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The Herald on Sunday editorial

Herald on Sunday editorial: Law must not make teachers' task harder

Social media is fuelling it, both by transmitting insults and threats and summoning greater numbers when trouble breaks out. Photo / Facebook
Social media is fuelling it, both by transmitting insults and threats and summoning greater numbers when trouble breaks out. Photo / Facebook

The news that teachers fear legal action for stopping school fights underlines what a hard job school teaching must be, not just in the classroom but outside. Teachers have probably always had to deal with outbreaks of violence, a task that most will find temperamentally, if not physically, foreign to them.

Corporal punishment is long gone and the law no longer makes allowance for parents, let along adults acting in their place, to use physical discipline. Teachers fear, quite naturally, they could be charged with assault even when intervening to stop a violent altercation. Their concern, as we report today, is holding up the work of a taskforce set up by the Ministry of Education more than a year ago to write guidelines for using restraint and seclusion when dealing with violent or extreme behaviour.

If the teacher's concern for the legality of restraint and seclusion is well grounded, the law needs to be changed. These actions are exactly what should be expected of teachers, and indeed anyone else, who comes across school pupils brawling in the playground, and anywhere else.

Outside schoolgrounds, adults are less likely to intervene but inside the grounds they have a duty to do so.

Schools and their staff are responsible for the safety of the students entrusted to them. New health and safety legislation has added to schools' concerns in many respects, but breaking up fights should not be one of them.

The law should not be making their task harder at the same time youth violence appears to be getting worse, at least in the sense that both sexes now resort to it.

Social media is fuelling it, both by transmitting insults and threats and summoning greater numbers when trouble breaks out. Social media, we report, is being used to organise "fight clubs" in some schools, and to share the footage of fights more widely.

It will add to teachers' risk that any physical intervention on their part may be filmed and even live-streamed to a wide audience.

Added to all of that, they are supposed to cope with the effects of students abusing alcohol or other drugs and becoming either aggressive or anxious and depressed. Comforting and consoling acts involving physical contact may be as legally perilous as violence for teachers these days.

They are in society's front line facing most of the risks and threats to young people today. We load ever more solutions to social problems on to their shoulders. We must ensure the law does not make their task harder than it is.

- Herald on Sunday

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