Eight public servants within the ACT Education Directorate have been reprimanded over their role in Canberra's autism cage scandal.
Under sustained questioning from Opposition Education spokesman Steve Doszpot during Education annual report hearings this week, the directorate finally revealed some level of detail on how its own bureaucrats mishandled reports of the cage constructed at a Canberra primary school – specifically failing to escalate the matter properly.
Deputy Director General Meg Brighton told the committee those eight individuals had been counselled and or subject to formal performance management as a result.
None had lost their jobs.
"When we made the announcement about the actions that had been taken on the principal, we made it absolutely clear at that time that it was the principal who had made the decision," Ms Brighton said.
The principal has been removed from the school and has been placed in an administrative position within the directorate.
Ms Brighton told the committee "the actions that the Director-General indicated that she was following up on internally within the directorate was really around the swiftness of the directorate's response after the withdrawal space was constructed, and when the directorate first heard about it."
Eight officers were identified as not having met their responsibilities in this regard.
Ms Brighton said that disciplinary responses were made within the scope of the Enterprise Agreement and "ranged from informal counselling right through to formal counselling and performance management."
"I stress that the work is really around our case management practices and our support and our responsiveness when the directorate became aware."
Yet Mr Doszpot asked whether the tough action taken against the principal was warranted in light of last week's independent review into students with complex needs and challenging behaviours, which pointed to structural flaws in guidance for school principals when facing such a difficult issue.
The Shaddock review noted that "the education and training directorate does not have a clear policy regarding the escalation of behavioural issues that cannot be resolved by the Network Student Engagement Teams, and it is not clear what further support can be provided in these circumstances.
"A number of school leaders commented to the panel that ultimately they felt that they were left alone to solve the more difficult problems, without the resources to properly meet the needs of some students with the most complex needs and challenging behaviour.
"There are currently no formal oversight mechanisms for decisions about restrictive practices, which are left to the judgement of individual teachers and school leaders."
Mr Doszpot said this suggested the principal had been apportioned blame that was, in fact, the responsibility of the directorate.
"We all accept the difficulties that teachers and principals work under, and that is why my questions keep coming back to the fact that it is fairly clear that Professor Shaddock refers to the systemic inadequacies where the guidelines were not there for the principal to follow. So if the guidelines are not as specific as they should have been or could have been, how can you punish the principal for not following the guidelines?"
Education Minister Joy Burch rejected any call for the matter to be re-examined.
"The matter has been resolved. The findings have been made public. The principal has accepted those findings. And that is indeed the end of the matter …The school itself now wants it behind them. The family involved want it behind him. The principal involved wants it behind them."
The Australian Education Union, who represented the principal during the internal investigation into the cage, maintained that she had been conveniently scapegoated.
"There has been an attempt by the government to simplistically and expediently place all of this at the feet of one individual," said the union's ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler.
"Clearly what has been unearthed in committee hearings, along with what Tony Shaddock has described as lack of policy and system support, is that the reality is far more complex," he said.
The review said increasing school autonomy – where principals were required to make complex decisions about almost all areas of their school – needed to be accompanied by "effective central policy making, oversight, evidence-based advice and timely support".
Mr Fowler said "School autonomy has become an article of faith, an orthodoxy that is now open to serious questioning, and Shaddock's panel has usefully contributed to this discussion. We need to wrap as much support as we can around people who, in good faith, attempt the most challenging of tasks."
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