The claims are the latest in a series of allegations concerning special and mainstream schools which have used spaces known as quiet rooms, calm rooms, safe rooms or chill-out rooms to punish disabled children – particularly those with autism – and keep them separated from their classmates when teachers are unable to cope with their behaviour.
Disability News Service (DNS) has now reported on five schools where similar allegations have been made, but so far the Department for Education (DfE) has refused to order an investigation into the use of such facilities across England.
The latest claims concern a mainstream primary school which has a unit for children with autism attached to it.
The mother of one pupil contacted DNS after reading the reports of allegations concerning safe rooms at four special schools.
She described how her eight-year-old son, who has only recently learned to speak, told her how he had been locked in one of the unit’s “quiet rooms”.
She said he could only tell her that it had happened when he was “little” – he started attending the school when he was four – but that other children were still being locked in the rooms, which are kept empty apart from a single beanbag.
She said: “The school tell parents that children can go into the room and ‘chill’ and can come and go. But he tells me he was locked into it when he did something wrong. He says they are still doing it now.”
She told DNS: “I feel very, very angry about it. I think it has had long-term effects on him.
“When he was pre-school he would happily sit in his playroom and line up all his toys and just sit in there by himself.
“Since he started school, he always has to have a person with him and has to have them talking to him, so he knows they are there, and he never wants to be left alone.
“I really think it is to do with him being left alone in this ‘quiet room’. It has traumatised him.”
When she spoke to a teacher about what her son had said, she was told it wouldn’t happen to him again.
She has also spoken to three other mothers whose children have been locked in one of the unit’s three quiet rooms, one of whom was in there for so long that he began to remove the ceiling tiles, apparently in a bid to escape.
She has now removed her son from the school and is home-schooling him, and has complained to the local council, which is investigating her allegations. She has also asked the education watchdog Ofsted to investigate.
The head teacher of the school told DNS in a statement: “In all our recent inspections, our provision for children with autism has consistently been rated as outstanding.
“Our purpose-built autistic spectrum disorder provision includes three classrooms, each with a quiet room, which are in line with nationally-accepted good practice.
“It would be inappropriate for me to talk about specific pupils through the media. However, I can say that we pride ourselves on being supportive to all our pupils and providing a nurturing and caring school environment.”
A council spokesman added: “We have recently received a complaint which will be looked at in line with our safeguarding procedures and protocols.”
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We encourage anyone who would like to make a complaint about a school to do so via our website: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/schools/for-parents-and-carers/how-complain.
“On receiving a written complaint, our team can review concerns raised and if necessary invoke the powers we have to conduct an emergency inspection.”
DfE has failed to comment on the latest claims, and has so far refused to order an investigation into the use of locked rooms to detain and punish disabled children, despite the string of recent allegations.
But a DfE spokesman said previously: “Schools may use separate rooms to help calm pupils down, but our guidance states this should only ever happen when it is in the best interests of the child.”
He also pointed to Ofsted guidance, which “makes clear that locking a person in a room should only ever be used in exceptional circumstances, for example, while a member of staff is seeking assistance”.
11 September 2014