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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 00:02 GMT
Pupil restraint policy challenged
Michelle Chambers and her daughter Jade
Jade Chambers has a severe language impairment
A rethink of the physical restraint of pupils could be prompted by the legal case of a girl with special educational needs, campaigners say.

Jade Chambers is seven, but has the language skills of a three-year-old.

She was taught at mainstream Heathwood School, in Bedfordshire, where staff allegedly repeatedly restrained her.

A tribunal will decide if her treatment was discriminatory. Bedfordshire County Council denies this, saying she was restrained only as a last resort.

The hearing in London will also look at whether the school, near her home in Leighton Buzzard, was an appropriate educational environment for her specialised language needs.

At the very least parents need to know whether physical restraint is being applied
Andrew Selous MP

Jade suffers from a genetic condition which has left her with a severe language impairment.

It means she has the equivalent of 1% understanding of language of the average child her age, and needs special assistance.

Jade was initially taught in regular classes with the rest of the pupils, with just a couple of hours a week specialised language teaching in a separate facility.

'Denied opportunities'

The school then decided to educate her wholly in the unit.

But her legal team argue the amount of tuition she received from a teacher was inadequate. They say she was mainly taught by two nursery nurses.

This meant she was denied access to the opportunities the school was providing for the rest of its pupils and was thus discriminated against.

It also claims the alleged use of restraint upon the seven-year-old was discriminatory because it was only as a result of her disability.

Jade's mother Michelle Chambers also claims she was not made aware of the situation and of the alleged repeated use of restraint.

She says she only discovered its alleged extent when she made an application under the Freedom of Information Act.

'Acted appropriately'

But Bedfordshire County Council claims not only did Jade receive all the specialist support she needed, but that it had written permission from her mother to use a range of methods to remove her daughter from class.

It stresses that other methods were always exhausted before restraint was used.

It added that a joint investigation it carried out with the police found the school had always acted appropriately in Jade's education and care.

But it did recommend that the school agree the "method of removal" with parents if a child was disruptive and how they kept parents informed.

Improvements, in terms of how incidents were recorded, were made immediately, it added.

'Reason not restraint'

Mrs Chambers now wants official education department guidance on the use of restraint in schools, known as Circular 10/98, to be made mandatory.

It suggests schools inform parents if they use restraint on pupils, and should use it sparingly and carefully.

She has launched a website called 10/98 Reason not Restraint campaigning for this.

The mother's call was backed by local MP Andrew Selous who took up her case in Parliament.

He said there were many reasons why schools needed to "properly and correctly, although regrettably" restrain children.

But, he said, "at the very least" parents "need to know whether physical restraint is being applied even once, let alone repeatedly, to a child".

Making this statutory could place teachers in a difficult position, having to check it every time they need to use the power
Department for Education spokesman

However, a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said it was unlikely the guidance would be made mandatory.

"The Education Act is giving teachers a legal power to use force where necessary without fear of legal challenge, for example to break up fights or lead disruptive children out of the classroom.

"Of course this power should be used reasonably and appropriately, however guidance should be just that, a helpful non-statutory guide on how the power could be exercised in this way.

"Making this statutory could place teachers in a difficult position, having to check it every time they need to use the power."

A ruling is not expected for a further two weeks

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