Specialist education law experts instructed to take legal action against Outwood Grange Academies Trust - which has schools in Doncaster, Sheffield, Barnsley and Wakefield- amidst ‘grave concerns’ about the use of isolation booths have today welcomed news that a review of the use of the punishment measure will be undertaken.
In late November last year Simpson Millar submitted the application for a Judicial Review on behalf of the mother of a boy who attended one of the Trust’s Schools in Yorkshire in a bid to challenge the use of the sanction for extended periods of time; as well as the lack of teaching whilst in the booths, the lack of procedural safeguards, and the conditions children are subjected to.
The mother of the secondary school pupil in question said the effect of repeated and extended isolation had a ‘devastating’ effect on her son – with the 14 year old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, having spent approximately a third of his time at school last year subjected to the punishment.
Following the launch of the legal action Outwood Grange Academies Trust has now pledged to review their practice, taking into account all of the issues raised by Simpson Millar in the judicial review application.
However, despite ‘cautiously welcoming’ the news that action is now being taken, Education law specialist Dan Rosenberg has said that there is ‘still a long way to go’ in ensuring that lessons are genuinely learnt, and that changes are made across the Trust as a whole.
According to information provided by Outwood Grange by way of a FOIA response, thousands of children at their schools were subjected to the punishment - including approximately 100 children with education health and care (EHC) plans.
Dan Rosenberg, solicitor at Simpson Millar’s Education team, said: “We are pleased that Outwood Grange is conducting a review taking our points on-board, and expect this to lead to changes that will mean that the treatment suffered by our client and many other children is not repeated. Anything less would be very concerning.
“We would expect organisations with an interest in children’s welfare, such as CAMHS, Local authorities and the children’s commissioner to show a close interest in the review, to ensure the cessation of the sanction and the improved wellbeing of children moving forward.
“The use of isolation booths is a worrying practice. Large numbers of children are having their education blighted by the widespread and extended use of this punishment. Spending time in these booths is demeaning and not natural for children.
“We have grave concerns that the students involved are missing large amounts of education, and that there is a lack of procedural safeguards and review mechanisms, as well as a lack of monitoring of the use of the sanction by central Government.
“We are glad that this Academy chain is rethinking their approach, but we hope that Central Government will take more of an interest in a practice that is still being used around the country.”
Outwood Grange Academies Trust is a multi-academy trust that operates a number of schools with academy status across northern England and the East Midlands.