Claims Leeds schools putting children in isolation for ‘wearing earrings’ and ‘eating sweets’
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Concerns have been in a meeting of Leeds councillors and education experts that schools in the city could be veering towards “Victorian” values – and that children are being taken out of lessons for “punitive” reasons.
The discussion was part of the second session of the council’s children’s scrutiny board’s inquiry into exclusions and home education in the city.
It heard how members met with the Leeds Youth Council, made up of pupils across the city, who felt that while disciplinary measures such as isolation – otherwise known as internal exclusion – were sometimes necessary, many felt the way it was used was often unfair.
Chairing the meeting, Coun Alan Lamb (Con) said: “The subject area [the youth council] were most interested in was internal exclusions and isolation, because they had the most experience of that.
“They felt they didn’t work and the punishment didn’t fit the crime. They felt pupils were more obstructive when they came back [from isolation].”
Coun Chris Howley (Lib Dem) was also part of the group of councillors who spoke to children about their experience of school methods of controlling behaviour.
He said: “Isolation was a much bigger issue than many of us anticipated – it came up a lot.
“I think, while many of these pupils [who we spoke to] are probably more well behaved pupils who don’t have to engage with these processes, they were very concerned with fairness and justice.
“They felt the measures were punitive. One girl was put into isolation because, I think, she was wearing earrings.
“She said ‘I could have been asked to take them out’ – it creates resentment, because it is the wrong punishment.”
One co-opted member said pupils had told given her examples of reasons for isolation, adding: “It was used incorrectly for not wearing your tie, not having a proper haircut or forgetting your planner and stationary – that is nothing to do with education.
“Pupils thought internal isolation should only be used if you are a danger to yourself and others, and not for silly things.
Another member of the panel even claimed a pupil had been taken out of lessons for “eating some Rolos”‘, and that they were given “rubbish work to do”.
Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) is Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families. He said: “It’s reassuring to hear some of what the children are saying matches up [with our research].
“Schools should maintain the right to have a disciplinary process, but there are concerns about how it is utilised.
“The children who got involved here are the more well-behaved children. Which children are being punished the most – it’s often children with SEND, or from areas of deprivation.
“If you are from a stable home, your chance of forgetting a planner decreases. For someone from a chaotic home, forgetting a planner is a small part of their lives that it is more likely to happen.”
Some board members expressed concern at how this could lead to schools taking on out-dated values, adding that the ability to challenge authority was important.
Coun Paul Drinkwater (Lab) said: “There’s always two sides to every story, but that wasn’t the purpose of speaking to young people. The fact schools seem to be veering to Victorian values, to remove someone from their education because of their haircut seems absolutely insane to me.
“That could be the same haircut their dad’s got. I am a man who wears earrings, I have tattoos – people judge me and think that’s not acceptable, and to me that is something that needs challenging.
“We walk about acceptance of different cultures but we seem to want to mould kids in certain ways – I think that is unacceptable.
Phil Mellen is Leeds City Council’s deputy director of children and families. He said that while it was not a statutory requirement for schools to record and publish fixed-term exclusions and detentions, such moves would be ‘good practice’ for school heads to follow.
He said: “If you are meant to be in a chemistry class at 10am, but you are then in isolation, you are not going to get the same lesson.
“Some pupils felt there was bias involved – a lot of time if pupils had a reputation, teachers were happy to punish an accused child without evidence.”
Coun Alan Lamb concluded that the board would ‘welcome’ anyone getting in touch with their own experiences of exclusions, both positive and negative.
National guidance from the Department for Education states: “Schools can adopt a policy which allows disruptive pupils to be placed in an area away from other pupils for a limited period, in what are often referred to as seclusion or isolation rooms.
“If a school uses seclusion or isolation rooms as a disciplinary penalty this should be made clear in their behaviour policy. As with all other disciplinary
penalties, schools must act reasonably in all the circumstances when using such rooms.
“Any use of isolation that prevents a child from leaving a room of their own free will should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. The school must also ensure the health and safety of pupils and any requirements in relation to safeguarding and pupil welfare.”