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At the age of ten life seems simple, it's all about running jumping and climbing trees. By eighteen you have discovered the opposite sex, alcohol and nightclubs. By twenty five you are your own person, confident and full of life. Suddenly you hit thirty. You find yourself questioning your choices from the years that have past, feeling slightly left on the shelf, wondering where your life is heading, juggling family and friends and faced with ever aging parents. You are not alone, welcome to 30 years and countinga sideways look at life in your thirties.

Why teachers hitting children is not such a bad thing

Sundays in the UK usually means one, Sunday roast. A time to gather with family and friends and share chicken or half a cow covered in gravy with roasted potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. Yesterday we did just that. Maz and I paid a visit to see her parents. Sadly we got served up a sweet and sour rather than the full blown roast but I guess you should be grateful for what you get. Naturally polite conversation was made over dinner and for some reason the topic of whether or not a teacher can hit a child arose. Maz’s Mother who often works with children argued no they couldn’t while I strongly disagreed. So who was right? Can a teacher or anyone for that matter hit a child legally?

Before I start I would like to point out that I am completely apposed to hitting child or any form of child abuse. I hope that from reading what follows you can understand where I am coming from in relation to this post before brandishing me a monster.

So can a teacher hit a child legally? Well the answer is simple, yes they can (sorry Maz’s Mum but you were way off on this one). There are many useless facts floating around my head and one of them is a good working of English law. The first thing you have to understand is that in order to assault someone in the eyes of the law you don’t even have to lay a finger on them. Instead you only have to make them think that you will. For example raising a fist in the air in a threatening manner is an assault. Naturally making physical contact with them is also an assault. Even a gentle tap on the shoulder is an assault. Now of course we are all technically assaulted every day. A handshake, a hug, a kiss, bumping into someone in a crowds, standing on someone’s foot at a gig. These are all assaults but we consider them to be sociably acceptable.

Now I am not suggesting for a moment that teachers should go around kissing children but what I am trying to get across is that an assault is not just hitting, kicking, grabbing etc. It spans the spectrum from the mundane of the accidental bump to the extreme of  breaking bones or endangering life. That all said any assault be it small or large is considered legal and justified in the eyes of the law if it meets certain conditions.

These conditions include (among others) a person gives their consent such as a boxing match or other physical sports where an assault may occur, if it happened by accident such as stepping on someone’s toes at a festival in a crowd, to prevent a crime taking place such as grabbing someone who was trying to steal your car and most importantly to protect yourself or another from being assaulted, hurt or injured. It is this last point which is important.

The key point is that you are acting to protect yourself or another. That other person can even be the person who is assaulting you. A few examples include dragging a person off a bridge who is trying to kill themselves, punching someone in the face who is mugging you, pulling someone out of a tree who looks like they might fall and so on and so on. These are all assaults but they are legal and justified assaults. If then a teacher is faced with a child walking along a wall and they honestly believe that the child will fall and hurt themselves then they are perfectly within the law to grab that child and pull them off the wall. If a child was running with a knife or some scissors and the teacher believed that the child would trip and hurt themselves or another then again they would be justified. If two children were fighting and a teacher pulls them apart or child is throwing things and smashing up a classroom and the teacher restrains them then that too is fine. In all case the teacher is acting to protect themselves or another. The law is not stupid despite how it may look sometimes and these justifications are commonsense when you think about it.

Now these are of course all pretty simple examples. Children fighting, acting in a dangerous way, causing criminal damage to property. What about a more complex example? Consider two children in playground and one child is on the floor with the other leaning over them. The standing child picks up a stone and holds it above his heading looking like they will throw it at the other. Could a teacher restrain the child with the stone? The answer is yes. Remember in order for an assault to occur a person only has to believe that they or another will be physically harmed rather than any physical act taking place. If the teacher honestly believed that the child was going to throw the stone then that is an assault and in turn they can act to protect the child on the floor by grabbing the other one. The fact the child never assaulted the other one and might not even of had the intention of throwing the stone is regardless as long as the teacher had an honest belief that they would throw it.

No doubt there will be a few people who are quick to point out that there has been several cases of people being prosecuted for acting in this manner. One of the most famous was a farmer who shot a burglar who broke into his home. Naturally the farmer argued he was acting to protect himself but he was still found guilty of murder. Likewise there has been cases of people who have fought off muggers and been prosecuted for the injuries they have inflicted on their would be attackers. So what gives?

The problem here is one of what is reasonable force. The farmer in question shot the burglar in the back as he was running away across a field. It is therefore impossible to suggest that he was acting to protect himself from someone who was running away from him. Likewise defending off a mugger is perfectly fine. If you punched them to the ground and ran away to protect yourself then you have done nothing illegal. If you punched them to the ground and then spent ten minutes kicking them half to death then clearly you are no longer protecting yourself. The level of force you use must be proportional  to the level used against yourself or another. So if someone attacks you with a knife and you attack back with a knife then all is good. If they punch you and you shoot them in the face then not so much. In a similar vein the level of force needed to restrain a body builder is different to that need to restrain a eight year old child. 

The same laws apply to everyone and not just teachers. From you and me on the streets to police officers and even members of the armed forces. This is why you hear of police using excessive force or soldiers facing charges for killing members of the enemy who are unarmed or have surrendered.

Now no one if suggesting that we all go around hitting each other or that teachers should hit children. As I hope I have demonstrated there are circumstances when doing so is perfectly legal and may even be protecting a child. Obviously hitting a child because they won’t listen, sit still or they get a question wrong is completely morally and legally unjustified. The problem is we live in a society where everyone seems to be afraid of everyone else. In this case schools are afraid of being sued and take the easy option of drumming into teachers heads that they can’t touch the pupils under any circumstance. As such teachers find themselves bogged down in endless health and safety guidelines and ultimately it is the children who miss out on experiences because of imposed regulations which are introduced purely to protect the school from litigation rather than the actual pupils. Schools and alike spend millions of pounds a year creating new rules and guidelines for such things when really the current laws cover every eventuality and then some. The laws in the UK regarding assault have been around for centuries and have been demonstrated, argued and enforced through an endless number of cases in court. Do we really need to reinvent the wheel every year? If we spent more time educating teachers (and others like them) as to what the law says and what their rights are in such matters rather on enforcing red tape just think how much money and resources could be freed up to educate our children.

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