Isolation booth to school exclusion: We need to find a better way
Sarah Martin-Denham, senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland and programme leader for the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination writes about the evidence on use of isolation in research commissioned by Together for Children to investigate the factors that lead to a rise in social, emotional and mental health needs in children and young people.
Martin-Denham writes: “I found no evidence that isolation booths improve behaviour; in fact, the findings suggest they make it worse and thereby compound learning, mental health and physical health needs.”
Children are being sent to isolation not to protect other pupils from disruptive behaviour but often for ‘minor misdemeanours’ such as uniform infractions or not doing homework. The study showed that many students were sent to isolation for long periods of time, indeed 44% of the 55 children interviewed had been in isolation for more than a year, some as long as three years.
“The teachers used to sit there and watch me cry”
Impact on wellbeing
Isolation was not just separate from other students. It was commonly actual isolation, with children not being taught nor spoken to whilst confined to the isolation booths.
School teachers and headteachers acknowledged that isolation was not appropriate for Looked After Children, which does indicate an awareness of the stress which isolation inflicts.
The report gives both children’s and their caregivers accounts of isolation. One child said “I used to pull my
hair out, scratch my face. I couldn’t cope with it at all. The teachers used to sit there and watch me cry’. Another child reported that they “used to call it ‘the bridge’ because it made you want to just jump off a bridge”. The report noted that while the schools had a duty to ensure children’s welfare that it was clearly severely impacting it.
One caregiver explained: “you will have to give him some sort of break because that is in his recommendations from the Ed Psychologist. He has to have these breaks. You are basically torturing him.”
Another said: “a school we know uses the term lockdown for isolation. ‘We’re putting you in lockdown? Wow! It’s like come on. What type of word is that? They’ve got no windows in the room where the child goes.”
Caregivers identified basic needs such as nurture and stimulation being needed for their child’s healthy emotional development.
“You are basically torturing him”
Read report which blog post comments on in full: An investigation into the perceived enablers and barriers to mainstream schooling: The voices of children excluded from school, their caregivers and professionals . Martin-Denham, S. (2020) University of Sunderland.