Use of Reasonable Force and Restraint in Alternative Provision and Special Schools

Sara Spinks 10 July 2024 2 min read
Use of Reasonable Force and Restraint in Alternative Provision and Special Schools  feature image

In a bid to foster safer learning environments, the Department for Education (DfE) has embarked on a mission to minimise the use of reasonable force, physical restraint, and other restrictive practices across all schools in England.

This initiative, encapsulated in the ‘Use of reasonable force’ guidance (2013), aims to equip school staff with the necessary tools to mitigate the necessity of such measures while ensuring their lawful and safe implementation when unavoidable.

To delve into the current landscape, the DfE commissioned qualitative research to provide a glimpse into the practices and beliefs of special and alternative provision schools in England.

Aims and Approach

The research employed interviews with school leaders and staff from 45 special and alternative provision schools, supplemented by site visits to four of these institutions. Conducted from late May to late July 2023, the study sought to understand the utilisation of reasonable force, physical restraint, and restrictive practices, as well as effective strategies for minimising their necessity.

Key Findings

Policies and Guidance Engagement
All schools possessed comprehensive policies on the reasonable force, often integrated within broader behaviour policies. However, terminology inconsistencies posed challenges for comparison.
Reflections on DfE Guidance
While most schools utilised DfE guidance, concerns were voiced regarding its specificity and applicability to diverse contexts.
Staff Training
External training providers influenced school cultures and language surrounding restraint and restrictive practices. Financial constraints hindered comprehensive staff training efforts.
Prevention and De-escalation
Schools emphasised personalized prevention and de-escalation strategies tailored to individual student needs, ranging from understanding triggers to utilizing distraction techniques.
Use of Reasonable Force
Reasonable force was employed as a last resort to prevent harm, with fully restraining students being rare.
Recording Incidents
Schools maintained records of incidents, although practices varied. Data analysis informed behaviour management strategies.
Reporting Incidents
Reporting practices varied, with incidents typically reported to various stakeholders. Concerns were raised regarding potential misrepresentation of data.

Implications for Further Research

The document highlighted the following areas to conduct further research:

  • Exploration of training providers' role and the impact of their guidance on school policies.
  • Investigation into the impact of stimulus removal on reducing the need for restrictive practices.
  • Consideration of challenges associated with mandatory incident reporting, including variations in recording practices and potential misrepresentation of data.


The 'Use of Reasonable Force in AP and Special Schools' report sheds light on the multifaceted approaches adopted by educational institutions in managing challenging behaviours while prioritising the safety and well-being of students.

By recognising the diverse strategies employed and the challenges encountered, stakeholders can collaboratively work towards refining policies and practices to create nurturing and supportive learning environments for all students.

Recognising the pressures faced by SEND provision, a collaborative approach is essential.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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