School watchdog says it didn't know about seclusion rooms in seventeen schools
Children have been locked up alone in the dark at seventeen schools - but the Education Review Office boss says it's "reassuring it's not more".
Seclusion rooms are set to be banned from schools and while ERO boss Iona Holsted said the circumstances around their use was "tragic", she also pointed out it was "not all that long since we stopped caning".
Holsted was recently appointed the new Ministry of Education Secretary - a role she'll take over in December.
ERO reviewers visit every school in the country roughly every three years and spend between two and four days there depending on the size of the school. They observe and conduct interviews before writing a report - the results of the report determine how long it is before the next visit.
On Wednesday Holsted told MPs on the Education and Science select committee that ERO had no idea schools were using seclusion rooms.
"In the case of the term 'seclusion' it's become very clear there wasn't clarity about some of that. We'll see a plan for time-out, look at a time-out room, that will be in the file...and if we found that was meeting an acceptable standard at the time then that would be what we'd find.
"We certainly were not aware of children being locked for extensive periods in dark rooms," she said.
Education Minister Hekia Parata announced on Tuesday the government was one step closer to banning the rooms after she invited MPs to include a change to the Education (Update) Amendment Bill that would scrap them.
"The Education Review Office has also made changes to its reviews of schools in light of the new guidance. It now specifically asks schools how they are managing children with behavioural difficulties," Parata said.
ERO considers "emotional well being" whenever they visit a school, Holsted said.
"No individual will ever know what's going on for every child in every situation - our focus is on the processes and how they're developed"
Time-out rooms were "completely acceptable and will continue to be" once the legislative changes are made, she said.
"We are reliant on a professional workforce here and...it's disappointing there's 17 cases (of seclusion rooms) but it's also reassuring it's not more.
"In the main we've got a professional teaching workforce that deals with difficult situations every day."
Seclusion rooms have been in the spotlight for months, most recently claims that staff hit, sat on and force fed children at a special needs school in Dunedin have led to three investigations, two resignations and the suspension of a teacher.
The Ministry of Education appointed a temporary manager to Dunedin's Sara Cohen School in April, who is continuing an inquiry into the allegations after a separate police investigation delayed hers for several months.
No charges were laid from the police's investigation but independent investigator Mike Corkery said there was "some substance" to the allegations made against some staff.