Should teachers use force to break up pupils who are fighting?

7 February 2010

The question is a tricky one. As a young teacher, I got into trouble for pulling two pupils apart while they were scrapping on the floor. One of the pupils claimed I’d manhandled him and complained to a senior member of staff. Luckily, my manager knew what the child was like and didn’t believe his lies. But since then, I haven’t ever touched a pupil. Even though the law is supposed to back teachers to use “reasonable force” to protect themselves and other pupils, I think teachers are far better off using trusty skills such as projecting the voice (shouting!), making eye contact, using body position or surprise tactics such as clapping to break up fights. If there are fights going on regularly in a school, the senior management needs to deal with it severely and send a zero tolerance signal by holding the miscreants in detention, contacting parents, or excluding. Good, strong headteachers can turn around a violent school by setting proper boundaries and using a whole panoply of resources such as mentors, addressing the topic in lessons and assemblies and so forth to stop violence. Teachers shouldn’t have to be breaking up fights: we’re not Terminators, we’re teachers.

I appeared on BBC Breakfast talking about the issue. I was on with one teaching assistant who seemed to be at a school where violence was at an unacceptable level: she claimed that she was breaking up fights every day, although close questioning revealed that this didn’t really appear to be the case. What was distressing was her acceptance of violence. “Boys are boys, aren’t they?” she said. Well, no, boys can be taught to be civilised, no matter what their backgrounds.

The union ATL has produced  a survey saying that half of NQTs don’t feel qualified to deal with violence in schools and this issue in particular. Vernon Croaker, the Schools’ minister, croaked and mumbled that the government was doing a lot to solve the issue, but I felt the government send mixed signals: on the one hand, they want teachers to endanger themselves by stopping fights, but on the other, we find far too many cases of teachers being unjustly accused of manhandling children.

The ATL’s advice on this issue is pretty good, as is most of the unions. This is what unions are for: if teachers feel that the violence in their school is unacceptable and nothing is done about it, they MUST go to their union.

1 comment

  1. No, My grandaughter who is special ed was in a argument with another student (not a fight) and the teacher put her hands on her. My grandaughter asked the teacher to take her hands off her and the teacher continued…My grandaughter is special ed and was gonna graduate with her class this year but not able to now. Instead she is in jail because she is 19 and is facing a 4th degree felony….Yes, I am very upset about this. They have sro at the school, she should have let them deal with this. Thats what they get paid for , not the teachers.

    from Dorna

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