Teacher who put children in solitary confinement keeps job

A primary school teacher who locked naughty children in solitary confinement has kept her job after a panel ruled she was not ‘malicious’.

Alison Earl, former head of Tollgate Primary School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, ordered staff to put pupils in empty rooms and hold the door if they had been ‘aggressive’ in class.

Students were also physically restrained by teachers and left in the rooms for periods of time unattended to.

Alison Earl, former head of Tollgate Primary School (pictured) in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, ordered staff to lock naughty children in solitary confinement

But Mrs Earl was not banned from the classroom by a disciplinary panel because her decision was ruled to be only ‘misguided’.

Pupils were put into the ‘Empty Room’ and a second room called ‘Blue Room’ for varying amounts of time, a National College of Teaching and Leadership hearing was told.

Some staff stood outside the room holding the door handle to keep the children in, with the handle later raised out of the reach of youngsters.

The panel heard that the ‘effect of this was that anyone who found themselves in the Blue Room after the door had been shut was unable to leave’.

On one occasion a member of staff became trapped in the Blue Room so Mrs Earl fitted a buzzer next to the door at a height only adults could reach.

The hearing in Coventry was told the law only permits children to be deprived of their liberty in specific and exceptional circumstances.

Mrs Earl introduced a Behaviour Consequences Ladder in October 2014 which required staff to use the Empty Room ‘as a response to violent or aggressive behaviour’.

Mrs Earl and a witness said they preferred to use the room as an alternative to excluding pupils from the school and using restraint.   

The hearing concluded that Mrs Earl was ‘honest about what had happened, admitted the majority of the allegations, and demonstrated considerable insight into her failings’.

The panel was told she is ‘conscientious, child focused, an effective leader, and was very successful in her previous roles’. 

Mrs Earl was said to be trying to improve a failing school in a challenging environment – and that attainment rose quickly under her leadership there.

The panel ruled that a published finding of unacceptable professional conduct and one that may bring the profession into disrepute met the public interest in this case.


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