31st July 2009 at 01:00

Problem - A child refuses to do as he is told. It comes to a point where I have to physically remove him. Where do I stand legally?

There is no simple solution - you need to strike a balance between acting in favour of the child and protecting your own position, as well as the reputation of the school.

As a general principle, teachers must not make gratuitous physical contact with their pupils. However, there are some situations where this behaviour is permissible, in some cases unavoidable. "If the child is putting himherself and others at risk, it is acceptable to apply controlled restraint," says Peter Price, head at St Christopher's Catholic Primary School in Liverpool.

The trouble is that there is no legal definition of when it is reasonable to use force - it always depends on the precise circumstances of a particular situation and remains largely untested in courts.

However, the Education Act 1996 quotes examples where a pupil persistently refuses to obey an order to leave a classroom, or behaves in such a way as to seriously disrupt a lesson. So in theory, you are in a position to apply physical restraint if the problem with your pupil persists. It is considered lawful when the force used is proportional to the consequences it is going to prevent.

"If a teacher is able to demonstrate that heshe has done everything in their power, and that restraining the child is a last resort, it is considered lawful," says solicitor Anita Chopra, an expert in the field of education law. "Of course it also depends on the exact level of power used. The question of `what is reasonable' is always subjective and will potentially provoke a lot of complaints."

Because of the complex legal situation, each problem has to be tackled on an individual basis, according to your school, the pupil, and your relationship to him. Is the scenario you are experiencing a departure from the norm? If so, it's advisable to ask another member of staff for assistance.

If the pupil has a record of difficult or insubordinate behaviour, there should already be a set of structures in place to help the teacher with the difficult child. "If the child has a history of oppositionally defiant behaviour, a meeting with the special needs co-ordinator is necessary," says Naomi Burgess, an educational psychologist who specialises in learning difficulties and behavioural advice. "The school should have a support network in place for precisely this kind of situation, so the teacher will not have to deal with it alone."

Also, take into consideration that the child is misbehaving to gain peer approval or attention, or not to lose face in front of his friends. In some cases, something as simple as non-verbal signs or gestures can help tackle difficult behaviour. On their own however, they may not be enough to stop the situation from escalating, warns Ms Burgess. "Direct eye contact can sometimes put a pupil into his or her place, but it depends on the teacher's management style."

Instead of "toughing it out", Mr Price advises taking a step back. "If the situation degenerates there is little point in persisting . it is more useful to seek help from other members of staff, and in some cases even a police community support officer."

It is important that staff understand that physical contact with children could compromise their own position and the reputation of the school. "If any form of accidental harm would occur to the child, there is a grey area as to the teacher defending his or her actions," says Mr Price.

If physical contact occurs, record the incident immediately after it has happened. From September, under its new inspection framework, Ofsted will look at all a school's incident reports compiled in the year previous to an inspection. So bear in mind that any restraining action you take could affect the inspector's view of the school.

It is also important to consider the ways in which this behaviour can be prevented in future. Marina Angadi, a consultant at The Twist Partnership, has worked as a teacher and a senior manager in schools. She suggests that the sanctions implemented in the classroom should be reviewed. "The teacher needs consequences that will work for them and that they are able to implement consistently with the minimum of stress and emotional input," she says

Next week: Uniform policy

DO .

. Use your own discretion to decide when physical contact is called for.

. Consider the child's individual history.

. Seek help from colleagues or contact parents if the situation gets out of hand.


. Think you have to handle this on your own.

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