Posted on Leave a comment

How to avoid using isolation as a sanction – PP22

The topic of the week is How to avoid using isolation as a sanction.

3133230597608bc797d0nThis week we tackle the difficult subject of isolation in behaviour management. Interestingly, nobody ever gave schools permission to use isolation as it is used in some schools toady as part of their behaviour management strategy. Paul points out that the maximum amount of time you can be locked in your cell in a secure training centre or young offenders’ institution is 3 hours – some schools leave children in isolation booths for 3 days. It’s a somewhat bizarre notion that isolation rooms produce a positive change in pupils’ behaviour – there is absolutely no evidence to back this up. Paul tells a story about how Lincoln Jail and the hugely damaging effect of their regime of almost total isolation. He speculates that perhaps some schools saw a documentary about Lincoln jail and tried to copy some of the techniques! It seems completely inhumane – in Holland, you could be prosecuted for imposing isolation techniques on children but in the UK, no-one seems to have questioned what is going on in some schools. Paul points out that the children who end up in isolation rooms are the ones with the most complex needs – those with additional learning needs, the most vulnerable, the most damaged, the ones who are suffering emotional trauma. We expect them to be able to do exactly the bahaviour they were struggling to do in the classroom but now in isolation and with a member of staff ‘growling’ at them. The instant shock element of the technique is the most impactful but this can only be useful when the isolation experience lasts for a maximum of 30minutes, not hours or days. Every school needs to have a place where children can calm down, where children can be separated or given ‘time out’ when it is necessary but when it extends to more than half-an-hour we need to question whether it is doing any good at all. Most children sit in isolation absolutely furious and not quietly contemplating how they are going to be good when they re-join the class. When they have dealt with the fury, they start to look for ways to undermine the system. The poor use of isolation breaks relationships with staff and encourages children to ‘dig their heels in’ more.


Some schools have created a whole culture around the use of isolation rooms.


Paul agrees that schools need areas where they can provide an alternative to exclusion which clearly doesn’t work for some pupils but this should never be an exclusion booth. It needs to be a place staffed by experts in managing these situations and getting pupils back into lessons. These ‘time out’ rooms are often staffed by former Pupil Referral Unit professionals and basis on which they work is a general understanding amongst all staff that the option to just get rid of pupils out of their rooms is not available. This all reflects the ethos of the school. What to do if you are working in a school where isolation techniques are used and you reach the point at which a pupil in your classs needs to take time out of your classroom: – Re-examine your own use of steps in conseqences – step through as slowly as possible – use microscripts – Consider partnering with another teacher in the next classroom who might be able to take a child for 10 minutes or come and support you while you talk to the child – When you call for support, ask the teacher who comes to your room to teach the class for two minutes while you step out of the door and try to get the child to the point where they can come back into the lesson


If children are constantly sent out of your classroom, you are giving those children the message that learning isn’t for them, your class isn’t for them, school isn’t for them, learning isn’t for them.


The message you should be giving is that learning is important and I don’t want you spending time outside my classroom where you won’t be working. Good faculties work together to consistently re-admit children to classes, with the support of the leadership and managers. In some schools the isolation rooms becomes a party space, a place where students try to be sent, maybe even as a badge of honour. As soon as you create the isolation room, it has to be staffed, and it ‘has to be filled up’, just like a 5th lane on a motorway. It also changes the way teachers and other adults manage behaviour becasue there is now an isolation room as an option. Paul knows many schools in really tricky circumstances who refuse to have an isolation room – are they in chaos? Absolutely not. Some first steps towards breaking down a culture of isolation: 1. Get rid of the isolation booths 2. Limit time in the isolation room to 30mins 3. Staff the room with people who can really make an impact in that 30mins 4. Make sure the isolation room has a ‘revolving door’ – there should be no chance of getting stuck in isolation for the rest of the day 5. If there are children who need extra time out, attach them to a member of staff for ‘walk and talk’ or restorative work 6. Equip your isolation room with a large, round table with staff ready to talk, to support, to counsel 7. Make sure your ‘on call’ system is staffed by people who are good at dealing with the issues and supporting pupils straight back into the lesson – supporting ‘wobbly children’ and ‘wobbly teachers’ We can be much more creative with children who are in school in isolation rather than at home to help them to repay the debt to the school rather than sitting for 3 days in isolation. For lots more detail and context, listen to the episode! Announcements: TeachMeet London Bus! Pivotal Education are sponsoring the first ever TeachMeet to take place on a London Bus. Tickets are available from 9.00am Friday 1st February 2014. New free iPad App! Be the first to download and use this amazing new app! Students love using the Pivotal Progess Sliders app on iPads to track their progress during lessons. You can also save progress and return to it in the next lesson. Brand new 5 Minute Assessment for Learning Plan released in collaboration with TeacherToolkit Events


  • Magnificent Cultures of Teaching and Behaviour – deconstructing excellent practice – 12th March 2014 featuring Paul Dix and Phil Beadle and including an education debate at the end of the day
  • Improving discipline, raising attendance and boosting achievement – a conference by Teachology – 7th February, 2014, London, UK


What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

Get involved:

Appear on the podcast yourself by sending in a comment or question via either of the two answerphone hotlines:

Telephone Hotline Telephone Hotline – 0844 579 6949, Mailbox number 23161 Microphone Computer Hotline (SpeakPipe)

Creative Commons image by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 − 10 =