Why we should #BanTheBooths

There is good practice in many removal rooms. Caring adults calmly working with angry and frustrated children who have struggled to follow directions. There is mentoring, coaching and challenge so that children can be returned to learning as soon as possible. Then there are removal rooms and isolation rooms where children sit in punishment booths, abandoned. Their education on hold. These are not the children with the worst behaviour. They are often children who have irritatingly stretched the lines of tolerance. Sitting in a booth day after day. Same faces, same stories, same unmet needs sat staring into space. I met a child who had spent 35 days in an isolation booth in 3 months. That isn’t an education it is more like a custodial sentence. I have seen it too many times not to speak out, wasted lives wasted education. We need to Ban the Booths. The punishment booths, the isolation booths where children are given hours/days/weeks of penance. Self electing to sit in a booth is a choice.being forced to stay in a booth is quite different. Can you really call a school outstanding if their behaviour policy is reliant on punishment booths?

When children deliberately and persistently disrupt they may need to be removed from the lesson. What happens to them at that point is critical. In the most difficult, irritating and distressing moments the values of your school are tested. Where the child goes and what happens next really matters

Isolation is an escalation in punishment designed to deter. 40 years ago these children would have been beaten. Now they sit facing the wall in an isolation booth not allowed to turn around, face away from the wall, speak, or look left or right. Of course this serving of punishment is only truly complete when accompanied with the ubiquitous worksheet or unexplained text book. In many schools one lesson of poor behaviour results in the rest of the day isolated from the school The worst practice has isolation a long way from ‘last resort’ , some children are isolated for the smallest infraction: wrong socks, rolling eyes, tutting or sucking a mint. They are caught in a no man’s land between a silent boothed existence and exclusion. They are the children who the cuts are are hitting hardest. Their support left long ago and is now just a phone that rings endlessly in an empty student services office.

Punishment can escalate and multiply in an isolation room. Extra days given for the smallest infractions. We need to limit punishment in schools to ensure it does not become disproportionate. To make sure that it is in line with our our values, our laws and the rights of the child. Nobody wants to stop Headteachers making decisions about their schools but it cannot be a free for all otherwise bad practice will and has taken hold. It is right and proper to check ourselves. Isolation booths were invented and replicated without debate, discussion or legislation. It isn’t a done deal. It is a choice.

Upstream there are ways to dramatically reduce and eliminate use of isolation. The levers for change are in the culture, systems and practice of the school. The skill of the teacher in managing difficult conversations with distressed children, the visible support of leaders, resisting sending children to the highest authority, the confidence of a Head of Department to manage the situation without escalating, the attitude of the teacher arriving to help and the resilience of the teacher not to react emotionally. It is in developing a planned process that is more nurture than nihilism.. Excellent practice is out there. Schools with very tricky intakes have removed the booths, reduced removal and are using the space differently. There is another way.

We need to report isolation to Governors in the same way we report exclusion and restraint. Our campaign demands regulation, recording and reporting so we can all see the true picture. How many SEND children are caught in a no man’s land of isolation where nobody’s needs are met? What is the geographical, key stage, ethnic and gender breakdown of those in isolation for more than half a day? How many schools rely too heavily on isolation as a sanction. How many are masking a wider problem? How many schools are using isolation booths to hide the fact that their behaviour policy isn’t working?

In Scotland there is a wave of ACE and trauma informed practice, Government ministers talk of love and the encourage relational practice. In England we are arguing about which stick is best to beat the sin out of the child. Time for a change. We want a debate in public and in Parliament, a regulatory and accountability framework for isolation and resources for schools to move to evidence informed behaviour practice. We want to redirect TILF funding from the DFE to help schools make the shift.

As for the dimension of the booth? I feel uncomfortable that fellow professionals think any form of erecting barrier around a child is ok. If you feel the same please join our campaign.

Paul Dix

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