A new petition is shortly to be heard in the Scottish Parliament calling for more help in providing a safe environment for some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland. The current use of physical interventions, physical restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools is poorly understood and inconsistent leading to many children experiencing what may be called at best, institutional child abuse or at worst, criminal assault.
A number of families from Dundee are promoting this due to their experiences at the local Kingspark school. One boy at the age of 11 was forced by four adult members of staff to the ground, face down in a prone restraint, that left him badly bruised and traumatised for reasons that have never been properly explained (see picture). Other families found their own children being subject to other forms of restraint and bruising.
The parliament is being asked to recognise this experience as part of a much wider failure of public policy in Scotland.
There is no national guidance for the management of behaviour for children with special needs in Scottish schools. Such guidance exists for children in residential care – Holding Safely – but this is not designed for schools.
The petition wants guidance for the protection of children who often lack language skills, can be inconsistent in their recall of events and are not believed when they speak up. If there is one thing that Winterbourne has shown, it is that sometimes the places meant to protect the most vulnerable can be the most dangerous.
The current position is that it is up to each local authority to develop its own policy on behavioural management and physical intervention. The result of this lack of guidance is that schools do not understand how to manage the behaviour of the pupils who attend, some who communicate through behaviour, others whose behaviour marks underlying distress. Staff are left poorly supported and unable to properly support their pupils. And children are left damaged!
It is our belief that such National guidance should be founded on the following principles.
- Staff should always aim to reinforce positive behaviour
- Staff should aim to defuse, deflect and de-escalate
- Staff should minimise the use of Physical Intervention
- Staff should minimise the use of seclusion
The petition calls for effective external inspection. The Care Inspectorate have no current role in inspecting day schools which produce significant amounts of social care such as special schools. HMIE is concerned with the inspection of educational standards. There should be a clear role for independent inspection of the care regimes in schools.