A Far North principals' association president was hoping a Ministry of Education meeting in Wellington on Friday to review guidelines on the restraint of children would result in change. He was disappointed.

"The Mad Hatters are now in control of our classrooms," said Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman.

He had advised his members to pray that those making the decisions would "apply common sense for once".

"A teacher is not even allowed to lift a 5-year-old up and carry them out [of the classroom] when they throw things [during] a tantrum.

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"Instead, we are supposed to leave them and remove all the other children," he said.

"A child can be utterly destroying a room ... and the same applies. It's Cuckoo Land.

"Last year, we identified 1079 [primary] children at the top end of behavioural concerns due to unresolved trauma and abuse they had suffered, where P was rife in some areas, and in most schools to quite a degree.

"We can claim to have the highest suicide rate for our young in New Zealand. We have a huge number of very small schools in very isolated areas, in very low socio-economic communities.

"And what help did we get? Counsellors? No. Mental health facilities to cover needs? No.

Sufficient staffing to ensure the safety of staff and children from other children? No. Access to absolutely required resources/resourcing? No.

"But we did get guidelines on restraint that make it far harder for us to ensure the safety of all children and staff, give us little option but to stand down ... in many cases, and have handed over control of our schools to any child who wishes to push the boundaries and knows the rules."

Previously, Susan Howan, the Ministry of Education's acting deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, has said a catalyst for the legislation was the need to protect teachers in an area which was legally complicated.

"Teachers and authorised staff members also need to use professional judgment to decide what constitutes a 'serious and imminent risk to safety'," Howan said. "Restraint may be appropriate if the safety of the student or others is at risk."

Howan said the ministry had added resources to meet a rise in demand for training in managing difficult student behaviour.

Coping with disruptive kids

One Northland school has such regular problems with an uncontrollable child that the teacher and pupils have a password — Avocado — which means everyone has to get out.

A Year 2 boy urinated on the floor in front the class as an act of defiance, swore and spat at the teacher, destroyed classroom property, on occasion screamed for long periods of time, hit and kicked the teacher and other pupils.

He refused to leave the classroom when asked to, the teacher repeatedly facing the choice of allowing him to remain and potentially continue his disruptive behaviour, or taking the classroom outside "again".

Several incidents with an 8-year-old who smashed windows/punched holes in the bathroom walls. Students/staff placed in lockdown on three occasions until he calmed down. The child's "psychologist", who used to see him occasionally, asked us to write a review of each incident so they could justify putting anger management strategies in place.

We have had at least five instances of parents unable to get children out of their car or into class this term. On two occasions, the parent eventually left the school with the child.

Since these stupid unworkable guidelines have been put in place I have twice broken the law, and did it both times without thinking, because the children I removed from the classrooms had viciously assaulted other kids during class time.

I got a call from a Year 1-2 teacher who has a child with behavioural problems in her class. When I got there she was outside the class with her children. She informed me that he was inside the class laying waste to everything ... The classroom was a tip.