TEACHERS remain vulnerable to suspension and dismissal when they use force with challenging pupils because of Government confusion over guidance on restraint, say heads.
Heads and deputies of schools for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties make up more than half of the 40-plus suspension cases being handled by the National Association of Head Teachers. Yet there are only around 300 EBD schools in England and Wales - just over 1 per cent of all maintained schools.
The National Association of Emotional and Behavioural Difficulty Schools had been hoping that long-promised new guidance for their sector from the Department for Education and Skills would relieve the pressure, by setting national standards. But work on a draft document published last summer has been taken over by the Department of Health, and much of the detail on "handling strategies" for pupils with severe behavioural problems has been dropped - on legal advice.
Meanwhile, the head of the British Institute for Learning Difficulties, which is carrying through much of the DOH work, said the department had been spurred into action on restraint by a BBC investigative programme. John Harris, the Institute's chief executive, told the NAES' recent annual conference that a controversial episode of MacIntyre Uncovered, which filmed staff allegedly abusing residents in a care home in Medway, had "put the cat among the pigeons".
NAES members complain that what is considered an acceptable use of force varies across the country, so staff are suspended and disciplined even when they have acted in line with school policies. Differences in professional values between the education and social services sector, which investigates allegations of misuse of force, add to the problem.
Gerry Gamble, NAES chairman, said it was still not clear how work on restraint done by departments of health or education was going to dovetail. The DOH has not consulted schools, he said. "Issues about training staff and recording incidents are dealt with pretty well by the DOH. But there's no direct advice on what's good practice when it comes to using physical restraint with difficult pupils. For example, in the DFES draft document, there was some discussion about holding children in the prone position.
"Why can't we have model policies for the use of physical force that any school can amend to take account of the needs of their client group? If policies on restraint were agreed nationally, wouldn't that make it easier to ensure fair play for teachers who face allegations of physical assault?" Chris Wells, head of special educational needs at the DFES, told the conference that officials had "a real fundamental problem delivering what you need".
They had been advised by lawyers that there was not yet a strong enough evidence base for the Government to give specific guidance on best practice. The DOH guidance would focus on the need to record policies and incidents, and ensure intervention is proportionate.
july13 2001 TES 11 www.tes.co.uk