Sharing information and expertise with all the education staff at the school is essential in being able to recognise warning signs and to avoid a violent incident.
Physical confrontation is less likely to develop if patterns of behaviour are recognised and dealt with early. Even without such background knowledge, the factors set out below may give an indication of possible danger.
The pupil may:
- have a history of violence, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- appear tense or agitated
- be unnaturally quiet and withdrawn or alternatively excitable and boisterous
- exhibit restless behaviour such as pushing, noisiness or jostling
- be deliberately provocative, perhaps by name calling and attention seeking
- exhibit an over-sensitive reaction to correction or instruction
- be threatening or verbally abusive
- give abrupt replies to questions, often with gesticulations
- exhibit increased voice pitch and volume
- have dilated pupils
- show signs of muscular tension in the face and limbs
- be responding to a feeling of heightened tension within the school or college - you should be aware of the effect of student morale.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy provides guidance on emotional and behavioural disorders.
What to do when faced with a confrontation
Faced with a possible confrontation, you must make a professional assessment of whether you are able to manage the situation and take appropriate action. If attempting to do so would be an unacceptable risk, you should summon help either from a colleague or, in extreme cases, the police.
Attempts should be made to discuss with the violent person his or her frustrations and problems. Signs of aggression may be counteracted by continuing to talk in normal tones, maintaining non-threatening eye contact and listening sympathetically.
A difficult situation can be controlled or defused by speaking firmly and politely, keeping your temper under control, adopting a non-threatening posture and maintaining an appropriate physical distance.
The following is a checklist of possible actions:
- Try to remove an upset parent or member of the public from an audience - it is better not to touch someone when encouraging them to move.
- Respect warnings and threats: acknowledge them and take them seriously.
- If there are other vulnerable people around, especially children, they should be escorted away from the incident.
- Try to remove yourself from immediate risk and if this is not possible, try to place a barrier between yourself and your assailant.
- If necessary seek assistance but avoid involving persons other than staff in controlling an incident.
- If the situation escalates, make sure that the person can back down without losing face by offering alternatives, if appropriate, or agreeing to talk at a later date.
- If the situation escalates further and you consider control is being lost, call on colleagues straightaway and consider withdrawal.
- Do not ignore the person concerned but let them know that you are going to leave.
- If a person is damaging property, a judgement needs to be made as to the wisdom of physically intervening: personal safety is always more important than property.
The aim should always be to retreat and summon help. However, occasionally - and as a last resort - you may have to use self-defence or physical restraint. You should be aware that a physical response to a violent incident may lead to liability for assault.
Familiarise yourself with the school/college's violence policy if one exists (ATL's model policy). If the person threatening violence is not a pupil, physical force should normally be used only to defend yourself, or other pupils in your care.
If you are forced to defend yourself against imminent injury, restrict your actions to the minimum necessary to protect yourself and the pupils in your care. For information about the circumstances under which teachers and support staff in maintained schools can use physical force in restraining pupils, see the restraint section of this website.
ATL expects employers to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health, well-being and security of their staff and this includes the provision of personal safety training.
ATL believes all schools should:
- ensure that reception and other support staff and teachers are trained so that they have the skills to deal with difficult parental conversations
- have clear and well-understood procedures in place for dealing with distressed and angry parents
- ensure staff receive professional external training, from local authorities or other agencies, in managing and dealing with people's anger.
Training should cover:
- reading body language
- making a calm assessment of potentially threatening situations
- reacting in the event of a physical attack
- using reasonable force and powers to restrain
- dealing with unexpected confrontations and conflicts.
ATL courses for members
ATL offers a number of training courses which members might find useful, including courses on Managing extreme behaviour. For more information, see the training section of this website.