Belfast Telegraph

Proposal to use 'reasonable force' on disruptive pupils would set a dangerous precedent: union

Jacquie White
Jacquie White

By Gillian Halliday

Northern Ireland teachers have voiced concern over possible education reforms which sanction the use of "reasonable force" against unruly pupils.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) yesterday warned proposed reforms to tackle bad behaviour in the classroom by the UK Department of Education would be "dangerously open to interpretation".

Under the plans, which were recently leaked in a document to a national media outlet, teachers would be allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining pupils.

Currently teachers can use "reasonable restraint" in tackling problems in the classroom, according to the UTU's general secretary Jacquie White, who claimed the new proposals suggest the use of physical discipline.

"This new phrase suggests something more hands-on, and would be dangerously open to interpretation," she said.

"Schools will not be better places if teachers start using 'force' - surely that was why corporal punishment was banned?

"How can you teach a child it's not okay to lash out when that's exactly how they may interpret a teacher using force on them, even if it is 'reasonable'?

"Also, one person's 'reasonable force' may be another person's assault. There's no way to measure 'force' and meet it out according to a scale."

Branding the proposed reforms "nonsense", Ms White said amid the protracted Stormont impasse, the UTU needs to be "increasingly wary of measures being discussed elsewhere in the UK, given the potential for direct rule".

The development comes as a charity urged the authorities here to follow Scotland's historic decision to ban parents and carers from smacking children.

Last week NSPCC NI hailed the vote, which will make it a criminal offence for parents to use physical punishment against a child, a "hugely significant step" in protecting children.

Ms White also criticised a reference in the leaked document which allegedly stated there are "too many" teaching assistants, insisting growing pressures on teachers means they are more essential than ever.

"For the most part schools are safe environments which are well-disciplined.

"However, it's no secret that as they enrol a growing number of children with increasingly complex behavioural and emotional issues, challenges in the classroom are rising," she insisted.

"That is why we need more teaching assistants, not less."

Calling for more resources for schools, she continued: "What we need is not the ability to use 'force' and fewer teaching assistants.

"We don't want to replace classroom assistant with 'reasonable force'."

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland has said any policy changes will be the responsibility of a future Education Minister.

A spokesperson said: "Corporal punishment remains unlawful."

They added: "Teachers and non-teaching staff in schools must not use any degree of physical contact which is deliberately intended to cause pain or injury or humiliation."

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