Behaviour: phone etiquette

19th November 2010 at 00:00
The problem: I confiscated a pupil's phone but she came over to me and peeled it out of my fingers and called me a `fucking cow'. She was excluded for a day. What should I have done?

What you said

"I've had pupils attempt to prise their phone from my hand but I tell them it's assault and I'll sue - and they desist."


"Letting it get to a physical stage seems a bit silly. If she is that crazy and will go that far, who knows what else she might do? I would back down and let senior management deal with it."


"You're entitled to use reasonable force to maintain order. Of course `reasonable' is a beautifully vague phrase, but what she did was an attack on you and you would have every right to defend yourself."


The expert view

If the incident occurred as you have described it and there were no extenuating circumstances, I am surprised that your school took such a seemingly relaxed approach to the matter. Any behavioural issue must be addressed: leaving small problems alone ensures that they will multiply and grow. Major incidents, such as this one, must be the subject of a prompt and vigorous response.

Your account indicates that you took the right approach. The use of the mobile phone was inappropriate and against the rules in the context of your institution. Confiscating the phone was therefore a direct and balanced response to the situation. For future reference, it is always best to lock an item away as soon as possible, but I am assuming that on this occasion this was not feasible. When the girl forced the phone from your grasp, she significantly escalated the matter.

In this situation it does not seem that you had cause to believe that you or another pupil were at imminent risk of harm. Attempting to use force to hold on to the phone or take it back into your possession carries the immediate risk of causing greater violence and potentially muddies the water by allowing the pupil to allege that you caused her to feel threatened or even actually harmed her.

By not responding with physical force, you kept the weight of responsibility and the consequent action directed solely at the pupil. On that basis, you would have every right to expect a longer period of exclusion and some form of redress or apology. A fixed-term exclusion of one day seems woefully inadequate.

Stephen Calladine-Evans is assistant principal of St Richard's Catholic College, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. For more advice, go to



- Confiscate the phone if this is in line with your school's policy.

- Lock it away as soon as possible so the pupil does not have access.

- Ask to be involved in the reintegration process after a fixed-term exclusion.


- Use force unless you believe you or another pupil are at risk of harm.

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