Use of seclusion in schools for pupils with ‘behaviours of concern’ to end under new guidance

Physical restraint of pupils will not permitted except in crisis situations, according to draft guidelines

Schools are to be advised to review their behaviour policies for students on foot of new Department of Education guidelines which will end the use of seclusion for vulnerable pupils with “behaviours of concern”.

In addition, the physical restraint of pupils will not be permitted except in crisis situations where there is a risk to a student’s safety or the safety of others.

The measures are contained in draft guidelines which will set out for the first time how all primary and post-primary schools should manage crisis situations with students, according to several sources familiar with the contents.

The move follows multiple warnings from advocacy groups as well as the National Council for Special Education on the need for best-practice guidelines as well as reporting and monitoring protocols.


A report in 2018 by Inclusion Ireland, the representative group for children with intellectual disabilities, documented more than a dozen cases where parents say their children were physically restrained, isolated or secluded by adults during the school day.

In addition, it said staff were not qualified to use restraint and highlighted a “real, ongoing risk of physical and psychological harm to children”.

The issue of managing behaviours of concern was the focus of a fitness to teach case earlier this week where a teacher faced accusations of professional misconduct.

The teacher is alleged to have “reefed” ear-defender headphones from a nine-year-old pupil and “aggressively” pulled the boy up from the floor. The teacher has rejected the allegations, while a school investigation was unable to definitively establish what happened. The case has been adjourned to a later date.

Unlike children’s residential care, there are no detailed guidelines on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. In addition, the Department of Education does not require schools to provide data on these types of interventions.

The draft guidelines are understood to state that where physical restraint is used in a crisis situation, it must be timely, measured and carried out by appropriately trained people.

In addition, if physical restraint is used in a crisis situation, it must be documented, reported and reviewed with a view to reducing and eliminating the need for such measures.

“De-escalation” strategies should also be engaged in at an early point to avoid behaviours posing a safety risk, while schools with a need for specialised training in the use of restraint should access approved training

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed it was in the process of developing child-centred guidelines regarding behaviours of concern which focus on “creating a whole school positive approach that emphasises prevention and early intervention”.

A training programme for schools will accompany the guidelines which will be trialled with a small number of special schools before being published in the first quarter of 2024.

“They have been informed by evidence showing that whole school support culture and approaches and early and ongoing engagement with the school community, including parents/guardians, are necessary for the development of effective school policy and practice when supporting a student in a crisis situation,” she said.

The spokeswoman added that guidance was available for schools in relation to behaviour from Tusla’s educational and welfare service around supporting pupils with behavioural, emotional, and social difficulties, as well as from the National Educational Psychological Service.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent