Changes to physical restraint in schools framework

It's been a whirlwind of activity in Parliament over the last few weeks - in more ways than one! 

The Education and Training Bill has received Royal Assent on Friday, July 31 2020. The Bill comes into effect the day after Royal Assent.

This Bill directly impacts you as a teacher. We want to alert you to the changes to when a teacher can use physical restraint.  

Under the new Act, as a teacher or authorised staff member you must not physically restrain a student unless: 

  • that physical restraint is necessary to prevent imminent harm to the student or another person,
  • you reasonably believe there is no other option available in the circumstances to prevent the harm, 
  • the physical restraint is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. 

Physical restraint is defined as “use physical force to prevent, restrict, or subdue the movement of a student’s body or part of the student’s body against the student’s will”. 

Frankly speaking, we are disappointed the changes around the use of physical restraint in schools do not go far enough for the safety of children and teachers. You have an incredibly tough job and need clear rules to exercise confident decision-making and respond appropriately to situations which can be very fluid and escalate quickly.  

On a more positive note, there are some key changes that help clarify things for teachers: 

  • the definition of “physical restraint” is the same wording as the current Act, except it adds “against the student’s will” - this addition clarifies that physical contact such as hugging or contact with a student when it is not against their will is permissible. 
  • the new definition of “harm” includes “significant emotional harm” - we are pleased with this inclusion as it supports the intent of the Code and Standards Ngā Tikanga Matatika Ngā Paerewa to consider a student’s overall well-being, including physical and emotional safety. 
  • the definition of harm applies not only to the student but also to other persons – this better reflects the responsibility you have for all learners and allows you to consider the impact on others. 
  • the current requirement to assess “serious and imminent risk” has been changed to “imminent harm” - we believe this will help you make quicker decisions about whether to act in what are often very quick-moving and fluid situations.  

The Bill also includes a requirement that rules and guidelines that support the physical restraint framework in a practical way be developed through consultation with teachers, principals, parents and the disability community - this means the current guidelines, which you have told us are confusing and unhelpful, will be replaced. 

The guidelines will help in decision-making and problem solving to prevent, de-escalate and safely respond to disruptive or assaultive behaviour.  

We will work hard to ensure teachers are consulted and involved in the development of the rules to provide you with the clarity you need. 

Our spokesperson in the media is Board member and John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh. Patrick is an expert on this as he was a member of the original Working Party that developed guidelines for the profession, spoke on behalf of teachers and the Council at Select Committee this year, has a background in law and has been working with other peak body leaders on this issue. 

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