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Physical restraint and behaviour management guidance

Legislative changes

Changes in the Education and Training Act 2020 directly impact you as a teacher. Here is a brief overview of 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”. 

 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 Act 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.

In the meantime the rules and guidelines introduced in 2017 apply.

Physical Restraint Advisory Group

A Physical Restraint Advisory Group has been established by the Ministry of Education to update the rules and create new Physical Restraint and Behaviour Management Guidelines.

The advisory group is made up of representatives from the Ministry and national bodies representing teachers (the Teaching Council, PPTA and NZEI), principals, the disability community, school trustees and children (Office of the Commissioner for Children).

The advisory group is aiming to produce draft rules and guidelines for wider consultation. Consultation will include teachers, students, parents, and Māori and Pacific communities.

The ETA 2020 requires the guidelines for use of physical restraint and behaviour management at registered schools to include:

  1. best practice examples of
    - how to use physical restraint safely; and
    - how to assess significant emotional distress; and
    - understanding, and responding safely to, behaviour; and a
  2. framework for decision making and problem solving to prevent, de-escalate, and safely respond to disruptive or assaultive behaviour; and
  3. advice on assessing behaviour escalation levels that precede imminent harm to health, safety, or well-being.

Your views on the current guidelines

We invite you to email us what you think about the current Guidelines for Registered Schools in New Zealand on the Use of Physical Restraint – what do you think should be retained and what needs to be included, in addition to the proposed changes?

The proposed changes for the new Physical Restraint and Behaviour Management Guidelines include placing greater emphasis on how to assess significant emotional distress, assess  behaviour escalation levels, and how to problem solve and make decisions to apply prevention and/or de-escalation techniques.

Further reading

Read our press releases:

Disappointment about lack of change to physical restraint framework 

Child safety and wellbeing at the heart of Teaching Council efforts around physical restraint rules

Listen to Teaching Council Governing Council and principal Patrick Walsh  interviewed on RNZ Morning Report