Positive Handling Policy
Can a school have a ‘no contact’ policy? The Department for Education guidance is clear that failing to act because of an erroneous physical intervention policy would be risky:
Schools should not have a ‘no contact’ policy. There is a real risk that such a policy might place a member of staff in breach of their duty of care towards a pupil, or prevent them taking action needed to prevent a pupil causing harm.
Many staff in different sectors have a belief that they are not allowed to touch or use force with the vulnerable people they deal with. The truth is that all staff at a school have the right to use force, which is a power granted to them under the Education and Inspections Act, section 93. This is the core power which should be underlined in a Positive Handling Policy.
School staff have the right to use force as long as it is reasonable in the circumstances for them to do so and when they DO use that power in a physical intervention – in an appropriate way and for the appropriate reasons – then ‘Reasonable Force’ becomes a lawful excuse against any related criminal prosecution or other legal case which may result.
Looking at the reasoning for such powers to be granted to school staff, it may be useful to look at their ‘Duty of Care’. Morally and ethically it is clear that those looking after children in our society must act in a way which is caring and protective. In law, one place where we see this responsibility explicitly stated is in the Health and Safety at Work Act, where employees are given such a duty.
It shall be the duty of every employee whilst at work to take reasonable care for themselves and for others who may be effected by their acts or omissions.
So, where a member of school staff sees an incident unfolding which could cause a child injury or which could, for example, cause serious disruption in the school, then they must embody their duty of care under this piece of law by choosing their course of action with care.
Balancing the risks – of both intervention and non-intervention – in a Positive Handling Policy should be the goal of a well-constructed policy on physical interventions. Educating staff on the risks involved in physical interventions should be the goal of well-conceived training for staff who may have to take those decisions.
Greater awareness of the force options available (such as Control, Restraint, Containment, Disengagement) and the risks which attend to them, allows staff the opportunity to create ‘mental models’ for how they would respond to situations.
Equipped with a robust decision-making framework for dealing with risky situations, staff at school will then have better blueprints for how to respond to both forseeable and unforseeable events with the children in their care.
Gerard O’Dea is a conflict management, personal safety and physical interventions training consultant who advises daily on Positive Handling Policy. He is the training director for Dynamis, a specialist in personal safety and violence reduction initiatives and the European Adviser for ‘Verbal Defense and Influence’, a global programme which addresses the spectrum of human conflict. www.dynamis.training