Update on restraint and seclusion practices in schools in Ireland and the UK

Inclusion Ireland and the parents of children with a disability have launched a report calling on the Minister for Education to act urgently to regulate and reduce the practices of restraining and secluding children with disabilities in schools.

The report, ‘Shining a Light on Seclusion and Restraint in Schools in Ireland’, has been produced to share the stories of fourteen children with a disability, some as young as five years old. The paper is the result of a workshop held by Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons Solicitors, through the PILA Pro Bono Referral Scheme, for parents of these fourteen children.

In the report, one parent describes how her child had their head held down between their knees for 20 minutes during a bus journey, another child was locked into an unattended room for up to five hours, while another child was left unsupervised in seclusion for long periods despite a history of seizures.

The report calls for:

  • The Department of Education take steps to ensure that seclusion and restraint become a matter of last resort. 
  • Measures are taken to include guidelines and monitoring to tightly prescribe the use of seclusion and restraint.
  • Training to monitor, support and supervise staff using these restrictive practices.
    Ensure incidents of seclusion and restraint are recorded and report formally to the Department. 

Meanwhile, the Upper Tribunal in the UK has found that children with special needs who have been excluded from school for aggressive behaviour are being discriminated against. The case was brought by the parents of a 13 year old boy with special educational needs who was excluded from school due to behaviour that was linked to his autism.

Judge Alison Rowley ruled that provision in the Equality Act, which meant that schools were not required to make reasonable adjustments to support such children, was unlawful. The exemption was put in place to protect against disability discrimination claims by individuals involved in various forms of antisocial behaviour including violence. This exemption included children in schools.

Judge Rowley was of the view that, “it is repugnant to define as ‘criminal or antisocial’ the effect of the behaviour of children whose condition (through no fault of their own) manifests itself in particular ways so as to justify treating them differently.” Judge Rowley found that the exemption was incompatible with the right to education under the European Convention on Human Rights and did not strike a fair balance between the rights of the children to access education and the public interest, as required by the Convention.

This means that children with a disability will be treated the same under law as other child excluded from school. Exclusion will have to be shown to be proportionate and justified, taking into account evidence that reasonable adjustments were made to accommodate the child and alternative actions were explored.

Click here for Shining a Light on Seclusion and Restraint in Schools in Ireland.

Click here for the decision in C&C v The Governing Body of a School and The Secretary of State for Education.




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