Exclusions and extreme punishments are becoming the norm in the English education system
The Guardian of 2 September 2018 carried this story from which I quote as follows (in italics).
Parents have criticised the use of isolation booths at secondary schools across the country, after concerns were raised about the “zero-tolerance” behaviour policies run by some academy trusts.
Guardian analysis found this week that 45 schools in England excluded at least 20% of their pupils in the last academic year. The Outwood Grange Academies Trust – which runs 30 schools across Yorkshire, the Humber and the east Midlands – ran nine out of the 45.
Outwood Academy Ormesby in Middlesbrough topped the list, with 41% of its pupils receiving at least one suspension in the last academic year.
Parents with children at schools in the trust raised concerns that, as well as the high levels of exclusions, many schools were also using “consequences rooms” – small booths in which a child sits alone and in silence for hours on end as punishment for breaking school rules.
According to Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s behaviour policy, “the rule when in detention and in the consequences room is occupy and ignore”.
“Students cannot sleep or put their heads on the desk. They must sit up and face forward,” it adds.
When in the booths, children are not allowed to “tap, chew, swing on their chairs, shout out, sigh, or any other unacceptable or disruptive behaviour”.
“You will be allowed to go to the toilet up to a maximum of three times during the day (maximum five minutes per visit),” the policy reads. “You must use the closest toilet and go directly there and back. You will be escorted to get your lunch, but you must stay silent.”
Pupils may complete work they have brought themselves but they do not have to.
Another mother, whose son goes to a school in Yorkshire run by the Delta Academies Trust, said he was “just a regular kid” and there had never been serious concerns raised about his behaviour before the school’s new discipline policy was introduced.
“Then he got 22 hours in an isolation booth in one week and he was just an absolute mess,” she said. “He came out at the end of the day and he didn’t look well. His legs were shaking and he could hardly string a sentence together. He looked completely done in.
The ‘isolation booth’ punishment described in the Guardian article appears to go further than ‘solitary confinement’, which is banned for children under a UN Convention.
In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the Nelson Mandela Rules, the revised 122 Rules of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The Mandela Rules “represent a universally accepted minimum standard for the treatment of prisoners, conditions of detention and prison management, and offer essential practical guidance to prison administrations.” The Mandela Rules state that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” The revised UN Rules also reiterate that solitary confinement should be prohibited for children.
According to the Guardian article the ‘small booths’ used to ‘isolate’ the child, not only restrict the vision of the child, but a strict posture is required to be maintained at all times during the many hours over which the child may be detained in this way. (Students cannot sleep or put their heads on the desk. They must sit up and face forward – children are not allowed to tap, chew, swing on their chairs, shout out, sigh, or any other unacceptable or disruptive behaviour).
‘Solitary Confinement’ as defined in the prison system refers to locking the prisoner in a cell and denying them human contact, but they are presumably allowed all the other freedoms denied to children forced to occupy these isolation booths. Presumably the consequence for a child getting up and walking away from the booth, or a parent going up to the school and insisting on their liberation would be permanent exclusion and the consequent loss of the right to a normal education. The child would be referred to the Local Authority, probably found a place in a Pupil Referral Unit and so denied access to mainstream teaching with disastrous implications for life chances, not to mention mental health. Local parents would know this from the school’s exclusion record.
The Guardian article goes on as follows,
Like Outwood Grange, the Delta Academies Trust, which runs 46 schools across the country, said pupils were given a number of warnings before being put in isolation and that wraparound support was provided for them.
“It is not unusual in secondary schools for students to have periods of time in isolation as a result of persistent defiance and disruptive behaviour,” said a spokesperson.
“This is the case in both local authority schools and academies and is an effective measure to reduce low-level disruption and truculent behaviour, which is widely reported as having a deleterious effect on the quality of education in our country. Obviously students who are in isolation will complain they don’t like it; that is because it is a punishment for disrupting other children’s education.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is up to schools to decide what forms of discipline they adopt, as long as they are lawful and used reasonably. If a school chooses to use isolation rooms, pupils’ time in isolation should be no longer than necessary and used as constructively as possible.”
Has the DfE considered whether these isolation booths are ‘rooms’ or in fact smaller confined spaces in which natural instinctive actions of children are forbidden? The Academy in question appears to rule out any educational function for the isolation booths, which are for punishment purposes only. Does this meet the DfE requirement that ‘forms of discipline’ should be as constructive as possible? What happened to the principle of ‘in loco parentis’? Does it still apply? Teacher training taught us that any actions we took in our role as teachers must be consistent with the actions of a reasonable parent. How should social workers judge the use of ‘punishment booths’ by the parents of teenage children?
I have written many articles relevant to this Guardian story. Here are a few.