Students at London special school 'tortured' in so-called calming rooms, investigation finds

Pupils at a London special school were locked in “calming rooms”, beaten and left in their own urine, an investigation has found.

Staff were filmed hitting and kicking pupils at Whitefield School in Walthamstow, which is one of the UK’s largest special schools with about 370 pupils.

But some staff are still employed there and have not been barred from working with children, according to an investigation by the BBC.

A whistleblower said: “You’ve ended up with staff with no sanctions against them, no learning or awareness, no serious case review to look at what went wrong.”

Whitefield School said it acted in pupils' best interests and was not obliged to make barring referrals.

A police and local authority investigation into abuse at the school was launched after CCTV was discovered of pupils being physically assaulted and neglected in the rooms between 2014 and 2017. Therooms were bare and without natural light – one was a former stationary cupboard.

The BBC has now obtained confidential school investigations written by an HR consultant it employed to review the footage and staff conduct.

These reveal that 39 pupils – many who were not able to speak – were abused and neglected.

Six staff were proven to have abused children on the balance of probabilities but were not sacked - and at least one referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) was recommended but not made.

The BBC has also found that pupils were left alone in the rooms for up to four hours, with footage showing them naked, sitting in urine and eating crumbs off the floor. They were kicked and hit with force butno prosecutions were made.

One of those put in the rooms was David Gloria, now 20, who has diagnoses of autism, ADHD and OCD. He began coming home distressed after being put in the rooms.

His father Ricardo, a police officer, said he was wrongly told that staff always remained with pupils in the rooms. He said the room was worse than a prison cell.

Speaking about footage he saw of his son in the room, Ricardo said: “My son was in a panicked state and crying and self harming, begging them for water and food and they just ignored him - it's torture.”

The family of a 12 year old boy who appeared in 55 hours of CCTV footage from the room, said his time in there led to him being sectioned. Now, 22, the man’s mother said his anxiety has become so heightened he rubs his head on the floor so aggressively he has big sores from carpet burns. She said: “It's so unbelievable that you could keep a human being in a room the size of a cupboard and expect them to be OK.

"I thought he was being placed into a sensory room with beanbags and nice colourful lights.”

Another mother, Halima, said the school only told her that her non-speaking son, Abdulahi, had been placed in the rooms on two occasions, but he appears in 11 videos passed to the police.

Safeguarding expert Elizabeth Swan said the BBC's findings highlight how children have morerights in young offender institutions than in school seclusion.

Flourish Learning Trust, which runs the school, said that a new leadership team had taken over after the calming rooms had been shut, shared the footage with the police and learned from the failings.

It said some staff had resigned since its investigations were completed but three who returned have received extensive training. It said it complied with employment law and the local authority, Waltham Forest, was content with its conduct.

Separately, one staff member was sacked by the Trust. But the Trust added it was not legally obligated to make DBS referrals for the six staff members who were not sacked despite its investigation findings proving they abused pupils.