Calum is a loving, happy boy who has epilepsy and learning disabilities. We were delighted when he got a place in a “special school.”
On the first day in the new class Calum came home with multiple bruises on his arms and legs and abrasions to his spine. Calum also had widespread petechial haemorrhaging on his upper chest and his lips were blue. The school said he had been restrained on the floor (prone) by staff because he had kicked out at a teacher when she removed him from a bicycle he was riding in the school gym. Calum urinated during the restraint but staff put him in a “time out chair” still in his urine soaked clothes whilst showing him an egg timer to indicate he was being “punished.” They did this twice in 3 days. Calum was 11 years old, wearing clothes for a 7 year old.
Our GP recorded Calum’s injuries and made a referral to child protection. The Police said there was “no intent” so no charges were brought. The school were surprised that we were angry and made no apology. We were left feeling extremely frustrated.
The school had a control and management approach to “discipline”. They had a “safe space” and the staff wore whistles around their necks. They claimed they’d been trained in safe restraint techniques, yet Calum had horrific injuries. They hadn’t even heard of “Positive Behaviour Support.”
Reluctantly, we sent Calum back but to a new class and teacher, but Calum was very unhappy. He wasn’t sleeping well. He started having nightmares and woke each night crying out about “bad teachers.” He began to write “stories” about how “scary” school was. He flinched when anyone went near him and he was extremely withdrawn. Every morning, he would beg “no school, it’s bad for me.” His epileptic seizures increased, he lost weight and was diagnosed with PTSD. We removed him from the school.
I realised that there was no National Guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in local authority day schools in Scotland, so I petitioned the Scottish Government to introduce them. The petition received over 7,500 signatures in 6 weeks, and has been debated in Holyrood several times already. In July 2015 I was advised that the issues in my petition had been raised with the UNCRC (United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child). In June 2016, after The UNCRC’s 72nd session in Geneva, they made their concluding recommendations as follows
ABOLISH all methods of restraint against children for disciplinary purposes in all institutional settings, both residential and non-residential, and BAN the use of any technique designed to inflict pain on children;
Ensure that restraint is used against children exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and ONLY as a last resort;
Systematically and regularly collect and publish disaggregated data on the use of restraint and other restrictive interventions on children in order to monitor the appropriateness of discipline and behaviour management for children in all settings, including in education, custody, mental health, welfare and immigration settings.
ABOLISH the use of isolation rooms;
Make children’s rights in education mandatory.
Ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly PROHIBITED in all schools and educational institutions and all other institutions and forms of alternative care AND Strengthen its efforts to promote positive and non-violent forms of discipline and respect for children’s equal right to human dignity and physical integrity, with a view to ELIMINATING the general acceptance of the use of corporal punishment in child-rearing.
We are now hoping that The Children’s Commissioner for Scotland will play a huge part in making sure the Scottish Government implement these recommendations in their entirety. Kate Sanger and I are going to be meeting Mr John Swinney, Scotland’s Education minister later in September to discuss the new guidelines currently being drafted by the Scottish Government. We are determined to make sure that what happened to Calum never happens to another child.