Nursery Expulsion Rate Prompts Calls For Greater Teacher Powers

More than 4,000 children aged five and under were suspended from primary schools in England last year, prompting calls for teachers to have greater powers of restraint over violent and disruptive pupils, including toddlers in nursery classes.

Government figures on primary school suspensions show that 20 two-year-olds were suspended from nursery classes last year, including ten accused of physical assault against a pupil and a handful for physical assault or threatening behaviour towards an adult.

The figures highlight the extreme difficulties facing some schools in maintaining discipline, even among very younger children.

Teachers have recently given stronger powers to physically restrain children, but many are still afraid to use them in order to stop violent behaviour spiralling out of control for fear of being accused of assault themselves.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, who obtained the figures in a Parliamentary answer, said he had been staggered to at the number of very young children who had been suspended,

“Teachers need the powers to maintain order in the classroom and clamp down on bad behaviour before it escalates into violence.

“Ministers have eroded teachers’ ability to keep order by restricting their powers to deal with disruptive and violent children. We want to restore the authority of teachers to ensure a safe and secure environment for children of all ages to learn in,” he said.

The figures also show that nearly 400 three-year-olds were suspended last year, 1,140 four-year-olds and 2,610 children aged five. The figures peak at 10,600 among nine-year-olds. Most cases involved physical assault or threatening behaviour against a child or adult.

To help avoid such suspensions, Mr Gove said that teachers should be able to physically restrain such children before matters had got out of hand without fear that they themselves will be accused of assault.

The current rules governing school punishments say that teachers can only physically restrain a child if the action “constitutes a proportionate punishment in the circumstances of the case.”

The Tories would remove the word “proportionate”, a Tory spokesman said.

“This word is a gold mine for lawyers and a nightmare for the public because it gives lawyers the chance to take any case to court and quibble over the precise boundary of what may be ‘proportional’.

He added that a Tory government would also issue guidance making it clear to the police and courts that teachers should only be punished for physically restraining a child if it was clear they had acted unreasonably.

Schools would no longer have to keep written records for ten years for every episode involving physical restraint as this created a disincentive to teachers keeping order.

But a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the government had recently given teachers stronger powers to use physical restraint against pupils.

The high numbers of very young children being suspended was evidence that teachers were clamping down and taking a hard line against physically disruptive pupils, he added.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that despite the new powers for teachers to physically restrain children, many did not have the confidence to use them.

“The moment a child is laid a hand on, whistles are blown and social services become involved. Unless the teacher can show they have been trained in the use of physical restraint they can find themselves walking a tightrope,” he said.

He added, however, that there was sometimes no option to a teacher using physical force to prevent a child harming themselves or others. “Part of our job as a union is to make teachers more aware than they can restrain children,” he said.

Suspending a child who was misbehaving could sometimes be counterproductive, he sod. “Where a child is displaying poor behaviour because there are problems in the home, simply sending them back home is not always a terribly good idea.”

The solution was better cooperation between schools and social care agencies as soon as problem behaviour was identified in a child.