Why I joined the #BanTheBooths campaign (and why you should too)

In the first of a series of blogs Jules Dauby a literacy and SEND expert explains why she supports the campaign:

I like to be liked.  It’s a curse.  It means I struggle to commit to any one side of an argument because as soon as someone smiles at me, I agree with them.  OK, perhaps I’m not that shallow but I enjoy debate and I particularly love to hear robust discussion on challenging topics.  Often however, I sympathise with both viewpoints and because I went to a secondary modern and did typing and childcare rather than debating and philosophy, it’s intellectually stimulating to hear informed people battle with ideas, yet I still find I’m less clear on distinguishing between rhetoric and authentic values. I’m not good at reading between the lines or game playing: I shoot from the hip and say what’s on my mind at the time.  But I listen and learn and slowly since I joined social media and had access to a wider range of voices, I’ve shaped what I believe, and while I’m regularly advised to tone down my opinions, I’ve decided, unwisely in some of my counsel’s opinion, to dial them up. 

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Because I like to be liked, when I was asked to join the campaign, #banthebooths, I was hesitant.  It seemed so definite and I worried what people would think.  I know many classroom teachers who are generally quite welcoming of my beliefs on inclusion, but would they think this was a step too far and be disappointed in me? Their schools are likely to use isolation, and no doubt sometimes they would consider it a relief when the child, who had been disrupting their lesson, was taken away.  They would want to get on with their job of teaching, and isolation rooms would be an essential part of the school’s behaviour system.  I would be criticising them and their school rather than supporting them.  These teachers whose praise I crave would begin to hate me and I like to be liked.

Amidst indecision, I read the website and I realised that while the hashtag was provocative, it was calling for discussion on a relatively taboo subject.   It is not about the individual teacher or even, to a certain extent their school.  This is a campaign calling for systemic change and one which starts with an acknowledgement that there are alternatives.  Children in isolation are literally hidden way but so too is the transparency around such confinement.  The booths to ban are the ones with high walls, named ‘deep confinement booths’. There’s been a need for clarification on this, but it is clear on the website.  Tables with work dividers such as in libraries or work stations for children with autism are not the target here.  #banthebooths is not only a campaign to ban the more extreme booths but in addition it is to question prolonged use of isolation and support schools in finding alternatives. It’s not about blame.  I hate blame, be it on children, parents, teachers or individual schools but to have a robust debate is not blaming anyone, it is a call to action for discussion and transparency which has wide reaching ambitions.

We’re calling for:

  • The regulation of isolation in the same way fixed and permanent exclusions are controlled (getting a national picture of the vulnerable groups can only help schools to ask for more support from the DfE).
  • Directed funding – schools have no money and vulnerable children suffer the most from this – isolation rooms are a relatively cheap and easy way to deal with this in the short term but not in the long term.  The effects are damaging to these children and there are alternatives which can help children turn around their behaviour.  Funding for this is required.
  • More than half a day needs a different way. I understand the need for children to be removed from class.  In fact, it may be a surprise to hear I don’t see enough of this (another post).  What I don’t agree with however is the lack of urgency to resolve the behaviour and get them back in the classroom, learning with their peers as quickly as possible.  Isolation predominantly affects vulnerable groups.  These children are also the ones over represented in exclusions and ultimately prison (61% of prisoners experienced exclusion). 

I believe (and those who know me will not be surprised by this) that there is a lack of inclusive pedagogy in some mainstream schools, inadequate parent partnership and few reasonable adjustments for children with SEND or who have experienced trauma. 

I understand schools are struggling with resources and wrap around support from stripped down Local Authorities, I empathise with teachers and leaders coping under austerity, but it is not the child’s fault we cannot support them adequately. The rise in isolation, referrals to PRUS and exclusions, while systematic of a paucity of funds, should not be a reason why I don’t campaign for better treatment of the most vulnerable children with the fewest resources available to them.  They are often the hardest to love but in the most need of it.  And when there are positive results, the outcomes for these children’s life chances are massive: the stakes are high.  Maybe statistically low in number but significantly high in cost to themselves and to society. 

I’m probably not going to be liked by many for my decision, but I’m finally prepared to commit and debate. I’ve grown up from the secondary modern girl who smoked and snogged behind the bike shed caring only about Alan and his Capri, to a woman who believes in social equity and is prepared not to be liked for it.

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