Isolation rooms are calm, orderly environments with a clear routine. And behaviour is better in schools that have them, says Steve Garnett

The older I get the more irked I become by the nonsense on social media, especially from EduTwitter types who should know better. Some people seem to have lived their career in a bubble, either protected from the realities of a typical state school or having superhuman powers – such as those who proclaim they have never had, not once, a behaviour problem in their class. Most teachers see through this façade; they know the realities and they understand the pressures of classroom teaching, each and every day.

So when the argument that isolation rooms were akin to solitary confinement reared its silly head again, I decided to have a rant on Twitter. Once more, those who wished to ban isolation rooms, booths or no booths, were likening them to draconian dumping grounds, where vulnerable children, like in those images of Albanian orphanages we recall on our TV screens, were left unsupervised, unfed, unwanted. Prevented from using the toilet, children were spending their days in filth and squalor, the dregs of the school community put there by brutal, uncaring neocons, forced to stare at a wall and punished at every tiny facial movement.

No one pretends that solitary confinement is a pleasant experience. I have worked in a young offenders’ institution and solitary confinement is not pleasant: the cells are sparse, young people are locked up, the wing is bare and the exercise yard small. But there are also books – yes, you read that right, books – and there are wonderfully caring and compassionate adults who desperately want their charges to return to the general population.

Of course, it should not be a pleasant experience. Those in solitary confinement have erred within the prison. Some of the prisoners have committed the worst of crimes and yet the state and society expects them to be treated with respect and humanity, and huge efforts are made at their rehabilitation. If you have not been into a young offenders’ institution, you would be amazed at how much intervention these children are receiving from a huge variety of experts and professionals. The question is, will they take their chance?

Behaviour is better in schools that have them

And this is exactly where the similarity to isolation rooms lies; not in the Dickensian satire that some believe isolation rooms to be, but in the genuine, truthful portrayal of what they actually are. Isolation rooms are parts of a school where children are placed short-term because their behaviour is compromising safety or disrupting learning. They are calm, orderly environments with a clear routine. Children are given work and their education continues under the supervision of teachers. Booths can facilitate this, just like in academic libraries.

As a classroom teacher, I want them. I have worked in schools with and without them. Behaviour was always better in the former. Rightly, there is an element of punishment in being placed there and for most children this is enough to ensure they never see the room, let alone sit in it. For those that do, it is an opportunity to reflect on their behaviour, to seek an understanding of what went wrong and learn for next time. This is key, for isolation rooms are preventive and a pressure valve. They are there to protect learning and to unlock the child’s potential.

Clearly, there have been a few instances of malpractice. We should condemn placing students in them for long periods. They are also not appropriate for all SEND children.

Official guidelines may be needed, but instances of malpractice should not be used as an excuse to ban them. Get isolation rooms right and they are a superb tool in ensuring the safety and learning of all students and like solitary confinement, are designed ultimately, for the benefit of all.