Saintly behaviour not needed here

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
WELSH head, Marjorie Evans, has had a magistrate's court conviction for "slapping" a pupil quashed on appeal. I doubt whether this has allayed teachers' concerns about physically restraining unruly pupils.

The law is easy enough to state. No employee in a school may administer any kind of corporal punishment to a pupil - which, as well as hitting, includes flicking rulers, hurling chalk, or sticking a plaster over a pupil's mouth to teach them to be quiet.

However, teachers are allowed to "restrain" pupils, if, in so doing, they are preventing a pupil from:

committing a criminal offence;

injuring themselves or others;

causing damage to property;

engaging in behaviour prejudicial to maintaining good order and discipline.

These apply whether on or off the premises when the teacher or non-teaching member of staff has lawful control of the pupil.

But this clear distinction is not easy to apply when physical handling of a pupil usually happens in the heatof the moment. A teacher might grab hold of Wayne and Duane to stop them from kicking Shane. So far so good. He then gives them a good shaking and a

telling-off. At this point we look to the wisdom of those charged with making decisions about such incidents - heads, governors and the courts.

Common sense usually prevails somewhere along the line. It did in Mrs Evans' case, when the second court found that she had used an acceptable restraint technique. It did in the case of a physical education teacher in 1971, who had met a violent attack by a drug-taking pupil with "a light tap on the jaw" which broke it.

The teacher was convicted reluctantly by magistrates but, in allowing his appeal, the judge memorably added: "Have we really reached the stage in this country when an insolent and bolshy pupil has to be treated with all the courtesies of visiting royalty?" He pointed out that the law did not require a teacher to have the patience of a saint. It still does not.

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