Guest opinion: Anti-smacking law a failure – Bob McCoskrie – National Director, Family First NZ
NZ Herald – Published in Bay of Plenty Times 14 June 2019
Dawn Picken “Lack of a beating not the reason for badly behaved children” and her choice of the word ‘beating’ misrepresents the real issue surrounding good parenting and how the state has undermined the role of parents, and now teachers.
In our 2016 analysis “Defying Human Nature: An Analysis of New Zealand’s 2007 Anti-Smacking Law”, government statistics showed that there was not a single social indicator relating to the abuse of children that had shown significant or sustained improvement since the passing of the anti-smacking law in 2007. Instead, there had been a 136% increase in physical abuse, 43% increase in sexual abuse, 45% increase in neglect or maltreatment of children, and the child abuse death rate continued unabated.
The smacking law has been so bereft of success that supporters have resorted to unsupported and arbitrary claims that good parents haven’t been affected and that no-one has been prosecuted by it. These claims have been proven patently false.
But now, due to unrealistic and nonsensical classroom behaviour management guidelines and policies, some school classrooms are becoming unsafe environments which will be emotionally harmful to children in the class who just want to enjoy school in an atmosphere of safety.
Ministry Guidelines argue that “physical restraint is a serious intervention” and that the “emotional and physical impact on the student being restrained” can be significant. They say that school staff should not use physical restraint in a number of situations including:
- to respond to behaviour that is disrupting the classroom but not putting anyone in danger of being hurt
- for refusal to comply with an adult’s request
- to stop a student who is trying to leave the classroom or school without permission
- to stop a student who is damaging or removing property, unless there is a risk to safety.
They also say that “if escalation occurs, move further away”.
For any acts of physical restraint on a student, five forms must be completed – an incident report, information for the Ministry, staff reflection form, debriefing form with the Principal, and a debriefing with the parents.
Official documents from the Ministry of Education in March showed that more than 1,000 reports of physical restraint have had to be lodged by schools since new rules were introduced for schools in August 2017. 75% of the incidences occurred in primary schools with children as young as five. 85% of the incidences involved boys. This also means that more than 5,000 forms or reports will have had to be completed by school staff.
The Ministry suggests that the number of reported incidents is “a small percentage” but the real issue is whether teachers are ignoring or unable to deal with unruly and unacceptable behaviour in very young children because teachers are now no longer confident or unsure of their right to restrain students. This then places all students at risk. Teachers also say that they are scared to even break up schoolyard fights or are standing back while a student trashes the classroom
It seems ironic that as we are saying no to violence within families and our community, schools are expected to tolerate an unacceptable level of violence and unruly behaviour, and school staff are wasting hours of valuable time having to complete documentation on the physical restraint of disruptive and unruly students in primary schools.
Teachers are right to be concerned about the potential harms and hassles of handling unruly and violent students and the possible effect on their professional status.
Common sense has been expelled from schools, and no amount of ‘guidelines’ and ‘professional development courses’ can make up for teachers being able to respond quickly and instinctively in the most effective way in often very stressful and exceptional circumstances. Parents also want assurance that their children will be kept safe from violent or unruly students.
Combined with the ‘chilling’ effect of the anti-smacking law, this is all having the adverse effect of parents and teachers becoming too afraid to administer any physical control or restraint of children. Children have received the message that adults can not touch them or even tell them what to do.
This seriously undermines the authority of parents, teachers, and even the police themselves – hence the increasing violence and disrespect towards parents, teachers and police.
Student behaviour and bullying will continue to deteriorate for as long as we tell them that their rights are more important than their responsibilities, proper parental authority is undermined by politicians and subject to the rights of their children, and that there will be no consequences of any significance when they ‘cross the line’.