Scottish government proposes reduced use of restraint in schools

The Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) has welcomed the publication of the Scottish Government’s public consultation on draft guidance on the use of restraint in schools, Included, engaged and involved part 3: A relationship and rights based approach to physical intervention in Scottish Schools. 

The RRN said the consultation represented a significant step forward. It said amongst the UK nations, Scotland leads the way in promoting best practice and seeking to reduce the use of restraint including enforced isolation in schools.

A spokesperson said: "We applaud the Scottish Government’s commitment to upholding the human rights of children and young people through their commitment to incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. 

"However, the Restraint Reduction Network supports calls for the guidance to be made a statutory requirement. In England, the Mental Health (Use of Force) Act 2018 has demonstrated the impact statutory guidance has on promoting culture change in the use of restraint.

"While practice in education has not evolved at pace with practice in mental health and social care, we believe the publication of the consultation and draft guidance is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to move to enshrine in law the need to safeguard the rights of children and young people within schools. A boy being restrained by the arm by a teacher

"Too many children and young people, often autistic children or those with learning disabilities, experience inappropriate restraint within educational settings – settings where they should be supported to thrive. We know that children with additional needs are more likely to experience restraint and enforced isolation than other pupils.

"The Scottish Government draft guidance itself notes that the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated the UK must “adopt appropriate measures to eradicate the use of restraint for reasons related to disability within all settings.

"The current consultation represents an opportunity for the Scottish Government to lead the way for all UK nations to mandate guidance, improving practice and reducing the use of restraint."

The RRN said it welcomed a number of important inclusions within the guidance: 

  • Recognition that behaviour is a form of communication, and that distressed behaviour may indicate an unmet need. 
  • Clear differentiation in the definitions of pupil-led withdrawal and types of enforced isolation. 
  • The requirement that all forms of restraint in schools must be recorded. 
  • Acknowledgment of the need for post-incident support. The RRN has developed a Post-Incident Debriefing Toolkit, commissioned by NHS England, to improve specialist children and young people’s inpatient mental health, autism and learning disability services. 

It continued: "In our response to the consultation, the RRN will make the following suggestions: 

  • That the guidance should be a statutory requirement 
  • That, for transparency, definitions of restrictive practices within the guidance should be described separately from their justification for use 
  • The guidance could go further in preventing enforced isolation, in line with children’s homes and social care more broadly 
  • The guidance could have gone further (as is the case with NDIS in Australia) in banning certain types of physical restraint."

Quality Assurance in Training 

At the RRN Conference in 2021, Children’s Commissioners from all four United Kingdom nations voiced support quality assurance in restraint training used on children and young people. Regulating restraint training is essential; not doing so risks commissioning inadequate training, focussed on technical skill, restraint and use of force without sufficient focus on prevention, de-escalation or recovery. Ultimately this leaves vulnerable children unprotected. 

We welcome the recommendation that, where restraint is a foreseeable possibility, schools use restraint training that is certified as complying with the Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) Training Standards. The RRN Training Standards are a set of ethical training standards designed to protect human rights and support the minimisation of restrictive practices. The Mental Health Use of Force statutory guidance puts a statutory requirement for training and training providers to be certified as complying with the RRN training standards. There is a clear need for the Standards to be adopted as a statutory requirement in the devolved nations and within the education sector. 

Beth Morrison, RRN Trustee, said: “It is more than 7 years ago that I submitted my petition to the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee, which resulted in the Children and Young Person’s Commissioner’s investigation.

"Whilst the guidance represents significant progress, I am bitterly disappointed that the Scottish Government has refused to protect our most vulnerable children and young people, like my son Calum, in law. I fear guidelines will be ignored and children will continue to be physically and emotionally harmed. Why is this not statutory?" 

The RRN is optimistic that this moment provides an opportunity for the Scottish Government to demonstrate a lasting commitment to safe-guarding the rights of children and young people in schools and we call on them to make the guidance a statutory requirement. A strong stance in Scotland would lead the way for governments across the UK to follow suit.