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Save The Children Fully Supports Removal Of ‘physical Force’ From Proposed Education & Training Bill

Save the Children is in full support of removing the terminology of ‘physical force’ from the Education and Training Bill as it stands. Save the Children has been very clear in written and oral submissions to the Education and Workforce select committee that use of physical force against children has no place in modern education legislation.

They are very disappointed by comments made by the Teaching Council on RNZ condemning the removal of ‘physical force’ terminology, and seemingly endorsing the use of physical force against children by adults. This is particularly problematic given that children with increased social, emotional and learning needs, and or children with disabilities that struggle to communicate and manage their emotions, are at greater risk of situations where physical restraint is used.

Save the Children is in full support of the reasoning given by Minister Hipkins on the decision made not to escalate language of restraint in the Bill to ‘physical force’. Minister Hipkins has stated in a Beehive press release that, "The change follows concern from many submitters about some of the proposed changes, and in particular the change in terminology to ‘physical force’. Any use of restraint must be reasonable and proportionate, … and should only be used when staff believe there is no other alternative."[1]

As part of their submissions Save the Children endorsed calls for greater training and support for teachers in order to de-escalate highly charged situations. They are very pleased to see training and guidance included in the Bill.

Physical punishment has been banned in all education settings in New Zealand since 1990. For thirty years teachers have been required to use non-violent strategies in response to children’s behaviours that don’t align with classroom and or school rules.

Calls by the Teaching Council to sanction the use of ‘physical force’ is completely out of step with positive discipline practices and a journey of thirty years in developing and refining the use of these strategies. Treating children with force is not what one would expect as a teacher, parent or child, in today’s modern teaching and learning environment.

The argument by the Teaching Council, ‘ … that teachers should be assumed to be acting in good faith when using physical force against children,’ harks back toward outdated attitudes of ‘teacher knows best’ and power and domination of adults over children. Sadly pre 1990 a history of sanctioned abuse of children exists within education in the name of discipline and punishment. Too many adults have stories of being caned or strapped until they bled for minor misdemeanours. It is important the Bill takes us forward not back to the bad old days to an education environment where fear, violence and control was the norm.

Jacqui Southey, Child Rights Advocacy and Research Director for Save the Children, argues for the need to reclaim the concept of discipline back to its origins of teaching, nurture, care and guidance, and away from the common misconception of punishment, obedience and control.

"We call for a child rights approach to education where children are seen and treated as equal citizens and the use of physical force against children does not fit with this approach. A large body of research exists that condemns the use of physical force against children. If a child is in a highly distressed state using coercive control methods such as threatening, yelling and force, are more likely to exacerbate the situation with a real chance of greater harm to the child," says Southey.

Save the Children invites the Teaching Council to sit down with them and discuss a child rights approach to education and what the Council’s role may be in providing greater support to a culture of positive discipline where children in a distressed state are supported rather than treated with force.

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