Combat lessons for infant teachers

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS OF children as young as three are being taught restraint techniques by experts from a top-security hospital to control violent and disruptive pupils.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, meeting in Harrogate yesterday, called for all staff to be given the specialist training as it emerged that teams from Ashworth special hospital on Merseyside had been called in to train staff in several schools and even nurseries.

The teachers demanded help in coping with the increasing number of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties being educated in mainstream schools.

Delegates warned that plans to educate more "special needs" children in mainstream classes could lead "to the sort of situations that arose from the well-intentioned but ill-fated care in the community".

Expulsions, even those in primary schools, have increased sharply in recent years and teachers repeatedly complain that they are being required to deal with disruptive and even violent young people.

John Williamson, a teacher at Kilgarth school in Birkenhead, Liverpool, said he had been through a three-day course by Ashworth specialists and said the same course was becoming popular among other schools. The training covers safe ways of restraining violent youngsters, such as arm grips, and ways of leading children away from confrontation or potentially harmful situations.

The sessions, based on techniques developed to deal with some of Britain's most dangerous criminals, are also designed to defuse confrontations and help teachers to avoid conflict by using body language and eye contact. Mr Williamson, whose school caters for boys aged between 11 and 16 with emotional and behavioural difficulties, said he used the specialist techniques daily, and said it was essential that all teachers had similar training.

"It may be only once a month, or once in a career that you come across this sort of situation, but it can terminate your career if you do not know how to cope with it.

"Incidents of violence have been recorded by children of infant age. We have not yet seen the tip of the iceberg with disaffection. It was unusual but now it is becoming a fact that children of infant age can and do react violently."

Guidelines showing teachers how to use "reasonable force" to restrain unruly pupils were published last year to increase protection for staff against possible prosecution if they intervened in violent or dangerous incidents. Under the rules, teachers can lead children out of fights, block their path or guide them with a hand on their back, but they cannot use arm locks or push children to the ground.

Mr Williamson said the Government had done too little to help teachers. "If these children with emotional and behavioural difficulties are to remain in mainstream schools, training is a priority because it gives professional confidence."

Richard Neale, a member of the union's national executive, said: "Training is important for all staff and not just in special educational needs schools. Additional funding is essential. We are doing our best and we will continue to do our best but we need support and funding."