Dealing with Touching and Restraint
Every teacher will one day be confronted with a student, or students whose behaviour is so uncontrolled it will pose a threat to themselves, others around them or the school equipment. In some cases, physical intervention becomes the only response open to the teacher. This professional obligation to keep everyone safe has always raised deep concerns for teachers. These concerns are based on the fear of being accused of assaulting the child both physically and sexually. The latter category, sexual assault is particularly problematic and is often cited as the reason for such a shortage of male teachers in the infant and primary aged schools.
Of course, this abuse does exist and is not to be tolerated on any level but the fear of a false or malicious allegation is difficult to defend and many teachers, especially males refuse to touch students for any reason. This fear should not be taken lightly but there are times when it is appropriate to touch a student. Remember it is not illegal to touch a pupil and there are occasions when physical contact, including reasonable force, with a pupil is proper and necessary. Examples of where touching a pupil might be proper or necessary:
- Holding the hand of the child at the front/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; and
- To give first aid.
Physical restraint means the use of physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue movement of a student’s body or part of their body. Students are not free to move away when they are being physically restrained. Physical restraint should only be used when it is immediately required to protect the safety of the student or any other person. In some limited circumstances, it may also be necessary to restrain a student from imminent dangerous behaviours by secluding them in an area where such action is immediately required to protect the safety of the student or any other person.
The use of restraint should only ever used as a ‘last resort’ intervention when all other techniques have failed or the situation is immediate and dangerous and is necessary to keep everyone safe.
Situations that may require physical intervention include:
- students threatening other students or staff
- students putting their own safety at risk
- fights between students
- students attempting to leave the school premises without authorisation and in circumstances that put their safety at risk
- students attempting to leave the premises in a heightened state of anxiety, where they may be unable to recognise risks to their safety.
There needs to be a ‘age appropriate’ consideration to be applied. Fights between late secondary age students may pose a very real danger for the teacher. Every attempt should be made to defuse the altercation without direct physical intervention but the only course of action is to make sure other students are safe.
Restraint should not be used as a routine behaviour management technique, to punish or discipline a student or to respond to:
- a student’s refusal to comply with a direction, unless that refusal to comply creates an imminent risk to the safety of the student or another person
- a student leaving the classroom/school without permission, unless that conduct causes an imminent risk to the safety of the student or another person
- verbal threats of harm from a student, except where there is a reasonable belief that the threat will be immediately enacted
- property destruction caused by the student unless that destruction is placing any person at immediate risk of harm
Types of physical restraint which must not be used include:
- any restraint which covers the student's mouth or nose, and in any way restricts breathing
- the application of pressure to a student's neck, chest, abdomen, joints or pressure points to cause pain or which involves the hyperextension of joints
- holding a student's head forward, headlocks, choke holds
- take-downs which allow students to free-fall to the ground whether or not in a prone or supine position or otherwise
- wrestling holds (including 'full or half nelsons'), using a hog-tied position or straddling any part of a student's body
- basket holds, bear hugs, 'therapeutic holding'
When applying physical restraint in the limited circumstances set out above, staff must:
- use the minimum force required to avoid the dangerous behaviour or risk of harm
- only restrain the student for the minimum duration required and stop restraining the student once the danger has passed
- The decision about whether to use physical restraint or seclusion rests with the professional judgment of the staff member/s involved, who will need to take-into-account both their duty of care to their students, their right to protect themselves from harm and obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Staff should ensure the type of restraint used is consistent with a student’s individual needs and circumstances, including:
- the age/size of the student
- gender of the student
- any impairment of the student e.g. physical, intellectual, neurological, behavioural, sensory (visual or hearing), or communication
- any mental or psychological conditions of the student, including any experience of trauma
- any other medical conditions of the student
- the likely response of the student
- the environment in which the restraint is taking place
At all times the staff should monitor the student for any indicators or distress. Staff should talk to the student throughout the incident, making it clear to the student why the physical restraint is being applied. Staff should also calmly explain that the physical restraint will stop once it is no longer necessary to protect the student and/or others.
The staff member(s) involved in the incident must immediately notify the principal of the incident.
A written record of the incident should be kept and should include:
- the name of the student/s and staff member/s involved
- date, time and location of the incident
- names of witnesses (staff and other students)
- what exactly happened, for example, a brief factual account
- any action taken to de-escalate the situation
- why physical intervention was used (if applicable)
- the nature of any physical intervention used
- how long the physical intervention lasted
- names of witnesses (staff and other students)
- the student’s response and the outcome of the incident
- any injuries or damage to property
- immediate post incident actions, such as first aid or contact with emergency services
- details of contact with the student’s parent/carer
- details of any post-incident support provided or organised.
- Schools need to take their own decisions about staff training. The headteacher should consider whether members of staff require any additional training to enable them to carry out their responsibilities and should consider the needs of the pupils when doing so.
- Some local authorities provide advice and guidance to help schools to develop an appropriate training program.
Much of the content of this Newsletter has been taken from school systems across the western world in order to provide a common-sense approach to physical touching particularly restraint. However, it is important that that all schools know the formal policies of the Departments who employ them. These guidelines define the limits of the intervention and the responsibilities all members of the organisation.