Principals call for change to restraint rules

Whetu Cormick
Whetu Cormick
Dunedin school principals are calling for the Government to make urgent changes to the guidelines for restraint of school pupils, as the number of staff being assaulted by pupils continues to rise across the country.

Bathgate Park School and New Zealand Principals' Federation (NZPF) president Whetu Cormick said statistics from the recent Primary School Leaders' Occupational Health and Well-being Survey showed principals were now 11.79 times more likely to be subject to physical violence at work than the rest of the population, compared with seven times more likely in 2016.

"This upward trend in physical violence against principals in schools is disturbing and indicates an urgent need to address the underlying causes.

"These include the increasing number of mentally unwell children in our schools."

Otago Primary Principals' Association (OPPA) executive member and Green Island School principal Steve Hayward said the number of principals being assaulted was just the tip of the iceberg.

Many more teachers, support staff and pupils were being assaulted, he said.

"Some kid rages and often it's a teacher aide, a teacher or the other children in the class [that] are the first to experience it.

"The principal may become involved later."

From talking to fellow principals and school staff around Otago, he believed there had been an increase in "more extreme behaviour" from younger children over the past five years.

"There's a total lack of respect for staff. We're seeing biting, kicking, spitting, throwing things - kids picking up chairs and hitting people with them.

"Almost every principal that I've spoken to in the last five years, has at least one story of how they have been assaulted."

Mr Cormick said the special education system had been "dysfunctional" for years.

He applauded a new Learning Support Plan developed by Minister for Children and Associate Minister of Education Tracey Martin, but believed it could not be implemented fast enough.

"We know that to fix years of neglect in this area will cost millions of dollars and we can't just do it all overnight.

"What we must address immediately though is the safety and wellbeing of our principals, our teachers and our children.

"That means a further injection of funds for teacher aides, specialist teachers and alternative education right now."

Another matter requiring urgent attention was the Guidelines for Restraint, he said.

"It is ridiculous that we cannot restrain a child who is trashing a classroom or principal's office.

"The Crimes Act and the Education Act are at odds on this issue and schools need this mess sorted quickly," he said.

Mr Hayward agreed.

"Taking a child by the left elbow and assisting them from the room just doesn't work.

"How much do you stand by and watch? Do you intervene when a kid trashes $6000 worth of computers, or do you intervene at $12,000?

"How many times a day can a teacher be expected to remove their class, while another pupil destroys a classroom?"

He said the situation had become so bad, the OPPA had recently engaged a researcher from the University of Otago, to identify how widespread the problem is and look for solutions.

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