Hundreds of Scottish children with disabilities are restrained or isolated on thousands of occasions every year which in some cases causing them lasting harm, a charity has warned.

Enable Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to issue new guidance and stricter protocols on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The learning disability charity's In Safe Hands report says that: “to our collective shame” the current system puts children at risk of physical and psychological harm and denies them their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Backed by families and children themselves, the charity says some schools are putting children at risk due to unregulated, unsupported and unacceptable practices – and that parents or young people affected have limited options if they seek redress.

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In 2017/18 alone, 2,674 incidents of restraint and seclusion relating to 386 children were recorded by Scotland’s local authorities.

However, Enable says these figures are highly conservative as nearly a third of councils failed to provide the information.

In the report parents speak candidly about the devastating impact on the mental wellbeing and development of their children.

One parent details says her daughter, now 17, was regularly subject to seclusion and restraint at school. On one occasion she was locked in a ‘safe space’ for 45 minutes where she soiled herself.

The incident only came to light after another pupil wrote about the incident. Now at a different school she remains on anxiety medication.

Another parent outlines how from the age of five her son was restrained regularly at school and on one occasion was kept in a cloakroom by a teacher who held the door closed because he would not put his shoes on.

Enable Scotland is calling on members of the public to show their support for the campaign by contacting their local MSPs to call for them to support the campaign’s aims.

Following the announcement by the Scottish Government that it will invest £15 million in Additional Support for Learning Assistants, the charity says it should invest some of the money in staff training to ensure that children are not put at risk and that those with identified additional support for learning needs as a result of learning disabilities, autism and/or mental health issues, receive the support they need from staff trained in positive behaviour support.

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Enable Scotland Director of External Affairs, Jan Savage, said: “In the 21st century, every child should go to school knowing they are safe from physical and psychological harm. They should feel welcome, listened to and be treated with respect from the moment they enter the school gates.

"To our collective shame, this is not the case for every child in Scotland. With the support of parents and children who have been directly impacted by this often- barbaric practice, we are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently tackle the issue of restraint and seclusion.

"We also want to see the nomination of a single agency to lead on confronting this issue, including the need for accurate and timely reporting of incidents.

According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion may violate children’s rights, including their right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, their right to respect for bodily integrity, and their right not to be deprived of their liberty.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “National guidance is very clear that physical intervention, restraint and supported isolation seclusion should only ever be used as a last resort, when in the best interests of the child and never for disciplinary purposes. Every intervention should be carefully monitored and reviewed – and any unlawful use of physical intervention and seclusion is completely unacceptable.”


Daniel Gourlay from Inverness was only five years old when he was first physically restrained at school by his teachers.

Now 12, and with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) disorder, Daniel and his mum Barbara have lost count of the number of times the youngster has been held down, forcibly carried, locked in a room.

On one occasion he was handcuffed. Then aged seven he was too small for the handcuffs to fit properly.

Barbara says: “I knew that something wasn’t quite right with Daniel when he was about 18 months old. I have two older children and as a mum I just knew, but healthcare professionals made me feel like I was imagining things . His dad died when he was five, so it coincided with the trauma he felt then too – but still I knew and yet no one listened.”

Eventually Daniel was diagnosed with autism and PDA, but not until he was nine-years-old by which time Barbara says he had been labelled as a ‘bad kid’ and a ‘lost cause’ at school and had been restrained and secluded by his teachers dozens of times.

She said: “Imagine giving up on a child of nine, or labelling them as a ‘lost cause’?

“It’s difficult enough to be a parent of a child with autism, but when you and your child are labelled as being ‘difficult’ people stop listening to you, they don’t treat you like a human being, like you’re worth anything. That’s what happened to Daniel. Teachers just stopped trying to use the techniques that we know work and calm him down and instead hit the nuclear button of restraint straight away.

“I would say to any teacher who has held down a young child repeatedly, without making an effort to understand them and what they need in that moment, that they’re probably in the wrong job."

"Daniel said at one point, when he was around seven years old that he wanted to die to be with his daddy."

“It’s heart breaking, especially when you know that it’s their human right to have an education, to feel safe and to feel that the adults around them care about them as an individual.”

Barbara says that she is backing Enable Scotland’s campaign against the use of restraint and seclusion in schools because she doesn’t want any other family to have to go through what she and Daniel have experienced.

“Daniel has been in schools and has been taught by teachers who have made it work for him, who have treated him as an individual. He’s also been taught by those who haven’t taken this time or had the appropriate training and that’s where things go wrong," she says.

"Restraint should be the very last resort and as we know it isn’t always the case, with hundreds of children experiencing the same things as Daniel every day.”

Barbara also wants to see better reporting of incidents of restraint and seclusion by schools. She added:

“There were times when Daniel was locked in a room or carried out of a classroom by four adults and the school didn’t tell me. I only found out because my older children reported seeing it or another parent contacted me to say their child had been distressed by the treatment they saw of Daniel by teachers and school staff. It’s just not right.”