Having taught and mentored in a tough south London primary school for most of my working life, I feel qualified to comment on the use of isolation as a means of dealing with disruptive pupils (Alarm as more schools use ‘degrading’ isolation booths, 18 January; Letters, 20 January).
Over the years, staff tried various methods to control these “difficult” children, one of which was to have them sent to my classroom, where they became calm and behaved appropriately. They were isolated from their peers but remained within the school society. Why did their temperament change? Because they felt secure. They knew they were valued and would be cared for; feelings that foster respect.
Troublesome children respond well within a caring environment. Mutual hostility, on the other hand, becomes an unbreakable cycle once established. At this point, professional help is needed for the benefit of both the pupil and members of staff. Unfortunately, in many schools, due mainly to external pressures, an emphasis is placed on academic performance at the expense of sorely needed pastoral care.
This leads us to an elementary but vital question: what should a school’s priority be? To teach an imposed curriculum, or to care for a set of individuals, each of whom brings a parcel of problems into the classroom on a daily basis? Ideally it’s both. But, for sure, isolating children should have no place in any establishment that professes to prepare them to take a meaningful place in society. Isolation simply propagates long-term social rejection. Perhaps some headteachers need to be reminded that they have a duty of care that effectively necessitates pupil inclusion, rather than exclusion, from the social experience we call education.
• I am appalled to read about disruptive children being placed in isolation booths. I completely sympathise with overworked teachers and I know just how disruptive some children can be, but what these children need is the opposite of isolation; they need one-to-one attention. It is worth noting that many retired people go into schools on a regular basis to help children with reading. Perhaps schools could be encouraged to recruit adults to give a disruptive child undivided attention on a regular basis. Much kinder and more likely to impact positively than simply isolating them.
Retired psychotherapist, Oxford
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