Calum’s Law has been put forward to the Scottish Parliament by Daniel Johnson MSP following the campaigning of Beth Morrison.

At the age of 11, Beth’s son Callum was restrained by four members of staff and secluded from his peers after failing to understand staff requests for him to dismount the disability bike he was riding. Callum has epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism and learning disabilities.

After the incident, Beth heard similar stories of restraint in Scottish schools and petitioned to Parliament to create national guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in all schools.

Restraint and seclusion can both be placed under the umbrella of physical intervention in schools, which is defined in the Scottish Government’s draft framework as: "A physical act carried out with the purpose of influencing, modifying or preventing the actions of a child or young person. Physical intervention includes direct physical contact and actions affecting the movement of a child or young person."

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In this guidance, restraint is defined as "An act carried out with the purpose of restricting a child or young person's movement, liberty and/or freedom to act independently." In simple terms, it means physically holding a child in one place.

Seclusion is given the definition of "An act carried out with the purpose of isolating a child or young person, away from other children and young people and staff, in an area which they are prevented from leaving."

Despite this guidance, a lack of clarity in how individual schools and councils define these terms has been identified, with wide variation across the country.  

According to the No Safe Place report, conducted by the Children and Young people’s Commissioner in 2018, nationwide definitions of restraint were “inconsistent”. Varying definitions regarding seclusion were also found to have created “dangerously blurred lines” between methods such as “time out” and seclusion.

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Specific concerns have also been raised about the use of seclusion in ways that breach the rights of young people through a deprivation of liberty, which would require a court order to be legal.

While schools in Scotland are provided with guidance on their approach to restraint and seclusion, it is not statutory. This means schools and councils can interpret the guidelines in different ways, causing the disparity identified around the country.

There is a requirement for councils to have guidance, policies and recording procedures in place, though significant concerns have been raised regarding the effectiveness of this approach.  

In the 2018 report, numerous councils either did not have policies or failed to evidence them. One school had no policy documents on the matter, but confirmed that dozens of physical intervention techniques had been used on pupils in their schools.

The report stated: “We are deeply concerned that significant physical interventions may be taking place in some authorities without any kind of policy or procedure at local authority level to ensure the lawful and rights-compliant treatment of children”.

There has also been criticism of the “huge variations and gaps” in the data on reported incidents being collected in Scotland. In 2017/18, 18 councils reported 2674 incidents of restraint and seclusion, but five could not say how many children were involved.

Furthermore, where councils could provide comprehensive data, an average incident rate of six-per-child emerged. Only 12 councils were able to identify how many of these incidents related to children with disabilities or additional support needs.

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“As a result of this inconsistency in recording practice and methods, collecting and comparing data on a national level, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, is currently impractical, if not impossible,” the report said.

Further reports conducted in 2019 and 2022 on the progress of the use of seclusion and restraint in Scotland’s schools provided damning indictments, concluding that children are not yet in safe hands in relation to this issue.

Given this lack of progress, advocates for Callum’s Law argue that compliance with national guidance must become a legal requirement across the country.

The proposed legislation would demand a clear national framework for recording, reporting and monitoring of restraint and seclusion in schools, including the requirement to report all incidents to a Scottish Government body.

It would also seek to ensure that parents and guardians are always informed of incidents of restraint and seclusion, and would require the creation of a consistent complaints process.

Should the bill be passed, it is also expected to set standards on decision-making and training processes on the use of physical intervention. Once these are established, the Scottish Government would be required to regularly publish data and report to parliament.