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Seclusion rooms in schools to be banned

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/11/2016

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been forced to defend the year it took to investigate controversial seclusion rooms in schools on a day she announced the government was moving to ban them.

Ms Parata announced on Thursday the government would introduce a law to outlaw the practice in schools and early childhood centres.

"In today's world there is no situation where it is acceptable for seclusion to be used in schools or early childhood education services, so I want to make that clear in the law," said Ms Parata.

A letter from the Secretary of Education would be sent to all schools on Thursday to make clear that no school should be using seclusion.

Seclusion rooms, where students are involuntarily put in a room where they cannot volutnarily exit, differ from time out where students are put into an unlocked room, sensory room or other agreed space to calm down, Ms Parata said.

But Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty has criticised Ms Parata, saying the action had taken too long.

"It's a bit rich for Hekia Parata to now claim credit for making seclusion rooms illegal, when she could have taken this action more than a year ago when seclusion rooms were first in the media," she said.

Ms Parata defended the timeframe, saying a complex set of issues had to be fully investigated and she was happy it took the necessary time to establish the facts.

Asked why she didn't start a full investigation into the use of seclusion rooms around the country after the first complaint came to light, she said it was a matter of priorities and at the time only a single complaint had been made.

"The ministry gets actually many, many complaints every week and they look into them and establish the priority that is given to them. This particular issue has come to that point where we must legislate," she said.

Prime Minster John Key said he didn't think the investigation had taken too long and that there was only "relatively small" use of the rooms.

"There are some situations that have been quite difficult for some schools and some teachers and so there has been a need for them, but I think on the other side of the coin the world has probably moved on a little bit and there has been a genuineness on our front to see whether there is a better way of dealing with it," he said.

The Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier is investigating the practice and the Commissioner for Children will assist with the investigation.

Ms Parata has also released guidance from an advisory group on dealing with children whose behaviour was challenging.

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