IHC calls on Government to abandon force in schools

Media release

1 July 2020

IHC is calling on the Government to heed the wave of anti-brutality sentiment sweeping the world and move away from the use of force and restraint in schools.

The Education and Training Bill, currently before the Committee of the whole House, includes clause 95 which replaces the term “physical restraint”, which is allowed by current law, with “physical force”. This change would allow teachers and staff members to use force against students to prevent imminent harm to that student or another person.

But Trish Grant, IHC Director of Advocacy, says with the right leadership, training, school practice, staff skills and school atmosphere, all schools could move to using restraint very rarely, in only very high-risk situations.

“We need to move away from using force or restraint, and instead use worthwhile de-escalation techniques,” Trish says.

“In recent weeks, there have been worldwide demonstrations protesting the excessive use of force by police. If we are moving towards a world where police are expected to peacefully de-escalate, it is not the right move for force to be brought back to schools.

“New Zealand knows better than this and must do better – using force against children and young people, regardless of how they are behaving, is a violation of their rights and an indictment on our collective humanity.”

IHC says students with disability and their families are particularly concerned about the re-introduction of force at school. In an example given by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, a teacher could use force to prevent a student from destroying another student’s work.

“The use of force in schools to protect objects is unacceptable,” says Trish.

Students with disabilities disproportionally feel the brunt of restraint used in schools. In 2019, the NZ Herald reported: “Details provided under the Official Information Act show that the country's 37 special schools, which have only 0.5 per cent of all students, accounted for 22 per cent of the physical restraints reported in the 15 months up to November.”

If force were to be introduced these students would also be the ones to experience it.

“We support the concerns of teachers that violence is escalating in our schools,” Trish says.

“Most discussion of this issue pits teachers, families and disability groups against each other, but we all want the same thing – schools that are safe places for all and that allow our students to flourish.”

Trish says students and their families have not had enough say in the process and decision-making, and their rights and wellbeing have not been fully considered.

“If we do not respond to students appropriately, this could lead to students experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm or feeling suicidal,” Trish says.

“There needs to be an integrated cross government approach to support -these students to determine what is causing the behaviour and work on dealing with those issues. Police, Justice, family harm, trauma, violence, mental health, addiction and child development and behaviour experts must come together to develop strategies and practices to assist students to thrive.”