'No matter how good at behaviour management you are, removing the option of restraint puts people at risk'

An assistant headteacher at a special school explains that although restraint may sometimes be necessary, the right behavior policy can reduce the need for physical interventions

Joe White

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There is nothing more distressing and potentially damaging than the moment an adult places hands on a child. And yet the reality is that no matter how good teachers are at managing behaviour, sometimes a situation will escalate to the point where the risk of not intervening is too great and it becomes necessary to use restraint.

In any school, there is a chance that a teacher may be the victim of assault or have to intervene physically to protect another child or member of staff. If we hide behind denial and assume this situation could never happen in our school, then we are putting ourselves and our students at risk.

The reality is that teachers are sometimes put in difficult positions where they have to support vulnerable children through crises with limited support from leadership, external agencies or parents.

'A pressure cooker'

Of course, we should try every other avenue first. Some young people will struggle more than others with the pressures and expectations of the classroom. As a result, these pupils will push back – and it can happen no matter what their background, diagnosis or label.

The classroom is a microcosm that squeezes together some of the most challenging aspects of the world at large and expects young people to deal with them as a rational adult would: authority; demands; hierarchy; often conflicting parental and peer expectations. When you add in unwanted, or maybe even longed-for, social interactions you create a pressure cooker in which the teacher must use all their skills to bring diverse classes together for a shared purpose.

To deal with this, each school should have a toolkit of interventions for teachers to use before resorting to a physical solution. The school’s ethos should also be considered, as this will determine how incidents of challenging behaviour are managed and how likely they are to escalate to the point where restraint is required. For example, is the approach taken to behaviour support positive or punitive? Do teachers have the flexibility to apply the behaviour policy according to the needs of the child?

If we are to minimise the risk of needing to use restraint, I believe it is essential that teachers have the freedom to differentiate the disciplinary procedures in the same way they would differentiate a lesson. This relies on a positive school ethos where behaviour is not used to define the child; where each child is seen as an individual and the school works hard to include them, no matter what their challenges or difficulty. We accept this in terms of learning, so why do we not recognise this when it’s related to behaviour?

If we can get this right, then the need for physical interventions would be reduced.

Joe White is assistant headteacher at Stone Bay School, a special school in Broadstairs, Kent, for children with autism and communication difficulties. @jw_teach 

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