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VIPs - Equity In Education

Many parents and people in the disability community are welcoming the enactment of the Education and Training Bill.

We are pleased that MPs listened to a wide range of views, and as a result, removed the proposed permissive provisions giving teachers and school staff unprecedented powers to use ‘physical force’ on children and kept the limited use of force that is currently allowed. Students with disabilities are more at risk from unjustified use of physical restraint and physical force in compulsory educational settings than other students. Such unwanted physical contact can and has caused significant distress and long term harm for our children, for our whanau and for the wider community.

We support Minister Hipkins’ statement that,

‘“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t create a presumption that gives people a false sense of comfort that they can do something that they shouldn’t be doing“. The use of force should always be considered a response of last resort and never be a comfortable decision, especially when used on children.

The debate around ‘physical force’ in the bill has revealed a significant difference in perspective - and it is the child’s viewpoint we give consideration to first and foremost. It does not matter if the person is a child or an adult - unwanted physical contact can be intimidating, invasive and a violation. For children who have limited power and control compared to most adults the impacts of unwanted physical contact are heightened and often scary.

Unwanted physical contact is also a breach of their human and disability rights.

We want our schools, teachers, and education system to be better equipped to work with all students. We know that the education system struggles to meet the needs of children with disabilities and that children's wellbeing, identity, and sense of safety has been and is being damaged by this. The lack of supports in compulsory education settings can and does have significant impacts on children’s behaviours and these behaviours are often misinterpreted and responded to as bad behaviours - and not as the distress and trauma behaviours they are. For some children unwanted physical contact can trigger a fight/flight/freeze response and escalate the situation due to misinterpretation of the behaviour.

Learning to recognise distress and trauma, and intervening early to calm and deescalate is the better choice than the use of force, as is providing the needed support from the outset and addressing any issues causing distress, such as bullying. Our preference is that teachers and other adults in schools are supported to learn how to respond in better ways that de-escalate a child’s distress, rather than be given permission to respond with ‘force’.

Fortunately, under the new Act and the new provisions around physical restraint, all school staff will have access to this training and support. They will also have the right to intervene physically when there is no other option to prevent harm. Ultimately, this combination will lead to safer school environments for all, and an overall reduction in the use of physical restraint.

The new Education and Training Act will give us the opportunity to better support disabled children in educational settings. As well as the provisions related to physical restraint, the Act will legally enshrine their right to full time attendance at schools, and when things go wrong, it gives them and their whanau access to a disputes resolution process.

We are glad to be part of these discussions and look forward to contributing to the development of all these systems and processes under the new Act.

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