Restraint must be monitored on a par with exclusions, says equality body

Published: 30 Jun 2021

The use of restraint in schools should be monitored, recorded and analysed with the same rigour as exclusions, according to our new report.

Statistics on exclusions at national and local levels are published annually, however there is no mandatory requirement for schools in England and Wales to monitor and record the use of restraint.

Restraint can have a significant impact on children.  It can include physical, mechanical and chemical forms of control, coercion and forced isolation. These can also be called ‘restrictive interventions’.

In our inquiry report, we have said that a lack of data and guidance hinders schools’ ability to effectively monitor and understand the use of restraint. It also prevents inspectorates from being able to assess how a school is performing in relation to restraint.

Introducing national recording and reporting requirements would help to increase transparency, trust, and understanding of how, when and why restraint is used. This would help to drive improvements in practice, and ensure it is used as safely as possible and as a last resort.

It would inform inspections and scrutiny processes, strengthen human rights protections, and support families who have said that schools do not always make accurate or useful records, or share them.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:  

“Carefully managing and monitoring the restraint of children is something we should all care about. While the use of restraint can sometimes be necessary, to protect both children and staff, it must only ever be used as a last resort and conducted in the safest possible way.

“Schools have been doing the best they can with the information they have, but they need more support. Mandatory reporting and recording of the use of restraint in schools would put it on a par with exclusions, so that the data can be analysed in a meaningful way to drive improvements.”

The majority (84%) of schools surveyed have a policy of recording the use of restraint and most of those which monitor and analyse this data say they do so to help reduce its use. However, a lack of clear guidance on what to record has led to inconsistency and uncertainty for schools and a lack of transparency for parents and carers about why, where, when and how often children are being restrained while at school.

It also means some types of restraint are less likely to be recorded and patterns of disproportionate use of restraint against certain groups of pupils, for example disabled children, may not be noticed and addressed.

Nearly half of schools surveyed (49%) agreed that clear, nationally agreed definitions would help them to approach restraint more confidently. These would make it easier for them to recognise certain practices as restraint and to develop accurate records.

The report includes several recommendations for the UK and Welsh Governments, for schools in England and Wales, and for the inspectorates Ofsted and Estyn, including:

The UK and Welsh Governments should:

  • Set mandatory national minimum standards for recording the use of restraint in schools
  • Require Local Authorities in Wales and schools In England and Wales to publish a policy on restraint, which is accessible to parents.
  • Require schools to inform parents about all incidences of restraint of their child, unless it is likely to result in safeguarding issues for the pupil or danger to staff.
  • Develop national training standards for restraint.
  • Collate, publish and analyse restraint data from schools, including by protected characteristic, ensuring that disaggregated data is available for both England and Wales.

OFSTED should:

  • Monitor national and school level restraint data as part of its inspections and use it to develop any new inspection frameworks, to increase transparency and oversight, and support human rights protections for children.

ESTYN should:

  • Consider and use relevant available restraint data to identify trends over time, inform priorities and to support school inspection and evaluation.

Schools in England and Wales should:

  • Record each incident of restraint based on the definition in our Human Rights Framework for Restraint and analyse data from those records to:
    • Review support plans and interventions for pupils;
    • Inform staff development and practice;
    • Reduce the use of restraint
    • Tackle disproportionate use of restraint on children who share a protected characteristic.

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