Behaviour - Class Act - The law and you

30th January 2009 at 00:00
Where do you stand legally? Richard Bird gives you the facts

A Year 11 class is restless. One pupil, after a certain amount of low-level disruption, jumps up and says: "This lesson is crap, I'm off" and heads for the door. The teacher gets to the door before him. She stands in front of it and holds the handle saying: "You're going nowhere."

The teacher is entitled to stand in the way of a pupil as a form of lawful restraint. A school may wish to give its own guidance as to what should be done in these circumstances. If the pupil assaults the member of staff, the school is entitled to exclude permanently and to inform the police and should consider its duty of care to its employees before deciding not to.

A pupil returns to school after lunch in an unsettled state. (It is later discovered that he's been taking an illegal stimulant.) He arrives in his first lesson, PE, and refuses to get changed. When the teacher remonstrates with him, he flares up and kicks the teacher with the heavy boots he is wearing. The teacher hits him on the jaw. The boy's jaw is broken.

This is based on an actual case that was decided in favour of the teacher under common law. There is a right to self-defence if a person reasonably believes himself to be under threat and the action is proportionate. In this case the judge decided it was. Any future case will be decided on its particular facts and teachers should not assume that they will necessarily be supported by the courts.

A teacher is on a public bus going home after school and three pupils from his school, still in uniform, are in front of him. One boy has a bag of popcorn that he starts throwing at passengers. The teacher tells him to stop. "We're not in school now. You can't tell us what to do," one of the boys says. The teacher replies: "We'll see about that" and wrestles the bag of popcorn out of the pupil's hand.

The teacher is in difficulties. The power to give instructions and restrain pupils only applies to situations where the pupil is under the lawful control of the school. The teacher could have warned the pupil that the school might take disciplinary action for bringing the school into disrepute if the school had publicised its preparedness to use sanctions against misbehaviour out of school; but he has no more right than any other member of the public to give orders or restrain a pupil where the pupils are not in school or under the school's control.

Two Year 11 boys push into a lunch queue. The member of staff on duty tells them to move back. When they ignore the instruction, she gets one by the arm and pulls him.

Pushing and pulling are lawful restraint under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and associated government guidance, as long as they have no aspect of corporal punishment in them

Richard Bird is legal adviser to the Association of School and College Leaders.

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