Teachers who hit students at a private Tongan Christian school in Mangere were not taken to court because of the wishes of the families, despite complaints from five children.

One Tongan leader yesterday defended the use of corporal punishment on the primary-aged students at the troubled Pacific Christian School, saying it was a common form of discipline in the Pasifika community.

"A little clip on their ear is not bashing children, it's not hitting children, it's warning children, basically," Dr Sitaleki Finau told Radio New Zealand. "Pacific Islanders learn differently than others in New Zealand."

But local MP Su'a William Sio said it was unacceptable to use culture and religion to justify violence against children, girls and women.


The Education Ministry yesterday said it was suspending the school's registration and it would close in two weeks because of safety concerns.

Police and social workers were called in to investigate last year after an 11-year-old student reportedly stabbed another in the head with scissors. A special Education Review Office report found a large range of issues, including the use of physical punishment, staffing concerns and a lack of quality tuition.

The principal, Lisita Paongo, was not a trained teacher, holding only a Limited Authority to Teach - a temporary permit. The curriculum had little relevance to students' lives in New Zealand and "did not support their language, culture and identity", the ERO said.

It was the first time the ministry had suspended a private school's registration and it wasn't done lightly, said the deputy secretary of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey.

Police and Child, Youth and Family had investigated after complaints from five children about physical discipline. Police said that after taking into account several relevant factors including the wishes of the children and their families, all four teachers concerned were formally warned.