Let’s talk about Booths, baby

Let’s talk about you and me

Let’s talk about all the good things

And the bad things that may be…

On twitter this week we have been mostly arguing about isolation booths. It’s a very hot topic on the twitter-sphere. I’m sure if I named this blog – Why Booths Are Evil – proof from the Bible… I’d hit a million hits and there’d be a Change Petition about my ability to lead a school effectively. All of this would hinder my promotion to the DFE as Booth Tsar. In truth, I have generally kept clear of this ‘debate’ because I have found it hostile and unpleasant. There has been some naming and shaming, digging up the past to make a point, dismissing views that are not our own by undermining people we know very little about, isolating ‘teachers’ from ‘consultants’, ‘academics ‘and ‘leaders’. In truth I think any campaign that has such an emotive title (Ban the Booths) is asking for trouble but I have been shocked (Oh you naive little fool) by the lengths some will take to argue a point across social media. I just could not imagine them doing the same in person…  That is why I think there should be more conferences balancing out views and tackling controversial subjects in education… not what we have on twitter.

This week I have been mostly getting on with my job. I recently became Chair of Governors to a PRU. I am learning SO much SO quickly. It’s exciting and I feel it has helped me in my role as head teacher in MY school, ‘Fearlessly Doing What Feels Right…’ and making no excuses for it. When you work in a PRU you are constantly working on the edge. Fear is not an option. You have to be able to walk out and be seen – sometimes in the most challenging of places. You have to understand behaviour…  You need to be able to make judgements in the most challenging of circumstances with little time for reflection – you need to know what you are doing.

I was at a Serious Case Review findings presentation this week and the one thing that was clear to me is FEAR stops us doing what we feel is right. FEAR makes us less effective. As a head teacher I know what that is and why that is. We fear repercussions for what we do. We fear being wrong, getting it wrong… We fear the public shaming. We fear the professional backlash… Sometimes I feel – why do school leaders do it? Why do they put themselves through all of this? There’s a lot to fear in education that is why I have nothing but respect for staff working in a PRU. The work is so challenging and so important. I am learning how we have a vital role in safeguarding our most vulnerable/challenging and the only way we can do that is through the professionals building trust, effective systems and having a long term vision of what they want to achieve. They have to be brave and they have to be strong.  I sometimes wonder what the longer term vision of some of our loudest (And remember now – rather influential) characters on twitter are? The battleground is vicious and it is clear now that ‘debate’ for some is not the purpose. Winning or not losing… that seems to be the vision and that is a destructive way to engage in the education debate.  There can be no winners on a massive scale like our education system. There is no outcome from a slang fuelled bloody Prog – Trad war that will be good for education in the long run. It will just create even more fragmentation, inconsistent practice and bitter recriminations. Maybe that IS what is wanted? I mean, we certainly have more political evidence that this is a tactic. I believe the only way to address big issues like ‘isolation booths’ is through careful and reasoned debate, data and research that looks at all sides and fearlessly picks the evidence to pieces. I would have preferred a #ResearchtheBooths tag… not as snappy though.

They have Booths in the PRU. I love them. They are like relaxation areas in an Airport (Which was the inspiration for them) their purpose has been carefully thought out, monitored and built within the ethos of the school. Even the dim and slightly coloured lighting has been thought through. They are not a punishment. They are a choice for self-regulation. They have a longer term role rather than a short term one.

I am not a fan of Booths or rooms to GO TO for a good reason. I once worked in a school in special measures, the behaviour was something else! I was so out of my comfort zone I almost didn’t go back the next day (Fear!). In the head teachers office there were about 16 chairs set at tables facing the outer walls. On some days they were full. My problem with having a school where pupils being sent out is an option is the most powerful levers for change in a school are empowered teachers. They build those relationships and if they have an option to just send someone out then building relationships hit a barrier… because, of course, given the option to send a disruptive child out- they will. Therefore, for me, your school behaviour system has to be about a whole school ethos of good behaviour. I have been able to create/ maintain that in every school I have worked in without isolation booths. In fact behaviour has improved in some when I took them away. My teachers have excellent relationships with sometimes very challenging pupils. They have excellent relationships with parents. They also believe… they can change behaviour.

BUT, there has to come a time when things are not working that your ‘teachers’ who are on that front line are listened to. There has to come a point where senior leaders have to act to protect their teachers. Teachers need to know that when behaviour is an issue the senior team are there 100% and will do whatever it takes. We all have Walkie Talkies in my school and – ‘is help required’ is sometimes heard across the channels – behaviour is everybody’s responsibility in a school because it is the biggest factor to an effective school. For me, Booths and Isolation rooms are about short term fixes. If regulated and monitored – that may work well in the short term. But, if the only solution a school has is to push pupils out in to a room and the same characters are there day in day out… I’d suggest that there is a bigger problem.

But, I also respect that many of you disagree… I welcome that because like my work with the PRU – I am learning all the time.

Let’s talk about BOOTHs baby, Lets talk about…