A commentary on the ACT Government's response to Autism-related Questions on Notice 3-May-2016

The following shows the questions that were asked, the Government's attempt to answer, and some comments on the response given by the ACT Government.

Q1. How many public schools in the ACT currently have enclosures that can be used to prevent autistic students from wandering or absconding.

A1. ACT public schools use a variety of enclosed spaces to ensure the safety of all students. These include school perimeter fences, enclosed playgrounds, and enclosed courtyard spaces. Learning Support Units have different forms of play spaces and enclosed spaces and not all units have an enclosed space attached to the classroom. A list of units in schools is located at Attachment A.

The Government's response does not answer the question. A question that says “how many” expects/requires a numeric answer. Hopefully, most primary school students in the ACT understand how to answer such a question.

Attachment A lists most LSU-As … but does not answer the question because it does not show which of the Units have an associated enclosure that is (or can be) used for autistic students, as was asked in the question.

If the Government doesn't know (doesn't have already or can't be bothered getting the information) then they should simply say so.

The question asked “how many”; it does not ask “what types”. The answer should count schools with enclosures associated with LSU-As; they could also offer the count of schools whose perimeter fence is effective in ensuring autistic students cannot abscond/elope/wander from the school, and schools that have other structures that they use to prevent absconding/elopement/wandering. The Government could have given an answer that breaks down the count … that would be an acceptable response, were it provided.

A recent report shows that the Education Directorate is struggling (failing?) to implement the changes needed to address challenging (or unwanted) behaviour and behaviours of concern in its schools (see Cage inquiry reforms overwhelm Education Directorate). This answer shows the type of deep-seated problem underpinning this difficulty/failure. Rather than recognise that it's using restraint to tackle the challenge of autistic students who are highly likely to abscond/elope/wander (see links here, here or here), this response diminishes the specific challenge of autistic students absconding suggesting instead that solutions are in the area of general student safety. But it is not.


Q2. How many students spent time in these enclosures in 2015 and how much time did students with disability spend in these enclosures.

A2. Schools use outdoor spaces, including enclosed spaces, for a range of reasons including playtime, sport, as an outdoor learning environment and for quiet spaces. All students access these spaces and schools do not record the time or type of use.

The question asked about the use of “these enclosures” clearly referring to the enclosures that should have been (but weren't) counted above.

The part of the response that says that “schools use outdoors spaces” is at least patronising, possibly rude.

The question asks “how many” and “how much time”. The response simply does not address the question. Tax-payer money should not be used to fund responses like this.


Q3. How are these enclosures, referred to as “adjustments” that schools make for students with special needs, described in the data that the ACT gave to the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability in 2015.

A3. The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data is an annual collection that counts the number of school students with disability and the level of reasonable educational adjustment they are provided with. The data identifies the student's broad type of disability, located at Attachment B and the student's level of adjustment, located at Attachment C. It does not identify specific adjustments and as such are not referenced in the data collection. It is also important to note that providing a safe environment could be a reasonable adjustment in all categories.

The response fails to answer the question.

The question was not “what is the NCCD?”. It is pretty clear from this question that the person/people asking the question already knows what the NCCD is … so an answer that tried to explain the NCCD is quite inappropriate. One might wonder whether this response was about teaching grandmothers to suck eggs … but the responders probably wouldn't really understand that phrase.

The response might explain which option, described in Attachment B, that the Directorate includes autistic students in it's NCCD reporting. Attachment B, about NCCD disability classification, is unclear in relation to autism (a major part of the NCCD interest group). Schools/teachers might classify autistic students in any of the NCCD's “broad categories of disability”: Physical (neurological), Cognitive, Sensory or Social/Emotional. The data collected will be difficult (probably impossible) to interpret.

Similarly, the classifications in Attachment C are poorly defined. The resulting data will be challenging to interpret and lack clear meaning.

It seems that a more appropriate response would be:

The NCCD does not record the use of an enclosure as a specific “adjustment” since the “level” relating to such an adjustment is unknown or ignored.

