More disciplinary action was taken as a result of verbal or physical assaults on staff in Rotorua schools in 2017 than the year before but local principals aren't concerned.

Figures released by the Ministry of Education under an Official Information Act request reveal the number of times a student was stood down or suspended for either a verbal or physical assault between January 2016 and August 2018.

In 2016 there were 28 stand downs and 11 suspensions for physical or verbal assaults on staff.

This compared with 2017 when there were 45 stand downs and seven suspensions.


Overall there were 164 stand downs in 2016 and 219 in 2017 for any reason. There were 88 suspensions each year.

The school with the highest number of stand downs due to verbal assaults between January 2016 and July 2018 was Rotorua Girls' High School with 20.

The ministry would not reveal the exact number of suspensions or stand downs if there were fewer than five, to protect the privacy of the staff and students involved.

A stand down is for a period of up to five school days while a suspension is the formal removal of a student from a school until the Board of Trustees decides how to address the behaviour by lifting or extending the suspension, or expelling the student.

"When used in appropriate circumstances a stand down can be a positive mechanism for preventing escalation," the response, written by the ministry's deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey, said.

"Stand downs and suspensions are measures of schools' reactions to behaviours as much as they are a measure of the behaviours themselves.

"What one school may suspend for, another may not, and the data does not capture the severity of an individual action."

Rotorua Principals' Association president and Rotokawa School principal Briar Stewart said she wasn't particularly concerned about the figures.


"Looking at the data, it's across quite a big period ... It reflects not too badly on the schools, to be honest.

"The challenge we have is with children both with behavioural and mental issues."

Stewart said at Rotokawa School each case was looked at individually but for a stand down or suspension to occur, there needed to be "significant harm done".

"A stand down is a consequence but when they arrive back it's a fresh page again. It's kind of a reset for them."

Stewart said the relationship between a teacher, child and the home was important to manage or prevent that kind of behaviour, as was respect.

"If respect isn't reciprocated the child won't give it. You have to behave in a manner where the child will respect you and that's earned, it's not a given."

Kaitao Intermediate principal Phil Palfrey agreed the numbers weren't concerning.

"It's one per cent of what happens in a school in a week."

Palfrey said the school used stand downs and suspensions sparingly.

"We go through a process before we ever stand a child down.

"We know it's going to be very disruptive to the child's life and as teachers it's counter-intuitive to do that to students but it's the only way we can sometimes change behaviours."

Palfrey said each incident was looked at on a case-by-case basis.

At Rotorua Boys' High School there were nine stand downs due to verbal assaults on staff between January 2016 and mid-2018.

Principal Chris Grinter said that was made up of five in 2016, four in 2017 and none in 2018 so far.

"[The school] will issue a stand down in instances of students swearing or verbally disrespecting a staff member. With 940 boys this can occasionally happen."

Rotorua-based registered clinical psychologist Dr Erin Eggleston said schools were making a stand against violence but there were a few potential reasons for children to act out.

"Let's think about this acting out behaviour as an underlying need we can tackle, understand or address.

"Some consideration might be stressors at home, at school, [in the] community."

Eggleston said some children might need to be upskilled in communication or emotional regulation skills and the behaviour may also suggest a mental health need or drug use.

"These are needs which would suggest putting them in front of a health professional like a GP or school councillor in the first instance."

Neither the Rotorua Girls' High School nor Kawaha Point School principals responded to requests for comment by deadline.