The commission said there were widespread concerns about the use of restraint and the lack of data available on its use.
Meaningful data, it said, could provide schools with insight to understand why restraint is being used, as well as the types of restraint being used.
It could also provide information about the pupils who are affected and how schools can improve their practices, the commission said.
David Isaac, EHRC chair, said: “Being restrained in any way, shape or form is always traumatic. But the use of these techniques on children comes with additional risks and undermines learning in school.
“Our schools must be safe places for all children, and restraint should only be used as a last resort for the safety of any child and those around them. There are specific safeguards in place in the youth justice system and mental health units, but these are not mirrored in the education system.
The use of restraint in schools
“It is essential that we find out whether appropriate action is being taken to understand how restraint is being used so that all children are protected, treated with dignity and able to reach their full potential through education.”
Despite being encouraged to record incidents of restraint and seclusion, there is no legal duty on schools to do so, resulting in a lack of transparency and almost no official data on how and when it is being used, according to the commission.
The EHRC’s inquiry will find out whether primary, secondary and special needs schools in England and Wales are collecting information and if so, whether they are using it to inform any improvements.
The EHRC will also look to other institutions that are required to collect and use data, such as child and adolescent mental health units and young offender institutions, to explore if there is any learning from their approaches that could be applied to schools.
The inquiry is expected to conclude within six months, after which it will deliver recommendations to the Department for Education and Welsh government.
The DfE, which last year published guidance on reducing restraint in special education settings, said the use of “reasonable force” may at times be necessary to restrain a pupil – for example, to break up a fight or protect other pupils or staff – but “inappropriate and excessive” use of restraint is wrong.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools should be safe and calm environments for every pupil. We expect schools to look at the reasons for a pupil’s challenging behaviour – including mental health and special educational needs - and to have appropriate behaviour management policies in place to help prevent situations before they arise.”