Reasonable force in schools

Overview

You may be involved in situations where you have to physically move pupils due to safety concerns for yourself and others. You might be apprehensive to do so and might be unsure about what you are allowed to do. This article outlines what reasonable force is, when it can be used and how your school can provide support.

What is the definition of reasonable force?

The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance about the use of reasonable force by members of staff in schools. The Department explains that 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 pupils”.

It explains that this can range from guiding a pupil 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 of injury.

It can also mean passive physical contact, such as standing between pupils or blocking a pupil’s path, or active physical contact such as leading a pupil by the arm out of a classroom.

When can reasonable force be used?

Reasonable force can be used to prevent pupils from hurting themselves or others and from damaging property. The decision on whether or not to physically intervene is down to your professional judgement and should always depend on the individual circumstances.

The following list is not exhaustive but provides 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 pupil behaving in a way that disrupts a school event or school trip
  • To prevent a pupil leaving the classroom where allowing the pupil to leave would risk their safety or lead to behaviour that disrupts the behaviour of others
  • To prevent a pupil from attacking a member of staff or another pupil
  • To stop a fight in the playground
  • To restrain a pupil at risk of harming themselves through physical outbursts

What about other physical contact?

It is important to be aware that it is not illegal to touch a pupil. There are occasions when physical contact, other than reasonable force, with a pupil is necessary. Examples of when this can occur include:

  • Holding the hand of a child at the front or back of the line when going to assembly or when walking together around the school
  • When comforting a distressed pupil
  • When a pupil is being congratulated or praised
  • To demonstrate how to use a musical instrument
  • To demonstrate exercises or techniques during PE lessons or sports coaching
  • When giving first aid

What happens if I have been accused of using excessive force on a pupil?

You may be accused of using excessive force on a pupil. All complaints about the use of force should be thoroughly, speedily and effectively investigated by your school. If you have acted within the law, as outlined above, this will provide a defence to any criminal prosecution or other civic or public law action.

When a complaint is made, the onus is on the person making the complaint to prove that their allegations are true. You should not be automatically suspended if you have been accused of using excessive force.

Your school must carefully consider whether the circumstances of the case warrant you being suspended until the allegation is resolved or whether alternative arrangements are more appropriate.

If you are suspended, your school should ensure that you have access to a named contact who can provide support. Your governing body should consider if you have acted within the law when reaching a decision on whether or not to take disciplinary action against you.

We have published another article which outlines your employment rights if you are suspended from school.

How should your school support you?

Your school should support you if you have been accused of using excessive force on a child. As employers, schools and local authorities have a duty of care towards their employees.

It is important that schools provide appropriate pastoral care to any member of staff who is subject to a formal allegation following a use of force incident. If you have been accused of using excessive force we will be able to provide you with support and advice.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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