Isolation Booths

January 2, 2020

I won’t name names, as people shouldn’t be pointed out for being misled, but a few days ago somebody I follow on Twitter who isn’t a teacher tweeted the following:

I had never heard of or seen an ‘isolation booth’ until they cropped up this year on Twitter. What the hell is going on in our schools that this is some kind of normal practice?

Like most people, I also hadn’t heard of isolation booths before the “Ban the Booths” campaign began in late 2018. I had repeatedly worked in schools that used “internal exclusion”, i.e. where students may be removed from their scheduled lessons to work in silence under adult supervisions. Some even referred to this as “isolation”. I think some even have had dividers between desks, like in this picture here, although perhaps not ones that go all the way to the ceiling or stick out so far. But none had ever referred to “isolation booths”.

I looked at the debate that happened at the time, and saw that it was a familiar selection of people who tend to be against punishing the badly behaved, calling for:

The regulation and reporting of all children isolated for more than half a day.

This policy was explicit in the letter template they encouraged people to send to MPs and in much of what I read. However, the rhetoric and propaganda did refer repeatedly to “booths” and there were claims, such as “In a recent FOI by the BBC of 600 schools a third had isolation booths” which indicated that no clear distinction was being made between internal exclusion rooms in general and “booths”.

There are obvious problems here. The practice that the campaigners are pushing to obstruct is internal exclusion which is common. The practice they claim to object to is “isolation booths” which is not something most of us have ever heard of before they started to campaign against it and is not clearly defined in most discussions. These should be two entirely separate issues but by mixing them up, people who have a long history of campaigning against discipline can push their agenda without making it explicit.

So what is an “isolation booth”? As far as I can tell it refers to a wide variety of structures designed to insulate against noise. So, for instance, Advanced Acoustics, advertises temporary soundproof booths, known as “isolation booths” among other soundproofing products and mentions studios, cinemas and listening rooms as potential uses, but also offers “office acoustic treatments” and mentions classrooms and sports halls in this context. Office furniture companies also offer isolation booths, for instance, for call centres:

This particular company offers products for schools. One type of booth (with lower dividers between desks) is sold as a “school isolation booth” although it would appear an identical product is sold as an “office isolation booth”. There is no suggestion that isolation booths for schools are for internal exclusion rooms (even though in some schools these rooms are called “isolation”) as opposed to say, school libraries or sixth form study areas. An isolation booth is just furniture, not in itself a punishment.

What we appear to have is people who object to punishing kids trying to demonise the use of internal exclusion, by calling it “booths” implying that internal exclusion facilities are extremely confined and austere and certain media outlets going along with this for the sake of a story. The graphics used in reporting about “booths” can be remarkably dishonest. For instance, the first image above appears in this cropped form on the Independent website:

Even the image used above to advertise call centre booths is used by the BBC to illustrate a story about internal exclusion.

Does it matter if people who are proposing to regulate internal exclusion keep talking about “booths”? It does if people in policy-making positions join in. We have seen MPs and the Children’s Commissioner back campaigns against “booths”. We need an end to talk of “booths”. Either school leaders have the right to internally exclude or they don’t. If you aren’t backing that right, any attempt to make the issue about the furniture, is just misleading.


  1. As an easily distracted child (now adult!) I loved using these isolation booths – the wooden ones pictured in the blog exist in one of the top floors of Glasgow Uni and where I sought out to study to avoid any sort of distraction.

    I can’t understand why these have been framed as something not dissimilar to the Chokey from Matilda.

    As a class teacher I recently used a similar idea to help children focus and get some essential individual literacy / maths work completed. The class understood that, in the same way that the headteacher had her own private room to do really important work, they too could have their own private space when they new they might struggle to concentrate sitting next to someone else and had something really important to do.

  2. Perhaps if we did not insist on the “one size fits all” learning environment and took a little time to explore how our environment impacts our behaviour and ability to learn then we would not end up with children in isolation.

  3. Read an article in the Guardian, Monday 13/01/2020, or Tuesday 14/01/2020 about how terrible isolation booths are better yet the hysterical comments saying how awful they are. It will make you weep the sheer ignorance of the writers.

  4. Everything in moderation – there is a time and place for these.

  5. […] Isolation Booths […]

  6. […] Isolation Booths […]

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