Victims dispute violence advice

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Elaine Carlton looks at the proposals to control disruptive pupils in the classroom.

Teachers have criticised the Government's proposed guidelines on restraining violent schoolchildren, claiming that they do not go far enough.

The new advice explains how far teachers can go in physically intervening in violent situations, such as holding, pushing, pulling or shepherding pupils away. "Teachers have always had these powers but they have not been set out as clearly. As a result, the position is often misunderstood," said Estelle Morris, the schools minister.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - as well as some teachers who have been the victims of attacks - believe the guidance is inappropriate and could lead to further injuries. They would prefer that potentially violent pupils be removed from mainstream schools.

Hazel Spence-Young, a former supply teacher at Frederick Bird junior school in Coventry, said:"I was left in a neck brace forever after becoming the focus of a frenzied attack by a pupil when I used words to try to calm him down and stop him running out of school." She was forced to retire as a result of her injury.

"If I had taken hold of him as these guidelines suggest I think the situation could have been far worse.

"The real problem is that there are far too many youngsters with serious psychological disturbances and personality disorders in mainstream schools. The majority of children who present violent behaviour in the classroom are maladjusted - reacting to them in a way which they might interpret as aggressive would just exacerbate the situation."

Sam Bechler, a business studies teacher at an inner-city comprehensive in Wolverhampton, echoed her fears. "These guidelines are too woolly, the Government must look deeper," he said.

"I was once attacked by four pupils in the classroom. They surrounded me and pushed me out the door. I just went with it - you don't tackle four hefty blokes.

"I believe the problem is the public's attitude towards teachers. The Government has been denigrating the teaching profession for so long it has given out bad signals to parents. They tell their children not to let teachers tell them off."

The National Union of Teachers, however, welcomed the guidelines and said that they were a step in the right direction.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, said: "For too long teachers have been open to false accusations of assault because of the law's confusion. On rare occasions teachers need to restrain pupils from injuring each other or from causing a breakdown in school discipline."

He said that instead of getting the backing they deserved, teachers' confidence had been undermined.

"These guidelines reinstate respect for teachers' professional judgment. They are a welcome re-introduction of common sense," he said.

The guidelines are the subject of a consultation exercise, which closes on April 24.

Ms Morris said: "There is a belief in some quarters that teachers must never touch pupils. That is not true. There are occasions where teachers must be able to intervene, for example during a fight, to remove a persistently disruptive pupil from the classroom, to stop acts of vandalism or to prevent injury without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action."

When force can be used

Reasonable force can be used to prevent pupils: 1. Committing a criminal offence.

2. Injuring themselves or others.

3. Causing damage to property.

4. Engaging in behaviour prejudicial to maintaining good order and discipline.

Teachers can: physically interpose between pupils or block a pupil's path and can touch, hold, push, pull, lead a pupil by the arm or shepherd a pupil away by placing a hand in the centre of the back.

Force is only regarded as reason-able if the situation warrants it.

The degree of force employed must be in proportion to the circumstances of the incident and the seriousness of the behaviour or the consequences it is intended to prevent.

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