NI teacher warns of replacing classroom assistants with ‘reasonable force’

Susan Thompson, Vice Principal of Hart Memorial Primary School and President of the Ulster Teachers Union
Susan Thompson, Vice Principal of Hart Memorial Primary School and President of the Ulster Teachers Union
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Possible education reforms could reduce classroom assistants further and sanction the use of ‘reasonable force’ against unruly pupils, a Co Armagh teacher has warned.

Susan Thompson, Vice Principal of Portadown’s Hart Memorial Primary School and currently President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union was speaking after the proposed reforms were allegedly leaked from the Department of Education.

She said: “The leaked measures are said to be part of a suite to tackle, among other things, bad behaviour, but we have misgivings about a range of issues they contain.

“We are also especially concerned that reference was made to there being too many teaching assistants in schools!

“We believe teachers are already able to use ‘reasonable restraint’ but this new phrase suggests something more hands-on, and would be dangerously open to interpretation.

“Schools will not be better places if teachers start using ‘force’ – surely that was why corporal punishment was banned? How can you teach a child it’s not ok to lash out when that’s exactly how they may interpret a teacher using force on them, even if it is ‘reasonable’?Also, one person’s ‘reasonable force’ may be another person’s assault. There’s no way to measure ‘force’ and meet it out according to a scale. It’s non-sense to even suggest this.

“For the most part schools are safe environments which are well-disciplined. However, it’s no secret that as they enrol a growing number of children with increasingly complex behavioural and emotional issues, challenges in the classroom are rising.

“That is why we need more teaching assistants – not less. You can’t place more pupils with additional special needs into the so-called mainstream schools and then abandon them. Those children need their assistants’ support more than ever. We don’t want to replace classroom assistant with ‘reasonable force’.

“We need well-funded schools where teachers have the resources they need, the classroom assistants to support additionally challenged children and the support resources from adequately funded educational psychology colleagues so they can refer children with issues.”