New rules for using physical restraint in schools

New rules have come into force which require schools to notify, monitor and report on the use of physical restraint.

Schools should be, and usually are, a safe and happy place. But there are times when things risk getting out of control and someone needs to step in.

On rare occasions a student may need to be physically restrained and new rules have now been issued to give greater clarity about when it is okay to do so.

To be clear, the use of physical restraint is a last resort. It is far better to prevent dangerous situations developing or using de-escalation techniques to calm things down, but that’s not always possible.

The legislation says that a teacher or authorised staff member can use physical restraint if he or she reasonably believes that there is a serious and imminent risk to the safety of the student or others, and the physical restraint must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. Situations where it may be appropriate include:

  • Breaking up a fight
  • Stopping a student from moving in with a weapon
  • Stopping a student who is throwing furniture close to others who could be injured 
  • Preventing a student from running onto a road.

The rules [PDF, 847 KB] have requirements for schools to notify monitor and report on the use of physical restraint.

Physical restraint is a serious intervention and when it is used schools now need to notify the Ministry of Education and the employer (board of trustees, sponsor of a partnership school kura hourua, or manager of a private school). This new requirement will allow us to provide appropriate support to schools and students, and update the rules and guidelines if needed to address emerging issues.

If you have an incident of physical restraint at your school you’ll need to complete a form and send it to physical.restraint@education.govt.nz. You can also email any queries about the rules to the same address.

Download the form [DOCX, 53 KB]

If schools feel they would benefit from training in this area, a workshop, Understanding Behaviour, Responding Safely, is available to all schools. It focuses on prevention and de-escalation strategies and is run by experienced behaviour management specialists (who also offer ongoing support). Any school interested in the workshop should contact their local Ministry of Education office.

Some of the students with the most challenging behaviours will have specific physical intervention and restraint techniques in their individual student plans. Where the Ministry is part of the team supporting such a student specific training for staff in using those techniques is available.

New (September 2017) and updated Guidelines for Registered Schools in New Zealand on the Use of Physical Restraint [PDF, 279 KB] are now available.

If you have any questions contact your local Ministry of Education office

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