Restraint in Special Schools

On Sunday 9th April, BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates revealed shocking new figures on the extent to which restraint is used in special schools. Over the past three years, more than 13,000 incidents of physical restraint were reported resulting in 731 injuries. What's worse is that data was only available from 20% of the local authorities contacted suggesting these results are an underestimate of just how prevalent the practice is. 

Two families previously supported by the CBF, Beth and Kate, shared their stories during the broadcast in which the figures were announced. Beth talked about her son Calum who was held in a prone restraint position that left him with a pattern of haemorrhaging consistent with positional asphyxia. Kate's daughter Katie was left traumatised after being physically restrained more than seventy times.

Beth has been contacted by over 400 other families since she launched a public appeal and she has taken a campaign to the Scottish Parliament for more robust national guidelines on the use of restraint. The following video produced by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation in partnership with Beth's family tells the haunting story of restraint from her son Calum's perspective.


Beth and Kate were joined by the CBF's Children and Young Person Policy Lead Jacqui Shurlock, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb and Sir Stephen Bubb who together stressed the need for further national guidance on the use of restraint for people in special schools with an emphasis on understanding challenging behaviour through Positive Behavioural Support. 

Sir Stephen Bubb has comitted to contacting the Children's Comissioner with an aim to launching an inquiry into the full extent of the use of restraint. 

Viv Cooper, CEO of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation said:

“The figures reported by BBC Radio 5 Live of 13,000 uses of restraint in special schools over the last three years, 731 of which resulted in injury, are very distressing, but unfortunately not very surprising to us at the Challenging Behaviour Foundation. We are increasingly concerned by families who contact us about their relatives with learning disabilities who have been held in prone restraint positions, strapped to mechanical restraint devices, and locked in seclusion rooms. We have also heard of one case involving the use of a spithood. The detrimental effect of these restraints on the child is likely to be significant.

What is particularly disturbing is that only 20% of local authorities approached with the Freedom of Information request were able to provide any data on the number of restraints carried out in special schools. Not only does this mean that the figures reported by BBC Radio 5 Live are likely to be an underestimate of the full extent to which restraint is used, but it also raises serious concerns about how incidents of restraint are recorded and regulated. In line with the 2002 Department of Education “Guidance on the Restrictive Physical Interventions for People with Learning Disability and Autistic Spectrum Disorder, in Health, Education and Social Care Settings”, special schools are required to provide detailed reports every time they use a physical restraint. It is deeply worrying that these records are not being shared with local authorities where they can be independently monitored and scrutinised. The case studies highlighted in the BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates programme show further that, in violation of existing guidance, families are not always being informed when a physical restraint is used on their child. Unfortunately that is our experience with a great many number of other families who contact us with concerns about the use restraint in special schools.    

 We are aware that the current lack of national guidance and training means that many members of staff in special schools feel they have no other option but to respond to challenging behaviour with a disproportionate level of physical restraint which is often traumatising to both the child and the member of staff involved. It is shocking that so many cases of restraint are being reported across special schools when so much is known about Positive Behaviour Support and how it addresses the real reasons for challenging behaviour. All challenging behaviour happens for a reason, for example a child anxious because of the classroom noise levels  might display challenging behaviour in order to escape the situation. Equipped with the right tools to understand behaviour and meet the child’s needs in different ways, staff can minimise the need for behaviour described as challenging, and move away from reactive strategies, to more proactive strategies. But we know that teaching staff in special schools are not routinely trained in Positive Behaviour Support often leaving them with no other alternative than to use restraint.

 Teachers go into the profession to improve the lives of their students, no-one wants restrain a child. That is why it is essential the Department of Education publishes national guidance on this issue to make sure that teachers in special schools have the right tools to allow them to do this.”


Download the CBF's official statement on the use of physical restraint in children and young people here

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