Why the booths argument is a distraction.

One of the biggest arguments currently raging in educational circles is on the use of isolation booths in schools. It is an argument that appears to have rapidly polarised into extreme positions, particularly on Twitter. However, I firmly believe that is an argument that is distracting from the core business of educating children.

What many of the people arguing about seem to be forgetting while various accusations are flung about, is that a class is made of 30ish individual children. All of them have a right to an education. In that class, some children will have SEND needs, some will have unmet needs, some will be outspoken individuals, others will be quieter. All of them have different interests, different strengths and different weaknesses.

Teachers have to teach all of these children to the best of their ability. This ability is affected greatly by the behaviour of the class as a whole, which in turn is governed by a multitude of factors – The behaviour policy, the support for that policy by leadership and staff, the implementation of that policy and the individual relationships between the children and adults in the classroom.

If a child is disrupting the learning of the rest of the class, then they should be removed from that class, and the appropriate sanction should be applied. Everyone has a right to an education, the individual should not be impacting on the rights of the rest of that class to an education. The individual can still access their education, but away from the rest of the class until such time as it is appropriate that they rejoin them.

The booth, which many are demanding to be banned, is simply a tool. Like any tool it is not good or bad, it simply is. It is how it is used that is the issue. Like any tool, it can be used to create, to fix, to mend. Or it can be used to break, dismantle and destroy. It isn’t a question of banning to the tool, it is more a question of why is it used in a certain way? Is it the right tool for that particular purpose? Is there a better tool for that particular purpose?

Not every child is the same and there is a multitude of reasons for them misbehaving. What is appropriate as a sanction for one child’s actions is not appropriate for another.

The cries for banning the booth are based on claims that they are barbaric and cruel. But this is a premise based on their inappropriate use. Just because one person uses a hammer to destroy something of value, doesn’t mean that all hammers should be banned.

The argument for banning the booths is flawed because it uses emotional arguments to try and prevent “emotional damage” to some children who have been treated inappropriately by some schools. The use of emotional arguments such as this causes great upset to fellow professionals, many of whom feel that they are under attack for trying to do their jobs, often in difficult circumstances. This, in turn, polarizes the debate to such an extent that neither side listens to the other and positions become entrenched.

The reason that I say this is a distraction, is that focus should not be on the booths, but the reasons why the booths are, in some cases, being misused.

Many schools are greatly underfunded, they are not always able to provide the level of staffing that they would like. The result is that hard choices have to be made, some of these choices are made in emotionally charged situations and will result in mistakes in the treatment of children with unmet or SEND needs. Let’s make it clear at this point, this is not every child that ends up in an isolation booth.

For those children who are choosing to misbehave an isolation booth may be an entirely appropriate sanction. They need to be aware that actions have consequences. We are after all not only teaching children knowledge but helping prepare them to be part of the rest of society, which has rules and consequences.

Children who repeatedly end up in this situation may well have an unmet need, but until such time as there is enough funding to provide the support what alternatives to opponents of the booth suggest?

To say something is a problem and fail to come up with a viable and affordable alternative is not an effective argument, you won’t gain traction with underfire teachers and leaders who need a solution now. They can’t wait and nor can the rest of the children in the class, some of whom may be traumatised by the behaviour of the child who has been isolated.

Finding the cause of the behaviour and resolving those issues is a time consuming and often difficult task. It may require interventions over weeks or months to resolve these issues. There are two problems with this. The first is that funding for CAMHS and other support services has fallen and even the recent £780 million pound injection of funds has failed to close the budget gap in most areas. Simply put, banning the booth and replacing it with something is not affordable or viable for many schools.

The second problem is that often interventions result in an additional time out of class, which in turn impacts on learning and future performance in lessons. This is also damaging to students and isolates them from their peers in other ways too – despite good intentions.

It is this underfunding and undermining of the education system that is creating situations where booths are used inappropriately. Instead of taking away a useful tool, ban the booth campaigners would be better of devoting their energy to highlighting these injustices. Don’t be part of the distraction.

If you want to get involved in the discussion, by all means, go ahead. However, be aware that there are those who like to stir up such discussions for their own ends. Ask yourself this, why are these people so invested in this “moral outrage”? What do they gain? Influence is a powerful drug.