“Positive Handling” is anything but Positive.

January 23, 2024

The Power of Precise Language

Educators know that restraint in schools should only ever be used as a last resort. Even with the best training in the world, the use of any physical intervention can become a breach of a child’s physical and psychological boundaries, taking away their liberty, consent, and dignity. There will be times when a teacher has no choice but to step in to protect themselves and others. But the adverse outcomes for the pupil will always remain.

So, considering the seriousness of restraint, why is it still referred to by some as “positive handling”, when there is absolutely nothing positive about it?

The same issue occurs with “inclusion rooms”, which should be properly labelled “isolation or seclusion rooms” because, simply, that’s what they are. There is nothing “inclusive” about a room designed to exclude and isolate a struggling child from their peers.

Language is equally important to teachers, pupils and parents so it makes no sense that something as extreme as physical or environmental restraint can be labelled “positive” or “inclusive”. 
Even if restraint is necessary, softening the terms or describing such interventions as ‘positive’ is not helpful and does not convey the seriousness of the situation even when there is positive intent to maintain the welfare and safety of a pupil or member of staff.
Instead of positive handling, schools should be clear when a pupil has been physically restrained - a term everyone understands.
Likewise, if a pupil has been segregated or isolated from their peers, that’s what teachers should be telling parents.
Training teachers in understanding behaviour and responding to distressed behaviour which may include the use of restraint in schools is becoming more common as data shows behaviour in schools has deteriorated since the pandemic.

Rethinking Strategies for Dealing with Challenging Behaviour in Schools

Our latest CPI School Behaviour Survey found nine in ten teachers reported an increase in dealing with challenging behaviour in schools since the end of lockdowns and one in five said they had experienced physical aggression on a weekly basis, with poor mental health and reduced concentration levels flagged as causes.

Therefore, simply offering basic restraint training, risks siloing the issue by giving teachers a route to an outcome in a moment of crisis without trying to identify the problems leading up to it.
Staff must be provided with the tools to recognise the emotional requirements of those in their charge. Using the moment of crisis as a starting point is far too late.
Crisis prevention is far better than crisis response.

Every crisis will have a cause and prepping for restraint misses the point that a child might be lashing out for a whole host of reasons both inside and outside the classroom.

From Compliance to Connection: Rethinking Strategies for Educators

Managing the emotional dysregulation of a child – and the educator forced to intervene – will bring far greater results than simply knowing where best to hold a pupil safely.

When a child’s emotions are sky high, it is not the job of an educator to match them.

Doing this will raise the stakes and send the young person’s emotions higher still. Instead a teacher must be able to regulate their emotions in the classroom, and step in from a place of calm, consistent understanding, in the hope this can bring the child’s emotions down.

The problem is, this collaborative approach is being replaced by a compliance culture under the misunderstood reasoning that children and young people need strict boundaries to feel secure.
It is defended under the theory that children need “boundaries” to thrive but fails to recognise that boundaries should not be used as punishments.
Children are left feeling less safe and run the risk of exacerbating the issues that lead to the need for restraint in schools.
Instead, boundaries should be for protecting everyone and never for punishing.
Many teachers are advised “don’t smile until Christmas” as a route to imposing boundaries and creating pliant pupils.
But leaving children feeling scared means the chances of them feeling safe are diminished. Throw into the mix the growing number of children with additional needs and the approach of a strict, rules-based system risks highlighting their differences even more.

Nurturing Neurodiversity in Classroom Discipline

  • How should we tell a child with ADHD that they will be punished for losing their pen, when we know those with ADHD are more likely to lose things?
  • What do we say to an Autistic child who finds school uniforms particularly itchy that they must adhere to a new dress code or risk sanctions?
  • We wouldn’t tell a child in a wheelchair they must stand up in assembly because everyone else is expected to.

So, why implement rules for children that will inevitably set them up to fail?

This risks heightening anxiety, guilt and stress already felt by most neurodiverse pupils – or any that might struggle with their emotions – and could push them closer to being restrained as their dysregulation goes into overdrive.

Teachers deserve proper training when it comes to restraint in schools and positive handling. If school leaders want to keep educators from leaving the profession, they would be wise to empower them to feel confident and secure.

Because if educators can’t feel confident and secure, how can they help children and young people feel the same?

For more information on the Classroom Culture™ train the trainer programme, our Hearts & Minds INSET, or how your school can get a Behaviour Health Check, go to our Education programmes page and fill in the consultation form.