Jumping to their defence

Training in appropriate methods of physical restraint should be made available to all teachers, but particularly heads and deputes, who have to intervene when violence erupts

THE SCOTTISH Executive is considering funding crisis aversion and restraint courses for primary heads and deputes, to help deal with violent pupils.

This coincides with the much-publicised alleged assault by a pupil on the headteacher of Hawick High. But a leading expert is warning that getting physical with youngsters must be a last resort.

From March, the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, will run workshops in cities across the country for its members, in response to strong demand. The association's conference last November heard calls for school staff to be trained in de-escalation and to have the option of training in physical restraint techniques.

Greg Dempster, the AHDS general secretary, said deputes in particular felt increasingly in the front line without appropriate training and feared legal action.

Simon Simpson, a depute head at a Glasgow east-end primary, was charged with assaulting a pupil and acquitted in court last year. In the wake of his experience, he called for training in appropriate methods of restraint for all teachers, with enhanced training for pastoral staff and senior management.

"All education authorities have a duty of care to clarify, for their staff, appropriate methods of restraint and the situations where that would be deemed totally acceptable and when it would be considered questionable," he told The TESS after his court case.

Another depute head said deputes were often the first port of call when a child became violent. "I think it's been proved that in 99 per cent of cases you can talk children down from a situation," she said. "I've been in situations where that hasn't worked, and you worry maybe you haven't said the right thing.

"Obviously, we want to avoid physical restraint, but there comes a stage where you really feel you do need to intervene physically. People don't always know how to approach youngsters."

The restraint course for AHDS members will be run by David Leadbetter, director of Crisis and Aggression Limitation and Management (Calm) Training, who has 30 years' experience in the field. Participants will have to have taken the initial crisis aversion course.

Mr Leadbetter said his courses did not offer quick solutions, but raised awareness of theories and techniques to diffuse or even avoid flashpoints.

Incidents have to be seen in context, Mr Leadbetter says, and teachers must take into consideration physical causes such as undiagnosed autism, where too much sensory stimuli can cause a child to "act out".

There should also be a whole-school approach, based on consistent policies, to avoid personal conflict between a particular pupil and teacher, he recommends. "A child may get into trouble for running in the corridor, for example, but he's just passed six teachers and it's only the seventh who has stopped him. That individualises it.

"Or Johnny is told to take his coat off in class and he says, 'Mr Brown next door lets me wear my coat in class'. You then have a power struggle between that pupil and teacher."

As well as having consistency, Mr Leadbetter suggests school leaders can help by ensuring better support. He believes there is currently a blame culture where teachers feel their competence will be questioned if they report an incident.

Teachers also need to know their rights, he adds. "Pupils often say: 'You can't touch me'," he said. "But that's wrong. Everybody has a statutory right to self-defence, and every teacher has the right to feel safe in his or her classroom."

Although the Calm courses are generally theoretical, Mr Leadbetter will teach hands-on, standing or sitting restraint techniques. "We don't use dangerous techniques, pain compliance, locks or flying angels. We are totally compliant with Scottish Executive guidance," he said.

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