schools and Shaddock was appointed to an independent oversight group that was set up to monitor progress and report publicly.

His new job as a strategic adviser gives the professor a direct hand in the three-year program to implement the report, and was announced on Friday shortly after the oversight group’s first report for the March quarter came out, showing slow progress.

Education Minister Shane Rattenbury said it would allow Shaddock “to be more engaged with the development of programs and policies within the directorate to ensure that the recommendations within the report are implemented in a way that delivers the best outcomes in schools”.

Rattenbury said the government had decided it would be best for the disability education expert to get into the “practical implementation” of the reforms based on his own “invaluable expertise and advice” to the government. The minister also put a positive spin on the first progress report, saying it showed a “strong start” to the three-year process.

Only two of the 50 recommendations have been fully completed by the Education Directorate and Catholic Education has yet to tick off a single one. The report also lists a range of management issues the oversight group has identified in both entities, and associated implementation risks that arise as a result.

It says the program team has struggled to get buy-in across the directorate and line areas often see Shaddock’s recommendations as secondary to their own priorities. There was evidence of a lack of project management expertise, capacity issues and unrealistic timeframes that need to be revised, as well as “double handling of information and unclear processes”.

But it’s still early days for the project and the oversight group also sees plenty of good work being done. Its report offers good advice on how to keep the implementation on track so the committee has a positive story to tell when it issues its final report on December 16. The minister said:

“The full Schools for All program is to be implemented over three years and the first oversight group report is clearly indicative of the early stages of the project. There is still a long way to go in implementing all 50 recommendations, but the report outlines the strong start to the implementation.

“I am pleased that progress has been made in a number of key areas, including updates to key policies, extra Disability Education Partners which has built capacity within Student Engagement Teams, and a streamlined referral process for assessment of students with complex needs.”

Another education expert, Ian Claridge, will take over Shaddock’s role in the oversight group alongside federal Child Support Agency head Philippa Godwin and chair Carol Lillee, who co-ordinates several independent audit committees for ACT and federal government entities. Rattenbury explained his credentials:

“Mr Claridge has 37 years experience in education and was a consultant to the Expert Panel. Prior to retirement he was responsible for student wellbeing and health support for over 1500 Victorian schools and in 2015 was engaged by the Victorian Education Department to undertake a strategic analysis of issues arising from the Review of the Program for Students with Disabilities.”

Once the independent oversight group has put together its final report in December, its monitoring function will be taken over by the program board, made up of the heads of the ACT Education and Community Services directorates, Catholic Education director Maree Williams and the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools ACT, Andrew Wrigley.

Two weeks ago, Rattenbury announced the looming retirement of ACT Education director-general Diane Joseph after six-and-a-half years at the helm of the directorate. Her last day in the role will be June 24 and the process to appoint her successor is underway.

The minister paid tribute to the former teacher, who started out in Victoria 35 years ago, saying she had “dedicated her career to educating students” and made a substantial contribution to Canberra’s future:

“I have been impressed by the passion she has shown in challenging our educators to do the best they can to provide the highest quality education to every student at every school. Her grasp of the key issues facing education has also been invaluable in supporting me over the past few months since taking on the Education portfolio. I wish Ms Joseph all the best in her retirement and future endeavours.”

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