Restraint, Risk and Reduction by @pruman21

As part of my current role, I am responsible for behaviour in the cluster I work in and I am an accredited Team Teach instructor. I have been trained in Team Teach for the last 7 years (four of that while working in a PRU and three years in my current mainstream) and I have been an instructor for the last year. I, alongside my colleague, have trained around 150 staff in our Multi Academy Trust and I will be training another 20 or so in September. One of the biggest problems that I come across as the behaviour lead for the cluster I work in, is when some people are trained in schools and some are not.

Usually, the majority of staff, who have not had any formal training in positive handling, see themselves as not being allowed to physically touch or restrain children. This is simply not the case and this has caused schools so many problems. Knowledge is power… or so they say. This blog post intends to be my outlook on the restraint, risk and reduction as well as a link to some formal documentation.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Dan Nixon and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Power to use reasonable force and duty of care

All members of staff who work in a school have a legal power to use reasonable force. There are set reasons when staff could use reasonable force because whenever anyone physically handles another person, it must be a legal use of force. You can’t normally physically touch another person without their consent. If I was to walk down the street and take hold of someones arm against their will, they would have a right, and possibly should, press charges for assault.

In schools, we act under exceptional circumstances and if the situation presents itself, we can step outside of this norm. The DfE, in their non-statutory guidance, states that reasonable force ‘means using no more force than is needed.’ The term force, in the contexts of reasonable force is deemed when the force is applied to control of restrain.

Where children often present a risk of being physically restrained, or at least being physically intervened with, it is best for staff to be trained in how to restrain safely. This is my personal opinion and where possible now, I will stay in certification throughout the rest of my career. This does not mean to say that the staff who have not been trained, cannot exercise their legal power. They can. And they should, according to the DfE, providing they acted in a reasonable way and only used reasonable force as a last resort for the following reasons:

  • remove disruptive children from the classroom where they have refused to follow an instruction to do so;
  • prevent a pupil behaving in a way that disrupts a school event or a school trip or visit;
    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;
  • prevent a pupil from attacking a member of staff or another pupil, or to stop a fight in the playground; and
  • restrain a pupil at risk of harming themselves through physical outbursts.

These are the reasons that the DfE suggest. The easiest way to think about it is what is in the child’s best interests and can my actions be deemed reasonable, proportionate and necessary. For example, the second point is valid but it is also valid if the child is on a playground or a school trip. If they can easily abscond if you leave them, and you think that they likely will, it is common sense that the power could be used here. If a child is a known absconder, this is not an unknown risk; you know they have done it before and you know that they could do it again so if they are refusing to come in after an incident on the playground, you have two choices. Leave them on the playground to calm down on their own (in eyesight) where they may abscond, or physically escort them into the confines of the school. When it is put like this, it is a no brainer. Now imagine if no-one had any formal training on how to restrain children and they decided to leave the child on the playground and they absconded and were hit by a bus. Would the school have acted in the child’s best interests? I think not.

Risk Assessments

The Children’s and Young Persons act states that the welfare and best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration. This should be the most important thing that we consider and it should take precedence over all other situations at that time. If a child is doing something that is against their best interests, and they cannot or will not control their own behaviour, we have to intervene. We cannot but our own interests first and deal with theirs second, if they are under our care. We can’t let them cause criminal damage and smash the window if we have marking to finish over a lunchtime.

If a child has been restrained, it is a good idea afterwards to create a plan that aims to stop this from happening again, or at the very least, reduce the risk of it happening again. If a child is assaulting children in class, we must plan for it to be reduced. This is the child’s best interests as well as their peers. This is general Health and Safety stuff – the child is presenting as a risk so we must assess the risk, actively try to reduce it and then communicate this to people who need to know. A good plan will incorporate any training that staff have had and highlight the preferred physical techniques should the child need to be restrained again. It should also highlight environments and triggers, what behaviour the child has presented, ways to prevent behaviour from reoccurring, diversions and distractions, deescalation techniques, and ways to listen and to learn from incidents.

If anyone wants a copy of the plan that we use, please get in touch on Twitter via @pruman21.

