WHOLE SCHOOL POSITIVE HANDLING – For and Against.
Many schools have for years taken the Whole School approach to positive handling training. Recently I have been asking schools if this is really the approach that they need to take, they want to take and is having EVERY member of staff trained in restraint a proportionate, sensible and cost-effective way to address their risk?
THE STRENGTHS OF WHOLE SCHOOL POSITIVE HANDLING TRAINING
Adequate Paperwork for Inspection – Every member of staff who attends the training will have a certificate stating that they have had training. In the event of an incident, this aspect of paperwork is covered.
Trained Staff Everywhere – In the event of an incident, every member of staff at the school will be trained and therefore there should be no lag-time or delay in response to an incident being adequately addressed and behaviour controlled physically, if need be.
Consistent Messaging – A whole-school training event means that every member of staff gets, at the same time, the same consistent message about the school’s ethos, risk thresholds and practices regarding positive handling / physical interventions.
Time-Saving for SLT – Training everybody requires a minimum of management or SLT time to determine actual levels of risk, areas or individuals requiring specific intervention approaches. It is a broad-spectrum training intervention which covers most ‘bases’ and satisfies an inspection requirement without disproportionate SLT management time.
Consistent with the Risk Assessment – Where a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk is in place and if it requires ALL staff to be properly trained in physical restraint interventions, then whole-school training is wholly appropriate and must be undertaken. My guess is that these schools will be special in nature because they will either have a high proportion of children with violent histories (Special Schools, Alternative Provision, PRUs) or they have significant issues with ethos, behaviour or staffing.
THE WEAKNESSES OF WHOLE-SCHOOL POSITIVE HANDLING TRAINING
Training Impact: Packing your sports hall with your 40 or 60 or 100 staff for this type of activity inevitably has implications for the quality of the training experience and the depth to which they will assimilate the spirit, quality and effectiveness of the tactics. Even the most talented, qualified and professional physical intervention trainers in a packed, noisy, busy and (be honest!) giddy sports hall will struggle to deliver a high-quality, impactful and detailed training experience for the attendees. They may bring 2 or 3 or 4 assistants with them…but still, it is a mass-training exercise on a delicate, sensitive and specialist topic with a serious level of cerebral and physical skill components.
Responsibility: When a whole school compliment has been trained to carry out physical intervention procedures, does it match the actual needs of the school? In most schools, there are a select few staff who are disproportionately likely to need to carry out physical interventions. These staff are the ones who are working closely with the 3-5% of children on the school rolls (in most mainstream schools) who present with the types of highly risky behaviours which would actually require a physical intervention. Is it sensible to spread this responsibility for immobilising or containing a child accross the whole school teaching compliment? Are we actually training far more people to do far more than they need, and more than we would want them to?
Motivation: Most people who get into teaching do it to help and care for and nurture young people in their formative years. Almost none get into teaching because it gives them the opportunity to wrestle with children and overpower them with physical force (thankfully). When you train your whole-school to do this task, are you taking into account the huge motivational barrier that exists for the majority of your team when it comes to actually getting hands-on with a child who is having a crisis episode? Might it be prudent to consider that people exist on a standard-deviation (a distribution curve) in regard to their ability to cope with these issues? Some will cope well with the stress of physical interventions, most will cope but barely – and then a minority at the other end of the scale may simply fail to cope, fail to do what is necessary?
Experience: Chances are, in any school, the SENCo, the Inclusion Manager, the Deputy Head with the responsibility for behaviour and the Teaching Assistants are those on the “front line” of most incidents that carry high risk. These people are developing experience in every incident which helps them to know the child’s needs, to say the right things to help them to de-escalate, and ultimately are the people at your school who are day-by-day amassing the most experience in actually using physical intervention and personal safety tactics. They, by default, are getting 10x more experience than the teacher at the other end of the school who is managing the generally well-behaved year 6 class…
WHAT ABOUT TAKING A BALANCED APPROACH?
We have been asking some schools to reconsider their need for whole-school training, on the following basis:
Can you designate a specialist behaviour team?
