The Education and Inspections Act 2006 enables school staff to use "such force as is reasonable in the circumstances to prevent a pupil from doing or continuing to do" any of the following:
- committing any offence (or, for a pupil under the age of criminal responsibility, what would be an offence for an older pupil)
- causing personal injury to any person (including the pupil themselves)
- causing damage to the property of any person (including the pupil themselves)
- prejudicing the maintenance of good order and discipline at the school, and among any pupils receiving education at the school, whether during a teaching session or otherwise.
The act also defines to whom the power applies as follows:
- any teacher who works at the school
- any other person whom the headteacher has authorised to have control or charge of pupils. Specific mention is made of support staff, teaching assistants, learning support assistants, learning mentors and lunchtime supervisors.
It is imperative that support staff are made aware of their school's policy, whether the head has authorised them to use reasonable force and, if so, to what level and in what circumstances.
The power to use reasonable force applies whether pupils are on school premises or elsewhere, as long as they are in the lawful control or charge of a staff member. This includes school visits.
The government has published guidance on the act, The use of force to control or restrain pupils. It advises independent schools to adopt the approach set out in the guidance, and all schools to have a policy about the use of force to control or restrain pupils.
Separate guidance on the use of force by staff in further education colleges is available on the Association of Colleges website (member access only) and on restraint and SEN pupils on the Department for Education website.
Policy and procedures
The guidance states that it is "good practice for a school to have an explicit policy on the use of reasonable force to control or restrain pupils". Such a policy should be devised following consultation with governors, staff (including recognised trade unions), pupils and those with parental responsibility.
School representatives should ensure that their school develops a policy on the use of reasonable force or revises any existing policy, and that they play a full role in the consultation process and the formulation of the policy.
The guidance points out that no school should have a policy of 'no physical contact'. Some schools have previously developed policies with such a prohibition. School representatives should bear this paragraph of the guidance in mind when looking at their school's policy.
In Annex A of the guidance there is a list of issues that the DCSF recommends should be considered when schools are devising their policies. This is a useful checklist and should be used as the policy is formulated and in the consultation process.
When is it reasonable to use force?
Factors influencing this judgement include:
- the seriousness of the incident, assessed by the effect of the injury, damage or disorder that is likely to result if force is not used
- the chances of achieving the desired result by other means
- the relative risks associated with physical intervention compared with using other strategies.
The government strongly advises schools not to search pupils when resistance is expected, but rather to call the police - this approach is supported by ATL. For more detailed advice, see 'Searching for weapons'.
Educational staff are not allowed to use corporal punishment under any circumstances. This has been unlawful in the maintained sector since 1987 and in all sectors (including independent schools) since 1999.
Guidelines on using restraint
Use your voice first: verbal instructions should be given before and during any physical intervention.
Use force only when necessary to resolve the incident: this should be the minimum force required, lasting for the shortest practicable time - the purpose should be restraint and the reduction of risk.
Do not strike blows or retaliate against pupils: to do so would exceed your authorisation to intervene, and create a significant risk of an allegation of assault being made.
ATL believes the provision of training in restraint is essential and should be compulsory. It should incorporate guidance and information on health and safety matters, such as risk assessments.
School managers must also consider training for all new members of staff and follow-up training at suitable intervals to ensure that staff refresh their knowledge and understanding of the legal issues, their powers and the school's powers.
Dealing with complaints and allegations
A major concern for ATL in situations involving the use of reasonable force to control or restrain pupils is the possibility of an allegation being made. Such allegations can soon escalate, resulting in the involvement of other agencies including social services and the police.
It is essential that members and their school representatives ensure that:
- there is a clear policy in place in schools with regard to the use of restraint
- members receive training in restraint
- members have a full understanding of the policy at their place of work and that they follow the policy when they do have to use reasonable force to control or restrain pupils.
For more on dealing with allegations, see the 'Allegations and complaints' section of this website.