landscape shot of the Houses of Parliament

The Government has today published long-awaited guidance on reducing restraint and restrictive intervention for children and young people whose behaviour is challenging as a result of autism, learning disabilities or mental health difficulties. This guidance applies to special schools and to health and social care services for young people.

It does not apply to mainstream schools – but the Government has also announced today that it is consulting on whether to produce similar guidance for mainstream schools, post-16 settings and alternative provision.

The new guidance states clearly that special schools and other settings should avoid using restraint and restrictive interventions wherever possible. Children in special schools may struggle to communicate their needs, and schools need to identify what is causing children to behave in ways that challenge and what they are trying to communicate. It says: “Behaviour is a means of communication and has a cause and a purpose. Behaviour that challenges may signal a need for support and it is essential to understand its underlying causes.”

The guidance emphasises the importance of upholding children’s rights, valuing them as members of the community they are in, and respecting their families as partners. It also says that schools and other settings need to ensure they fulfil their duties under the Equality Act 2010, including the duty to think ahead and make reasonable adjustments to avoid discriminating against disabled people.

There are a number of key actions for schools and other settings, including:

  • Having a clear policy for meeting the needs of individual children and young people and understanding the causes of behaviour.
  • Knowing the law and having clear accountability arrangements for supporting children and for any use of restraint.
  • Involving children and their parents or carers in decisions relating to behaviour and the use of restraint.
  • Having sound measures in place for training and developing staff.
  • Recognising the impact on individuals of the environment they are in. This is particularly relevant to autistic children and young people, who may struggle with sensory overload or high levels of anxiety.

Reaction

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:

“This guidance is long overdue. Restraint and restrictive intervention should only ever be a last resort to prevent a child seriously harming themselves or the people around them. We welcome how clearly the guidance states that schools and other services should work to understand what a child’s needs are and why they may behave in particular ways if those needs aren’t understood and met.

“What looks like naughty or disruptive behaviour is often an indication that an autistic child is overwhelmed, anxious or distressed. This can happen if they’re overcome by the demands being made of them or by their school environment – things like things like bright lights, sudden noises, unclear instructions or other children’s unpredictable behaviour can trigger extreme levels of anxiety. The guidance describes it as ‘distressed behaviour’, which is a much better way of seeing it.

“It is vital that all staff in specialist and mainstream schools and other services have autism training, so they can understand autistic children and young people and what strategies work best to support them.

“Around 70% of children on the autism spectrum go to mainstream school. So it’s really important that the Government produces similar guidance for mainstream schools, colleges, and alternative provision.

“If any families are looking for any information or advice about schools, we would encourage them to contact our Education Rights Service.

Further information