Lose the Booths

Whatever your views on isolation, behaviour management and the way schools systems work. I’d urge you to reflect on the use of isolation booths.

Let start, picture a small, round, compliant brown boy. He is PP, FSM, EAL but is full of charisma and wit albeit a bowl hair cut, a ragged blazer and shoes that are too small for his feet betray his world outside of school.

I spent the keynote in quiet anticipation. This campaign and this conference started with a conversation over coffee in Edgeware, where Paul and I talked through the injustices around isolation booths and the consequent impacts on young people. Here we talked through the topics around bias, mental health, safeguarding, utilitarianism, the educational landscape as well the quality of cake at the museum coffee shop.

Paul kicks off introductions and goes on talk about extending your hand to all pupils, accenting the importance with those who are disengaged. In the knowledge that these pupils may reject it every single time but putting your hand there anyway. That act of knowing that someone was there, just knowing that someone tried was necessary for that boy.

A video of Jaz Ampaw Farr plays where she is visibly shaken when she talks through the impact of isolation. I’d seen this video before this showing; I feel no shame in admitting that I have cried every single time I’ve seen Jaz talk through her youth while struggling to hold the emotions in check. That brown boy is now an adult and thinking about the long-lasting impact of the experiences we have as children.

After having experienced isolation at school, let me talk from a personal position. Superficially that charismatic boy complied when in isolation, he served his various punitive sanctions and world was now a better place.

The real question here is what actually happened to that boy while he compliantly sat in silence? He lay his head against the wall or the desk. He got caught in an intrusive loop. The continual thought that the one place he thought that was a haven, a place that provided solace because someone cared. People had him no matter what had happened, didn’t care enough to talk through his turmoil. 

This time serve only to lock him in his head.

No one actually cares about me.

That’s okay, that because I’m not a good person.

I’m just not good enough. 

I deserve this.


No matter how people spin the reasons behind the conference. The aims were and continue to be:

  1. The removal of isolation booths in all schools
  2. The regulation and reporting of all children isolated for more than half a day
  3. Funding to support schools in shifting from Isolation booths to better practice

Yes, this matters. During every campaign, I plunge myself into a point of despair, is this going to make a difference? Are we all just wasting our time? This partly self-sabotage and self-protection because if I’m not good enough, the situation won’t bite as severely when the inevitable chaos ensues. All of this is ingrained. Sometimes consequences of what we do in schools as leaders and practitioners do not just lead to compliance but something more profound and longer-lasting.

The other keynotes came from Chris Dyson, who never fails to blow me away with his base of love for the children he serves. Steven Baker also talked about the neuroscience around isolation, I will not divulge any more as I know he has a book out in October 2020.

I delivered a session on bias, booth, and the issues around the subjectivity of sanctions, yes, of course, it was well-received (I’ll share that on another day). As I left my session, I thought about the impact of the day and the campaign so far; I was emotionally exhausted, and those doubts are starting to filter through. 

I have to shout out Mark Finnish here compere extraordinaire and the genius idea of the last session of the day being circular reflections.

I sat in a group and the reflection included,

I think we all just need to try a little harder.

I came as an advocate of booths – I’ve really have to think again.

We were on the way to a boothless school this has sealed it.

All activism must carry a grassroots element, and this final reflection told me that we are doing something right.

What is next you ask? Head over to www.banthebooths.co.uk to find out.

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