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Clause 233

Part of Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 26th March 2009.

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Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families 9:00 am, 26th March 2009

Currently schools have powers to use reasonable and proportionate force either to control or restrain pupils, in order to prevent an offence being committed, injury or damage being caused or serious disruption to school discipline being created. However, what the law does not currently require is that significant incidents of force be recorded or reported to parents.

That is a gap in the current arrangements, which was highlighted in a case in late 2006-07; it may be the case that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who speaks for the Conservatives, was referring to. It involved a young girl with special educational needs who had been repeatedly restrained in school without the parent being informed. Although the school’s actions in restraining the child were found to be reasonable, some hon. Members rightly expressed concern at the lack of a requirement to record and report such actions to parents. Therefore, the Government committed to closing that loophole.

Most schools already record incidents of force and many of them make reports to parents. Both these practices are recommended as good practice in the Department’s guidance to schools on the use of force. The clause consolidates that good practice. As a further safeguard, the clause requires schools to have regard to the section of the guidance on the recording and reporting of significant incidents. We are revising our guidance. I think that the key point to remember is the word “significant”, which is the point that the hon. Member for Yeovil made when referring to John Dunford’s evidence. Our revised guidance will make it clear what the new legal duties on schools regarding the recording and reporting to parents will mean in practical terms and we will, of course, be consulting on that guidance.

Ensuring that there is a proper written record will protect the interests not only of pupils and parents but of staff, meaning that disputes about the veracity of events can be minimised. It will make it less likely that school staff will refrain from physical contact for fear of a mischievous allegation against them. Furthermore, we do not envisage that recording an individual incident should add a significant administrative burden. The guidance to schools includes a one-page model form for recording incidents, which should be fairly easy for schools to complete. That section of the guidance also draws attention to wider issues around pupil safeguarding and the circumstances when a school might need to involve other agencies.

I appreciate that hon. Members are concerned to limit the requirements placed on schools, but there are important reasons why clause 233 is framed in the way it is. I am sure that I do not need to remind hon. Members that the most important reason is child protection. I will first speak to amendments 86 and 87. The recording of each significant incident of use of force and keeping an accurate record will protect both the pupils and the teachers involved. The circumstances leading up to and surrounding incidents of use of force are often confusing and emotive, and it is important that a contemporary, clear and honest report is made of such an incident so that the appropriate facts and time scales can be accurately recorded when they are still fresh in the mind. Many schools have already implemented mechanisms for recording  and reporting incidents of use of force. The clause merely reinforces existing good practice and should impose little additional burden on schools.

On amendment 210, I recognise that the requirement to report each use of force incident might in a small minority of cases provoke an inappropriate violent reaction from parents. However, that risk needs to be weighed against the risk of keeping parents in the dark on such a serious matter as their child being restrained. The clause properly requires a procedure that ensures parents are always informed as soon as possible of significant incidents where force has been used on their child. It enables prompt action to be taken and helps to stop problems escalating.

When giving evidence earlier in our deliberations, Sir Alan Steer made it clear that he did not agree with withholding a report from parents. He said:

“If there has been an incident involving my child which has required restraint to be used, I would be fairly militant about the fact that I, as a parent, needed to know that. I accept that the example you gave could occur on rare occasions, but there are ways around that.”——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 5 March 2009; c. 108, Q252.]