Restraint and seclusion in schools
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You may be able to bring legal action if your child has been harmed following restraint or seclusion at school. Not all restraint in education settings is unlawful, and each case depends on its individual facts.
Teachers, classroom assistants and other staff are legally allowed to use reasonable physical force towards children in certain circumstances, including to prevent a pupil from committing a criminal offence or causing physical harm, or to “maintain good order and discipline in the school.”
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From our case work, we know that restraint and seclusion is an issue that can disproportionately affect autistic and learning-disabled children, and children with Special Educational Needs or communication difficulties.
However, the use of restraint against a pupil may be unlawful, and in breach of your child’s rights, if:
- There was no clear purpose for the restraint.
- The restraint was not the least restrictive option to deal with the danger posed.
- Your child suffered severe or avoidable injuries.
- Reasonable adjustments were not made to take account of your child’s disability or Special Educational Needs.
- There is not a plan in place to reduce the use of restraint against your child.
It is important to seek legal advice on your child’s individual circumstances from specialist solicitors at an early stage. Time limits can apply to legal claims for unlawful restraint and harm, especially for claims under the Human Rights Act.
At Leigh Day, our human rights and abuse solicitors regularly represent children and teenagers who have been subjected to excessive or unnecessary restraint or seclusion / segregation at school.
Some of our cases include:
- Acting on behalf of the Montague brothers, twins who were mechanically restrained at a specialist school in Kent.
- Acting for a young boy who was made to wear a ‘spit hood’ at school
- Acting for a 16-year-old boy with Autism and Down's Syndrome whose family allege was subjected to excessive and unreasonable physical restraint at a private residential school for children with learning disabilities.
We use the law to bring civil cases about the use of restraint in schools and to highlight the trauma and harm that restraint can cause to children and young people. Our human rights solicitors are also members of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s Legal Panel and its specialist restraint focus group.
We believe that parents should be informed when their child is restrained or secluded. An Equality and Human Rights Commission report in June 2021 found that a lack of data and guidance hinders schools’ ability to effectively monitor and understand the use of restraint, and hampers the efforts of inspectorates.
We support the call for the government and the Department of Education to implement the EHRC report’s recommendations.
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News and blogs
Special school apologises for use of mechanical restraint against severely autistic twin boys
Parents of twin brothers with severe autism have achieved a landmark success with a successful claim under the Human Rights Act for the use of mechanical restraint chairs against their sons.
Family of autistic child subjected to a spit-hood calls for tighter regulation of specialist schools
Family call for tighter regulation of specialist schools
Case settled for child who was physically restrained at private special school
The abuse team at Leigh Day have recently reached an out-of-court settlement on behalf of a 16-year-old boy with Autism and Down's Syndrome whose family allege was subjected to excessive and unreasonable physical restraint at a private residential school for children with learning disabilities.