Pupils subjected to physical and mental cruelty in school isolation units – unions must act

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School children in England are being put in ‘physically and mentally cruel’ isolation units for up to 7 hours a day at academy trust schools.

This was the conclusion of Labour MP Paul Williams in July when he demanded in Parliament a meeting with the Tory schools minister over the use of ‘matrix room’ booths in schools run by Delta Academy Trust which runs 46 academies across Yorkshire and the Humber.

According to a recent report in the Guardian newspaper, Delta academies are not alone in using these isolation units called by various names like ‘consequences rooms’ and justified by the academies as being merely ‘internal exclusions.’

In fact they exhibit more than a passing resemblance to the methods associated with Guantanamo Bay and the torture methods of physical isolation and enforced immobility. According to one of the academies, Outwood Grange Academies Trust (which runs 31 schools in the north of England), which uses these techniques on pupils: ‘Students cannot sleep or put their heads on the desk. They must sit up and face forward.’

When in these small booths pupils are not allowed to ‘tap, chew, swing on their chairs, shout out, sigh, or any other unacceptable or disruptive behaviour.’ Their policy reads: ‘You will be allowed to go to the toilet up to a maximum of three times during the day (maximum five minutes per visit). You must use the closest toilet and go directly there and back. You will be escorted to get your lunch, but you must stay silent.’

The mother of one pupil at the trust’s school in Wakefield said that her son had lost days sitting in a consequences room and that: ‘It’s a small booth. They can’t look left or right, they can’t look behind. They can’t speak to anyone for the whole day. It’s basically an internal exclusion. It’s barbaric.’

Another mother, whose son attends a Delta academy school, said that ‘he got 22 hours in an isolation booth in one week and he was just an absolute mess, he came out at the end of the day and he didn’t look well. His legs were shaking and he could hardly string a sentence together. He looked completely done in.’ She added: ‘I don’t think they want to put the resources into other ways of dealing with behaviour. They are multi-academy trusts and I think they want to keep costs down.’

Keeping costs down and making profit is the driving force behind this barbaric treatment of children, along with massive cuts in teaching staff. The Delta academy chain, one of the biggest in the country, slashed its wages bill by more than 10% last year in an attempt to cut its deficit and ‘ensure sustainability’ by cutting teachers by 13%.

The salary for its chief executive was reported to be about £185,000 last year.

Both Delta and Outwood Grange academies were amongst the 87 academy trusts who received a letter from the Education Funding agency this year demanding that they justify the salaries of more than £150,000 paid to their chief executives.

This year’s conference of the National Education Union voted unanimously to oppose ‘the move towards ever more punitive behaviour policies in schools’, pointing out that these policies were feeding ‘a mental health crisis for children.’ In fact these academies, despite hiding behind the fiction of being charities run on a not-for-profit basis, were always intended to open up the education budget to the privateer vulture whose only concern is to screw as much profit as possible out of the education system at the expense of children.

When they can’t make the profit required for their bloated salaries they simply close down schools and move on. There is only one way to stop the barbaric treatment of children at the hands of these academy bosses and that is for the teaching unions to demand at the forthcoming TUC conference that they call a general strike to bring down the Tories and replace them with a workers’ government that will end all academies and guarantee a free state education system to meet the needs of every child.