07:44, December 11 185 0 theguardian.com

2018-12-11 07:44:17
Pupil brings legal action against school's isolation units

Legal proceedings have been lodged in the high court against an academy trust for its use of so called isolation units to discipline pupils.

Lawyers have applied for a judicial review of Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s (OGAT) use of “consequence rooms” – small rooms in which a child sits alone and in silence for hours on end as punishment for breaking school rules. OGAT runs 30 schools across Yorkshire, the Humber and the east Midlands.

The application has been made on behalf of a boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who was kept in one such unit at his school in Yorkshire for a third of the last academic year – 60 full school days.

Parents criticised OGAT’s behaviour policy, which in September this year stated that children could be sent to the consequence rooms for up to six hours a day with no teaching. When in the rooms, children were not allowed to “tap, chew, swing on their chairs, shout out, sigh, or any other unacceptable or disruptive behaviour”.

“Students cannot sleep or put their heads on the desk. They must sit up and face forward,” the behaviour policy said. “Communication of any kind with any other student is not allowed … You will be escorted to get your lunch, but you must stay silent.”

Children were allowed a maximum of three toilet breaks a day for no more than five minutes per visit. “You must use the closest toilet and go directly there and back,” the policy read. When in the consequence rooms pupils could complete work they had brought themselves, but they did not have to.

Lawyers are seeking to challenge the legality of the use of the punishment for extended periods of time, the lack of teaching while children are in the rooms and the lack of oversight of the policy. Unlike with fixed-term exclusions, there is no limit on the number of days a child can spend in an isolation booth.

Concerns were raised over “zero-tolerance” behaviour policies run by some academy trusts this summer after Guardian analysis found that 45 schools in England handed fixed-term exclusions to at least 20% of their pupils in the previous academic year. OGAT ran nine out of the 45 schools.

According to the trust’s data, released following a freedom of information request, approximately a third of the pupils at the school attended by the boy involved in the legal action had spent time in isolation in the previous year. The average total time pupils spent in isolation booths during the school year was about 15 days.

In an interview with Schools Week this week, Martyn Oliver, chief executive of the trust, said the strict expectations for pupil behaviour were about “setting a reasonable level of behaviour in turnaround schools, to prevent chaos”.

The mother of the student who is bringing the claim said: “No child should have to go through what my son has been through. He is not an easy boy, but the effect of the isolations on him have been devastating. Last year, he spent almost a third of his time at school in the booths. That is not what education is about. This has to change.”

A spokesperson for OGAT said: “In order to experience just half a day in our consequences room, where children are supported to reflect on their behaviour, a child will have ignored four warnings and have failed two separate detentions. We also apply reasonable adjustments and have a wealth of supportive and alternative intervention packages for those children who need additional support to manage their behaviour in school.

“Our behaviour policy and practices have been reviewed by Ofsted in over 20 inspections, leading to eight being judged outstanding, 11 good and one requires improvement.

“Our staff go and work in some of the toughest schools in the country to support and care for children, and our schools have never been more popular with parents, with many currently full and being asked by local authorities to admit over their capacity.”

Dan Rosenberg from the education team at Simpson Millar, the law firm bringing the action, said large numbers of children were having their education blighted by the increasingly widespread and extended use of these isolation units.

“We have grave concerns that the students involved are missing large amounts of education, and that there is a lack of procedural safeguards and review mechanisms, as well as a lack of monitoring of the use of the sanction by central government,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said behavioural policy was a matter for schools to decide, as long as it was lawful. “If a school chooses to use isolation rooms, pupils’ time in isolation should be no longer than necessary and the time used constructively,” they said.

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