Omitting such key information from the NCCD is pretty remarkable/disappointing since issues of restraint and separation of students with disability is currently a major issue at each of the territory, national and international (UN) levels. The inability to answer this question properly should flag the failure of the NCCD to actually record/report adjustments such as this … and should prompt action to improve the NCCD as a consequence. Apparently, the ACT Government's education staff do not have sufficient initiative to notice this issue.


Q4. How many enclosures were used to house autistic students for other purposes such as behavioural management and were these educational adjustments reported to the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability in 2015.

A4. As per previous question, the NCCD collects the level of adjustment required not specific adjustments.

Apparently, the Government's response to this question should show that the NCCD does not recognise and record adjustments in the form of enclosures to restrain autistic students. It seems the NCCD is not really “fit for purpose”.


Q5. What data did ACT Education give the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability about the blue “sanctuary” that received international attention.

A5. As per previous question, the NCCD collects the level of adjustment required not specific adjustments.

Again, the NCCD does not recognise and record this very very serious “adjustment” that a school made for an autistic student. What is the purpose of the NCCD when it does not collect data about such a major “adjustment”, and adjustment that made international news and was even reported to the United Nations?


Q6. What information will be provided for parents from the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability and when will it be available to parents.

A6. The Commonwealth Government is responsible for the preparation and release of the report on NCCD data. Parent will have access to the national report when released and can access further information about the data set at https://www.education.gov.au/what-nationally-consistent-collection-data-school-students-disability.

While it is true that “the Commonwealth Government is responsible for the preparation and release of the report on NCCD data”, it is also true that the ACT Government agreed to provide data when the reporting to parents/family are not clear. As the response says, there is some “information about the data set” but the consequent reporting to parents & families remains unclear.

This response does not improve clarity.


Q7. Is preparing an ILP (or IED) for an autistic student that involves changes/modifications/omissions to/from regular curriculum an “adjustment”; if so, how many autistic students in the ACT have an ILP/IEP that does not include the regular curriculum for students of the same age.

A7. All students accessing disability education programs have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP). An ILP is a collaborative process between the school, family, students (where possible) and other professionals that identify adjustments required for the student to access, participate and engage in the learning environment. An ILP is not curriculum.

All students in the ACT have access to the Australian Curriculum (AC). The AC provides teachers with flexibility to cater for student diversity, including students with autism, through personalised learning. Students may work at, below or above age level in different curriculum areas based on individual need. Such adjustments are not recorded or reported, as they are considered part of usual teaching practice.

While regular students start the school year with their education plan in place, even up and running, most students with disability wait a substantial period before their ILP is established each year: students with disability do not have equal access to planned education.

The response says “An ILP is not curriculum”. The question did not say or suggest that an ILP is “curriculum”: instead, this question asked specifically about the occurrence and recording of adjustments to the curriculum for individual students with disability.

Hopefully, the ILP process does not preclude adjustment(s) to curriculum. That would result in serious deficiencies in the education of some autistic students.

From the response, it would seem the Education Directorate regard curriculum adjustment(s) as outside the scope of the NCCD. Parents/families are interested to know what monitoring, measurement and reporting does the Directorate have in place from this type of “adjustment(s)”.

We note that such adjustments warranted national attention in the USA (see here). A4 shared the letter with Education Ministers around the nation (see here).

The letter to schools in the USA from the US Department of Education starts:

Ensuring that all children, including children with disabilities, are held to rigorous academic standards and high expectations is a shared responsibility for all of us.

In Australia, it is just as important to ensure expectations remain high for all students, including autistic students.

Q8. How is this reported to the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability.

A8. ILPs are not reported to the NCCD. Refer to question 3 for NCCD reporting requirements.

The question asked about curriculum adjustments for autistic students relative to the regular curriculum. It seems that the NCCD does not collect data on such adjustments. The Government's response appears to indicate that the existence of an ILP isn't even reported.

It is hard to imagine what possible use the data that the NCCD collects could be. One can only wonder whether the Education Directorate has much idea about at all what is happening for autistic students in ACT schools. 

Editorial: The Minister's Office asked us to withhold publishing this material until they could provide further information. As yet, we have not received further information, so we are making this material accessible publicly.  5/10/2016