Education Lawyers Urge Government to Speed Up Review on Isolation Booths

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Dan Rosenberg

Partner, Education & Public Law Solicitor

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Dan Rosenberg of Simpson Millar has represented the families of numerous teenagers impacted by the issue, including a girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who tried to kill herself whilst in an isolation booth. Commenting on the findings, he said it was a cause for ‘grave concern’.

The effects of isolation booths

A young girl with ASD, anxiety, and depression, was put into isolation at her school in Kent. She was confined to the isolation booth for at least 6 weeks. During her time in isolation, she received no direct teaching from teachers or any staff. She was also requested to remain silent for the length of her time there.

There was a second pupil, a teenage boy, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who was repeatedly put into isolation. He was placed into confinement on several occasions at his school in Nottinghamshire.

Due to how often he was put into isolation, it resulted in him suffering significant mental health problems, as during his time in isolation he received no direct teaching and was made to eat his lunch in complete silence. He was also only allowed three toilet breaks a day and had no contact with any other children. A medical professional eventually intervened, and he left the school, but was only able to sit two GCSE exams.

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Isolation booth policies need updating

The Department for Education’s ongoing failure to review their ‘Advice for Headteachers and school staff on behaviour and discipline in schools’ was criticised.

Following this, the Government agreed to produce new guidance, including guidelines for the use of internal exclusions in schools. The new Guidance is due to be produced by summer 2020.

Dan Rosenberg, an education law expert at Simpson Millar, said: “Children, and especially children with challenging behaviour or who have a range of special needs, are suffering as a result of Government guidance that is unfit for purpose, as is evidenced here.

“It is blighting their educational and mental wellbeing, and that needs to stop.”

The review also reveals that young people showing challenging behaviour in school are more likely to have experienced past traumas. If those children are subjected to seclusion, restraint or exclusion, that experience can mirror the traumatic events that happened to them. This then increases the likelihood of more challenging behaviour and an escalation of the cycle.

Dan added: “The biggest issue at stake here is the practice of isolation rooms and the large number of children negatively affected by the use of this ineffective solution to behavioural issues. 

“What’s more, the use of isolation booths means that children are missing large amounts of education which will only go on to negatively impact their future.

“The DfE’s new guidance, when it comes out, needs to be fit for purpose and needs to stop the poor practices in school which currently appear to be very widespread.  This new report from the Centre for Mental Health indicates a positive way forward.”

Sarah Hughes, the chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, said that ‘attempts to improve school discipline through restrictive interventions and exclusions will not work’.

She said: “For some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children they will entrench behavioural problems with lifelong consequences for them and their families. Helping schools to become trauma-informed is much more promising. As part of a ‘whole-school approach’ to mental health, it has the potential to benefit everyone, to make all children feel valued and understood and prevent exclusions and their devastating consequences.”

Poor guidance for headteachers

The ‘Advice for headteachers and school staff’ document regarding discipline in schools has been criticised for its limited advice and guidance regarding isolation booths.

This guidance allows all schools in the UK to adopt a policy that allows ‘disruptive pupils’ to be put into isolation, away from other pupils. While it states that this can only be done for a limited period and that isolation rooms shouldn’t be used any longer than is deemed necessary, it doesn’t give any indication of how long.

The guidelines also don’t offer any advice on how many times a pupil should be put into isolation, as repeated confinement has previously led to poor education and mental health issues in children. Furthermore, there is a distinct failure to encourage schools to look at the cause of problematic behaviour such as unmet SEN needs rather than simply providing a reactive tool to deal with such behaviour. The cause remains ignored. 

While the document does state that schools and staff members must act reasonably when isolation rooms are in use, it doesn’t offer any guidance on what is or isn’t suitable. It also outlines that the staff members are responsible for making sure that the health and safety of pupils are in accordance with safeguarding and pupil welfare. But as we have seen by previous  cases, this isn’t happening, and the advice is too vague.

The document further explains that it is down to the individual schools and staff members to decide on how long they should keep the pupil in isolation, and for them to decide on what the pupil does during that time.

Should schools be allowed to create their own isolation policy?

Upon review of the guidance document, it’s clear that individual schools and staff members are allowed to create their isolation policy how they see fit. 

But it’s clear, based on reports and evidence, that schools don’t have the appropriate support, information, or advice to refer to when devising and/or updating their policies. Schools  and students alike would benefit from clearer guidelines such as a fixed period for how long pupils can be put into isolation for. Additionally, guidelines may also include how many times a pupil can be put into isolation per academic year, to prevent overuse. This could echo the statutory framework governing school suspensions which does exactly this.

How we can help you and your child

If your child has experienced poor treatment at school, it’s only right that you tackle it.

If you feel that your child hasn’t received the care or support that is expected, do not hesitate in contacting us today.

References:

www.tes.com. (n.d.). Isolation booths: 6 ways to use them effectively | Tes Magazine. [online] Available at: https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/isolation-booths-6-ways-use-them-effectively

Isolation booth to school exclusion: We need to find a better way. (2020). bera.ac.uk. [online] 2 Dec. Available at: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/isolation-booth-to-school-exclusion-we-need-to-find-a-better-way.

TCES Group. (2022). Isolation booths in schools; A poverty of values and imagination. [online] Available at: https://www.tces.org.uk/ceo-blog/isolation-booths

Condliffe, E. (2021). ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Young People’s Experience of Isolation Rooms/Booths in UK Mainstream Secondary Schools. [online] Available at: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/82288/1/2021CondliffeEEdPsyD.pdf

Bradford Telegraph and Argus. (2020). MP backs calls to end school isolation booths. [online] Available at: https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/otleynews/18161508.mp-backs-calls-end-school-isolation-booths/

Department for Education (2014). Behaviour and discipline in schools Advice for headteachers and school staff. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/353921/Behaviour_and_Discipline_in_Schools_-_A_guide_for_headteachers_and_school_staff.pdf.

CYP Now. (n.d.). DfE faces legal action over pupil isolation booths. [online] Available at: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/article/dfe-faces-legal-action-over-pupil-isolation-booths

the Guardian. (2019). Mother sues over daughter’s suicide attempt in school isolation booth. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/03/isolation-of-children-at-academies-prompts-legal-action.

Daniel Rosenberg Profile Picture

Dan Rosenberg

Partner, Education & Public Law Solicitor

Areas of Expertise:
Education Law

Dan has been with Simpson Millar since 2010, and became a Partner in 2014. 

As a leading member of our Public Law department, he works across a wide range of areas in Education Law and Community Care, with a particular interest in work for children and young people.

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