The use of restraint and seclusion in schools across Scotland is largely unmonitored by local authorities, an investigation has indicated.
A report published by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) suggests it is impossible to know with any degree of certainty how many incidents take place each year, which children are most affected, how frequently and how seriously.
The investigation required all 32 local authorities to provide the CYPCS with copies of their policy documents and recording forms governing restraint and seclusion.
However, four local authorities did not have policies in place when required to produce them.
The report defines restraint as “holding a child or young person to restrict their movement”, which includes mechanical restraints (eg wheelchair straps) except those used during the course of normal activities or transportation (e.g seatbelts or wheelchair harnesses).
Seclusion is defined as “the confinement of a child, without their consent, by shutting them alone in a room or other area which they are prevented from leaving”.
The CYPCS commissioner, Bruce Adamson, has called on the Scottish Government to produce national policies and guidance to bring consistency and ensure children are protected from rights breaches.
Mr Adamson said: “All children have the right to feel safe. They have a right to education, to dignity, to bodily integrity, and to be protected from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“Restraint and seclusion should only ever be used as a last resort to prevent harm, not as a means of behaviour management. Clear and consistent policies and procedures linked to a human rights framework are critical.
“It is unacceptable that some staff are being left to try and manage situations without adequate guidance and support.
“Our investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion revealed a complete lack of consistency across authorities. Some authorities record incidents but have no guidelines; some have guidelines but cannot tell us how often they use the procedure.
“More worrying, we have heard from young people, their parents and carers how these practices are used as discipline or punishment, without an understanding of needs or care for individuals,” he said.
Recommendations made in the report require a response by the Scottish Government and local authorities in writing by the end of January.
One parent, Sharon Gardner, said that her son had experienced “serious mental health issues” after being locked in a room at school.
“Families whose children have experienced restraint and seclusion have been desperate for someone to properly look into this issue.
“My own son was regularly locked in a room at school, which he found incredibly upsetting,” Ms Gardner said.
“Several times he wet himself and was blamed for misbehaving, even though the school knew about his sensory issues and his anxiety.
“Instead of reducing his stress, restraining him and locking him alone in a room increased it and led to serious mental health issues by the time he was eight years old.”
The report also called on Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate to scrutinise the use of restraint and seclusion in schools as part of their inspection regimes and involve their young inspectors in the process to allow the voices of children with disabilities and additional support needs to be heard.