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Other education staff may also use reasonable force in certain circumstances, provided their headteacher has authorised them to have control or charge of pupils. We recommend that support staff members meet with their headteacher to clarify whether they have this authority. If so, the headteacher should confirm this authority in writing, and you should retain the document.
There is no legal definition of reasonable force. However, the government guidance does provide guidance on what reasonable force means in circular 10/98: Section 550A of the Education Act 1996: The use of force to control or restrain pupils.
Key points from the guidance:
The National Assembly in Wales has issued equivalent guidance in circular 37/98, available from the Assembly on tel: 029 2089 8688.
Policies on restraint
Circular 10/98 states: "It is important that all schools should have a policy about the use of force to control or restrain pupils." It goes on to advise that: "All members of staff who may have to intervene physically with pupils must clearly understand the strategies and options open to them. They must know what is acceptable and what is not." The extent to which a school policy has been communicated to staff is crucial.
If your school has a policy prohibiting the use of physical force and this has been communicated to you, then you are likely to face a disciplinary process which might result in your dismissal if you act contrary to that policy. However, if your school does allow the use of reasonable force, it is also absolutely essential that you comply not only with the school's policy (which should be properly communicated to you) but also with the Education Act 1996 and circular 10/98 as outlined above. In assessing the reasonableness of your behaviour when applying force, a tribunal will look at this legislation and guidance.
Situations where reasonable force may be used
The circular sets out the following categories of situations where the use of reasonable force may be appropriate to control or restrain a pupil.
Examples of situations that fall into the first two categories above are:
An example of a situation falling under the third category is:
Reasonable force may also be used to prevent pupils from committing a criminal offence but will never be justified to prevent a pupil from committing what is a trivial misdemeanour.
Forms of physical intervention
The circular refers to certain forms of reasonable physical intervention such as:
In addition, the circular recognises that where there is an immediate risk of injury, a member of staff may need, in exceptional circumstances, to take necessary action using reasonable force, eg to stop a pupil running off a pavement onto a busy road or to prevent a pupil hitting someone or throwing something.
You're advised not to act in a way that might reasonably be expected to cause injury such as by:
Other key points of advice from the circular are that:
Education staff working with pupils in the special educational needs (SEN) context can face particular challenges in the area of physical restraint. Separate guidance documents have been produced by the DfES on physical intervention with SEN pupils. It is essential that teachers in all settings are fully and properly trained in the powers of staff to restrain pupils as set out in Section 550A of the Education Act 1996, and that training is regularly updated.
Help and support
For further advice on this issue, ATL members can speak to their school rep, their branch secretary or their regional official. They can also call the London (020 7930 6441), Cardiff (029 2046 5000), Belfast (028 9078 2020) or Edinburgh (0131 272 2748) offices or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For out of hours enquiries, call the out of office hours helpline on 020 7782 1612 (Monday-Friday, 5-8pm during term time).
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