Department for Education Research report on 'Reasonable Force and Restrictive Practices in Alternative Provision and Special Schools'

The Department for Education have published a research report looking into schools' policies on using restrictive practices, staff training and how these incidents are recorded.

On March 21st, the Department for Education (DfE) published research carried out by Revealing Reality ‘Reasonable Force and Restrictive Practices in Alternative Provision and Special Schools.’

This research aimed to understand special and alternative provision schools’ policies and practice around using “reasonable force” how they implement current guidance and what they record and report.

The report set out some key findings from the sample of schools and education staff they interviewed including:

  • All schools were reported to have comprehensive policies in place. The use of terminology to describe restraint was inconsistent. Some schools had chosen to use terms such as “supportive holding” rather than “restraint”.
  • Several schools liked that the guidance was general as it could be tailored to individual schools. They were concerned that more specific guidance would undermine schools’ ability to set and enact behaviour policies that best suited pupils at a given school.
  • Some school leaders had some criticisms of the wording of the current DfE guidance. A small number said they felt some of the situations in which it said schools could use reasonable force were not sufficiently problematic to warrant doing so.
  • All schools said they recorded what they judged to be use of “reasonable force”. The information recorded varied from school to school. Some schools felt that using more positive language such as “supportive holding” helped minimise parental concerns:

“I think the wording should be changed to be “supportive”. Would you rather I told you I restrained your child today, or that I supported your child today?” – Headteacher, special school, Southeast England

  • What, how, and to whom incidents of reasonable force were reported varied between schools, as did the language used by schools to illustrate what had happened.


Although this research has been published, the Department for Education has yet to respond to the Call for Evidence on the Use of Restraint in Schools, which closed in May 2023, and to set a timetable for a programme of work.

Viv Cooper, CEO of the CBF said:

Parents want to work in partnership with schools in the best interests of their child. Usually when a child has a severe learning disability and displays behaviours that challenge a greater degree of information sharing and discussion is needed between parents and school staff so there is a joined-up approach.

Currently, the recording and sharing of information about restraint in schools is patchy and inconsistent. Different terminology is used to describe restrictive practices and different information is recorded and shared with families. Some families have told us they were not told that restrictive practices had been used until their child was injured.”


One Headteacher who took part in the research said:

“I think the wording should be changed to be “supportive”. Would you rather I told you I restrained your child today, or that I supported your child today?” – Headteacher, special school, Southeast England


This is concerning because families want to know what happens to their child at school: the CBF strongly advocates for full openness, transparency and clarity about the use of restrictive practices. A standardised reporting system should be introduced across schools with clear information provided to parents and carers about the nature and duration of any restrictive practice as well as the events leading up to the incident. We are campaigning for a clear focus on understanding and prevention and national training standards and mandatory training to support this approach.

Using language such as “supportive holding” can downplay the seriousness of restraint and restrictive practices and the lasting impact it can have on children and young people and their families.

We recognise that many teachers and school leaders provide excellent education and go above and beyond on a daily basis. However, school staff are not always equipped with the resources and training they need, and the current guidance and safeguards are inadequate to protect children and young people from avoidable harm through the misuse of restrictive practices.

The Department for Education has already acknowledged that change is needed but has not set a timetable for those changes. Failing to take action and implement reform exposes children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities to an unacceptable level of risk and continues to keep some parents in the dark about what is happening to their child at school.”


For further information please see our work on restrictive practices:

CBF work on restrictive practices