No crime to remove a child

26th August 2005 at 01:00
Teachers are entitled to lay hands on disruptive children if they have to remove them from class, according to a union's senior lawyer.

Andrew Gibb, an Edinburgh solicitor who regularly represents members of the Educational Institute of Scotland, has issued an unexpected start of term warning on teachers "in the firing line".

Mr Gibb says that if there is no excessive force or any indication of ill will, it is not an offence to lay hands on a child in situations which demand physical intervention. Teachers are only operating in loco parentis within the school.

A common flashpoint is the removal from class "perhaps by gentle guiding towards the door".

Mr Gibb observes: "This can result in allegations being made against a teacher, perhaps because a child feels humiliated in front of hisher peers having been removed from the classroom, maybe justifiably.

"It is often easy for such a pupil to find some support from an equally disruptive friend who may give evidence or put forward information suggesting that the level of force used was excessive in all the circumstances."

But the law does give teachers protection and a court will not convict unless there is proof of excessive force or ill will.

The downside is that complaints are usually investigated by the "juggernaut" of the education authority, social work and police.

"This can be a time of great distress for teachers, who are almost invariably suspended on a precautionary basis pending any such investigations. To compound the teacher's difficulties, their employers warn that under no circumstances must they have contact with school colleagues or indeed pupils," Mr Gibb states.

"This isolation for teachers, who are generally immersed in their school and its activities, is hard to bear and many who experience it never return to the profession even when a case is dismissed."

Mr Gibb believes the "pendulum has swung too far against teachers" and comments: "I have known a parent in the witness box indicating that a teacher should never touch a child under any circumstances. I believe this is a wholly unjustified and unwarranted proposition."

Mr Gibb contends that the climate in classrooms has never been "more difficult or fraught" and that frequently disruptive pupils may simply try to deflect difficulties they have at home, socially, or with peers or themselves, by making serious allegations against teachers which they know are unfounded.

It is time, he says, that parents appreciate the difficulties facing teachers. The situation can be exacerbated by an overreaction from some parents, "often in the face of problems they themselves have with their own children".

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