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When is restraint ‰reasonable‰ – PP58

The topic of the week is When is restraint ‘reasonable’?

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Before discussing the crucial topic of restraint, Paul and Kevin announce the newly-created Pivotal Podcast Pocketbooks which are now available from Amazon. There will be a huge range of Pocketbooks from Pivotal Education, starting with the edited transcripts of some of the most popular episodes of the podcast. The idea of releasing Pocketbook bundlewritten versions of episodes came from listeners who wanted to be able to make notes and use the content in different ways. If you would like a particular episode to be converted into an ebook, please let us know!


Children die in restraint. Paul was part of a group who looked at physical restraint in custodial settings for under 18s for the Department of Justice after there were two deaths in custody due to the inappropriate use of physical restraint.

However, restraint is not just a custodial issue – it has now become part of behaviour management in many settings, not just Pupil Referral Units but also mainstream schools.

What is restraint?

Restraint means ‘putting your hands on children or young people’. It is any kind of intervention which is physical. It might just be as gentle as leading a child by their arm or it might be as intensive as holding them back to prevent them doing real harm to themselves or others.

‘Safe touch’ where you might put your hand on a child’s shoulder to congratulate them is not restraint.

We need restraint training! Or do we?

Some schools call Pivotal saying that things have gone too far and they need restraint training as if it is a kind of panacea. However, training people in restraint isn’t as straightforward as adding it to the existing repertoire of behaviour skills. It’s much more complex than that. Often, schools who say they need restraint training actually need to look more carefully at their culture, train staff more carefully in other aspects of behaviour management and review their behaviour policy. Having done this, they often find they no longer need restraint.

Do we need restraint then?

There are children and young people in our inclusive schools whose behaviour will need to be managed physically. This can’t be done as part of the standard behaviour management strategies – you can’t go along a path of:

warning – reminder – last chance – restraint

Restraint, rather, needs to be used almost as a ‘First Aid Kit’.

Restraint is about keeping children safe when everything else has failed – not about forcing the to do things that the adults think they should be doing. So do schools train all staff in restraint or maybe a small team – or do they invest their time in preventative techniques?

On issue is that if you train everyone in restraint, everyone goes and tries it out! This often leads to a huge spike in children being restrained just after the training. Also, recent research shows that if you don’t use the techniques you have learned daily, you need re-training. You can become dangerous unless you are using them all the time. If you are using them all the time, what does that say about the culture of your management of behaviour.

Restraint doesn’t necessarily solve a problem – it can really complicate the issue.

Decision making in restraint

There are risks in intervening and there are risks in standing back. There can be physical risks to the teacher and to their career when restraint goes wrong. However, a light physical intervention done quickly can avoid a more serious incident. So these are fine decisions, made in the moment.

In restraint it’s so important that you are a problem solver and not a process thinker. If you stand back and do nothing, you still have a duty of care to keep the children safe – so you cannot decide to do nothing in a situation where you could do something to avert the problem – you can’t just allow it to happen.

There can also be problems associated with your physical size. There’s quite a difference between a 6ft 2in teacher restraining a Year 11 pupil and a 5ft 2in teacher doing the same. Similarly, how do you make sure a 6ft 2in teacher doesn’t get into difficulty restraining a 6-year-old?

Training in physical restraint is only a small part of what you need

Also think about the following decision-making questions:


  • Are you able to read the situation?
  • How well do you know the children?
  • Do you know the verbal approaches you should to be using?
  • How should you be standing?
  • What about the other children who are now gathering?
  • When and how do you call for help?

These incidents require this level of decision making in a split second. Automating your physical response takes a great deal of rehearsal. Specialists who use the techniques regularly can employ them without thinking but teachers who are doing many other things concurrently and only need to call upon physical intervention once a term or even year, can never be sufficiently rehearsed in those techniques.


So there is a decision for school leaders on how they approach this – do they train all staff every three months which ends up being very expensive?

Paul is concerned about the current DfE guidance document on the use of restraint in schools. It uses concepts like ‘power’ and children ‘causing disorder’ – a concept which doesn’t even exist in secure training centres. Overall, Paul believes we have very poor advice on restraint including from a wide variety of different companies, some of whose techniques are not safe. He thinks restraint in schools should be regulated and a commission set up to produce good guidance for schools. There should also be accredited training providers.

Paul wrote this article in response to the DfE guidance.

‘Proportionate’, not ‘reasonable force’

‘Reasonable force’ is a term in many publications and advice but Paul prefers to think about being proportionate. This includes many factors:


  • The ability of the child
  • Age of the child
  • Gender of the child
  • Your size and weight


It’s such a difficult thing to get right – what is proportionate force in any particular situation? This is why so many schools train a small group to provide support in these situations. When you press the alarm button, at least you know help is on the way from people who are really well-trained and experienced.

A surprising fact

Children who have finished an act of violence cannot be restrained. This is why some children in secure accommodation curl up in a ball straight after committing a violent act – they know they cannot be restrained if they are not actually in the act of being violent.

What should I do first if I am concerned about my role in or my schools’s position on restraint?

Talk to Pivotal Education – you’ll get proper advice for the environment you work in.


(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –



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