How many people should we train in positive handling in our school?

October 27, 2022

Questions we often get asked at Dynamis are how many people should we train in positive handling skills? Should we train the whole staff team or should we train a specialist group?

There is no specific guidance available about what is the ‘correct’ number of staff to train in positive handling at your school, however there is strong direction in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations in Regulation 13 (link).

Regulation 13 gives employers guidance relating to the ‘Capabilities and Training’ of staff in order to maintain health and safety in the workplace. In it, there is a strong instruction to provide ‘adequate’ training for staff – but what does this mean when we are focussed on potentially harmful behaviour in schools?

To address this we start by asking two key questions:

How often are incidents happening in your setting?

And

Who is usually dealing with those incidents?

Most of the time there are a small proportion of children or young people at a given school who are presenting with behaviours that might require de-escalation or prompt a positive handling intervention.

Typically a few staff are present when those incidents happen – because they are directly involved with the day to day activity of the child or young person, for example the child’s teacher and one or two teaching assistants. Should things get out of hand or really difficult, another (usually more experienced, more skilled or more senior) person may be called to support.

Because they are dealing with a disproportionate amount of de-escalation and positive handling incidents compared with other colleagues, this specific group of staff gain vital experience with those children and young people; understanding their triggers, cues and preferred methods of de-escalation. They regularly practice the knowledge and skills required to intervene successfully with that particular child or young person and keep everyone safe – verbally wherever possible and physically as a last resort. Other colleagues, with the exception of those operating in small schools, simply don’t have as much exposure or as much practice with managing these situations.

It is Dynamis’ view that in most cases, training the whole staff team to an equivalent standard in positive handling is therefore a disproportionate use of the school’s resources and time.

In addition, because of the varied attitudes and physical capabilities of staff in relation to positive handling, there is a case to be made that training everyone may even increase risk over a period of time.

If all members of staff are trained to the same level without due consideration given to their experience levels, who they are working with and their likelihood of being involved in an incident, an expectation is created that they are capable to act. Staff may then try to intervene with a child or young person based on positive handling training they are not using currently or frequently, which heightens the risk of a sub-optimal results.

All this points to the need to really look at our teams. We have to understand that they exist on a standard distribution – a bell curve – of both physical abilities as well as judgement borne from experience: of this child or young person; of special educational needs and behavioural difficulties; of your unique context; and of life in general.

Your school community deserve a positive handling training program which proportionately trains the relevant staff to deal with the incidents they may likely and foreseeably be involved with, whilst also ensuring the rest of the staff body have a broad understanding of what they should do and who they should call when an incident becomes likely to require a positive handling intervention.

If one is not already in place, Dynamis recommends the creation of a specialist behaviour management team in the school. An average-sized school may need (considering our experiences with hundreds of clients) around twelve highly-trained staff to form this team. Smaller schools may need the same number or smaller. Larger schools may need this number or higher. Schools with specialist or alternative provisions may indeed need to train all of their staff in some level of behaviour management, to deal with the particular needs of their school.

The behaviour management team is then responsible for responding to behavioural crises and getting involved in the positive handling interventions that happen at the school. Because the group are called to proportionately more interventions, they’ll develop more experience using their de-escalation and non-escalation verbalisation skills and better experience of working as a team during a physical intervention, resulting in a safer environment for everyone.

To conclude then, school leaders who are considering positive handling training should carefully consider who they want to be involved with these interventions, and then disproportionately invest resources on training that team to perform this function at a high level.

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Vanessa O'Dea


Gerard O'Dea

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