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High Court action over "inadequate" isolation booth guidance

Lawyers claim that the Government's guidance on discipline in schools must be made clearer

Posted by Julian Owen | April 05, 2019 | People, policy, politics

The families of two teenagers with a range of special needs are threatening High Court action against the Government, amidst concern that guidance regarding the use of isolation booths in schools is damaging the mental and educational wellbeing of thousands of children.

In a letter before action issued by law firm, Simpson Millar, the Department for Education’s alleged failure to review their ‘Advice for head teachers and school staff on behaviour and discipline in schools’ is set to be challenged.

The letter states that the guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools does not sufficiently recognise the widespread nature of isolation booths, or their consequences, and that the allegedly confusing nature of the guidance leads to a risk that many schools are acting illegally.

It is imperative that the Government urgently reviews its guidance, and we would urge them to pay particular attention to the impacts of the use of isolation on children with disabilities

A girl from Kent with ASD and teenager from Nottinghamshire with ADHD, both of whom have anxiety and other mental health problems, are involved in the legal challenge; it is claimed that both have been subjected to sustained and extended isolation, which has impacted their educational and emotional wellbeing.

The move follows news earlier this year that academy chain, Outwood Grange Academies Trust, was to review its behaviour policy after a student mounted legal action against the trust.

Dan Rosenberg, an education solicitor at Simpson Millar, said: “Guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools needs to be much clearer; especially with regards the use of isolation booths which, evidence suggests, are being used as a ‘dumping ground’ for children, particularly those with special educational needs."

“What was originally a method for dealing with an immediate crisis in a classroom," he added, "is now being used as a low cost solution for the long term management of pupils, to the detriment of their mental health and education. 

“The current guidance is not fit for purpose, and as a result children are suffering.

“It is imperative that the Government urgently reviews its guidance, and we would urge them to pay particular attention to the impacts of the use of isolation on children with disabilities, and in particular disabilities such as ASD and ADHD, as in our clients’ case, when so doing."

What was originally a method for dealing with an immediate crisis in a classroom is now being used as a low cost solution for the long term management of pupils, to the detriment of their mental health and education

 “We hope that they respond positively to our letter," continued Rosenberg, "and put the welfare and education of all of the children affected by this issue first.”

According to the Government guidelines, ‘schools can adopt a policy which allows disruptive pupils to be placed in an area away from other pupils for a limited period’; but, when doing so, ‘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’.

The DFE now has 14 days to respond to the letter, after which Simpson Millar will take action to launch a judicial review into the matter if it deems that the Government has not responded satisfactorily.

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