A former Ipswich headteacher accused of professional misconduct after installing locks on doors to "calming rooms" for pupils with learning difficulties has defended the rooms.

A teacher misconduct hearing resumed this week after concerns were previously raised about Odran Doran and Simon Black's leadership at The Bridge School in Ipswich. 

In 2017, safeguarding concerns related to the use of a classroom locking system were raised by Ofsted officers towards the pair after the school’s “good” rating slid to “inadequate” amid further staff suspensions.   

The Bridge School, which caters for around 150 pupils with learning difficulties, had a number of calming rooms that, at the time of inspection, were provided with door locks. 

At the hearing on February 26, Mr Doran spoke about some of the behaviour exhibited by students and added the vast majority were non-verbal and many severely autistic.

Ipswich Star: Odran Doran, who was headteacher at The Bridge School for around 20 years, has been suspended since October 2017Odran Doran, who was headteacher at The Bridge School for around 20 years, has been suspended since October 2017 (Image: Gregg Brown)

Speaking at the hearing he said: “Their senses can be overloaded. The buzzing in the lights and ceiling, the heat and things we’re touching – for some of our children all those things can combine together and just create an overwhelming negative feeling that could lead to a meltdown.

“The child then can become very very aggressive. Very physical in terms of attacking people - kicking hitting biting pulling hair ripping clothes throwing things.”

On one occasion one of the pupils ripped a piece of cladding off a shed in the playground and was chasing after people with it he said.

He added: “I have seen pupils headbutt double glazing until it shatters and place themselves at great risk.

“I have been beaten, bloodied, punched and had my shirt ripped off my back.

"The young person is not doing it to hurt me they’re doing it because they are having a meltdown, and they have no way of expressing it.”

He spoke of another pupil who would block out their overloads by headbutting any hard surface and on one occasion he became distressed and headbutted glass cabinets until they smashed.

Mr Doran also spoke about de-escalation techniques during these incidents.

The school used something called a ‘wobble cushion’ which meant the child had to work to keep themselves steady in a chair so they could avoid thinking too much about having a sensory overload.

There were also spaces for children to bounce up and down inside to help block out sensory issues.

Mr Doran responded to concerns about seclusion in the calming rooms.

He said: “It was not for seclusion or isolation. The child would be placed in the room which was designed to keep them safe and keep others safe. Whenever a child was in the room they were being constantly monitored and observed by a member of staff outside the room

“Doors weren’t always closed. They would go into the room pull the blanket over their heads and just lay there or sat there for five or 10 minutes while they regained their composure.”

He spoke in reference to one student called Pupil L in the hearing who had 127 behaviour incidents in the year and said that Pupil L found the calming room to be a comforting refuge.

The hearing continues.