When is physical intervention proportional and necessary?
When is physical intervention proportional and necessary?

Picture: Nanne Meulendijks

When your student runs wild

As a teacher, you prefer not to intervene physically. But in some situations you have to. The question of what you may or may not do cannot be captured in a protocol.

“The moment he started threatening me and other students and made feint movements that made it seem like he wanted to hit, it was enough for me. He had to be taken out of the situation, he had to leave the classroom. ”

Emmy van der Valk, teacher at the Vierbeek College, a school for secondary special education in Oosterbeek, remembers the incident well. It took place on a Friday in December 2017. One of her nine students, a whimsical thirteen-year-old boy, had been pushed by another student while playing football and was still angry about it. Van der Valk: “He was very restless in class. He kept moving things around and challenging other students. I had asked him to sit at a time-out table in class, where he could listen to some music on his earphones, but that had no effect.

We let him cool down in one of the office spaces at the school, but it took him quite a while to regain his senses

Because I was afraid that the situation would escalate, I then brought in a few colleagues. Finally we told him we would escort him out of the classroom and after the countdown, a co-worker and I grabbed his forearm while another co-worker guided us from behind. The boy struggled, scolded us and tried to kick me. We let him cool down in one of the office spaces at school, but it took him quite a while to regain his senses. ”

Such incidents can occur anywhere in Dutch education, but the chance of this is somewhat greater in special secondary education, especially in schools with pupils suffering from psychiatric disorders and behavioral problems, such as the Vierbeek College in Oosterbeek. "What we notice regularly," says Corine van Helvoirt of the National Expertise Center for Special Education (Lecso), "is that teachers want to know what they can and cannot do in a threatening situation with a student."

According to Van Helvoirt, there is no clear-cut answer to this, because it depends very much on the situation. “In principle you are not allowed to hit a child, but if a student threatens another student with a knife or a gun and you hit his arm to master the situation, things will change. In fact, you have to act because the safety of other students is at stake and you as a teacher are responsible for it. ”


Wim van Schaik, director of the Vierbeek College, also recognizes that certain situations cannot be captured in a protocol. “Sometimes colleagues sometimes ask for lists of situation descriptions and an adapted approach, but that just doesn't work. Yes, it is still manageable when using alcohol and drugs, but in the case of a blow from a student, it makes a lot of difference whether the student gives it consciously or unconsciously because he is trying to tear himself away. ”

Most importantly, after such an incident, as a teacher, you can explain why you made certain choices

To give teachers some clarity and to help schools to draw up a good protocol, the Lecso last year, together with the School & Safety Foundation and the Netherlands Youth Institute, drew up the guideline 'Physically restrictive actions and / or measures to restrict freedom within education'. Van Helvoirt: "The most important thing is that after such an incident, as a teacher, you can explain why you made certain choices." Furthermore, a protocol should describe what unacceptable transgressive behavior of students is, but also when physical intervention is proportional and necessary.


But when is physical intervention proportional and necessary? That question is also not easy to answer, says Floor Wijnands of the Education Inspectorate. Together with a fellow lawyer, he wrote an article about the permissibility of physical actions against students by educational staff that appeared in October 2015 in the professional magazine School and law. It states that physical intervention must have a didactic or pedagogical purpose.

In addition, according to the authors, action may only be taken if the safety of the environment is at stake. Wijnands: “But if the situation gets out of hand and parties end up in court, it is ultimately the judge who decides whether the actions of the teacher in question are permissible or inadmissible.

In addition, the teacher is personally responsible for his actions. As a teacher you cannot hide in court behind any shortcomings of your employer, the school. ” Wijnands does believe that schools should equip their staff as well as possible. "Invest in it, draw up a good protocol and pay regular attention to it in specific team training courses."

We practice this as teachers on each other so that we also experience what a student feels at such a moment

That is a must at Vierbeek College, says director Van Schaik. “Here at school we work with a protocol in which we have laid down agreements and procedures. In addition, a number of train-the-trainers are active internally who provide tailor-made training for the other staff five times a year. This training mainly consists of learning all kinds of de-escalating techniques, because that should always be the focus in such situations. But if action is needed, we want it to be done as humane as possible. "
That is why the teaching staff is also taught certain techniques with which a student can be 'bounded'.

Emmy van der Valk has often attended those training sessions. “In addition to the one technique that we applied to that difficult student, there is also one in which the three of us work someone to the ground. We practice this as teachers on each other so that we also experience what a student feels at such a moment. Everything is aimed at making this happen without pain and without injury. ”

It seems quite logical that a school like Vierbeek College pays a lot of attention to this theme. Nevertheless, Van Helvoirt and Wijnands argue that schools with less complex pupils also prepare their teaching staff for such incidents. Van Helvoirt: “Society is becoming more complex, with more fighting divorces, refugee children with trauma, poverty problems and inequality of opportunity. Those social problems also come into the classroom. ”

Wijnands believes that schools with a complex student population should also provide their staff with the tools. "At the very least, discuss it together, determine who will perform physically, set up a rear guard and provide a cooling-off room where a student can recover under supervision."
Things turned out all right between Van der Valk and her student. “When he was back to his senses, we talked about it together. He regretted his actions and later explained to the other students in class what exactly was going on in his head. Ultimately, a signaling plan was drawn up that specifically describes the best approach in his case for certain behavior. He has indicated that the next time he prefers to leave the classroom immediately to a low-stimulus room. He has done that a few times since that incident. ”

Van der Valk remains fairly calm about it. “Of course such an incident does have an impact and I am also working on it in the evening. But then I'm more thinking about where that behavior comes from and what I can do differently next time. No, it certainly doesn't wake me up, but that is also because there is good aftercare at school. Also for us teachers. ”

Read the do's and don'ts regarding physical intervention here.

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