Campaigners say the Department for Education's guidance to schools on the use of isolation needs amending to make it clearer.
Organisers of the Lose the Booths event at Carr Manor Community School in Leeds today are also calling for the removal of isolation booths in all schools and the reporting of all incidents of children being isolated for more than half a day.
But they have highlighted a lack of clarity in the DfE guidance, which states that it is for individual schools to decide how long a pupil should be kept in isolation, and for the staff member in charge to determine what pupils may and may not do during the time they are there.
The campaign event was attended by the national media , including Tes, and was filmed for the BBC's The One Show.
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The One Show was filming for a feature set to be fronted by BBC presenter Mehreen Baig, who is a former North London English teacher.
Among those interviewed for the show was Leeds primary headteacher Chris Dyson, who said: “We're here to get a debate going. The purpose is not to name and shame." (see video clip below)
Event co-organiser and Cheshire primary headteacher Simon Kidwell said: “There is evidence of routine use of isolation for long periods, often in booths, for the most trivial misdemeanours.
Fears over isolation in schools
“A parent reported only yesterday that for forgetting their planner the child was given three days in isolation. Even though the parent came within an hour and brought the forgotten planner from home.
“Many parents and young people have approached our team and various media outlets with examples of excessive and punitive isolation – the story isn’t going away. One example is one too many, and demonstrates that the government guidance isn’t working.”
Keynote speaker and Labour MP Alex Sobel said he knew of Year 11 pupils in his north-west Leeds constituency being threatened with isolation if they went on the recent climate change protests.
He added: "The government should restore school budgets so we can get more specialist support in the classroom."
Mental health concerns
Event co-organiser and author Paul Dix (pictured below), also in a keynote speech, said isolation booths “don’t make any sense” and that there was “some really strong evidence” that they affect pupils' mental health.
He said: “We don’t know how many schools have booths. We’ve not been allowed to find that out.” But he urged school governors to report any form of isolation of more than half a day “so we can build up a national picture”.
DfE behaviour tsar Tom Bennett said: "Removal from lessons is sometimes essential if students are disruptive or violent – that means they must be taken somewhere.
"Removal rooms are supervised spaces where students are expected to work quietly for short periods.
"Once we accept that, the debate about what furniture should be in the room is less important than what the students do. Booths, desks, are all just tools for teachers to use to maintain calm, safe spaces. I applaud the ambitions of this event to help children, but by focusing on this aspect, they risk making it harder for teachers to do so."
A DfE spokesperson said: "Schools must be safe and calm environments with effective behaviour management policies and approaches that meet the needs of all pupils.
"Schools may choose to use in-school units, whether it be to provide additional support to vulnerable pupils, or as a sanction to remove pupils with challenging behaviour from the classroom.
"Our guidance is clear, however, that use of isolation must comply with pupil safeguarding and welfare requirements. Pupils are not to be kept in isolation longer than necessary and their time spent there must be as constructive as possible."