Outwood Grange Academies Trust faces legal challenge over isolation booths

A high-profile academy trust faces a legal challenge over claims a pupil at one of its schools spent almost a third of his time in isolation rooms last year.

Lawyers acting for the pupil’s family have applied for a judicial review against Outwood Grange Academies Trust over its use of “consequences rooms”. The mother of the 14-year-old described the impact the use of the rooms had on her son as “devastating” .

The challenge is over the legality of using the rooms over long periods, and the fact that pupils receive no teaching while they are inside. Lawyers also claim there is a lack of central government monitoring of the issue.

The law firm Simpson Millar, which made the application in the High Court at the end of November, has said information provided by the trust shows pupils sent to the isolation rooms spent an average number of 15 days in there over the school year.

However a spokesperson for OGAT said the figure did not refer to the number of full days spent in isolation, but to the number of “C5s” issued to a pupil, which is a code for being sent to a consequences room. It did not necessarily amount to a day.

They added the trust, which runs 31 schools across the north, “follows government guidance” and its practices are part of a “supportive and inclusive behaviour strategy”.

It follows an investigation by Schools Week into isolation rooms in October which revealed two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, and examined the lack of clarity in government guidance about best practice.

In September, the trust’s behaviour policy said pupils could be sent to the consequences rooms for up to six hours a day without teaching, and were not allowed to “tap, chew, swing on their chairs, shout out, sigh, or any other unacceptable or disruptive behaviour”.

They could be escorted to lunch but had to remain silent and could visit the toilet three times for no more than five minutes.

An OGAT spokesperson added that pupils need to have ignored four warnings and failed two detentions to get a half-day in an isolation room. Pupils are also never left alone and are supervised by trained staff at all times.

Large numbers of children are experiencing a blighted education as a result of the practice

Dan Rosenberg, a partner at Simpson Millar, said he was concerned large numbers of pupils at the trust are experiencing a “blighted education” as a result of the isolation rooms.

The firm’s application lays out the five grounds for action against the trust. Firstly, it alleges that the trust’s isolation rooms policy does not have “procedural or substantive safeguards” to ensure it meets a legal requirement that all disciplinary penalties be reasonable in all circumstances.

Secondly, it claims that the school has unlawfully failed in its duty to provide the pupil with a full-time education.

The third challenge is that the behaviour policy has failed to promote the pupil’s welfare and/or was “irrational”. The fourth challenge is that the trust failed to have regard to the Equality Act, amid claims that pupils with special educational needs or poor mental health are being placed in isolation.

The final challenge is that the trust has failed to comply with article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provides the right to respect for a person’s private and family life, their home and correspondence.

Last week Schools Week revealed that of the 10 local authorities with the highest suspension rates in the country, OGAT schools accounted for the highest proportion of suspensions in at least four of them (two local authorities did not provide full figures and two others have no OGAT schools).

A DfE spokesperson said: “It is for to schools to decide what forms of behavioural policy they adopt, as long as they are lawful and used reasonably. If a school chooses to use isolation rooms, pupils’ time in isolation should be no longer than necessary and the time used constructively.”

The trust has until the end of this month to respond to the challenge. If it disputes the claims, the High Court will then rule on whether the case can proceed.