Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are campaigning for better regulation on the use of restraint techniques in schools, fearing that pupils are “being hurt every day” because of unclear rules.
Three families have set up a crowd-funding appeal to pay for legal advice on making a legal challenge against the government over what they say are a lack of adequate safeguards on the use of restraint in schools.
The families are campaigning for the introduction of a clear legal framework and robust guidance.
- ‘Restraint isn't happening to burly teens’
- Restraint guidance 'draconian'
- ‘Restraining of children in schools must be last resort’
The parents believe that the current government advice to schools means that staff are left to use whatever measures they wish to manage what they consider to be "challenging behaviour".
The families have sought advice from law firm Irwin Mitchell. One parent told the legal team that her daughter, who had self-harmed, had been restrained 81 times during a year. Another parent said her son was physically restrained 30 times in three months, resulting in bruising on his ankles, face and back. Both children had special educational needs.
Funds raised by the appeal will allow specialist lawyers to advise on whether there are grounds to bring a judicial review challenging what they say is the education secretary’s failure to ensure that there are adequate safeguards around the use of restraint on children in schools in England and Wales.
Pupil restraint 'causing distress and injury'
Polly Sweeney, an education and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The issue of how children with a range of complex special educational needs are supported and kept safe in schools is of growing concern with legal challenges around restraint and seclusion also being investigated in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“The families who have asked us to investigate this challenge have done so on behalf of all disabled children as they believe the government is failing in its duty to our most vulnerable children, resulting in practices within some schools that can result in distress and injury.
“The first-hand accounts we have had heard from parents about some of the measures used to restrain their children are extremely worrying. This is why we are now looking into these concerns, to challenge the lack of a clear legal framework for restraint and seclusion in schools.”
The families want Damian Hinds, the education secretary, to introduce a new law regulating the use of restraint and other restrictive practices, such as seclusion, in schools.
The Department of Health and Social Care consulted on draft guidance to reduce the need for restraint for children and young people with learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder and mental health needs between November 2017 and January 2018, but the results of the consultation have yet to be published.
The parents' action comes after a report by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland James Adamson, published in December, said current guidelines on restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools were falling short, leaving the practices largely unmonitored by councils.
The families are being supported by child disabilities campaigner Beth Morrison, who says she has spoken to parents of almost 700 children who have been restrained by school staff, causing injuries including carpet burns and bruises.
A DfE spokesperson said: "Schools need to be safe and calm environments with effective behaviour management policies and approaches that meet the needs of all pupils, including those with mental health difficulties, special educational needs or disabilities.
“At times, it may be necessary to use reasonable force to restrain a pupil – for example, to break up a fight in order to protect teachers and other pupils. We trust schools to use their judgement in recording incidents involving force and, when serious incidents occur, we would expect schools to record the incident and let the parents know.”