Widespread Isolation of Pupils Condemned


More than 200 children were placed in isolation booths for a whole school week last year, a new investigation has revealed.

And around 5,000 children with special educational needs last year attended isolation rooms – which are facilities that pupils are sent to when they are removed from a classroom, BBC News found. 

More than 1,000 secondary schools across the UK were sent Freedom of Information requests by the BBC asking how they use isolation rooms – and approximately 600 of them responded. 

While many had rules for children spending a maximum of one, two or three continuous days in isolation, the investigation found that 225 pupils in England spent a whole school week in isolation last year – which can include partitioned desks where children face the wall and work in silence.

Some schools use “seclusion” units where children remain on their own, while others place pupils in more conventional classrooms to work in silence.

Two schools – which included a bathroom in the facility – do not allow pupils to leave the unit all day.

And some schools use the practice far more extensively than others. For example, one school had five separate isolation rooms, each permanently staffed at an annual cost of more than £170,000.

Paul Dix, a behaviour consultant in schools across England told BBC News: “That is not education, it is a custodial sentence.”

He added that he has seen 50 children at one time in isolation in one school – and he had heard of pupils being placed into isolation for not bringing in a pen or for not wearing the right shoes. 

Mr Dix recognises that disruptive pupils may need to be removed from classrooms – but he believes they should be returned after a short period and their behaviour should be discussed with a teacher.

“Sticking children in isolation is desperation,” he said. “Where’s the regulation around it, where’s the reporting, where is the accountability?”

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has also warned that school isolation can be “distressing and degrading” and she has said that it is “a gateway to excluding and off-rolling”.

But Tom Bennett, the independent adviser on behaviour to the Department for Education (DfE), argues that isolation can be effective in tackling disruption in classrooms.

He told BBC News: “When you’re a lone adult with a class of 25 pupils, it only takes two people to really persistently wilfully misbehave for that lesson to be completely detonated.

“It can be a way of preventing fixed-term exclusions by keeping them in the school and being looked after by the school because a lot of the kids we teach are at risk of joining gangs or they might be at risk of going home to abuse so for a lot of children you don’t want to be sending them home.”

Government guidance says schools are free to decide how long pupils should be kept in isolation but time should be spent “as constructively as possible”.

The DfE says children should be in isolation no longer than is necessary and that the health, safety and welfare of pupils must always be put first.

December 2018

Creative Teaching & Learning