School governance and management

Teachers and staff

How do I make a complaint about a teacher?

If you’re having a problem with a teacher, it’s usually best to start by talking to them directly with your whānau, if you can.

If that doesn’t resolve things, or if you can’t speak to them for some reason, the next step is to talk to the principal.

If you’re still unhappy with how it’s being handled, you can go to the school board. You can get the details of the chairperson from the school office and write to them confidentially. The board then discusses the issue at a board meeting. If you like, you can ask to go to the meeting where your issue is discussed.

Can I take my complaint any further?

Yes, in some circumstances you can make a complaint to the Teaching Council. You can do this if:

  • you think the school board won’t be able to deal with your issue because of a conflict of interest (for example, if the principal is married to the teacher you want to complain about)
  • you have already complained to the principal or board, but you’re not satisfied with the way they dealt with your complaint
  • the complaint is about a teacher who has left the school
  • there are other exceptional circumstances (for example, if you have an issue with a teacher who is not at your school, or where a teacher has possibly committed a crime).

The Teaching Council is responsible for investigating the competency and conduct of teachers.

Competency is about whether the teacher is doing their job to the standards set by the Teaching Council and is an employment issue.

Conduct is about behaviour that is unsafe. Serious misconduct includes things like physically abusing students, inappropriate relationships with students, neglect, theft and fraud.

To make a complaint to the Teaching Council, you need to fill out their complaint form. You can find this on the Teaching Council’s website, go to and search “reporting a concern”

Some important things to note:

  • if you haven’t taken your complaint to the school board first, the Teaching Council is likely to refer the matter back to them
  • you must provide your name on the complaint form – you can’t make an anonymous complaint
  • the teacher will be given a chance to respond to any accusations you make.

When can teachers use “physical restraint”?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 99, 100; Guidelines for Registered Schools in New Zealand on the Use of Physical Restraint 2017

Only in serious and limited situations. “Physical restraint” is when someone uses force to stop or restrict you without your permission, like grabbing your arms.

Teachers and other trained staff members cannot use physical restraint unless:

  • it is necessary to stop immediate harm to you or another person, and
  • they believe that there is no other option available, and
  • the restraint is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

For example, a teacher can use physical restraint if you have a weapon and intend to hurt someone else, you are physically attacking someone, throwing furniture, or harming yourself.

If a teacher does physically restrain you, they have to keep a record that this has happened. They should also:

  • contact parents or guardians to let them know what happened, and
  • make a plan about how a situation could be managed without using physical restraint in the future.

When can’t teachers use physical restraint?

Teachers can’t use physical restraint if your behaviour is not causing any immediate harm to yourself or others.

For example, teachers can’t use restraint to stop you leaving school, or as a way of punishing you.

What if a teacher has used physical restraint or force when they shouldn’t have?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 491

If you believe this has happened:

  • Contact your local Community Law office for free legal advice. See “Where to go for more support” at the end of this guide
  • Let the principal know. The school, as the teacher’s employer, has to report anything that could be serious misconduct to the Teaching Council.

Serious misconduct is behaviour that negatively impacts your wellbeing. The use of physical force without proper reason is against the laws in the Education and Training Act, and is very likely to be serious misconduct.

Did this answer your question?

School governance and management

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

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