By: Zizi Sparks

A Rotorua principal is calling for more clarity around the use of physical restraint in schools, and the Ministry of Education says it is coming.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said the issue had been widely discussed in education circles.

“[The guidelines] are too vague so principals and teachers are worried that if they restrain a student, they may be facing criminal prosecution,” Walsh said.

The Ministry of Education introduced the guidelines in August 2017.

In short, guidelines said a teacher or authorised staff member could physically restrain a student when the student was putting themselves or another person at serious and imminent risk.

But Walsh said there had not been sufficient training into what that restraint looked like.

“There have been workshops and some have been successful, but they should be done by police who restrain people daily,” Walsh said.

“I think they need an urgent review of these guidelines to give more clarity and certainty and provide professional development on how to do that.

“We try [to] keep students safe and teachers want to know if they are in a situation of having to restrain what are they entitled to do and how would they do it safely.”

The Ministry of Education had logged 2058 incidents of physical restraint nationwide since August 2017, an average of 13 per day.

Deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said physical restraint was a last resort for when other prevention and de-escalation strategies have failed.

“The use of professional judgment is a critical part of the guidelines,” Casey said.

She said the ministry had a range of support services for staff including a workshop focused on prevention and de-escalation.

“Given the feedback we have received, and that we are approaching the one-year mark for implementation of the physical restraint legal framework, we are intending to refresh the guidelines and incident reporting forms so they are clearer and easier to use.”

New Zealand Secondary Teachers’ Association president Lorraine Kerr said the guidelines had been worked on for almost two years by teachers, principals, boards and unions before their implementation and they were constantly being revised.

“We’ll just keep improving it, the intent is for it to be a good resource to support teachers and principals in schools to do the right thing,” Kerr said.

“If they are not working as they should we will continue to improve them but we can’t not have something in schools that could help in some way.”

Kerr agreed there were issues around professional development and clarity in the guidelines.

“What this really highlights is there’s a big problem around managing behaviour,” she said.

“I would expect most schools would use common sense in the first instance. The guidelines were so people wouldn’t be placed in a room with no way out, so people wouldn’t be tied down.”

Rotokawa School principal and Rotorua Principal’s Association president Briar Stewart said the staff at her school had undergone training with the ministry on physical restraint.

The school also had clear policies around using physical restraint.

“The problem with training is it’s got to be very comprehensive for every teacher. Training was available and we put our hand up but I don’t think every school would have done that,” she said.

“If we do ever have to use it there’s a process of reporting that.”

Stewart said it was concerning when pupils felt they needed to behave in a way that required physical restraint.

“I just wish we didn’t have children that felt they needed to react in that way. There’s nothing in school that can justify that reaction. Our world is a safe world.”

The guidelines

  • Physical restraint can be used if the teacher or staff member believes the safety of the student or any other person is at serious and imminent risk and the restraint used is reasonable and proportionate.
  • Serious and imminent risks may include a student with a weapon intent on using violence, a student is physically attacking another person, or is about to. A student is throwing furniture, computers, or breaking glass close to others who would be injured if hit or a student is putting themselves in danger.
  • After physical restraint is used the student’s wellbeing should be monitored, a reflection should be done on why the incident occurred and how to prevent it in future, a debrief should be held, and an incident report should be filed.
  • Students who regularly present high-risk behaviour should have an Individual Behaviour Plan.
  • Physical restraint should only be used in emergency situations.

Source: NZ Herald

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  1. Clearer guidelines coming, states the Education Ministry. Well, about time, if I may say. To have a ban against restraining human children physically is the most harebrained idea I can think of. It is unheard of in every country, culture and tribe that ever lived on this green earth of ours. . It is, in fact, utterly stupid. Such legislation is based on blind ideology only. I am dumbfounded that it could ever be passed into law. What a dumb lot of legislators we had. May our newfound lot be better!


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