Physical contact with students is a minefield, teachers can be very uneasy about the thought of having to touch or physically handle a student; the issue some teachers have is there is often an over reaction. There are times when in the classroom physical contact cannot be avoided and is advisable. Pupils can be touched for the right reasons.

Guidelines issued by the DCSF (as it was then) in April 2010, based on the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act (ASCL) 2009 stated the following:

Teachers are entitled to use ‘reasonable force’ to prevent a pupil doing the following:

– Committing a criminal offence (or one that would be a criminal offence for an older person)

– Causing damage to property

– Causing personal injury

– Prejudicing the maintenance of good order and discipline at the school whether during a teaching session or otherwise.

These guidelines apply to teachers, staff members, or anyone authorised by the headteacher to be in control of pupils. The first three points deal with circumstances that many responsible adults would feel they should handle anyway; the last one is perhaps surprising for many teachers. Teachers are allowed to use reasonable force to maintain ‘good order’.

Defining ‘reasonable force’

What is ‘reasonable force’? The law is vague, and probably rightly so: any attempt to generate an exhaustive list of circumstances will always be vulnerable to exceptional cases. ‘Reasonable’ is a term that will be tested on an individual case basis.

In this context, force can be used passively for example, standing in front of a student to prevent them entering a class; or it can be active for example, ushering a pupil away from a scene using a hand placed on their back. Force used to restrain pupils would only be reasonable in extreme circumstances, like preventing a fight, or stopping a knife or a punch being thrown.

So, using the advice given above, reasonable force might be employed when:

– Preventing a lesson from being constantly ruined
– Preventing another pupil from being injured or attacked
– Stopping a pupil from vandalising school property
– Preventing a pupil from misusing school property in a way that is dangerous or destructive
– An important proviso to this is that staff shouldn’t put themselves in absurd danger in order to do these things; there is no legal requirement for staff to get involved in
fights (nor should there be), and no teacher can be ‘deemed to have failed in their duty of care by not using force to prevent injury if their own safety would be

We, at RMTA would recommend that supply teachers avoid, wherever possible, touching a child, even a gently tap on the shoulder can lead to a host of accusations and allegations. Keep yourself at arms length and always utilise the LSA or teaching assistant who knows the children and dynamics of the class to help manage unruly behaviour.


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