This guidance is based on non-statutory advice from the Department of Education. It is intended to provide clarification on the use of force to help staff feel more confident about using this power when they feel it is necessary and to make clear the responsibilities of headteachers and governing bodies in respect of this power.
Every school is required by law to have a behaviour policy and this policy/guidance on the use of force should be read in conjunction with the school’s Behaviour Policy .The Governors of Lees Brook Community School acknowledge their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children and children with special educational needs (SEN).
Lees Brook does not have a ‘no contact’ policy as there is a real risk that such a policy might place a member of staff in breach of their duty of care towards a student, or prevent them taking action needed to prevent a student causing harm. This guidance makes it clear about when force might be used in an appropriate way in order to minimise any complaints.
Schools do not require parental consent to use force on a student, however, reasonable force must never be used as a punishment – it is unlawful to do so.
The term ‘reasonable force’ covers the broad range of actions used by most teachers at some point in their career that involves a degree of physical contact with students. Force is usually used either to control or restrain. This can range from guiding a student to safety by the arm through to more extreme circumstances such as breaking up a fight or where a student needs to be restrained to prevent violence or injury. ‘Reasonable in the circumstances’ means using no more force than is needed.
• Control means either passive physical contact, such as standing between students or blocking a student's path, or active physical contact such as leading a student by the arm out of a classroom.
• Restraint means to hold back physically or to bring a student under control. It is typically used in more extreme circumstances, for example when two students are fighting and refuse to separate without physical intervention.School staff should always try to avoid acting in a way that might cause injury, but in extreme cases it may not always be possible to avoid injuring the student.
All members of school staff have a legal power to use reasonable force. This power applies to any member of staff at the school. It can also apply to people whom the head teacher has temporarily put in charge of students such as unpaid volunteers or parents accompanying students on a school organised visit.
Reasonable force can be used to prevent students from hurting themselves or others, from damaging property or from causing disorder. In a school, force is used for two main purposes – to control students or to restrain them. The decision on whether or not to physically intervene is down to the professional judgement of the staff member concerned and should always depend on the individual circumstances. The following list is not exhaustive but provides some examples of situations where reasonable force can be used:
•to remove disruptive children from the classroom where they have refused to follow an instruction to do so;
•to prevent a student behaving in a way that disrupts a school event or a school trip or visit;
•to prevent a student leaving the classroom where allowing the student to leave would lead to behaviour that disrupts the behaviour of others;
•to prevent a student from attacking a member of staff or another student, or to stop a fight in the playground; and
•to restrain a student at risk of harming themselves through physical outbursts.
In addition to the general power to use reasonable force described above, Headteachers and authorised staff can use such force as is reasonable given the circumstances to conduct a search for the following “prohibited items”:
•knives and weapons
•tobacco and cigarette papers
• pornographic images
•any article that has been or is likely to be used to commit an offence, cause personal injury or damage to property.
Staff should never search students alone – always in a pair and the person searching should be the same sex as the student being searched. Staff should also decide the risk involved and should not hesitate to call the police if the risk is deemed too high.
Note: There is a limited exception to this rule. You can carry out a search of a student of the opposite sex to you and without a witness present, but only where you reasonably believe that there is a risk that serious harm will be caused to a person if you do not conduct the search immediately and where it is not reasonably practicable to summon another member of staff. Force cannot be used to search for other items banned under the school rules.
The headteacher will consider whether members of staff require any additional training to enable them to carry out their responsibilities and will consider the needs of the students when doing so.
We will speak to parents about serious incidents involving the use of force and will record such serious incidents on the student’s behaviour log.In deciding what is a serious incident, teachers should use their professional judgement and consider the:
•student’s behaviour and level of risk presented at the time of the incident;
•degree of force used;
•effect on the student or member of staff; and
•the student’s age.
All complaints about the use of force will be thoroughly, speedily and appropriately investigated. Where a member of staff has acted within the law – that is, they have used reasonable force in order to prevent injury, damage to property or disorder – this will provide a defence to any criminal prosecution or other civil or public law action. When a complaint is made, the onus is on the person making the complaint to prove that his/her allegations are true – it is not for the member of staff to show that he/she has acted reasonably. Suspension will not be an automatic response when a member of staff has been accused of using excessive force. We will refer to the “Dealing with Allegations of Abuse against Teachers and Other Staff” guidance and the school’s ‘Managing Allegations against Staff policy’ where an allegation of using excessive force is made against a teacher. This guidance makes clear that a person must not be suspended automatically, or without careful thought. We will consider carefully whether the circumstances of the case warrant a person being suspended until the allegation is resolved or whether alternative arrangements are more appropriate. If a decision is taken to suspend a teacher, the school will ensure that the teacher has access to a named contact who can provide support. The Governing Body will always consider whether a teacher has acted within the law when reaching a decision on whether or not to take disciplinary action against the teacher. As employers, the Governing Body have a duty of care towards their employees.
It is not illegal to touch a student. There are occasions when physical contact, other than reasonable force, with a student is proper and necessary. Examples of where touching a student might be proper or necessary are:
• When comforting a distressed student;
• When a student is being congratulated or praised;
• To demonstrate how to use a musical instrument;
• To demonstrate exercises or techniques during PE lessons or sports coaching; and
•To give first aid.
Q. I’m worried that if I use force a student or parent could make a complaint against me. Am I protected?
A. Yes, if you have acted lawfully. If the force used is reasonable, all staff will have a robust defence against any accusations.
Q.How do I know whether using a physical intervention is ‘reasonable’?
A. The decision on whether to physically intervene is down to the professional judgement of the teacher concerned. Whether the force used is reasonable will always depend on the particular circumstances of the case. The use of force is reasonable if it is proportionate to the consequences it is intended to prevent. This means the degree of force used should be no more than is needed to achieve the desired result. School staff should expect the full backing of their senior leadership team when they have used force.
Q.What about school trips?
A.The power may be used where the member of staff is lawfully in charge of the students, and this includes while on school trips.
Q. Can force be used on students with SEN or disabilities?
A. Yes, but the judgement on whether to use force should not only depend on the circumstances of the case but also on information and understanding of the needs of the student concerned.
Q. I’m a female teacher with a Year 10 class - there’s no way I’d want to restrain or try to control my students. Am I expected to do so?
A. There is a power, not a duty, to use force so members of staff have discretion whether or not to use it. However, teachers and other school staff have a duty of care towards their students and it might be argued that failing to take action (including a failure to use reasonable force) may in some circumstances breach that duty.
Q.Are there any circumstances in which a teacher can use physical force to punish a student?
A.No. It is always unlawful to use force as a punishment.
Further sources of information from Department for Education
• Guidance on the Use of Restrictive Physical Interventions for Staff Working with Children and Adults who display Extreme Behaviour in Association with Learning Disability and/or Autistic Spectrum Disorders (2002)
• Guidance on the Use of Restrictive Physical Interventions for Pupils with Severe Behavioural Difficulties (2003)
• Screening, searching and confiscation – advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies
• Dealing with allegations of abuse against teachers and other staff – guidance for local authorities, headteachers, school staff, governing bodies and proprietors of independent schools