I propose to take Questions Nos. 252 and 253 together.
My Department does not support the use of certain sanctions or inappropriate strategies for the management of behaviour issues. In particular my Department does not support a strategy which leaves a student in an unsupervised situation (e.g. a locked room or a corridor) while the child is in the care of the school. Many schools withdraw pupils occasionally from the main classroom for short periods of time in order to provide support to them, or to manage pupil behaviour, particularly if a child is exhibiting behaviours which may be a danger to themselves or others. In some circumstances, a child who is exhibiting extreme behaviours may be brought to another room to ensure the safety of other pupils and until they are calm again. Such rooms or spaces may not be officially designated as withdrawal rooms, e.g. schools may use existing classrooms or other spaces within the school. This is a normal facet of the management of pupil behaviour. Where used, it will normally form part of a school's response to behaviour and part of student support structures, procedures and practices.
Some special schools for pupils with severe emotional behavioural disorders, or Autism, where there are a greater number of pupils likely to exhibit distressed behaviour, may use a room which is designated as a safe space for withdrawal purposes, in order to ensure pupil safety and to prevent self-harm or harm to other pupils. These rooms are variously described as 'withdrawal rooms', 'time-out rooms', or 'safe spaces'. In all cases where such a room is used the child should be under continuous supervision. In circumstances where special schools use designated time out procedures, they should do so with the consent of parents and the school Board of Management.
The Board of Management of each school is responsible for the care and safety of all of the pupils in their school. Schools should supervise and support children who are distressed or out of control until they have recovered and are able to re-engage in the classroom. Schools may seek advice from their local National Educational Psychological Services psychologist, from their NCSE Special Educational Needs Organiser, or from the National Behavioural Support Services, as to how children with behavioural needs can best be supported in school.
Training is available for schools in relation to the provision of support for children with special educational needs from the Special Education Support Services (SESS), who can, as part of their designated training modules, provide guidance for schools in relation to containment or management measures for difficult behaviour.
There are a number of published guidelines available to schools:
- The Department recently published new Guidelines for Schools on Supporting Students with Behavioural, Emotional, and Social difficulties, which are available on the Department's website www.education.ie
- The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has also developed guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour. In developing a Code of Behaviour schools must specify the standards of behaviour that shall be observed by each student attending the school. All parents must be made aware of behaviour management strategies employed by a school. This guidance document on Developing a Code of Behaviour advises that specialised behaviour management strategies, such as the use of restraint, should not be used without expert advice, training and monitoring. In particular the guidelines point to certain sanctions which are regarded as inappropriate, including leaving a student in an unsupervised situation (e.g. a corridor) while in the care of the school.
- The National Educational Psychological Services document Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties- a Continuum of Support: Guidelines for Teachers also provides advice for teachers, including some advice on the use of "Time Out" procedures in the classroom.
The Department has asked the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to prepare Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In developing this policy advice, the NCSE will consult widely with parents, professionals and other stakeholders and interested parties while also conducting research in relation to this area. As part of the process to develop this policy advice, the NCSE will consider the issue of the use of withdrawal in schools and advise the Department in relation to this matter.