There’s been a lot in the press in the last few weeks regarding physical contact in schools. In June last year the  Guardian’s Secret Teacher wrote an article condemning the use of restraint in our schools. The teacher in the article described the experience as harrowing with impractical training. The teacher in question talked of inadequate stand off times where the child should calm down and allow the teacher to diffuse the situation. The child finds this impossible due to being pinned to the floor in a humiliating and degrading manner. In fact, until 2010 the waters seemed very muddy on the issue of touching children in schools. I’m no fan of Michael Gove but he did suggest the rules be clarified once and for all which is a good thing. You can read an article from BBC news here concerning Gove’s changes.

Physical  contact in schools raises a number of worries for me. For example there are no hard and fast rules as to which behavioural incidents require us to physically intervene. If we do intervene how much force should be used?  Who makes the rules? The whole thing is completely subjective in my eyes. Some will see an incident as requiring a physical intervention while others will take it in their stride and not succumb to such pressure.

The DfE is quite clear on this. Every teacher has a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of every single child in their care. Teachers are required to take the same reasonable care that a parent would take. This includes the child who is causing the potential harm to other children, adults or causing damage to property. All should be protected. So, as a teacher or TA how do you make that judgement call in today’s culture of blame? Keep in mind that according to the NUT ‘A breach of the duty of care by the teacher could amount to common law negligence.’

I have a set of rules and standards which I stick to, and I am relatively confident that if I adhere to my rules I will have fulfilled my own duty of care and everyone will be safe including myself.

Types of touch acceptable to me:

Personal care in the bathroom if needed, as long as another person is present.

Quick cuddle for a young child if they have hurt themselves, again, in the presence of other adults.

Sit a child on my knee for the purpose of comfort if required. This would be subject to age or stage in the case of special educational needs.

First Aid. Administering plasters or medications as necessary, vital as I work with children with SEND.

I may touch a child on the shoulder or guide them by the arm if necessary to aid communication and support understanding of instructions.

I will also touch a child when demonstrating certain lessons. Sometimes there is no other way to get your point across.

We also need to remember that not all children can cope with being touched. For some, even a light touch can be painful. A good example of this would be those with sensory issues or sometimes those with Autism Spectrum Condition.

Having looked at what constitutes acceptable touch I will now mention my thoughts on physical restraint. For me this is a no go area. I find physical restraint completely unacceptable. That said, if a child or young person was being violent towards others or harming themselves and there really was no alternative then I would reluctantly advocate the use of physical restraint. Minimum force and only on extremely rare occasions would this result in two people pinning a child to the floor. I am in agreement with last year’s Secret teacher on this one, it is degrading and humiliating for the child.

My next issue with restraint is that it does nothing to help the child deal with their anger management issues. The message being given to the child is that if you don’t get your own way you force someone to comply using restraint, not an ideal message to send to a child. Wherever possible we should aim to use long term positive behaviour management strategies to teach our children the correct way to behave rather than resorting to physical restraint. Also, only those specifically trained should restrain children and they should be briefed that only the minimum force should be used.

I favour the idea of introducing a trusted adult that the child can go to and confide in before the behaviour escalates out of control. This should be an adult of the child’s choosing rather than one deemed suitable for the post by SLT. I am aware this is all very idealistic but it is a position all schools could aspire to.

In conclusion I firmly believe that its our duty to teach children how to touch and be touched appropriately. Children need to know all about ‘my space your space’ to help them cope in the real world in the future. This is especially true if you work with vulnerable children and young adults as I do. We need to remember that these children will eventually be joining the adult world and everything that entails. Those with SEND need to know and understand how much touching is acceptable, how much touching is healthy. It is our duty to get this message over to them.

On Wednesday of this week @SENexchange will be hosting a chat on this very topic. Do join in and let us know your thoughts. meanwhile, thank you for reading.