Since the abolition of corporal punishment in most schools by the Education (No 2) Act 1986, the common law right available to everyone to use reasonable force in self- defence, the prevention of crime, personal injury or damage to property have, as far as teachers are concerned, been underlined and extended by statute.
On April 1 this year, section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 came into force. Like its predecessor, (section 550A of the Education Act 1996), it permits the use of reasonable force to "prevent a pupil prejudicing the maintenance of good order and discipline at the school". The scope of the provision is in principle wide, but (thankfully) remains largely untested in the courts.
"Reasonable force" is not defined and older cases involving corporal punishment are unlikely to be of much assistance. The judge in a 1972 case in which a teacher had with "one moderate or light blow" broken a pupil's jaw, commented: "Have we really reached a stage in schools... where an insolent and bolshie pupil has to be treated with all the courtesies of visiting royalty... [while] the law does not require a teacher to have the patience of a saint?"
Most school leaders probably know of pupils whose very presence in the room is prejudicial to the maintenance of good order and discipline, but section 93 would not justify their forcible ejection from the room. It is most unlikely any use of force as a deterrent or punishment could be justified because force must be necessary, proportionate and controlled.
rom May 31 this year, under section 550AA of the Education Act 1996 (inserted by section 45 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006), headteachers and the staff they authorise have been able to use force "such that is reasonable in the circumstances" to search pupils for weapons. The head cannot require any staff other than a member of the school's security staff to carry out such a search. My association has grave reservations about this.
New government guidance on use of force is expected to be published shortly and detailed guidance on searching for weapons is already available on www.teachernet.gov.uk.
Solicitor, National Association of Head Teachers