What you said
Sanctions should be things children dislike and want to avoid. Go with it. Many outstanding, good, satisfactory and blinkin' useless schools use "time out" or "thinking" chairs.
The expert view
It is fashionable to root all strategy in research evidence - and you are looking for evidence because you have a gut feeling that there is something wrong. Be careful that you are not merely trying to reinforce your existing belief. The best evidence a teacher can rely on is: does it work?
Also, this is less a question of evidence, more one of values. The question is, "Is it right to use chairs for time out?", not "What does the research say?" It would be hard to find a study that focused this closely on an individual strategy, and what would you do with this evidence? Might there be other evidence to the contrary?
Educational science is often far from scientific and can suffer from aping the natural sciences. The best questions are: "Does it work?" and "Is it moral?"
Time outs are a well-worn strategy in many schools. What they are useful for is to give kids time to reflect. Whatever you do to promote this might engender shame, but encourages them to realise that there is an isolating consequence. So, yes, it can work, in moderation.
Is it moral? It is hardly abuse. If they do not want to sit on the red chair, there is a way to avoid it: don't monkey around. Asking a child to go from one chair to another chair is a light-touch sanction. I would have no qualms about using it. Any behaviour strategy that helps children to learn and socialise is positive.
Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum. http:behaviourguru.blogspot.com Post your questions at www.tes.co.ukbehaviour.