Poto Williams – Seclusion Rooms in Schools a disturbing symptom of Education’s tragic legacy under National



Last week it was revealed that seclusion is a method used by some schools to manage the behaviour of children. I for one was really disturbed that the schools even contemplate this as an option for any child, let alone special needs children. What was even more disturbing was learning that the Minister of Education had known about this for two months and appears not to lifted a finger until she was outed by Autism New Zealand and concerned parents.

Now she has called for a report by officials and the Office of the Ombudsman is investigating. I think this marks another chapter in her sad and tragic legacy as Minister of Education as this week she announced her decision to quit.

It started with Novopay and the lack of oversight and ignoring the warnings that the system was not ready and full of bugs, she signed off on the launch anyway. Then under a barrage of fire from schools, teachers, principals, support staff, opposition and general public, she could only sustain the fire for so long and sent her Associate Foss into the fray to take some of the heat. Then when all was lost and she couldn’t manage to get the thing back on track after months and months and months of incorrect payments, Steven Joyce, had to step in and fix it up for her.

Then she managed to upset a whole lot of quake affected families in her rushed plan to close and merge Canterbury schools, many of the decisions being based on flawed information and no demographic study at all. Don’t get me wrong, the rebuilt schools are beautiful and most of our children have settled. But there is a cohort of kids who don’t cope with the Modern Learning Environment, for whom there is little alternative, despite inclusion being a right for children who access mainstream schools, schools that should be able to cater for any child with special needs.

Here’s the thing, in answer to written questions from my office about the ability for schools to provide quality learning environments for all children, in particular, children with Autism, her response to me was, “we base our delivery on a child’s needs, not their diagnosis”. She could not tell me how many children with Autism are in mainstream schools, nor did the Ministry conduct any surveys to find out current numbers or future projections. I believe if you don’t know, you can’t adequately provide support. I have a view that a diagnosis is an important factor in determining how a school can prepare to teach a child and provide the best learning environment for them.

This doesn’t surprise me as I have been approached by a few schools in my electorate to support their pleas to the Ministry about additional resource required to cope with increased issues of behaviour. This is not only about special needs children, it is about our cohort of quake kids. Statistics paint a bleak picture of increased rates of suicide and self harm, behaviour that is unmanageable, inability of mental health services to cope, in particular the waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services.

On top of this, schools in my area are experiencing increased rolls as families move to Christchurch East to take advantage of cheaper rentals, as many of the quake damaged “as is, where is” properties become available. The Ministry of Education determines the level of staffing six months out from the start of a new school year. Therefore some schools will have many more students to house in classrooms than teaching staff to deal with appropriately.

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I have had to make direct representations to the Minister on behalf of inidividual schools who are finding they cannot cope, and neither are they receiving the support from local MOE officials. I shouldn’t have to do this one school at a time, the Ministry and the Minister should know!

But if any of you have had the pleasure of hearing the Minister answer questions on this and other matters during Parliaments question time, you will know she is the master of double speak. I often attempt to decipher her answers along with my bench mate in the chamber to see if we can understand what the Minister actually means.

Here’s the Minister’s response to a question about unenforceable seclusion guidelines:

“The sector wanted to take the approach of how do they improve the professional practise of schools given that they have been working to eliminate the process of the confusion between timeout for restraint and seclusion and because boards are required under the national administration guidance number 5 to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students it was expected that’s these guidelines would assist boards to carry out responsibilities they already have”

The saddest thing about this whole saga is that there are children missing out on getting the kind of education all of our kids deserve. We expect a lot from our schools and our teachers deliver every day, to the best of their ability and resource available. However all of our kids are being short changed if we cannot recognise need and fill that need appropriately, which ever child experiences that need. Our special needs children are not naughty, they are different in their responses to situations and they need time, love and special routines to be able to get the most out of their time at school. We need to get this right, because second best is not good enough.


Poto Williams – Labour Party MP 


  1. Novopay was not the start of Ms Parata’s sad and tragic legacy as Minister of Education.

    The start was the day she was given the baton of the sad and tragic legacy of Ann Tolley.

    A philosophy of children succeeding sounded laudable but being part of a braindead ideological plan meant the certainty of children of this generation and those to come, being short-changed.

    With no reasonable grasp of children and learning she has been the perfect puppet for her masters.

  2. The current Minister does indeed leave a sad legacy. And yes, schools are underfunded. As a retired secondary teacher, I know well the frustration of trying to ensure that there is a good learning environment in one’s class while at the same time coping with students with special needs, including those who are disruptive, often antisocial and therefore unsafe in a class environment. [As an aside, my teaching career began in the developing workd where education was much sought after and deeply appreciated. We never seemed to have ‘difficult’ students there… funny that.]
    Will better resourcing help? Yes, it will help a bit.
    There is however no easy solution. Given the number of students with special needs, a massive amount of money would be needed to employ the specialist support staff required. Add that to the dosh needed to fix our increasing health needs, provide adequate social housing, look after the environment, fund the police, border security and the armed forces adequately, improve public transport….. frankly we are simply going to have to accept a less than ideal infrastructure.
    The more so as the world runs into increasing resource constraints (more people but a finite planet). That’s a conversation that few people are willing to contemplate. Endless economic growth? I don’t think so. That’s not to say that I support the Nats’ approach. if we are going to have to do more with less, then let’s rein in the tax evaders, the super-rich parasites, the merchant bankers with their sense of entitlement. Then we might be able to say that society has its priorities right. But I reiterate – no easy solutions exist.