If there are staff in your school who have a disproportionately high forseeability of needing to physically restrain a child, then it would seem reasonable to focus your training efforts on those staff. In some schools, all staff will share this responsibility and risk equally, but in MOST schools, there are a group of staff who are “on-point”.
This group, which would likely include your SENCo, some SLT members with responsibility for behaviour and inclusion, your teachers who have at-risk children in their classes and those children’s Teaching Assistants are all immediate candidates for this team.
Consider the physical capability, experience, conflict management style and demeanour of these staff – they should be your go-to people for behaviour management.
Consider the size and layout of your school – this team will need to be able to find each other and get to an incident quickly.
Consider your communication systems – how will you alert the behaviour team when an incident requires their attention?
The potential benefits of forming this specialist School Positive Handling team can be many:
Small-group training is less expensive in terms of financial cost and time required to achieve the objective. Most training providers will charge per person, or per group of a certain size. Whole-school training with large groups of many tens of staff can cost many thousands of pounds and, because of the size of the groups, can produce quite patchy competence. Arguably it does not represent good value.
The training experience for individual staff members on a small-group course is likely to have higher quality as they have time, space and the focus to concentrate on how they as a team will respond to incidents and use the tactics being taught on the training course.
As this team practices*, during interventions which happen in the weeks or months after the initial training event, they will develop valuable traits. Their teamwork will tighten, their tactics will evolve, their stress-response to individual incidents will reduce and overall a process of feedback will begin to drastically improve their ability to de-escalate and safely deal with each new incident. Simply put, because this team will be involved in more incidents, they will get better, faster.
This team will hold more experience, will have more chance to get feedback* on their performances, will develop their teamwork to a deeper level. For you as a senior leader, you will begin to trust that this team has got things under control. You won’t need to worry about those motivational and personal capacity issues across the whole school staff team.
In summary, for all the above reasons, training a specialist behaviour team represents “best value” in terms of expenditure and quality, in our opinion.
Can you deliver the right level of information to the rest of your school staff?
The vast majority of your school staff *DO* require clarity on the “rules of restraint” and how you want to manage incidents of high risk and serious disruption at your school. They need to know their rights, responsibilities and their duties. They need to know that they have the power to use force, but that there are limitations to that right which hinge on their duty of care and the seriousness and urgency of what is happening in front of them.
Good training for your whole school would include knowledge elements about Duty of Care, Legislation on Use of Force, Guidance from the Dept of Education and some knowledge and awareness of the risks involved and how to avoid those risks.
You could even show those staff the verbalisations and holding skills that the beahviour team have been learning, to make sure they understand what your objectives are when that team arrives to any given situation.
Some consideration for how to deliver that information should form part of your Positive Handling training plan. It may only require a well-planned briefing of 60-to-90 miuntes to get this information over to the staff.
Be more flexible in how you plan your School Positive Handling training:
Full day visit option:
- A whole-school briefing of 90-minutes with Q&A for any number of staff
- A small-group training (e.g. 12 people) for the rest of the day, focussing on physical and verbal skills practice and detailed “first-responder” capabilities.
Online Training Plus half-Day Visit option:
- Staff (perhaps even whole school) participate in online learning (with video presentations, knowledge-check quizzes and resources) for the knowledge components of the training.
- A trainer visits for an intensive 3-4 hour session with a select group of staff to practice the physical skills and tactics for Positive Handling.
Don’t be a slave to the cash-cow approach that is “Whole-School Training” in Positive Handling. Take control, think deeply about what you need and then carefully select the right level of training for the right people at your school. This will be the best way to safeguard your children, protect your staff and ultimately do the best thing for your school.
- About Practice and Feedback: Doug Lemov’s Book “Practice Perfect” [amazon link] is a wonderful introduction to the future of teacher development and his pivotal book “Teach Like a Champion” [amazon link] is a veritable roadmap to teaching success through practice and feedback activities for educators.
Gerard O’Dea is a conflict management, personal safety and physical interventions training consultant. He is the training director for Dynamis, a specialist provider of personal safety and violence management programmes and the European Adviser for ‘Verbal Defense and Influence’, a global programme which addresses the spectrum of human conflict. www.dynamis.training