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The RRN responds to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into restraint in schools

The Restraint Reduction Network welcomes the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into restraint in schools (EHRC, June 2021) and supports its recommendations to:

  • Ensure the monitoring of restraint used in schools should have the same priority as the monitoring of school exclusions
  • Develop national training standards for restraint. The standards “should take a human rights approach to minimising the use of restraint and draw on the Restraint Reduction Network Training Standards” (EHRC, June 2021)

Background information

In 2016, the UN Committee gave a clear direction to the UK Government to “regularly collect and publish disaggregated data on the use of restraint and other restrictive interventions on children in order to monitor the appropriateness of discipline and behaviour management for children in all settings, including in education”.

In 2019 the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) and Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland (PABSS) collected over 700 case studies about inappropriate restraint in schools. The results found that children were restrained and secluded without proper safeguards, care or recording and monitoring. Children (and their families) were left traumatised as a result of their school experiences.

Clearly there is a problem in the way some schools are caring for our vulnerable children across the UK. To date there remains no statutory requirement to collect and use data to monitor restraint.

As a result, the EHRC decided to investigate and have now published their report in June 2021.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report and recommendations

The EHRC has concluded that many schools are doing their best to apply guidance and uphold the human rights of the children they serve. However, some are struggling to establish supportive learning environments.

The report highlights the significant number of schools struggling to establish basic safeguards including policies to record restraint, methods to analyse their own records or even a means to evaluate the adverse impacts of restrictive practices. Many schools said they did not record restraints and a quarter of these didn’t know why this was the case.

The report highlighted the need for a statutory requirement for schools to record and report when they restrain pupils.

“To ensure that children are safeguarded and protected, recording of incidents of restraint and seclusion is essential.”

(EHRC, June 2021)

When data is recorded and reported it will allow for data analysis. This is key to ensuring that post-incident reviews and learning can take place. So often children, their families and struggling school staff are left helpless and traumatised, unable to see a way to break free from restrictive practices. Data analysis will help all involved, including parents, to understand the sources of distress and discomfort in classroom environments. Only then can holistic and appropriate support to be put in place. 

The report calls for national data collection and oversight:

“Currently there is no statutory requirement for schools to collect and use data to monitor restraint. Neither the UK nor the Welsh government collects data on restraint in schools. This means that governments, inspectorates, regulators and the public cannot form a picture of what is happening in schools because the information is not available”

(EHRC, June 2021)

Furthermore, EHRC have highlighted the need for mandatory national training standards to be adopted in schools:

There are no mandatory government standards for training providers covering the use of restraint in school settings, as there are in health and social care…This raises questions about whether staff training promotes a human rights approach, such as in the Restraint Reduction Networks Training Standards, or whether it gives staff more confidence to use restraint” (EHRC, June 2021)

The report goes on to say:

 “National training standards would help ensure that training focused on minimising restraint and taking a human rights-based approach. There is already a model for this, which has departmental support in other sectors, applicable in the school sector. The Restraint Reduction Network has developed national training standards for restraint – which are accepted by the NHS – that could be adapted for schools.”

EHRC, June 2021

The RRN Training Standards have been written to apply across education, health and social care across the UK. These standards ensure training includes a focus on:

  • Human rights
  • Hearing from people with lived experience of restraint
  • Prevention and reducing the need for restrictive practices.

The report highlights that “a high proportion of schools would welcome national training standards on restraint”.

Our response

The RRN is concerned that whilst many schools and teachers are doing their best, it is clear that “teachers and schools need better support”. The report states: “teachers want national definitions of restraint, national training standards and better guidance on restraint, including how to avoid its use.” (EHRC, June 2021)

Recording, reporting and certification of training as complying with the RRN Training Standards are a requirement of NHS contracted services and an expectation of CQC regulated services in England. Therefore, there is better protection of adults in health and social care than there is of children in our schools. This can’t be right. In addition, there is positive work happening in devolved nations to address these issues. We must ensure this is also the case in England.

We therefore recommend government guidance is updated to reflect that restraint can only be used as a last resort if school staff have been taught to use preventative practices. Furthermore, the caveat that restraint can be used to maintain good order is unhelpful and potentially discriminatory, which leaves children at risk and inadequately protected.

Alexis Quinn, manager of the Restraint Reduction Network, says:

“This report demonstrates the urgent need for robust and coherent reporting and monitoring at a national level. It also highlights the need to support people caring for our most vulnerable. I welcome the call for education specific training standards and hope that systemic change will be realised as we move towards a model of care in education which embraces individual needs and eradicates the need for restrictive practice.”

Whilst good practice is highlighted in many schools, there are concerns over the lack of transparency and sometimes hidden, traumatic and unnecessary use of restraint in some schools. Beth Morrison, Founder of Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland, states: “We now support over 1600 families across the UK whose children have been physically and emotionally harmed through the use of restraint and seclusion in schools”.

We therefore support calls for a statutory public enquiry to investigate the issues raised in the report and if the UK is in breach of its obligations of protecting the rights of children and people with disabilities.