  3. Labour’s legacy when it comes to disabled kids fully participating at their local school is equally abysmal as National’s.

      • Yes, don’t believe the hype. Both Labour and National are as bad as each other when it comes to the rights of disabled kids at their local schools.

        • What hype? Disagree that Labour and National are as bad as each other. In comparison I don’t think any government has been as brutal as this National government. Labour supported funding to schools for special needs classes, and it is a fact that that was one of the first things National took away from schools when they came to power. That forced schools to either fund the classes themselves or close them down. A lot of schools did the latter.

  4. Actually Novopay was inherited from the previous Labour government. It was always a turd rolled in sprinkles.
    The fundamental problem was the near impossible task of providing the sufficient flexibility to accommodate the almost infinite variety of local deals done between individual teachers and their school management. No Novopay would have been needed if bulk funding had been kept – but that of course was ideologically inconsistent with the Clark government.

    As for ‘seclusion rooms’, here I have a degree of sympathy for the teachers. As a society we have steadily disarmed our authority figures (teachers, parents, police) to the point that we now cannot now control our children. Thanks to Sue Bradford et al, even a parent restraining a child is now classes as ‘technical assault’. Who’d want to be a teacher in those circumstances! This problem is greatly magnified when the class contains potentially disruptive elements such as an autistic child. It must be a nightmare for the teacher and I don’t blame them one bit for wanting to lock them in a room until they have simmered down. Has anyone got any better ideas short of shackling and gagging them?

    • And again, Labour was no friend of disabled kids and their parents trying to get a fair go at their local school.

      • where did you get that stupid idea from? Funny that special needs classes were supported under Labour but not National. It was one of the first support funding that National took away when they came to power.

          • What special needs schools were closed down?

            Labour funded schools to have special needs classes, National stopped that when they came to power. Like I said it was one of the first things the National government did was to withdraw support for special needs classes.

            • And I said that’s bullshit. Labour closed down a whole bunch of special schools. A group of families even went to court, unsuccessfully, to try to stop the closures. That was around 2000/2001. The then in 2008, when Labour kept failing to deliver, another group of families took the government to court. That case is due to be heard soon.

              I’m not saying National’s any better – they’re no doubt as bad, but I don’t buy all this shit about the holier than thou bloody Labour party. They supposed to be the party of the left but they’ve let the left down in so many ways. National are a lost cause. They’re never going to change. But we need to hold the Labour party to account because it’s only with a strong left wing government can things change.

              • If you know put up the links so I can read about it. No one is saying Labour is holier than thou. but in comparison this National government is the worst government of all. I have never heard of previous Labour governments having the multitude of abuses that this government seemingly gets away with. So that’s your excuse to not hold National to account? How is blaming Labour for what National is doing going to help? It’s time to stop blaming others and hold the National government to account, they have been in power for over 8 years after all.

                • Whining about National won’t change anything. Keeping Labour on track is our only hope.

                  You need to do your homework before you start spouting off about things you don’t know about. Labour closed special schools. It was their policy to do so. It was on the basis that disabled kids could go to mainstream schools but Labour failed to deliver, hence the current court action. Do some reading.

                  • What special needs schools? You say that, but you can’t back it up, so in other words you are mouthing off. Don’t see you as being of the left.
                    You are whining about Labour despite the fact that National has been in power for over 8 years, so how will that change anything? National withdrew funding for special needs classes in state schools, and unless schools could fund those classes themselves, those special needs classes closed down, and that’s a fact. it also shows special needs classes were mainstream in schools prior to National coming to power.

                    What court action? you are talking in riddles. If anything National has failed to deliver and have let this country and it’s people down badly.

                  • What special needs schools? You say that, but you can’t back it up, so in other words you are mouthing off. Don’t see you as being of the left.
                    You are whining about Labour despite the fact that National has been in power for over 8 years, so how will that change anything? National withdrew funding for special needs classes in state schools, and unless schools could fund those classes themselves, those special needs classes closed down, and that’s a fact. it also shows special needs classes were mainstream in schools prior to National coming to power.

                    What court action? you are talking in riddles. If anything National has failed to deliver and have let this country and it’s people down badly

      • You’re going back in time Chris.
        Labour might have changed its ideas during the last 8 years. National certainly haven’t.

        • We don’t know yet. Labour hasn’t had a chance to prove it since 2008. And Labour’s track record sticking to promises isn’t that great.

          • In other words you are just mouthing off. Actually you are also wrong, unlike National, Labour generally won’t promise something that they can’t make good on. Labour kept every promise they made, so they have a better track record than National, who have broken every promise they have made. History, even recent history, backs that up.

  5. The big problem that National has introduced is the National Standards. At a time when most countries racing ahead to remove punitive standards and encourage creativity for the new future of entrepreneurs, innovation and creative economy, NZ has gone backwards with a set of standards and assessments for children as young as 5 years old. There is absolutely no research than supports this, and plenty that say how dangerous that approach is and particularly damaging for boys that tend to develop slower and have more energy.

    Let’s face it, should a 5 year old be assessed and then categorised with less than one year of school? When children develop at different stages and come with different backgrounds – should a child that excels at art be considered inferior to one that has been rote taught to count to 20? With the rise in technology is teaching kids to sit on the mat and not experiment, rote learn and pass tests to be rewarded, while those who get bored easily by this, want to move around are labeled trouble makers?

    Teachers wasting their time with paperwork and assessments instead of actually teaching the kids and having the flexibility to answer questions and interests specific to the kids they are teaching?

    Many parents I talk say about all the problems their kids seem to have. Behaviour, learning, laziness and so forth – there seems to be a lot of blame on the kids themselves if they do not engage with the National standards, and the education system seems quick to label them if they do not achieve the standards that the government (with zero research and actually most research has showed this is harmfu)l has imposed?

    It is no surprise that a ‘time out’ room was both needed and used at schools. Teachers should be supported by the minister.

    National Standards for primary should be abolished so that teachers can actually spend time teaching kids and being flexible with encouraging their ability to love learning, and not wasting education time filling in assessment forms for the ministry. The ministry is creating a crisis that did not exist before they changed to this flawed system.


    • Hekia Parata seemed to be heading in a far more serious direction.

      Her concern about the level of ability, the “standard” in children starting at primary school surely would have seen her demanding testing of kids entering school.

      Everything she has done has been framed like that. There was no way to be consistent she could not do that. Dumb, yes, but that’s her way.

    • The problem was that some schools were passing out children who were illiterate and innumerate – prison bound in fact. The government could no longer ignore the problem so the first step was to measure performance.

      And yes you can assess a 5 year old. Quite easily in fact. Children coming from backgrounds of neglect and abuse already show signs of problems at five and the sooner these are addressed, the sooner we can being to correct the problem.

      Getting the best possible education is probably the only way they’re going to get out the intergenerational cycle of ignorance and abuse they were unlucky enough to be born in.

      • Like always Andrew you are wrong. The best school outcomes come from places like Finland that do not test at all apart from at the end of secondary.

        The reason we have so learning issues in NZ is the destruction of our society from right wing money loving, society hating, pricks who spout propaganda whenever they go and have no knowledge of the industry they are in. aka minister of vulnerable children having an ex aged care executive to run it.

        Maybe to National lovers think youth and the aged are both the same because in their one dimensional lives they can’t comprehend the difference?

        As for literacy, the focus is on teacher assessment but not for the solution. With our record immigration, money for education has not kept pace.

        I’m sure that is anyone bothers to check they will find that the ‘behavioural issues’ started to escalate when they put in all this busywork of assessment of children for teachers with National Standards, and the ministry has been undermining teachers for years.

        Try teaching 30 five year olds to read at the same time (when your ministry appointed focus is on safety and on reporting, not the actual outcome) and see how you get on. Then find out how many kids ‘develop’ behavioural problems through boredom and rote learning, where class control and reporting has become more important than educational outcomes which the teachers are powerless to change without a change of government.

        • SAVENZ: Don’t be silly.

          NZ has had an illiteracy problem for decades among its underclass. Typically about 50% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate in NZ and that has been the case for decades.

          But what chance does a kid have, being born to a solo mother with a thug boyfriend?

          • Yes Andrew especially when the National government puts the solo mother in jail and provides an income below the poverty line to live on for the child. Also child has more chance of abuse in state care under National.

            If you bother to educate yourself, you will see that the progressive educational approach by Finland would both radically solve literacy as well as their approach to prisons which also radically reduce reoffending. National standards do not work they actually take teacher time away from teaching because the focus is on documentation not actually improving literacy.

            If you want to improve literacy you need to fund it across the board, focus on individual children and look at the wider socio economic issues.

            In Finland kids don’t even go to school until they are 7 so learning is not about how long and early you do it, it is about the right systems in place to promote learning.

  6. The education system, for the most part, stinks no matter whether under National or Labour. It needs complete revamping, complete re-structuring.

    KIds need a supportive and fun and healthy place to learn – not the
    privatized ; profit oriented piece of competitive crap it has become.

    Good riddance to Hekia Parata and Ann Tolley who were both “out to lunch” ! and did more damage than good.

    Most schools are damaging our children and setting them up to fail.

    There are healthy alternatives :

    Maria Montessori and Joseph Chilton Pearce are LIGHT years ahead of
    the pack in the field of education.




  7. Why am I being blocked out from being able to log in ?
    I have tried several times to get through and to resign with no success.

    Now I have to sign in with each comment and before it was automatic.
    Can you please help me with this as it may be part of the reason why
    some of my comments do not get through.

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