Reducing the use of seclusion in schools

James Hourihan, Author

It’s no secret that the use of seclusion in schools has come under scrutiny in recent years. According to a 2020 study jointly produced by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) and Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland (PABSS), 60.7% of 720 children with a range of developmental, educational, physical, and mental health needs experienced seclusion. 

What is seclusion? 

Seclusion can be defined as the involuntary confinement and isolation of a student in an enclosed space or room by which they are physically prevented from leaving. This is not the same thing as ‘time-out’ which involves removing a pupil from a situation, but not from the room or area of activity.

Many educators see seclusion as a form of discipline to quell challenging behaviours in class when all other inventions have failed in an emergency situation. However, the risks associated with seclusion have led to calls for widespread elimination of this controversial technique and more positive alternatives to be administered instead. 

The risks of seclusion in schools

Seclusion can lead to the re-traumatisation of children with mental health difficulties whose needs are not being appropriately met. It does not teach children how to cope with their emotions or how to resolve conflicts in a constructive way. Rather, this punitive measurement can manifest into further disruptive behaviours, impaired concentration in class, or increased absences. 

There is strong evidence to suggest these so called ‘calming rooms’ have no effect in decreasing escalated behaviour. In fact, it is more likely to exacerbate behavioural issues, causing physical and emotional injuries (self-harm, hitting, anxiety, depression) – even death in some cases. 

The overall climate of a school can also be negatively affected. When students see their classmates being led away to isolation, it can create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. This makes it more difficult for teachers to build positive relationships with their students and create an environment conducive to academic and personal growth. 

How we can reduce the use of seclusion in schools 

Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives to seclusion that can be just as effective, if not more so. We help hundreds of educational settings across the UK develop strategies based on positive behaviour approaches that enable staff to safely and effectively support their students who display challenging behaviours. 

Our positive behaviour management training for schools and education professionals includes:

  • Developing a positive school culture that emphasises respect and inclusion. This includes implementing positive reinforcement systems to give pupils tangible incentives to behave well.
  • Training staff on the principles of trauma-informed care and the role of communication to gain a deeper understanding of why people challenge. 
  • Using de-escalation techniques to diffuse situations before they escalate into something more serious such as verbal redirections or providing choices. 
  • Creating individualised behaviour support plans for students who are at risk of engaging in disruptive or harmful behaviour to positively impact their own actions.

To summarise, by creating a positive classroom environment, being proactive in addressing challenging behaviour, and de-escalating situations before they get out of hand, we can all play a role in reducing the need for seclusion in our schools.

Book a course, or call 0800 987 4075 for more information.

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