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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Teacher allowed to restrain pupil
playground fight
Cases often arise when teachers try to stop fights
A teachers' leader has praised a judge's ruling that a teacher accused of assaulting a pupil had used "reasonable force".

The teacher, Haydn Watkins, 64, was cleared at Alton magistrates court in Hampshire on Friday of having assaulted a 12-year-old pupil while working as a supply teacher at a school in Andover in March.

District Judge Gareth Cowling said: "The teacher has to be able to exercise authority. That teacher is occasionally entitled to use some physical force.

"I have no doubt the situation called for authority and the use of some form of physical restraint - and a teacher is required to use reasonable force.

"I have no hesitation in my judgment that in this case it was reasonable."

He had been told that the boy - who cannot be identified - had been kicking other children's property and refused to return to his desk.

Mr Watkins forcibly returned him to his seat twice.

'Helpful'

The general secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, Nigel de Gruchy, said the ruling sent a "helpful message".

"It is fear of getting involved in that kind of nightmare which inhibits people from getting involved in sorting out fights or intervening in dangerous situations," he said.

"We have had a number of cases where members have been suspended when they tried to intervene to stop a fight."

Complaints from youngsters should be treated more sceptically. When common sense was applied complaints often did not come to court, he added.

What is allowed

In England, guidelines from the Department for Education say teachers or others in charge of pupils can use "such force as is reasonable in all the circumstances" to prevent pupils committing a criminal offence, injuring themselves or others, or damaging property - including their own.

While corporal punishment is outlawed, force can be used to stop "any behaviour prejudicial to maintaining good order and discipline".

The guidelines make the point that there is no legal definition of "reasonable force".

They say it must be in proportion to the circumstances of the incident and the seriousness of the behaviour, and might also depend on the age, understanding, and gender of the pupil.

Teachers have complained that in practice they have been constrained by the increasing likelihood that disruptive pupils or their parents will resort to legal action.

See also:

03 Nov 00 | Education
Suspending teachers costs millions
19 Jul 00 | Scotland
Teachers urged to report attacks
Links to more Education stories are at the foot of the page.


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