Physical restraint

Schools and kura should be places where the uniqueness and diversity of all ākonga is nurtured and valued. Physical restraint should only be used as a last resort. It is the school’s responsibility to work with you to understand and agree the best way to respond to your child or young person’s distress to minimise situations where physical restraint might be used.

There are clear physical restraint rules and guidelines in place for all registered primary and secondary schools. The guidelines are focused on understanding student distress, minimising the use of physical restraint and eliminating unjustified physical restraint.

Rules – Ministry of Education(external link) [PDF 412 KB]

Guidelines – Ministry of Education(external link) [PDF 13 MB]

What is physical restraint?

Physical restraint, in relation to a student, means to use physical force to prevent, restrict, or subdue the movement of a student (or any part of their body) against their will.

Physical restraint is different from the acceptable physical contact (guidelines, page 32) that happens every day in schools.

What is the legislation around physical restraint in schools?

New rules and guidelines on understanding student distress and minimising physical restraint in schools came into force on 7 February 2023.

They were created in response to changes in the Education and Training Act 2020 and calls from schools for more clarity about the use of physical restraint and what is acceptable physical contact.

Education and Training Act 2020 – Legislation NZ website(external link)

The rules and guidelines are not for use in early learning services.

When can physical restraint be used?

Physical restraint can only be considered as a last resort, and it can only be used by teachers or authorised staff members when all three of the following conditions are met.  

  1. The physical restraint is necessary to prevent imminent harm, including significant emotional distress, to the student or another person.
  2. The teacher/authorised staff member reasonably believes there is no other option available in the circumstances for preventing the harm.
  3. The physical restraint is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances (only applying as much force as is necessary for the minimum time necessary).

Situations where it may be appropriate to use physical restraint include breaking up a fight, stopping a student from throwing furniture that could injure others or preventing a student from running onto a road.

What happens if physical restraint is used on my child?

If physical restraint is used, the school has an obligation under the legislation to notify you as a parent or caregiver.

The school must:

  • Notify you as soon as possible after physical restraint has been used — at minimum before your tamariki returns home that day. That way you can monitor the wellbeing of your tamariki at home.
  • Provide you with an opportunity to actively participate in a debrief. The debrief must occur within three working days (or later by mutual agreement).
  • Complete an online incident report so it can be followed up by the Ministry of Education.

What if I have a concern after physical restraint has been used?

If you believe unjustified restraint has occurred with your tamariki and wish to raise your concerns, ask the school principal or manager about their schools’ complaints process.

You can also:

Independent options are available to you if you are not satisfied with the outcome.  (external link)

Complaints options independent of the Ministry(external link)

According to Rule 4(1), by 7 May 2023, every school must have a policy on reducing student distress and the use of physical restraint that has regard to the guidelines issued by the Secretary for Education under section 101 of the Act, including a process for managing complaints.

Individual support plans

Schools will work with parents, whānau and caregivers to develop individual support plans ahead of time for students who need them, as per Rule 8.1 of the Education (Physical Restraint) Rules 2023.

Schools, ākonga, parents and caregivers discuss and agree responses to challenging situations so that teachers and authorised staff can quickly and effectively respond if needed. Parents and caregivers must provide consent if physical restraint is included in a support plan.

There is a sample consent form in the guidelines – we recommend getting in touch with your local Ministry office if you need advice or support to complete it. Our guidelines for obtaining informed consent may also be useful.

Guidelines for obtaining informed consent [PDF, 4 MB]

Please note: Even if physical restraint is not included in a student’s support plan, teachers and authorised staff may still use physical restraint as a last resort if the above three conditions are met.


All teachers and authorised staff must complete a mandatory training module. More modules, webinars and support will be available for schools throughout 2023 and 2024. Parents, whānau and caregivers can also do the online module if they wish. Visit the Training education website, click on “Guest access” and search for “Physical restraint.”

Training education website(external link)

Minimising the use of physical restraint in New Zealand schools and kura – Ministry of Education(external link)

If you have any questions, email

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