Restraint and Seclusion in England’s Schools

The International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion have just published their report into the use of restraint and seclusion in English schools and the results are terrifying. With Autistic children being the most likely to be the victims of inappropriate restrictive practice, it is clear that normative violence is taking far more overt forms than the micro-aggressions we are used to. For this reason, I am going to explore the findings of the report, using screen shots taken directly from the summary deck.

You can access the full ICARS report by clicking here.

What is restraint?

Ask this question to the layperson and you will receive different takes depending on the person’s career and privilege. I however feel it’s necessary to highlight the definition within the report, which itself is quoted from the Equality & Human Rights Commission 2019.

So, restraint is an act carried out with the purpose of restricting and individual’s movement, liberty and/or freedom to act independently.

This can be done in a number of ways. Most common is the use of holds and mechanical restraints that physically restrict movement of the body. One can also be chemically restrained. Most common in hospital inpatient settings, this involves administering sedative and/or tranquiliser drugs with the purpose of subduing a person into a state where they can no longer exhibit the behaviour that is being modified.

That is what restraint is. It is behaviour modification through the use of force. Where the more insidious behavioural interventions are not successful, the use of restraint gives a person no choice but to comply in order to have some semblance of liberty. Something I find most concerning is that legislation such as The Mental Health Act (1983) and The Mental Capacity Act (2005) incorporate the use of “least restrictive options” in their code of practice, and yet in the schools of England, children are being exposed to unnecessary and traumatic uses of physical restraint that are far from being “the last resort”.

Statistics found by the report

This report had a sample size of 560 respondents. The following are the statistics arising from the experiences of the participants.

  • 81% of those experiencing restraint were Autistic
  • 34% were ADHD
  • 17% had a diagnoses of Sensory Processing Disorder
  • 15% had anxiety
  • 13% were PDA
  • 13% had a Specific Learning Difficulty
  • 47% of children were psychologically harmed by the use of restrictive practice.
  • 43% were physically and psychologically harmed.
  • 5% were physically harmed
  • 2% of respondents disclosed harm of an unknown nature
  • 3% did not note any harm

This means that of the respondents, 81% of children experiencing restraint were Autistic, and 97% of them experienced some kind of harm. This begins to raise questions around why Autistic people are over-represented in this sample, and why we feel it is okay to expose them to harm without good monitoring or reason.

On the topic of whether or not restraint was necessary in its use, we have the following statistics.

  • 3% of respondents said that restraint was necessary
  • 86% Said it was not necessary
  • 8% were unsure if it was necessary
  • 3% said it was sometimes necessary

Again, 97% of cases of restraint did not have a clear rationale or were a situation where restraint was not always necessary. 97% of the time, the hugely over-represented Autistic students were being exposed to restraint that could have been handled differently.

Restraint has a tendency of occurring in situations of dysregulation. The primary factor in Autistic dysregulation is an environment that does not meet the needs of the Autistic person. In the context of Children and Young People, this is very often a school environment that is under-resourced within it’s own SEN provision. In support of this, I give you this data from the ICARS report.

  • 2% of respondents said that, Yes, their child’s needs were being met.
  • 91% said that there child’s needs were not being met.
  • 6% said their child’s needs were somewhat being met.

This means that in 98% of cases, the needs of the child were not being met appropriately enough for the parent/carer to give a solid “Yes” as a response. Where we have unmet needs, we have dysregulation, which in turn raises the risk of restrictive practices being used. Rather than adjust the environment to the child, the child is being forcibly coerced into “appropriate behaviour” through the deprivation of their physical liberty.

Where restraint is used on a child, caregivers should always be informed. This leads me onto the last couple of statistics I will share, these are perhaps the most troubling statistics in my opinion.

  • 52% of respondents had not been notified about the use of restraint on their child.
  • 20% were sometimes notified.
  • 28% were notified.

72% of the time, schools could not be trusted to accurately report the use of restraint on children. This represents significant issues in accountability for schools and the scrutiny that they may face if all uses of restraint were made known to caregivers.

So perhaps you are wondering why parents don’t just withhold permission for the use of restraint?

6.3% of respondents were told that if they did not give permission, their child would not be afforded a place at the school. This is in direct conflict with a child’s right to education, and highlights a belief among staff that restraint is a necessary weapon of forced compliance.


This statistics are horrifying. They represent a discourse around Autistic and learning disabled children that implies a lack of humanity, and the use of physical restraint to coerce them into normative standards of behaviour. I myself have written about neuroqueering education, and this report highlights to me the distinct importance of decentering normative values, and instead placing the rights of children centre place.

Children deserve space to work through difficult feelings and dysregulation without the fear of coming to physical harm. As you will see in the report, some of the restraint used has restricted children’s breathing and caused significant psychological harm. I am very much of the opinion the the use of restraint outside of preventing serious injury or death is child abuse. If it would be illegal to do it to an adult or romantic partner, then why is it okay to do to a child?

Children do not exist to serve pre-existing power structures and institutions. None of us were born to be boxed into idea’s of normality and acceptability. While I recognise that dysregulation can lead to a significant risk of harm, restraint needs to truly be a last resort. Where restraint has to be used, it needs to be documented in a way that allows for public scrutiny.

If having your use of restraint on public display makes you worry that people will not send their children to your school, the issue is not the child, it is the culture you have developed as an educational institute.