May 21, 2024

May 21, 2024

In March 2024, the Department for Education (DfE) published “Reasonable force, restraint & restrictive practices in alternative provision and special schools.”

The primary aim of this research report, authored by Revealing Reality, was to understand the circumstances and the manner in which AP and special schools in England use reasonable force, including physical restraint and other restrictive practices.

How was the research conducted?

A varied sample of schools took part in the reseach and these encompassed a broad range of experiences and practices.

The criteria for selecting the schools were well-defined and diverse. The sample contained 30 special schools and 15 alternative provision schools.

It covered schools from every English region, ranging from pupil referral units and free schools to independent schools. The schools catered to various age groups and had diverse Ofsted ratings.

The research adopted a qualitative approach, drawing findings from a comprehensive analysis of interviews conducted with leaders and staff from the 45 schools.

Evidence was also gathered from site visits to four of these schools, providing nuanced and practical insights into the practices being implemented.

What were the overall findings of DFE research on reasonable force in schools?

Overall, the DfE’s “Reasonable force, restraint & restrictive practices in alternative provision and special schools” provides a positive outlook on the use of reasonable force in special and alternative provision schools in England.

It demonstrates a commitment to minimising the use of reasonable force and adopting a more nuanced and empathetic approach to managing behaviour.

The findings of the research will undeniably contribute to further enhancing the guidance and policies related to the use of reasonable force in schools.

What five takeaways relating to reasonable force should note from the research?

1. Schools have comprehensive, school-wide policies:

The research found all participating schools had comprehensive school-wide policies on the use of reasonable force, often forming a part of their behaviour policies.

These policies were tailored to the specific needs of the pupils and the type of school.

Most schools used the DfE’s “Use of reasonable force” guidance to inform these policies – they appreciated the guidance’s general nature which allowed them to tailor the policies to their specific needs.

Furthermore, many schools also had personalised behaviour plans for individual pupils which included aspects related to reasonable force.

2. Staff are trained in behaviour management, including use of reasonable force:

All the schools in the research trained at least some of their staff in behaviour management, which included the use of reasonable force.

However, the primary emphasis was on managing behaviour and de-escalating incidents to prevent the need for using reasonable force.

3. A culture of prevention and de-escalation is emphasised:

All participating schools emphasised prevention and de-escalation techniques to manage behaviour.

Techniques varied according to the child’s needs and included: distraction; use of sensory rooms; encouraging pupils to go for a walk or get some fresh air; switching the member of staff working with the child and removing triggers to misbehaviour.

4. Reasonable force is used only when necessary:

Schools reported using reasonable force only when necessary.

“Necessary” describes situations where all other behaviour management and de-escalation strategies have been exhausted and no other option remains to ensure the immediate safety of students and staff.

“Necessary” typically includes instances where a child is causing, or is at risk of causing, physical harm to themselves or others. The goal is always to use the minimum force necessary to resolve the situation and protect the well-being of all involved.

5. Schools have comprehensive recording, report an review processes:

All schools in the research reported they recorded incidents where they judged the use of reasonable force was necessary.

Most schools had also invested in software to manage these records and the subsequent follow-up activities.

The reporting of these incidents to parents/guardians, governors, and local authorities was typically done on the same day, promoting transparency and accountability.

Following an incident involving physical restraint, most schools reviewed the incident to learn from it and reduce the likelihood of its future requirement with the same pupil. This introspective approach to incident management marks a significant stride towards better behavioural management in schools.

How can Dynamis help our school in the light of these research findings

Dynamis has been helping schools to understand reasonable force since 2006.

We teach your staff how to understand the law, manage conflict and keep everyone safe: verbally wherever possible and physically only when they must.

We help school leaders identify their school’s needs, develop appropriate training interventions and ensure best practice in prevention, de-escalation and the use of reasonable force.

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