Cage inquiry reforms overwhelm Education Directorate

Emma Macdonald

The roll-out of reforms to schools prompted by the autism cage scandal has hit bureaucratic snags within the ACT Education Directorate – including timelines not being met, meetings not being attended, expertise not being available and information being double-handled.

ACT Education Minister Shane Rattenbury will publicly release the Schools for All oversight report on Friday, saying it was important schools and authorities were accountable for progress towards safe and inclusive learning environments for all children.

The review was sparked by national outrage after a Canberra school erected a cage for a 10-year-old boy with autism. Photo: Supplied

He said the issues had been identified very early on – within the first three months of a three-year process and he was confident they would be addressed.

"So much is at stake with the implementation of Schools for All that we must get it right – we must look at it warts and all and be self-critical."

The ACT government agreed to all 50 recommendations arising from Emeritus Professor Tony Shaddock's independent review into students with complex needs and challenging behaviours.

The review was sparked by national outrage after a Canberra school erected a cage for a 10-year-old boy with autism.

Mr Rattenbury said there was an enormous public interest surrounding the reform process and he intended publishing regular updates.The first report on progress shows the Education Directorate had completed two of the 50 recommendations while Catholic Education and independent schools have yet to sign off on any.

"It isn't about blaming anyone at this point in time, it is about achieving 50 recommendations and the necessary cultural change that we need across our schools, so we need to be honest with ourselves."

The report identifies a number of program management issues within the directorate, including that the "program has not got the 'buy in' necessary to enable program implementation team to have oversight over project/program dependencies across directorate".

A "lack of project management expertise of the project integration managers has resulted in inability to accurately scope the projects and timeframes" and "original timeframes for program schedule (completed with consultant) are not realistic".

In the risk assessment, the report found "significant" issues around several key project managers not attending working groups, and not meeting reporting timeframes.

Plans were also inconsistently written, making it difficult to map work being performed.

Both the directorate and Catholic Education also said "various stakeholder groups feel they are not being engaged satisfactorily".

Mr Rattenbury was pleased to see progress in a number of key areas in public schools, 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.

Meanwhile, Professor Shaddock will move from the oversight committee to become a strategic adviser to the government on the implementation of Schools for All to better achieve the recommendations.

"I have created a role that will allow Professor 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," Mr Rattenbury said.

"We came to the view that would be more beneficial for Professor Shaddock to be involved in the practical implementation of the recommendations from Schools for All, rather than being on the oversight group, which performs more of an oversight and accountability function," he said.

Ian Claridge, with 37 years' experience in education, will replace Professor Shaddock on the group.


Note 1: the report mentioned is available from - the report PDF is and the Executive Summary is  

Note 2: the ACT's boy-in-a-cage "incident" sparked international outrage, it wasn't just national outrage as reported above.