In our school, I share these plans with ALL staff and I really work with the people who work closely to tailor these plans to fit. They shouldn’t be cookie-cutter plans. They should be bespoke. They should have crossings out, new things added etc. This way of working means that staff are actively trying to find ways of working to reduce the amount of times that they are having to physically restrain the child. If people use these plans in a consistent, insistent and persistent manner and are flexible enough to amend them as and when necessary, in almost all cases, the amount of times the child will have to be restrained will reduce. It may not go away fully (but might in some cases) but it will likely reduce. This plan is your risk assessment.

Dynamic Risk Assessments

Sometimes though, the risk is not known. There has to be a first time for children to be restrained. In this instance, you can’t refer to the plan, because their isn’t one. This is where you have to instinctively follow guidance/training/common sense about whether your actions were in the best interests of the child and whether your choice to use reasonable force is reasonable, proportionate and necessary. It sounds a lot, and it is, considering you have to make the call, sometimes in minimal time frames. You have to make, what Team Teach refer as, a Dynamic Risk Assessment. This is one that is done there and then. An former colleague of mine highlighted this to me around seven years ago and he gave me an analogy that I still use with people today.

On a school trip with young children, a class and their teacher are walking alongside the road. The child walked onto the road briefly. The teacher pulls the child over by the the hood on his jacket and breaks his collarbone. Was the teachers action reasonable, proportionate and necessary?

No. Unless a bus was about to knock the child over. Now it looks a little different. Was it reasonable to pull the child by the scruff of the neck onto the floor? Yes, if that’s all the teacher could do in the time frame. Was the amount of force that the teacher used proportionate to the risk? Yes, a broken collarbone pales in significance when compared to being hit by a bus. Was the teachers action absolutely necessary? Yes. If the teacher didn’t act in this way, the child could have been seriously hurt. There are not many parents who would not be grateful to the teacher for saving their child’s life.

The flipside to this is that the class are on a similar school trip and the child steps on the road while a bus is coming, exactly the same as before. The teacher acts in the same way.Is the teachers action reasonable, proportionate and necessary? Let’s take a look.Was it reasonable to pull the child by the scruff of the neck onto the floor? Yes, if that’s all the teacher could do in the time frame. Was the amount of force that the teacher used proportionate to the risk? Yes, a broken collarbone pales in significance when compared to being hit by a bus. Was the teachers action absolutely necessary? Was it absolutely necessary? No. This is no longer an unknown risk. They actually know that this is more likely to happen with this particular child because it has actually happened before. After the first incident, there should have been a plan put in place to actively reduce this from happening again. The teacher, and indeed the school, have acted in a way that is negligent and is not in the best interests of the child. I don’t think there would be many parents that would be as grateful a second time round because this should have been planned for in order to prevent this from happening again.

Definitions and clarifications

Another thing that has helped me over the years in my own practice is knowing and using the correct language related to the area.

Positive Handling – the full range of strategies and interventions (both physical and non-physical)

Restrictive Physical Intervention – the use of force to control a persons behaviour.

Seclusion – This is where someone is forced to spend time against their will. This can only be used in an emergency and not past of a behaviour plan. Children can be alone in a room but they cannot be forced to be alone in a room. They must be free to leave the room. If it is a reasonable thing to do given the circumstances, a child can be locked in an isolated room with a member of staff. We did this when I worked in a PRU sometimes to take away the need to restrain a child who was in crisis. If you are working in a school that is secluding children, as per the definition, this must stop because it is unlawful.

Time out – restricting positive reinforcement as part of a planned behavioural programme. If you are using timeout in a regular manner, such as an isolated booth, it must be part of a

Final Thoughts…

One other rule of thumb that I use is, ‘would this be good enough for my child?’ If I can honestly answer yes, common sense dictates that I will have most likely acted in a reasonable, proportionate and necessary way. This is true from the countless parents I have worked with. As long as you are transparent with them, explain the reasons why you took the action that you did, and plan (including sharing the plan with them) to reduce the likelihood of it from happening again, most will be fine. I would have no problem with a member of staff in any school that my children went to restraining one of them if they lawfully did so, told me about it and allowed me to contribute to ways forward to stop this from happening again.

Featured image via: Lucas Cobb on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)

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