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Pupil brings legal action against school’s isolation units

A judicial review has been applied for on Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s (OGAT) on their 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 boy who can’t be named for legal reasons was kept on one such unit at his school in Yorkshire for a third of the last academic year which equates to 60 full school days.

The OGAT’s behaviour policy states 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.”

Three toilet breaks were allowed lasting no more than five minutes per visit. The policy read “You must use the closest toilet and go directly there and back.”

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 are being challenged by lawyers. Unlike with fixed-term exclusions, there is no limit on the number of days a child can spend in an isolation booth.

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.”

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”.

OGAT have responded by saying: “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.”

Aspokesperson for the Department for Education said behavioural policy was a matter for schools to decide, if 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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