CBF statement on restraint and seclusion in schools

It is unacceptable that vulnerable children across the UK are experiencing restraint, seclusion and other restrictions in the very places they are supposed to be safe and well cared for, including schools.

Restraint in schools

BBC Breakfast on 20 April covered the issue of restraint in schools.  Family carers Beth Morrison and Deirdre Shakespeare shared the experiences their sons, Calum and Harry, have been through and the impact this has had. Celebrity Paris Hilton is supporting efforts to make reporting mandatory and to reduce restraint in schools, following her disclosure that she was restrained at school in the US. 

It is unacceptable that vulnerable children across the UK are experiencing restraint, seclusion and other restrictions in the very places they are supposed to be safe and well cared for, including schools.   

Disabled children are more likely than their typically developing peers to display challenging behaviour when they are unable to express their needs another way.  For example, challenging behaviour is more likely among children with complex communication challenges.  Evidence shows that the right way to support children is by meeting the underlying need leading to their behaviour.  Using restrictive responses does not address the reasons for challenging behaviour, can result in physical and emotional harm and is actually more likely to exacerbate challenging behaviour than to decrease it. 

Our 2020 report, ‘Reducing Restrictive Interventions and Safeguarding Children’ jointly produced with Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland showed that hundreds of children have been restrained or secluded at school (87.6% of 720 reported experiencing restraint, 60.7% of 720 reported experiencing seclusion), yet there is no requirement for school to report restraint or to tell families when their child has experienced restraint or seclusion.  This means we have no idea how widespread the issue is. 

Both families and schools have had to cope with enormous pressures during the pandemic, yet neither have received the support they need to support disabled children effectively.  Staff from 12 special schools who shared their experiences with the RRISC group (Reducing Restrictive Intervention, Safeguarding Children) reported greater staff anxiety in autumn 2020 compared to the previous year.  

A recent small-scale survey of families (48 respondents, in press) supported by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation during the pandemic found many families coping with new behaviours or increased frequency or severity of behaviours throughout the pandemic. Despite this, 48% of respondents received no behaviour support from their local authority during the first lockdown and 44% received no behaviour support in the autumn term. Worryingly, 23% families reported that their child experienced an increased number of restrictive interventions in autumn 2020 once back at school compared to the same time last year. 

Staff who felt they were managing to cope well during the pandemic cited key success factors as: working closely with families, adaptations to the curriculum and environment, and highly trained, consistent, and experienced staff. 

Viv Cooper, Chief Executive of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation said: 

The Government and regulators must take urgent action to better understand what is going on, mandate recording and reporting and put in place the evidence-based approaches, including Positive Behaviour Support, which are proven to work. There is a huge amount of evidence about how to support children well and avoid restrictive interventions, so there is no excuse for injuring children through use of outdated and harmful practices.

Family carer Deirdre Shakespeare, featured in the BBC Breakfast report said: 

Our children and their families need accountability and oversight, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable ask.

Mounir Meghalsi, Headteacher at Calthorpe Academy said: 

With the use of Positive Behaviour Support and other evidence-based approaches it is possible for schools to reduce the need for restrictive practices. Here at Calthorpe Academy we have developed a whole school strategic approach and positive culture based on the understanding that behaviour is the result of an unmet need or form of communication. 

We introduced Positive Behaviour Support a few years ago. This involved understanding why behaviours occur, ensuring there is a focus on proactive strategies and teaching alternative skills. As a result, physical interventions reduced by 86%. By training staff and adopting a holistic approach to behaviour support, staff feel more confident in supporting learners effectively. Data monitoring ensures that there can be early intervention and ongoing support as needed, and a shared leadership vision drives constant improvement in our daily practice.

Freddy Jackson-Brown, Clinical Psychologist and Service Lead in Bristol said: 

If we are serious about reducing the use of restrictive practices, we need to be serious about using values led, person centred, evidence based practice – that is what Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is all about

Watch an extract from Twitter of the BBC Breakfast coverage (20 April)

About the Challenging Behaviour Foundation

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) is the only UK independent registered charity specifically focussed on children and adults with severe learning disabilities whose behaviour challenges. We provide information and support; run workshops; share evidence and best practice and speak up for families on a national level. 

Contact us

About the RRISC group 

The Reducing Restrictive Interventions – Safeguarding Children and Young People (RRISC) group is a group of organisations working with families to tackle the issue of restrictive interventions across the UK. 

Find out more: Restraint and Seclusion


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