On 27 June 2019, the Department of Health and the Department for Education issued their revised non-statutory guidance on avoiding the use of restraint and restrictive intervention and also how restraint should be used in health and social care services and special education settings.

The guidance is for professionals working with children and young people who have learning difficulties, Autism Spectrum Disorder and mental health difficulties and whose behaviour challenges. It aims to reduce the use of restraint and restrictive intervention, but also to set government guidelines on when such practices are and are not acceptable.

Restraint could include physical restraint or restraining someone with the use of mechanical aids such as belts, cuffs and straps. Restrictive intervention could include withdrawal (removing a child or young person involuntarily from a situation) or seclusion (supervised confinement and isolation of a child or young person). From IPSEA’s case work, we know that children and young people with SEND are at risk of being subjected to restraint or restrictive intervention, whether in mainstream or specialist settings.

IPSEA responded to the consultation about this guidance earlier last year. IPSEA’s main concerns were twofold: firstly, the guidance was non-statutory and thus lacked the force of some of the statutory guidance it replaced; and, secondly, it expressly didn’t apply to maintained mainstream education settings, FE colleges, Pupil Referral Units and providers of Alterative Provision. There are children and young people with SEND whose behaviour challenges attending mainstream settings, and we know that physical restraint is sometimes used in these settings. There has also been widespread attention in recent months regarding the use of isolation in mainstream schools. There is some guidance for these settings on the use of isolation as a disciplinary measure, but IPSEA is concerned that the use of isolation in some mainstream settings goes far beyond a proportionate disciplinary measure. (It is never lawful to use physical restraint as a disciplinary measure.) Challenging behaviour is a common cause of exclusion (lawful and unlawful) from mainstream settings. 

However, mainstream settings do not have the benefit of clear guidance on how to address challenging behaviour in a positive way. In IPSEA’s experience, such settings are more likely to need support, guidance and advice in order to be able to lawfully and appropriately make use of positive behaviour strategies and, in extremis, restraint and restrictive interaction. 

While there have been some positive changes to the guidance as a result of the consultation process, these two fundamental concerns remain. Therefore, IPSEA was pleased to see that on the same day that this non-statutory guidance was issued, the Department for Education announced that it was launching a consultation as to whether “guidance should apply to a wider cohort of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities”. IPSEA’s firm view is that there needs to be guidance for mainstream settings (including PRUs and AP), and will be responding to the Department for Education’s consultation on that basis. 

Separately, earlier this year a group of parents began crowdfunding to challenge to the lack of a clear legal framework for restraint and seclusion.