Why new powers for teachers to control pupils are welcome

Once, Dawn Forshaw would have been against teachers restraining pupils. But experience now tells her there are situations where this is necessary

Does giving teachers the “right” to restrain their disruptive pupils herald a return to draconian methods of punishment, or is it a long overdue attempt to clarify exactly what powers teachers have to maintain order in our schools?

As a result of new legislation, teachers will have the right to restrain, detain and remove unruly pupils, confiscate mobile phones that are being used in a malicious or disruptive way and punish pupils for poor behaviour in and on the way to and from school.

Most people would agree that, if learning is being disrupted, teachers should be able to issue some sort of a detention or remove a child from class. If your child was the victim of bullying by mobile phone, you would probably agree that the phone should be confiscated, especially during the school day.

Ten years ago my views on this subject would have been rather different. At that stage, my teaching experience was largely confined to schools serving mainly middle class families. I had never experienced a situation where physically restraining a child was even remotely necessary for me to maintain good order in my classroom.

Then I accepted a post in a school serving one of the most socially deprived areas of the North West. From my middle class cocoon I had no idea that children were living in such poverty and having to deal with such difficult home conditions. Instances of family violence, violence between families and drug-related incidents were common for many of the children attending the school.

There are many schools throughout the country, both primary and secondary, that have children who are regularly exposed to violence in their own lives and mirror that behaviour. On the whole, schools are successful in re-educating children in other ways of dealing with confrontation and in developing the emotional intelligence of children, encouraging them to acknowledge their feelings and find ways of expressing and dealing with them.

It is important that children learn that emotions can affect the way the brain works, causing them to lash out, or run away from a situation, and that they are given strategies to help them deal with these feelings. But these calming strategies don’t always work.

One time, a child displayed an extreme reaction to being told off by staff and decided to run away. This was before we routinely locked the school gates and I was faced with grabbing him to prevent him running out of the gate and across the road or leaving him to run. Instinct took over and I grabbed him. I worried about this until I had been able to explain to the child’s parents what had happened and they were satisfied that I had acted correctly to ensure his safety.

So the answer I would give is that, yes, such clarity in the law is needed so that teachers, parents, children and governors in every school are clear what a teacher can do to keep all members of the school safe from harm. I hope that physical restraint continues to be a rarity in our schools, reserved for only the most extreme situations, as a last resort and only, when in the teacher’s professional judgement, not restraining the child constitutes a real risk to the safety of a member of the school community.

Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire

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