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When force against pupils is reasonable

Teachers can push and pull pupils to stop them fighting or vandalising property, but should only slap or kick them in exceptional circumstances, according to new Government guidelines.

New legislation, which comes into effect on September 1 , allows teachers to use "reasonable force" to stop pupils injuring others, committing a criminal offence or disrupting discipline in school.

But the guidelines, issued this week, explain that teachers should never appear to lose their temper or act out of anger or frustration to punish a pupil.

The legislation and guidelines clarify what teachers can already do under common law. The Government hopes to end the belief that any physical contact with pupils could lead to legal action.

The new school standards minister, Estelle Morris, said: "There has been uncertainty in this area for too long. We believe that the guidance will offer sensible and balanced advice which local authorities, schools and teachers will find helpful."

The guidelines do not authorise the use of corporal punishment. But from September teachers can use force to intervene if pupils are fighting or attacking other pupils or members of staff, vandalising property or trying to abscond.

Classroom assistants, caretakers, meal supervisors and volunteers accompanying pupils on trips will also be able to restrain pupils if authorised by the headteacher.

In "extreme" circumstances teachers can use "more restrictive holds" while if there is an immediate risk of injury, a member of staff can take "any necessary action . . . consistent with the concept of reasonable force".

In ordinary circumstances staff should not act in a way likely to cause injury. Usually pupils should be restrained by blocking their path, holding, pushing, pulling and leading them away by the hand or arm or with a hand in the centre of the back.

Before intervening, teachers should tell the pupil to stop misbehaving and explain what will happen if they do not. It should be made clear that physical restraint will end as soon as the pupil stops the offending behaviour.

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the guidelines saying a clarification of teachers' rights was long overdue. Doug McAvoy, its general secretary, said: "For too long, teachers have been unsure about when professional judgment can be used in restraining pupils.

"On rare occasions, pupils put themselves and others at risk. In preventing those situations teachers should not find that their own careers are also at risk. The Government's guidance cannot be the whole story in outlining the support schools need, but it is an essential part of the jigsaw."

But the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers fears the guidelines could increase assaults on staff. The union's education secretary, Olwyn Gunn, said: "The proposals are well-intentioned but in 90 per cent of assaults on teachers the spark that ignites pupil violence is physical restraint by a teacher.

"We advise our members to think very carefully before restraining a pupil and have asked the Government to include dealing with violent pupils in initial teacher training."

Talkback, page 18

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