Our son Calum has Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Learning Disabilities.

He was very small for his 11 years when riding an adapted disabled bike in the gym at his “special school”.

Having never ridden a bike before, you can imagine his excitement. 

The teacher was giving instructions, but Calum had the developmental age of a toddler, and lacked the ability to process her instructions. When (as she saw it) he did not do as he was told, he was physically pulled off the bike and got such a fright, he kicked out.

That resulted in four staff taking Calum to the floor, face down with so much pressure that he couldn’t breathe. He lost consciousness and wet himself. Whilst still in the process of coming round, still soaked in his own urine, staff forced Calum into a chair.

One of them stood over him with an egg timer to make sure he understood he was being punished (He did not).  My husband and I were devastated. We had no idea that a school could do this to a vulnerable child with profound learning disabilities.

The bruises healed, but the trauma is still with Calum 13 years later.

Read more: Scots parents asked to speak out on use of physical intervention in schools

Face down restraint, of the type which Police use and which killed Sheku Bayou, is still used today in Scottish Schools.

As I became vocal, other parents started to contact me to say “this happened to my child too”.  

I realised there was no National Guidance on this issue, so I petitioned the Scottish Parliament in 2015. My petition, PE1548, was in parliament for one of the longest periods of any ever debated at Holyrood. The first limited success was the resultant publication, of the first National Guidance on the use of Restraint & Seclusion. It being non-statutory however, greatly concerns me. I have been to numerous meetings at schools, advocating for parents, where I have been told that the Guidance is ONLY “guidance” and the school “don’t have to follow it”.

In 2017, whilst answering questions on my petition, The Scottish Government said they would consider making the Guidance statutory, if it was clear that it wasn’t achieving its objectives.  I was concerned that success or failure would be difficult to measure, since Schools and Councils do not have a Statutory duty to collect the necessary data. I therefore started collecting and collating family stories and data myself.

Two years later, Professor Richard Hastings from Warwick University led a team that produced a report that I co-authored, using the anonymised experiences of 720 families. We launched The RRISC report in The House of Lords in February 2020, just before the first COVID lockdown.

In 2019, I was invited on to a Scottish Government short-life working group writing more comprehensive (but still non-statutory) guidance. This is yet to be published despite being put out for consultation a year ago.

Read more: Explained in five minutes: Use of 'restraint' and 'isolation' in Scottish schools

Whenever Calum and I are on the news, or each time I post on social media, numerous families reach out. In Scotland alone, I have heard from over 1700 families since 2017.

That’s over 1700 children who have been physically and psychologically harmed through restraint and seclusion in their school. All except one had a disability.  80%+ are autistic, many have very limited spoken communication or are non-verbal. More than 90% of the incidents happen in primary schools with the median age of children just 6 years old. The youngest, a nursery pupil, aged 2. There remains no legal requirement to record or report incidents, so government have no understanding of the extent of the problem.

The law says that physical intervention should be used as a “last resort” without defining that. I have seen so many incident reports written by staff citing “non-compliance” or “making poor choices” as justification. That’s absolutely not a lawful reason for using physical intervention. Let me be clear. I understand that there are times when restraint will be needed to ensure that either the child or the staff member is not exposed to the threat of significant harm. I have no quarrel with that. The reports I see almost never involve such situations.

In the 2016 and 2023 UNCRC concluding observations, there’s a specific recommendation to “Abolish the use of isolation rooms”. To this day, children are being unlawfully contained in empty tiny, windowless, unheated “rooms” and there’s no end in sight to this hell. Scotland claims to aspire to be committed to our Country “being the best place in the world for a child to grow up”. (Gov.Scot) Allowing the use of Restraint and Seclusion in circumstances where it is not necessary, directly undermines that ambition.