Helping all children become happy learners

Restrictive Physical Handling

This article is based on the legal framework in the UK. USERS in other countries should refer to appropriate National guidance and legislation


There are occassions when it becomes necessary for teachers and other school staff to intervene physically to control the behaviour of a child or young person. This is fully permitted in UK law under Section 93 of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act and covers the use of force to:

prevent a crime (even if the child is under the age of criminal responsibility)

prevent injury to others including staff

prevent self-harm

prevent damage to property

to maintain "good order and discipline" and prevent the child or young person from disrupting the education of others

All school staff have a legal duty of care to the children or young people that they work with that is equal to that of a "reasonable parent". All staff are therefore expected to take appropriate action to manage the behaviours described above. 

Parents DO NOT have the right of veto over whether school staff can use "reasonable force" to manage their child's behaviour. Parents should however be informed when a restrictive physical intervention has been carried out.

Staff in schools may also use "reasonable force" under Section 45 of the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Act to search pupils for weapons. This can be done without the pupil's permission where the school has "reasonable grounds" to suspect that a weapon is being carried. However, schools are advised to refer this to the police where the student is likely to resist.

Any use of restrictive physical intervention needs to be consistent with the 1998 Human Rights Act. In practice this means that care is taken to maintain the dignity and well-being of the child as much as possible under the circumstances.

Restriction of liberty

It is an offence under The Children Acts of 1989 and 2006 to lock a child in a room without a court order. An exception can be made in an emergency as a way of keeping a child safe when the child has a signicant learning disability and unable to appreciate danger. This could also apply to a child whose severely challenging behaviour presents a risk to their safety. However, it would be expected that other measures would be quickly taken to minimise the time in the locked room. At all times the child should be under supervision. This means being able to see and/or hear the child to ensure their safety and not necessarily in the room with them. Leaving a child unattended would only be justifiable in exceptional emergency circumstances where it was necessary to prioritise the safety of others from significant and imminent threat of harm.

It is also possible to restrict the liberty of a child who is engaged in significantly disruptive or aggressive behaviour by barring exits and/or entrances to rooms, buildings etc. as part of the physical intervention to manage the behaviours detailed above under the 2006 Education Act. In dealing with aggression toward staff it is possible for all staff involved to be standing behind a door or gate etc. to prevent injury to themselves. Staff should be able to observe the child at all times. The expectation will be that freedom of liberty will be restored when the risks are reduced.

Recording of incidents

All incident involving restrictive physical intervention should be recorded. The format of this record is a matter for each school to decide but should be in a bound and numbered book to prevent removal or insertion of pages at a later date. It should include details of who was involved, the reasons for the physical intervention, some information of the type of interventions used and for how long. It should also include details of any injuries sustained though this may also need recording else where under health and safety legislation. Information from these records should be used to inform parents, governors and possibly the school's local authority. Within the school it should be used to monitor the use of restrictive physical interventions and identify training requirements.

Physical intervention plan

A written plan should be drawn up where there is a foreseeable possibility of needing to use force with a particular child. Different schools use different names for this document but essentially it should include details of the observed challenging behaviours, assessment of the risks associated with the behaviour, strategies to avoid the risk and de-escalate behaviours and clear details of the circumstances in which restrictive physical interventions would be used. It should name those who will perform planned restrictive physical interventions and these members of staff will need to have training in appropriate techniques. Other members of staff should not use restrictive interventions except in dealing with emergency situations.

Bullet Point
Bullet Point


All staff regardless of training may be expected to use reasonable force in exercising their duty of care. Lack of training is not an effective defence for not taking action in an emergency. However, appropriate action will include exploring alternatives to restrictive physical intervention and getting additional adult help.

All staff working in schools including admin and auxillary staff should receive clear guidance on the use of physical interventions and positive handling. Good practice is to include this in induction programmes and regularly thereafter.

All staff who are expected to use physical intervention as part of a planned response, recorded in a physical intervention plan for a named pupil, should receive training. The school's Local Authority may be able to provide information about accessing this. National organisations such as MAPA (Management of Actual or Potential Aggression) may also be able to support the school. 

It is also important that all staff receive training on managing behaviour and de-escalation strategies to reduce the need for physical intervention.

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