Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby pushes for definitions on restrictive practice in schools

Tasmania needs clearly-defined guidelines around the use of restrictive practices in schools, disability education advocates say, with no public policy available.

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby founder Kristen Desmond said the lack of public documents meant there was a risk of conflating restrictive practice with reasonable adjustment.

Restrictive practice is defined as the use of physical restraint or segregation to manage or control behaviour in people with a disability.

Reasonable adjustment is defined as action taken to improve a student with a disability’s access to education.

Ms Desmond said there was not enough information available on whether Tasmania’s mainstream school teachers were trained in the use of restrictive practice and how terms were defined, leaving parents in the dark.

An Education Department spokesman said the department was able to “access a variety of training platforms for staff depending on need”.

“One of the most relevant approaches in the area of restrictive practice is Team Teach,” the spokesman said.

“Team Teach is based on the concept of positive handling, and adopts a holistic approach by organisations and individuals based on a framework of risk-reduction strategies (non-verbal, verbal and where absolutely necessary, physical).”

RELATED STORIES

University of Tasmania inclusive education lecturer Dr Chris Rayner said the term “restrictive practice” is not always used in education contexts.

“The language that the [Education] Department uses around the use of physical contact would probably cover a lot of the same ground as this concept of restrictive practice,” Dr Rayner said.

He said use of the term restrictive practice was “problematic, and not always helpful”, with the Disability Standards maintaining a necessary “level of abstractness”.

“If we get too prescriptive sometimes about what a restrictive practice is, then we will not give ourselves flexibility to work in the best interests of the student within a given context,” he said.

Ms Desmond said there was a risk of conflating restricted practice with reasonable adjustment, and each term needed to be clearly defined.

“If it’s being conflated together, what are we teaching our teachers?” she said.

“Often restraint in any form is a reaction to a behaviour, and if we don’t have consistent reactions to behaviours then … behaviours can become more difficult.”