Schoolchildren are being isolated for up to seven hours per day in “consequence booths” as punishment for behaviour as harmless as laughing or forgetting a pen, a Labour MP has claimed.
Teachers at high schools run by Delta Academies Trust are sending youngsters into “matrix room” booths where they must sit up, look forward and not speak, Stockton South MP Paul Williams said.
The Trust says isolation booths are “not unusual in secondary schools” and act as an “effective measure to reduce low level disruption and truculent behaviour”.
A spokesperson added a child is only placed in isolation after having received warnings and detentions.
But parents refute that claim and told HuffPost UK their children regularly come home in tears after being sent to the booths for very minor transgressions.
They also fear teachers’ strict behavioural policy is damaging youngsters’ mental health and is being used to discipline children with special educational needs.
Lisa Clarkson has two children; Matthew, 15 and 12-year-old Jess, 12, who attend Ingelby Manor Free School and Sixth Form, near Thornaby in North Yorkshire.
She said a minor offence, such as sucking on a mint, can attract a punishment and that a second transgression, such as talking loudly or laughing, can lead to long periods of isolation.
Clarkson added: “I have witnessed how my children are after completing an isolation. They are certainly not in a good mental state at the end of five or seven hours.
“My daughter broke down in tears in the car on the way home one day. She was exhausted and completely ‘done in’.
“She was given a detention for being cheeky in class - quite rightly - however, this escalated to five hours’ isolation because she did not attend the detention as she did not want to tell her grandma, who was looking after her, that she had a detention.
“She is not a naughty child. She is not perfect but she is not naughty. She lost five hours’ education that day.”
The mum said she believes isolation punishments, which are “physically and mentally cruel”, are handed out too readily by teachers.
“I’m sure that social services would have something to say if I made my child sit in a chair for 8 hours straight - with minimal human interaction - and 30 mins for lunch,” she added.
“In some cases this can happen day after day.”
Clarkson said other offences that she heard had attracted harsh punishments included missing a red pen, making a paper aeroplane at the end of a lesson and being five minutes late for school.
A second mum, Kristy Sanderson, said the booths were so frequently used that children were left queuing outside.
“It is having a significant impact on young people,” she said.
“I have expressly told the school they do not have permission to put my daughter in a consequence booth.
“I’m really concerned about the school’s behaviour management strategy. I feel like we are going backwards in the way that we are treating children.
“I feel like the school is putting children down and making them feel worthless and that doesn’t help them learn and doesn’t help them achieve.”
In Parliament this week, Williams demanded a meeting with Schools Minister Nick Gibb, amid fears youngsters at Delta academies - some of whom have special educational needs - had been left scared to go to school.
It comes amid a national peak in the number of children being excluded from school. More than 1,000 children were expelled last year, with Ofsted voicing fears difficult pupils are being ‘managed out’ of schools before taking their GCSEs.
Around half of all pupils excluded last year were found to have special educational needs, official government figures show.
Williams said: “Children in my constituency are spending up to seven hours in isolation booths where they must sit up straight, look forward and not speak.
“Forgetting a pen, laughing and being distracted are just some of the minor behaviours which can ultimately lead to time in isolation.
“Usually well-behaved children are falling foul of their school’s behaviour policy and dreading going to school.
“I am concerned about the impact of long periods in isolation for children, including those with special educational needs, who should never be punished for behaviours linked to their individual needs.
“I want to work with schools to help them understand the impact extreme behaviour policies are having on our children’s wellbeing and see stronger guidelines issued to schools who fail to put the wellbeing of children first.”
The schools minister confirmed that he would meet with the MP to discuss the issue.
A spokesperson on behalf of the Trust said: “It is not unusual in secondary schools for students to have periods of time in isolation as a result of persistent defiance and disruptive behaviour.
“This is the case in both local authority schools and academies and is an effective measure to reduce low level disruption and truculent behaviour, which you will be aware is widely reported as having a deleterious effect on the quality of education in our country.
“We would wish to point out that in line with many other schools, there is a whole series of sanctions, including several warnings and detentions before a student is placed in isolation.”
They added: “Isolation is closely monitored and a whole package of wrap-around support is provided. This is designed to allow students to succeed and flourish.
“The impact of a wide combination of support for young people, including communication of clear boundaries and consequences, is designed to produce well-rounded, confident and employable young people who recognise and respect the boundaries expected of them by society and their peers.”