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Leigh Day investigates allegations of abuse of special education needs pupils at Whitefield School

Leigh Day’s abuse team is investigating a number of claims under the Human Rights Act for alleged abuse suffered by pupils of Whitefield School in Walthamstow, North London, including the alleged unnecessary use of seclusion rooms against children with additional needs.

Posted on 09 May 2024

The school educates children aged three to 19 with a broad range of Special Education Needs (SEN). Its website writes of its ‘international reputation in special education expertise’.  It has academy status and is run by Flourish Learning Trust. 

Solicitor Catriona Rubens has been contacted by a number of families whose loved ones attended Whitefield School and is investigating legal action for the alleged misuse of restrictive practices including seclusion and restraint. One of the core allegations is that children were repeatedly locked in a “calming room” on school premises as a means to control their behaviour, without their parents’ knowledge.  

Affected parents say that when they were told about the calming room, they imagined it to be a sensory room; a safe space to allow their child to re-regulate.  

Instead, they found the rooms were small (3m x 3m) with padded floors and walls. Parents say they discovered their child was locked in from the outside, behind a heavy door with a small wicket, similar to a police cell with no access to water or toilet facilities. Allegations include children being locked in the room alone for up to four hours, and being forced to urinate over themselves after they were denied access to a bathroom.  

Catriona Rubens represents David Gloria who is autistic and has ADHD and OCD. His family say he was subject to extensive use of the calming room (s). David’s father Ricardo Gloria is a Metropolitan Police officer who, after viewing the calming room on CCTV described it as ‘even worse than a cell’. Ricardo recently spoke to the BBC about his son David’s experiences.  

In 2021, a Metropolitan Police and local authority investigation was launched into “organised abuse” after CCTV came to light which showed apparent assault and neglect of vulnerable children at Whitefield School.  

Six staff members were proven to have abused 39 children at the school. None of these teachers were fired, and at least one referral to the DBS was recommended but not made. 

In January 2017, OFSTED rated Whitefield School ‘inadequate’ on the basis that: 

Safeguarding is not effective because leaders and governors are unable to demonstrate that the use of secure rooms is appropriate, effective or proportionate to the needs of the pupils being placed in them. 

A small number of pupils are repeatedly placed in a secure room with a locked door when staff are unable to manage their behaviour by other means. 

OFSTED rated the effectiveness of the school’s leadership and management ‘inadequate’ finding that: 

There is little evidence to demonstrate that the rooms are having a positive effect on the behaviour of pupils. 

Leaders were unable to show how parents and other professionals were made aware that pupils had been placed in a secure room. 

Catriona Rubens is investigating claims for damages and human rights breaches on behalf for the misuse of restrictive practices against former pupils: 

  • Article 3 – the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment
  • Article 5 – the right not to be unlawfully deprived of your liberty
  • Article 8 – the right to a private and family life, and to physical and psychological integrity.  

She is also investigating claims of breach of duty of care and trespass to the person - for assault and false imprisonment. 

She is keen to speak to anyone else who has information.  

Catriona Rubens said: 

“The alleged use of “calming rooms” at Whitefield School raises very serious concerns about the school’s compliance with its human rights obligations towards vulnerable children who were already in a state of anxiety or distress. 

“It is almost a year since the Department for Education’s consultation on the use of reasonable force and restrictive practices in schools, and no progress has been made by government to reform to protect children like David.  Urgent legislative change is needed now to stop children being locked in so called “calming” or seclusion rooms.” 

Anyone who would like to share information about Whitefield School, or who seeks legal advice for their child, can contact Catriona via email crubens@leighday.co.uk or on 020 7650 1201, or paralegal Stella Bennett at sbennett@leighday.co.uk or on 020 7650 1327. 

Cat Rubens
Abuse claims Human rights

Catriona Rubens

Catriona Rubens is a senior associate solicitor in the abuse team.

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