Published: 00:01, 17 November 2014
Two mothers of former pupils at a Medway school which has been investigated over alleged child abuse for apparently locking children in a cupboard claim their children were locked inside it with a key.
The pair, who also used to be parent volunteers at the Brompton Westbrook Primary School, where they say they did their teaching assistant training, say the way their children were treated has had a lasting effect on them, so much so, one, aged just 11, is on now antidepressants.
Trustees at the academy in Kings Bastion have appointed an independent investigator to look into claims that up to eight children have been locked in a room.
A previous inquiry by Medway Council concluded that four staff had “cases to answer” for gross misconduct. No one has been suspended as a result of the allegations.
“She does not trust adults now, especially teachers and I was never told she was put in this room and locked in it as a punishment" - Mrs Wilkins
This week, Patricia Wilkins and Alison Lovett, both 37, said their children used to fight “tooth and nail” not to be taken to school when they were pupils there as they were so frightened to go into class.
Mrs Wilkins, from Gillingham, said her daughter was a star pupil until she reached Year 3 and then things started to go wrong and she noticed a change in her.
She said: “She was about eight when it first started, she was too frightened to talk to me about anything that had happened at school.
“She went from being a normal child to one who hid away from people.
“She does not trust adults now, especially teachers and I was never told she was put in this room and locked in it as a punishment and I think whatever was said to her afterwards, frightened her so much she wouldn‘t tell me.
“We were assured the ‘My Space’ room was only ever used as a last resort, but ...[it] was not the room the children say they were locked in.
“The room has another little room on it, about a mattress-sized room with just a skylight and no windows, and [she] has told me she was even picked up at one point and put in there and the door was locked.
“Myself and her dad were never told about her being put in that room and putting her in there has left a lasting effect.”
Mrs Wilkins took her daughter out of the school in July 2013 and she is now doing well at another school in Gillingham, but still has “flashbacks and gets upset”.
“We’ve had no such problems at her new school and she actually wants to go into class now and the school doesn’t have an isolation room,” she added.
Ms Lovett, from Chatham, said two of her children were also locked in the room, sometimes for long periods.
Her sons, now 12 and nine, have told her they were both locked in the cupboard-sized room.
She said her young son had told her he was locked in the room for days at a time.
“I was never told he was put in the cupboard and it was locked with a key, I just didn’t know about it.
“The room these parents refer to is not a cupboard, and has never been a cupboard. It is a room with windows and is one of several areas in the school where children can be isolated if needed" - School spokesman
“I was never told my children were put in there,” she added.
“When I was doing my teacher assistant training I heard children banging on the door to be let out, but my concerns about this were just brushed off.”
Her elder son, she admits, does have behavioural problems due to attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and being locked up made his problems worse.
“I think he will be affected by this for the rest of his life,” she added.
“Two of my four children have special needs and I fully support exclusion rooms as this can help them, but I do not support my children and others being locked away in a small place as this would just make them far more angry.
“Children like these need understanding and support.”
The mothers say they will continue to campaign for the truth over the allegations as they are still waiting for answers, but want to see any teachers found responsible sacked to protect other children.
Both mums also say their children’s paperwork from their time there has not been sent to their new schools by staff at Brompton Westbrook.
A spokesperson for the Trustees said: “Brompton Westbrook has a very robust procedure for passing on paperwork to other schools when children move.
All the usual paperwork was transferred promptly when these children moved and in addition our family liaison officer met face to face with staff from the school the children transferred to.
“We have also had ongoing correspondence with the school.
“The parents have recently asked us for additional records on their children which we are currently processing and we will send a copy to their new school as well.
“We would like to reiterate that the use of an isolation room is common practice in schools and is used in line with Department for Education guidance.
“Staff at Brompton Westbrook have a great deal of experience of supporting children with challenging behaviour and, as is the case in other schools across Medway and nationwide, we are able to use isolation when necessary to protect other children, staff, and to help the child to calm down.
“We can assure parents isolation is only used in exceptional circumstances and after other techniques have been used to deal with the situation.
“Parents are informed if we use isolation for their child and we work closely with parents to address behavioural and special needs challenges.
“The room these parents refer to is not a cupboard, and has never been a cupboard. It is a room with windows and is one of several areas in the school where children can be isolated if needed.
“The time children spend in isolation relates to the reason they are there. In some cases it will be just minutes for a child to calm down, others may need longer.
Some children may prefer to stay in isolation as they view it as a safe space away from distractions and so they might use the room for longer. When used for internal exclusion, isolation can be used for a number of days in a row.
“An independent investigation is ongoing into an allegation made about the use of isolation and we are keen that this is completed as soon as possible. Once complete, we will determine what course of action is needed.
"In the meantime, we can assure parents that the safety and wellbeing of their children is paramount to how we operate as a school.
“While the investigation is still taking place it is inappropriate for us to comment on the contents of the Medway Council report, however we can confirm that no members of staff have been suspended at this point which is in line with a decision taken when the school was still in local authority control.
“We have been judged by Ofsted to be a good school with outstanding leadership and management and have been one of the most over-subscribed schools for a number of years and are expanding due to our excellent reputation.”
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