Use of force must now be reported to parents

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Delayed law to be introduced next term

All heads in England will now have to tell parents when school staff use force against their children, ministers have decided.

A legal requirement for schools to record and report "significant incidents" comes into force next term - a year after its introduction was put on hold by the Westminster Government.

The new procedure, originally proposed by Labour ministers and part of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, had been planned to come into force in September 2010.

But new Coalition ministers were concerned it would be too bureaucratic and stopped the requirement from becoming law. Unions criticised the decision and warned it could leave staff vulnerable when false allegations are made.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has now announced the recording and reporting requirement will become law in September. He has asked the Department for Education's expert adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, to make sure it is a "light touch" system.

Teachers will have to put details of incidents in writing and tell parents as soon as possible afterwards.

"In particular, Charlie Taylor has been asked to make sure that the accompanying guidance provides the best possible advice to schools on establishing `light touch' systems while still providing protection for pupils and staff," Mr Gibb told MPs last month.

"It remains our intention to commence this requirement from 1 September 2011, subject to the outcome of Charlie Taylor's review."

Members of the Association of School and College Leaders object to the reporting requirement, because they believe it will be a "bureaucratic burden" for schools.

"Force is used only occasionally in schools; it's very rare and even then it would be noted in a pupil's files," said general secretary Brian Lightman. "This is an internal issue for schools. We do not need a new set of regulations about how to do this."

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates had said parental confidence in teachers would be "diminished" if the requirement was not made law. Last year she warned the Government that schools would not be able to contest allegations made by pupils if incidents were not recorded.

"ASCL are wrong to describe this as a burden - people who often make the most fuss about filling in forms are heads, who often don't have to complete the same amount of paperwork as teachers," Ms Keates said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said schools could be "vulnerable to civil action" if they did not record such incidents.

"I would have thought most schools would be keeping firm records, certainly for insurance purposes. Whether or not this should be enforced by the Government is another matter," he said. "Schools should be recording, but you don't need to have triplicate records."

A DfE spokesman said the Government has been consulting on the matter since last year to review the "complex issues" involved.

WHEN TEACHERS STEP IN

Current Westminster Government advice to teachers in England is that it is "good practice" for them to speak to parents about serious incidents involving the use of force. It is up to schools to decide whether it is appropriate to report it to parents.

Schools are supposed to investigate all complaints about the use of force "thoroughly, speedily and appropriately".

Where a member of staff has acted within the law - they have used reasonable force to prevent injury, damage to property or disorder - this will provide a defence to any criminal prosecution or other civil or public law action.

The DfE has said suspension must not be an automatic response when a member of staff has been accused of using excessive force.

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