Using physical restraint in schools

Schools are required 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 there are rules about when it is okay to do so.

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

What is physical restraint?

Physical restraint is when a teacher or authorised staff member uses physical force to stop or restrict a student from moving their body.

This is different from the acceptable physical contact that happens every day in school.

Examples of acceptable physical contact include:

  • Temporary physical contact, such as an open hand on the arm, back or shoulders to remove a student from a situation to a safer place.
  • Supporting a student to move them to another location, or help them to get in a vehicle or use the stairs.
  • Younger students, especially in their first year of school, sometimes need additional help. For example, teachers may 'shepherd' a group of younger students from one place to another.
  • Staff may hold the hand of a young student who is happy to have their hand held for a short time.
  • Staff may pick a student up to comfort them.
  • Assisting a student with toileting, including changing a nappy.

When can physical restraint be used?

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.

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.

What happens after an incident involving physical restraint?

The rules 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 need to notify the parents or caregivers, the Ministry of Education and the employer (board of trustees or manager of a private school).

Talking to parents on the day

After an incident involving physical restraint, schools should tell the parents or caregivers the same day the incident occurred so they can monitor the student’s wellbeing at home.

Next steps

Schools should offer the parents or caregivers a separate debriefing as soon as practically possible, preferably within two days of the incident.

At this meeting, schools should:

  • give parents or caregivers the opportunity to discuss the incident
  • invite them to become active partners in exploring alternatives to restraint
  • if appropriate, involve the student in this debriefing session
  • write notes from the debriefing along with next steps or actions.

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