LAYING hands on aggressive children is the nettle nobody is prepared to grasp, one of the country's leading trainers in restraint techniques told educational psychologists at their annual Scottish conference.
David Leadbetter, director of CALM training services, said that there were clear situations where staff had to intervene physically, despite misgivings. Recent adverse publicity had not helped allay teachers' fears, although the law allowed them to act to avert risk and prevent damage.
Scotland, however, is lagging behind England and Wales in providing explicit guidelines to staff on acceptable practice, Mr Leadbetter said. "We do not know the extent of restraint in Scotland because there are no recording procedures and staff are often frightened to use it. There is a lack of regulation about what is acceptable. The Government says 'when' but not 'how'."
The law only suggests that reasonable force may be used. CALM (Crisis and Aggression, Limitation and Management) techniques involve various holds. They do not place children on the flat, do not involve pain and do not include locks across joints. A five-level hierarchy of intervention stages the response to extreme behaviour.
But Mr Leadbetter insists that restraint is only the final option in an organisational behaviour framework and would not work in isolation. "It's about defusing situations.Schools need policies on behavioural management, guidelines and specific philosophy and approach."
Evidence from Scottish authorities showed that schools which deployed positive behaviour strategies and trained staff in CALM techniques reported fewer incidents. Staff had to know there was a justification for using restraint and that they would be supported by the school and the authority. One council has reported fewer staff sicknesses and pupil exclusions after specific training.
John Jamieson, senior psychologist in North Ayrshire, said: "The whole idea of training is to give staff greater confidence so that they do not have to use the techniques. When they know how to do it properly, there is less of a tendency to use it."
Carolyn Brown, a Fife psychologist, said that staff, particularly in special schools, could find themselves in situations where they had little option but to use some form of physical intervention.
In mainstream schools, many teachers did not know what they could and could not do and were in a Catch-22 position. They did not like to intervene because of the risks but worried that they could be liable if they did not.
She described current guidelines as vague. "There is a clear need for council-wide policies and procedures which are clear, available, protect both staff and pupils, and incorporate parents."
But she cautioned that restraint training was sometimes delivered before a review of school behaviour policies.