A Far North principals’ association president was hoping a Ministry of Education meeting in Wellington on Friday to review guidelines on the restraint of children, would result in change. He was disappointed.

“The Mad Hatters are now in control of our classrooms,” said Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association president Pat Newman.

He had advised his members to hope and pray that those making the decisions would “actually apply common sense for once” to they had been facing since the guidelines were imposed.

“A teacher is not even allowed to lift a five-year-old up and carry them out [of the classroom] when they throw things in the middle of a tantrum.

“Instead, we are supposed to leave them and remove all the other children,” he said.

“A child can be utterly destroying a room, and all the other children’s work, and the same applies. It’s Cuckoo Land.

“Last year, we identified 1079 [primary] children at the top end of behavioural concerns due to unresolved trauma and abuse they had suffered, where P was rife in some areas, and in most schools to quite a degree.

“We can claim to have the highest suicide rate for our young in New Zealand. We have a huge number of very small schools in very isolated areas, in very low socio-economic communities.

“And what help did we get? Counsellors? No. Mental health facilities to cover needs? No. Sufficient staffing to ensure the safety of staff and children from other children? No. Access to absolutely required resources/resourcing? No.

“But we did get guidelines on restraint that make it far harder for us to ensure the safety of all children and staff, give us little option but to stand down or — I still call it — expel in many cases, and have handed over control of our schools to any child who wishes to push the boundaries and knows the rules.

“That was really helpful, wasn’t it?”

Previously, Susan Howan, the Ministry of Education’s acting deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, has said a catalyst for the legislation was the need to protect teachers in an area which was legally complicated.

“Teachers and authorised staff members also need to use professional judgment to decide what constitutes a ‘serious and imminent risk to safety’,” Howan said. “Restraint may be appropriate if the safety of the student or others is at risk…the use of professional judgment is a critical part of the guidelines.”

Howan said the ministry had increased resources to meet an increase in demand for training in managing challenging student behavior.

Teachers describe coping with disruptive kids

One Northland school has such regular problems with an uncontrollable child that the teacher and pupils have a password — Avocado — which means everyone has to get out.

In little more than two hours last week, Newman collated a host of horror stories from around the region.

One teacher described a Year 4 boy who routinely trashed the classroom at any moment of upset or perceived slight. He was careful not to cause direct harm to other children or the teacher, but set about destroying class property. The teacher would evacuate the class from the room, but the boy would often choose to follow them outside, loudly swearing all manner of obscenities at the teacher.

On occasion, he would be deliberately provocative, for example by taking the teacher’s drink from his bag and deliberately pouring it on the children’ work books.

“I always sensed that had the staff, particularly leadership, been empowered to remove the child from the classroom he would have backed down.

“Instead he felt immune from consequences,” the teacher added.

Then there were:

* The Year 2 boy who urinated on the floor in front the class as an act of defiance, swore and spat at the teacher, destroyed classroom property, on occasion screamed for long periods of time, hit and kicked the teacher and other pupils.

He refused to leave the classroom when asked to, the teacher repeatedly facing the choice of allowing him to remain and potentially continue his disruptive behaviour, or taking the classroom outside “again”.

‘Part of the brain is not there’

* “Incident when child tried punching me so had to restrain him so he didn’t damage me, and when let go he used his school bag to try and bash me … It’s impossible to reason with a child, especially when that part of the brain is not there. We have other times when I’ve removed the child from the situation so that the rest can get on with their learning. Think that is illegal now isn’t it?”

“[We have] a new five-year-old regularly threaten children and staff with ‘weapons’ (baseball bat, wooden sticks, blocks of wood etc). My ‘policy’ is to step in and grab weapons off him (he is little and slow) and then firmly guide him back to the principal’s office to sit out the rest of the day.”

School locked down three times

* Several incidents with an eight-year-old who smashed windows/punched holes in the bathroom walls. Students/staff placed in lockdown on three occasions until he calmed down.

The child’s ‘psychologist,’ who used to see him occasionally, asked us write a review of each incident so they could justify putting anger management strategies in place.

Won’t get out of cars

* We have had at least five instances of parents unable to get children out of their car or into class this term. On two occasions, the parent eventually left the school with the child.

* “I have had three this term who have refused to get out of the car when Mum has arrived to drop them off. Not long ago, I would have lifted them out of the car and told the parent to drive away. Now all I can say to the parent is that it is your challenge, you get them out and to class and we will take over.”

Removed after vicious assaults

* Since these stupid unworkable guidelines have been put in place I have twice broken the law, and did it both times without thinking, because the children I removed from the classrooms had both viciously assaulted other kids during class time.

“I judged the other kids had already had enough of their learning time interrupted, that removing the class would have wasted even more. I refuse to have other kids disrupted any more than they already are because of one child either out of control or throwing a tantrum.

“Also since this rule came into place I have refused on five occasions to get children out of cars because their parents/caregivers couldn’t. On each occasion the kids have been taken back home and have been marked absent for the day.”

‘The classroom was a tip’

* I got a call from a Year 1-2 teacher who has a child with behavioural problems in her class. When I got there she was outside the class with her children. She informed me that he was inside the class laying waste to everything … The classroom was a tip. Luckily nothing too expensive was broken.”

‘Trying to choke himself’

* “A nine year old threatened to kill himself in front of his teacher aide — and promptly threw the rubber end of his pencil down his throat, trying to choke himself. He needed to be forced to spit it out — only to then throw a handful of coins down his throat. A teacher had to pick him up and basically shake the coins out of his mouth. Where is that in our job description?

“I rang the ministry who told me to ring Mum who then rang Te Roopu Kimiora — she is still waiting for them to come back to her.”

Psychiatrist quits, case closed

“We have two students, one ASD one ODD, in the same classroom … MOE psych resigned beginning of Term 2, and no help from MOE since then. Received an email last week telling me that case had been closed as no further intervention was required. This is after I have sent emails requesting help.”\

Source: The Northland Age


  1. To gain the right to restrain will not solve the problem in any way. But the problem is 100% solved if we build and properly staff special facilities where to deal with such problem children. Let these facilities be mini-institutions inside a local school – or large, old-fashioned institutions outside school premises.

    Whichever is the cheaper!


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