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‘Schools Do Not Understand Why they are Using Restraint on Vulnerable Pupils’ Finds New Report

Many schools are not looking closely at whether the children disproportionately affected are from ethnic minority communities or have disabilities, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

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‘Schools Do Not Understand Why they are Using Restraint on Vulnerable Pupils’ Finds New Report

Many schools are not looking closely at whether the children disproportionately affected are from ethnic minority communities or have disabilities, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The use of restraint in schools should be monitored, recorded and analysed with the same rigour as exclusions, according to a new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The unequivocal set of recommendations in today’s report vindicates the dogged work of parent campaigners who have worked for years to raise serious concerns about the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

It lays bare just how bad the situation is. Many schools are attempting to monitor the use of restraint – force used on pupils by staff members – but some are not; schools are confused about whether or not they should tell parents or carers what they are doing in terms of restraint and seclusion; and children are getting hurt physically as well as scarred emotionally.

There is little or no information available from the poor data collection carried out so far about whether children from ethnic minority backgrounds or with disabilities are disproportionately affected. It even raised the concern that the use of restraint and seclusion in schools could form a human rights violation.

The EHRC conducted this inquiry because it had received frequent reports from parents, many with disabled children, about the alleged misuse of these techniques in schools.

Restraint is defined in the report as physical, mechanical and chemical forms of control, coercion and forced isolation – practices which are also known as ‘restrictive interventions’. It is used as a form of behaviour management.

The EHRC’s report follows an inquiry into restraint in Scottish schools in 2018, by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS), which painted a similarly worrying picture. The EHRC in Scotland then worked with the CYPCS to improve monitoring of restraint in Scotland and produce better guidance. A research study on restraint from the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) and the Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland (PABSS) collected case studies about inappropriate restraint in schools from across the UK. The evidence drew on the experience of the parents of disabled children, with 700 children experiencing injuries and trauma in a number of settings. 

The EHRC carried out its own survey of schools for this report. It found that, while 90% of schools had some form of policy, fewer analysed the results and nearly one-third did not analyse the use of restraint at all. Many of the schools surveyed wanted better guidance on how to avoid using restraint and seclusion and on dealing with behaviour they found challenging. Nearly one-fifth did not record their use of seclusion, with a smaller number not recording any uses mechanical and chemical restraint. 

Because of the lack of any national guidance on restraint and seclusion, many schools did not look in detail at whether the children affected had what are called ‘protected characteristics’ – such as their race or a disability. As the report said: “The least likely protected characteristic to be recorded was race. Evidence from other sectors (with mandatory recording systems) has highlighted disproportionate use of restraint on people from ethnic minorities. The lack of data in schools makes it difficult for schools to identify if there is a problem.”

The report recommends that, just as data is published on school exclusions, there must be a new mandatory requirement for schools in England and Wales to monitor and record the use of restraint and for local authorities to have a restraint policy. Parents must be informed in almost all circumstances; there needs to be national training standards; and restraint data should be analysed to see, in particular, if some groups are disproportionately affected. 

The EHRC has said that the lack of data and guidance means that schools do not understand how and why they are using restraint, and that watchdogs are therefore unable to assess school performance around its use.

“Carefully managing and monitoring the restraint of children is something we should all care about,” said Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chair of the EHRC. “While the use of restraint can sometimes be necessary, to protect both children and staff, it must only ever be used as a last resort and conducted in the safest possible way… a lack of clear guidance on what to record has led to inconsistency and uncertainty for schools and a lack of transparency for parents and carers about why, where, when and how often children are being restrained while at school.”

So what happens now? The report’s publication has been delayed considerably, with some advocates saying privately that this is partly because key voices within the Department for Education have argued strenuously against guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools, saying that it is a bureaucratic burden on senior management. 

But without monitoring it is impossible to see whether children from diverse backgrounds are affected by issues such as their race and disability – and whether they are, in fact, being targeted and traumatised and set up for a journey of harm through their childhoods.

We know that both groups are more likely to be excluded from mainstream schools and end up in ‘pupil referral units’. But, what if the harm started earlier in school but was not picked up because it was not monitored?

In addition, there are a number of profit-making companies providing lucrative training on restraint and seclusion in schools without any transparency on the kinds of training provided and whether it is appropriate for young children.

The Government should accept the EHRC’s recommendations – for the sake of the next generation of children who should be protected from harm in schools, rather than be re-traumatised by teaching staff who are poorly trained and whose actions are not sufficiently accountable to parents. 

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