Posted on: Friday, 22 January 2016

In managing behaviour, schools need to prevent and protect. Inevitably, this will sometimes mean making use of reasonable force. But what exactly is ‘reasonable force’?

Many teachers discover they can’t answer that question at the worst possible moment. That is, when they are faced with a situation that clearly requires them to use force. With assaults on public sector workers increasing across the board, and around one in twelve teachers suffering a physical assault in the last year, that moment may come sooner than they imagine.

Getting the ‘reasonable force’ answer wrong can be disastrous. Using excessive force or incorrect techniques can have serious consequences for students. But the effect on staff can be equally devastating. Allegations of improper use of force can lead to OFSTED closing entire institutions, and individual staff can feel the full weight of the law.

Basic guidance on reasonable force

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 (Item 93 Power of Members of Staff to Use Force) sets out the conditions under which reasonable force can be used.

Reasonable force can be used to prevent a pupil from:

  • Committing any offence
  • Causing personal injury to, or damage to the property of, any person
  • Prejudicing the maintenance of good order & discipline.

Legislation also dictates who is permitted to use this force:

  • The head teacher may authorise all teachers in the school to use reasonable force to restrain pupils
  • Other people, authorised by the head teacher, may use reasonable force. This might include those who work regularly in the school as classroom assistants, MDSAs etc. Authorisation can be granted on a long-term basis or for a specific period of time.

So much, however, turns upon the word ‘reasonable’. The Government does provide some guidance but this mainly centres on what restraint techniques should be avoided, notably the ‘seated double embrace’, the ‘double basket-hold’ and the ‘nose distraction technique’.

But for most school staff, this will be of little help. The simple fact is that interpreting the guidance, and equipping staff with legal, effective techniques requires specialist training.

And therein lies the problem.

The problem with reasonable force training

According to industry expert Mark Dawes, there are two main problems in teaching ‘reasonable force’:

  • Many trainers teach techniques that are safe, but are not effective. However, erring on the side of caution means that those using these technique are exposed to greater risk of harm.
  • More alarmingly, trainers themselves may not understand the ramifications of legislation or guidance on reasonable force. Their fall-back is to teach arbitrary rules of their own devising, and these do not stand up to any scrutiny (for example, in a law-court).

This industry skills shortage puts school management in an invidious position. On the one hand, they have a clear responsibility to ensure staff are thoroughly conversant with their responsibilities and the law. On the other hand, they can only rely on the training they are given – and the trainers they employ may not themselves be fully aware of how ‘reasonable force’ can be interpreted.

Questions to ask your training provider

If a school is truly going to embrace a ‘protect and prevent’ mantra, then getting the right training is vital.

In our view, senior staff in charge of training and development should be on the phone, asking their potential providers some key questions. These could include:

  • What backgrounds do your trainers come from?
  • What recent training have they had?
  • What past clients have you trained?
  • What experience have they had specifically in a school context?
  • What support can you provide after the training has taken place?
  • Are you able to advise on our current aggression or use of force policies?
  • Are all of your trainers aware of OFSTED and legal frameworks that schools operate in?

A good trainer will have no difficulty with these sorts of questions. The answers the provider give should act as a guide for whether to pursue their services any further.

IBA UK are committed to improving industry standards in training the use of reasonable force. To discuss how we can help keep your school safe and in full compliance with the law and OFSTED, get in touch.

IBA UK has a wealth of relevant experience within the education sector. We run a range of specialist courses focused on the needs of educational establishments. Courses include positive handling; use of force; and searching, screening and confiscation. Contact us today for further details.

 

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