Support for schools to manage challenging student behaviour

The Ministry can provide universal, targeted and individual support to prevent behaviour issues and respond to challenges as they arise.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Teachers and Kaiako
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Specialist Staff
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau
  • Boards

Schools can choose to utilise support provided by the Ministry for managing student behaviour. School staff must follow strict rules if they physically restrain a student and this can only be done as a last-resort measure.

Universal support

Positive learning environments help promote positive behaviour and prevent behavioural issues. Practical approaches for achieving this are outlined in the Behaviour and Learning Guide available on Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI).

Learners’ behaviour is influenced by the quality of relationships with their teachers and the nature of the learning environment. Teaching for Positive Behaviour is a resource used by teachers in primary and secondary settings to draw on effective practices that support behaviour, engagement and learning. For schools involved in Positive behaviour for Learning School-Wide (PB4L-SW) the resource also serves as a companion to the Tier One and Two implementation manuals.

Monitoring and self-review is also important for building and maintaining positive learning environments, and this can be done through resources such as the Wellbeing@School (W@S)(external link) website and tools.

The Understanding Behaviour, Responding Safely (UBRS) workshops are PLD available for all staff in a school to understand how to de-escalate and respond to calm things down when dangerous situations occur. They are provided by Learning Support staff who can also provide on-going support, for children and young people with higher levels of challenging behaviour.

Targeted support

Ministry staff can provide support to address particular needs of groups of children and young people who require behaviour and learning support beyond what is provided by the school.

Individual support

For individual children who experience ongoing, severe and challenging behaviour, Ministry staff can work as a team. The team usually includes the whānau, the child or young person, school and specialists who work together to meet the child’s needs.

Using physical restraint as a last resort

Staff must focus on developing and using de-escalation strategies to prevent dangerous situations. It helps when staff plan together for these possible situations so that they know how to respond.

However, there are occasions when a student may need to be physically restrained to prevent imminent harm to the student or another person. Physical restraint involves the use of force to stop, restrict or subdue a student’s movement against their will. This is used in situations where no other options have worked or are available, to prevent harm. Situations like this could be:

  • Breaking up a fight
  • Stopping a student with a weapon
  • When furniture or other objects are thrown close to others who could be injured
  • Preventing a student from running onto a road.

Further information on the use of physical restraint is found here Guidelines for Registered Schools in New Zealand on the Use of Physical Restraint (September 2017) [PDF, 279 KB].

There are also rules that set out the procedures schools must follow, when physical restraint occurs. These include requirements to notify the parents or caregivers and report to the Ministry of Education.

Download the rules [PDF, 847 KB]

If you have an incident of physical restraint at your school download and complete the Incident of physical restraint form [DOCX, 52 KB] and email to You can also email any queries about the rules to the same address.

Students that have challenging behaviours need a team approach and a plan that will support their learning and behaviour. Ministry Learning Support specialists can help. We also provide advice and guidance in physical restraint for these students, when it is needed. This is tailored to particular situations, to keep everyone safe. A school can contact their local Ministry office for these supports.

Changes under the Education and Training Act 2020

Changes to the legislation regulating the use of physical restraint came into force on 1 August 2020. Details about these changes can be found at Education and Training Act 2020: Updating the physical restraint framework.

The existing rules and the guidelines on the use of physical restraint are now being updated to align to these legislative changes. They will include a framework for decision making and problem solving to prevent, de-escalate and safely respond to challenging behaviour. We are currently consulting on draft updated rules and guidelines – go to the Kōrero Mātauranga website(external link) to read through these and have your say.

Employers, principals, teachers and authorised staff members should continue to follow procedures set out in the existing rules and have regard to the current guidelines. When used, these will continue to help keep teacher practice safe. Where there are inconsistencies between the legislation and the guidelines about the threshold for when physical restraint can be used, the legislation takes precedence.

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