UK: Schools converting toilet stalls into isolation booths for 'disruptive' students

Jan 17, 2020, Guardian: Schools 'converting toilet blocks into isolation booths' Schools are converting toilet blocks and classrooms to build isolation booths to accommodate “disruptive” children, the children’s commissioner has said, as campaigners warn that excessive use of the practice could be putting young people’s mental health at risk. Anne Longfield said she had heard “horror stories” about children’s experiences in isolation booths – spaces in which pupils sit in silence for hours as punishment for breaking school rules and disruptive behaviour. … The children’s commissioner is conducting research to find out how widespread the use of isolation booths is and what kind of children are affected in response to mounting disquiet among parents and mental health campaigners about the practice. At one school, Longfield said she had been told that a portable booth made out of cardboard was used to place over a child in the classroom. ... Longfield is also concerned that isolation is being used by some schools as a “gateway” to exclusions and that it affects disproportionately high numbers of children with special educational needs. … But some in the education sector back the the use of isolation for disruptive children. The government’s behaviour tsar for England, Tom Bennett, recently told the Guardian that “removal rooms” were used so children could learn in a safe, calm environment…. Other headteachers say the use of well-run isolation rooms means lessons are disruption-free for other children. Ruth Robinson, a school leader from Swindon, explained on Twitter that at her school 10-15 out of 900 students on average spent the day in the school’s isolation room, though booths were not used. “The impact of this approach is that every single lesson taught at the school is disruption-free. No teacher is ever talked over. Pupils are not rude. Pupils don’t refuse to work. This system is strict but it isn’t draconian. It works because it’s fair and because everyone understands it.”… . “I was told of a school where they were converting a toilet section into isolation booths – and the comment there was it was very handy because they had already got the cubicles.” Longfield said she had also heard of schools where teachers were having their classrooms taken away because more booths were wanted, “and I heard of one bizarre example of how they had a kind of portable booth which was a cardboard booth which they just put over the child wherever they were sitting”. … John Procter of Corporate Office Furniture, which sells isolation booths, said about 50 schools had acquired units from him over the last five years. In the last three months alone, around eight schools have bought around 100 units, each costing £175. [$228 US]… Many in the sector say a distinction should be drawn between isolation rooms and the use of confined booths, in which children have to face the wall and cannot communicate with each other. They say there is also a balance to be struck between the needs of challenging pupils and those who want to work without distraction…. The government is due to publish fresh guidance later this year on managing behaviour and the use of isolation rooms and exclusions…. A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools may choose to use in-school units, whether that be to provide additional support to vulnerable pupils, or as a sanction to remove pupils with challenging behaviour from the classroom….