By Dr Morris Charlton, Voice's Regional Officer (Yorkshire)
Article for April 2018 issue of Your Voice.
I find it difficult to believe that anyone in a senior position in a school, when asked for help and advice regarding managing challenging children, can say that being kicked, spat at and assaulted is ‘part of the job’! It appears, however, that this quite frequently the response in schools around the UK. Unbelievable!
Let’s get it right from the start. Being kicked, punched, nipped, spat at, bitten and assaulted is not part of the job!
The first response
The first response to a school’s expectation that this is ‘part of the job’ must be to manage your managers tactfully, professionally and assertively.
The second response
Read and understand your school’s behaviour policy. You may be surprised what the school policy is on this issue. There may be sound guidance and the school leadership are not following policy, or the policy may be deficient and need urgent review. Point this out to senior leaders and governors.
The third response
There is no expectation that staff should, as a routine part of their work, be assaulted. Employers have a duty of care, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, that the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees and the health, safety and welfare of others affected by the ‘employer’s undertaking’ is safeguarded.
So going into work and being assaulted is a breach of the duty of care that the employer has to the employee. This refers to all staff – there isn’t an opt-out clause for support staff or volunteers.
The fourth response
Any young person who poses a risk to staff should have their behaviour risk assessed to explore the effective management strategies that need to be employed in managing their behaviour consistently.
This isn’t solely about staff protection; it’s about developmental management for the young person, regardless of the institution they are in.
After each incident, the risk assessments need to be reviewed. This isn’t an overwhelming bureaucratic process. It shouldn’t take long and it’s in the best interests of the child and staff.
The fifth response
If there is a continuing problem with a particular child – the response to which should be individually focused not group focused – then appropriate instruction and training is required. Training should be whole school and holistic.
- There needs to be a focus on de-escalation, diversion and diffusion of behaviour.
- Pre-emptive management should be used. Most staff in school know and can identify the signs when a child is having difficulty – intervene early and avoid conflict.
The sixth response
If all attempts to manage the behaviour have failed and the child still poses a risk, more specialised whole school training will be required.
This training may include Restrictive Physical Intervention (RPI). There is often confusion and fear about this level of training, but there are many highly professional and skilled trainers and organisations able to deliver training.
Whole school training develops staff confidence and competencies. Staff who are confident and competent can intervene knowing they are equipped with the appropriate skills and back-up to manage challenging behaviour. These interventions must always be reasonable, proportionate, necessary (as part of a well-planned risk assessment) and in the best interests of the young person and the staff.