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Use of Isolation, Seclusion or Consequence Booths - Dos and Don'ts

on Monday, 03 June 2019.

The use of isolation (sometimes referred to as seclusion, or isolation/consequence booths) has been a hot topic in the news in recent months, and...

... we are aware that investigative journalists have been using the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain information from hundreds of schools on their use, along with data on informal exclusion from school.

At the end of last year, a parent issued proceedings for the judicial review against a multi academy trust in relation to the regular use of consequence booths as a punishment for extended periods of time, during which the pupil is not taught. The proceedings were only withdrawn after the trust agreed to review its Behaviour Policy in this respect.

What Is 'Isolation'?

There is a lot of variation in the way isolation is used by schools. Some schools simply remove disruptive pupils from standard lessons and place them in another classroom where they are supervised by a teacher and continue their education, either on their own or with other pupils. Other schools use small booths which are partitioned, or put pupils in a room on their own facing a wall, where they are unable to see or interact with any other person and are sometimes not given any work to do. The latter is clearly more at the disciplinary sanction end of the scale, and the former more of a behaviour management/improvement strategy, but there is clearly an element of both involved in either scenario.

There is no statutory definition of 'isolation', but it is a widely used practice across the sector, and is referenced in DfE guidance. All disciplinary sanctions imposed by schools must be fair, reasonable and proportionate to the misbehaviour concerned. The DfE's advice Behaviour and discipline in schools states:

'Seclusion/isolation rooms

42. Schools can adopt a policy which allows disruptive pupils to be placed in an area away from other pupils for a limited period, in what are often referred to as seclusion or isolation rooms. If a school uses seclusion or isolation rooms as a disciplinary penalty, this should be made clear in their behaviour policy. As with all other disciplinary penalties, schools must act reasonably in all the circumstances when using such rooms (see paragraphs 14 and 15). Any use of isolation that prevents a child from leaving a room of their own free will should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. The school must also ensure the health and safety of pupils and any requirements in relation to safeguarding and pupil welfare.

43. It is for individual schools to decide how long a pupil should be kept in seclusion or isolation, and for the staff member in charge to determine what pupils may and may not do during the time they are there. Schools should ensure that pupils are kept in seclusion or isolation no longer than is necessary and that their time spent there is used as constructively as possible. Schools should also allow pupils time to eat or use the toilet.'

What Should Schools and Academies Be Doing?

Isolating pupils from their peers should be regarded as a short-term solution, and must be clearly set out in your Behaviour Policy.

Where pupils are kept in small booths or on their own in a room with no interaction with others, this should not be for extended periods. Where the pupil shows no improvement in behaviour, other strategies should be considered (eg alternative provision, managed move, etc.).

Given that schools have a statutory duty to provide all pupils (even those in alternative provision) with full-time education under Section 7 Education Act 1996, we would not recommend that pupils are isolated for extended periods without being given any work to do.

There is no statutory definition of 'full-time education'. However it is generally accepted to be between 21 and 25 hours per week on an increasing scale for 5 to 16 years olds.

What Are the Risks of Isolating Pupils?

If the pupil has behavioural issues, they could have an impairment which meets the definition of a 'disability' under the Equality Act 2010 (this is not a particularly high threshold, and does not require a formal diagnosis of a condition).

if the reason why they were isolated is linked to the pupil's disability, the parents could issue a claim for disability discrimination against the school in the First Tier Tribunal (FTT).

As with all decisions made by schools, parents are able to issue proceedings for judicial review where they feel that the school has acted in a way which is illegal, irrational or procedurally improper.

Parents may also make a complaint under your school's published Complaints Policy, or to Ofsted.

To discuss your school's use of isolation practices, please contact Joanna Goddard in our Regulatory Compliance team on 0207 665 0805, or complete the below form.

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