Teachers, teaching assistants and other education staff are responsible for the way in which they exercise authority, manage risk; use resources and protect their pupils from discrimination and avoidable harm. Every member of staff whether paid or voluntary, has a duty to keep young people safe and to protect them from both physical and emotional harm. This duty is in part exercised through the development of respectful, caring, fair and professional relationships between professionals and pupils. A significant part of a practitioner’s role in protecting themselves would be to read policies and procedures that are put in place to safeguard them and children or young people in their care. Teachers and teaching assistants should always prevent any suspicious situations and protect themselves from the possibility of any false accusations by being careful in the relationships with the pupils. In a school setting, professionals can protect themselves by avoid being alone in a closed room with a child. Two members of staff must always be present if a child needs to be undressed in case an accident occurred. If a child is collected late by a parent or carer then two members of staff must stay until the child is collected.
Practitioners should always be seen working in an open and transparent way where there is either visual access or an open door, especially in one to one situations. In fact, school’s staff should avoid meetings with students in isolated or private areas and whatever they are doing with their pupils, there has to be always a reason why they are doing that specific thing. Therefore, they have to be clear about their choices and actions: for example, in case a teacher chose a particular pupil to carry out a task, he/she should be able to explain why. It is also important that practitioners keep colleagues informed about any concerns they might have. It is unrealistic to recommend that members of staff should touch pupils only in case of emergencies, especially when a hug or close contact is needed by the child. In fact, many children either do not understand, or are still learning to understand when a physical contact is appropriate. It is often pertinent for children to be given some physical contact and comfort, but this must always be offered with a certain amount of caution. In fact, according to the age of the child and the specific circumstances, physical prompts and guides are necessary in a range of settings. Educational settings should always provide a clear guidance about when and how touch should be used in order to protect both staff and children. For example, in case children require help with changing or toileting, the dignity of the child must be maintained at all times and a great care must be taken to ensure that physical contact occurs only for the specific purpose of the operation being carried out. Appropriate touches include handshakes, greetings, shoulder hugs and holding hands during playtimes.
In case early years practitioners/professionals are taking the children to trip or visit outside the school, they should always carry out a full risk assessment of that visit, under the Health and Safety at work regulations Act 1999. The act requires employers to assess the risks of activities, apply measures to control these risks and inform employees of the measures. Detailed advice on risk assessment can be obtained from the Local Educational Authority’s health and safety of?cer, and from the Health and Safety Executive, which has issued the booklet Five Steps to Risk Assessment. A written consent from children’s parents is always essential in order to take the children anywhere outside the school setting. Also, professionals need to be prepared for unexpected situations writing a list of necessary equipment and compiling an action plan in case any hazard occurs, e.g. a child falls and gets injured. By doing so, there will be evidence for any future investigation showing that the practitioner did everything possible in order to eliminate the risks and deal with the unfortunate situation.
According to Health and Safety of pupils on educational visits (Department for Education and Employment), the head teachers or group leaders should take the following factors into consideration when assessing the risks of a certain visit:
• the type of visit/activity and the level at which it is being undertaken;
• the location, routes and modes of transport;
• the competence, experience and quali?cations of supervisory staff;
• the ratios of teachers and supervisory staff to pupils;
• the group members’ age, competence, ?tness and temperament and the suitability of the activity;
• the special educational or medical needs of pupils;
• the quality and suitability of available equipment;
• seasonal conditions, weather and timing;
• emergency procedures;
• how to cope when a pupil becomes unable or unwilling to continue;
• the need to monitor the risks throughout the visit.
Local Authorities and Governing Bodies can support the teaching staff by providing relevant policies and procedures as a guidance. Children are also being protected by the safe teacher recruitment procedures that include a full Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Educational settings are also required to appoint a Designated Teacher in Child Protection (DTCP) who should always have an up to date training in child protection issues and can train the rest of the school’s staff.
Teachers have also a legal power to use reasonable force in certain cases. In fact, teachers are generally permitted the use of reasonable force to prevent pupils from hurting themselves or other children, from damaging property, or from causing disorder. The Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the Use of Reasonable Force provides that teachers can use reasonable force in order to:
• remove disruptive children from the classroom where they have refused to follow an instruction to do so,
• prevent a pupil behaving in a way that disrupts a school event or a school trip or visit,
• to prevent a pupil leaving the classroom where allowing the pupil to leave would risk their safety or lead to behaviour that disrupts the behaviour of others,
• prevent a pupil from attacking a member of staff or another pupil, or to stop a fight in the playground,
• restrain a pupil at risk of harming themselves through physical outbursts.
However, the degree of force should be in proportion to the circumstances and the seriousness of the behaviour or consequences it is intended to prevent, and it is always unlawful to use force as a form of punishment or discipline.
School’s professionals are also allowed to search without consent for an extended list of a “prohibited item” such as a knife, an offensive weapon, alcohol, illegal drugs, stolen property, an article that may be used to commit an offence or to cause injury or damage or any other item which the school rules identify as an item for which a search can be made. Students are not permitted to use these items at school (unless there is a medical prescription made by a doctor). Likewise, it is unethical and a disciplinary offence if a member of staff uses prohibited substances in the educational setting or even if he/she comes to work under the influence of any substance which would affect the way the professional carries out his/her role. Many schools have a dual Drugs policy with the purpose of protecting both staff’ and students’ welfare. This policy determines how professionals should respond to and deal with incidents with drugs and other forbidden items, but also clarifies the legal responsibilities of teaching and non-teaching staff.
Below is a list of several possible guides, policies and procedures that teaching staff should know for protecting themselves in educational settings:
• Safeguarding children and child protection policy and procedure;
• Information sharing policy and procedure;
• Whistle blowing policy and procedure;
• Nappy changing policy and procedure;
• Positive behaviour policy and procedure;
• Supervision of children on outings and visits policy and procedure;
• Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff Code of Conduct Policy;
• Use of reasonable force; Advice for head teachers, staff and governing
• Behaviour and discipline in schools, A guide for head teachers and school staff
• Use of restrictive physical interventions for pupils with severe behavioural difficulties guidance;
• Drug policy;
• Professional standards for educational practitioners;
• Data Protection Act 1998;
• Human Rights Act 1998.