A school principals' leader is asking whether a Ministry of Education director is an "alien from reality" after suggesting teachers should call the police over unruly students.

Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman was moved to question whether the ministry's national director for learning support, David Wales, was an alien or had been indulging in "something common up in Northland".

Mr Newman recently warned inadequate funding and a staffing cap on specialist Ministry of Education staff had forced desperate Northland principals to threaten to suspend disruptive students.

Mr Wales responded by telling Newstalk ZB the ministry was well aware of the problems in Northland, and suspension was not the answer.


If violent behaviour was occurring, schools should discuss it with the police, he said.

"Call the police he says," Mr Newman said.

"Before, during or after the furniture starts flying? Or perhaps the police will base a policeman in every school up here. Or the talk itself will fix the problem.

"These are five to 10-year-olds I am talking about.

"Children threatening teachers with weapons, throwing chairs around the classroom and attacking other kids. A child who walks up to another volatile kid without any warning, grabs them around the neck, throws them off the chair. A child who threatens to stab another kid with scissors and races back to the classroom to get the scissors.

"A child who had to be restrained because they had a knife in their hand and they wanted to stab a teacher.

"The last time I rang [the police] when I was restraining a child who was aiming to drastically and suddenly reduce my weight using the knives I was dodging, the response was 'sorry, we are too busy. You will have to deal with it'.

"What about the small school 110km from the closest police?

"We are in trouble if, when we are so desperate for help for psychological medical counselling services, for assessment services, for one-on-one help during school time, this is the ministry's best advice."

Mr Newman said the most urgent plea was for help with children "before they graduate to the next level, and help would come too late".

And it wasn't about a lack of money.

"The minister has more than $300 million set aside for her pet project Communities of Learning, that schools have been resisting despite extreme pressure from the ministry. That could be immediately released where it is desperately needed now," he said.

The "crisis" numbers of children suffering trauma at home and issues such as foetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD now represented a matter of health and safety for staff and other children.

NZEI Te Riu Roa national secretary Paul Goulter said the situation was a crisis of funding, both of schools and ministry services.

"Children who are a real danger to themselves and others might only get two hours a day of ministry-funded teacher aide support.

"The school must fund the other four hours out of their operations grant, and it's not sustainable, particularly in areas of high need like Northland," he said.

"As we've heard at support staff paid union meetings around New Zealand over the past three weeks, schools are cutting support staff hours and jobs to balance their budgets, even as the need for greater support for our students is growing."