‘After Grace, Teeth: A Comparative Study of Residential Experience of Boys in Approved Schools’ by Spencer Millham, Roger Bullock and Paul Cherrett

Spencer Millham, Roger Bullock and Paul, Cherrett (1975) After Grace, Teeth: A Comparative Study of Residential Experience of Boys in Approved Schools London Human Context 0 903137 11 9

Following his successful collaboration with Royston Lambert, head of the Social Research Unit at King’s College, Cambridge, in a sociological study of boarding schools (Lambert and Millham, 1968), Spencer Millham accompanied Royston Lambert and Roger Bullock in the move to Dartington in 1968, where they were invited to undertake a similar study of approved schools whose future was very much bound up with the Labour government’s plans, set out in Children in trouble (Home Office, 1968), to reform the child care system.

Spencer Millham and Roger Bullock remained with the Dartington Hall Trust until their retirements, contributing in numerous studies to greater understanding of residential care.

Key Points

–           Apart from their offending and greater physical and mental illness in their

families, most approved school boys came from similar backgrounds to working class boys.

–           While well-provided for during the week, there was minimal staffing and activities at the weekends.

–           Alongside the traditional training schools, nautical, campus style, family group and therapeutic community schools offered widely differing approaches.

–           The schools largely used utilitarian controls and the boys preferred staff who were strict and fair.

–           There were wide variations between schools in the availability of pastoral care which was used more than in ordinary boarding schools but less for private than for family or small problems.

–           Teachers were, with exceptions, regarded as unfair and uninterested and little advantage was taken of the small teaching groups.

–           While the trade training could result in some impressive work, the techniques taught were mostly outdated.

–           There was wide variation in transfers between schools, with schools where the boys were happier having fewer transfers.

–           There was little of the underlife that characterised ordinary boarding schools.

–           A federal organisation tended to decrease deviant activities.

–           Relationships between the head and staff tended to be formal and there was little contact with the outside world.

–           Aftercare had no impact on re-convictions, which tended to be lower where the boy had a good work record, good family relationships and a favourable peer group on release.

–           Even taking these factors into account, four isolated, total and controlled but happy schools had significantly better outcomes.


In a Foreword Richard Balbernie comments on the increase in re-conviction rates of approved school boys from 25% in the 1930s to 66% in the 1960s and mentions some of his own experiences of the approved school system which differed somewhat from the findings of this study.

In Chapter 1 Introduction, the authors explain that the book is a summary of two research reports into eighteen approved schools in the south Midlands and south west of England, or about one sixth of all approved schools. They studied just over 1,100 boys in visits between February 1969 and March 1970 and followed them up between November 1971 and May 1972.

During this period the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 began to be implemented and local authority assessment centres began to send boys directly to approved schools rather than via Kingswood classifying school; also following the implementation of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 many local authorities were unable to provide post-discharge information for the study.

They used participant-observation, interviews, questionnaires and standardised tests but they were not able to use diaries as in the boarding school study because of the boys’ literacy levels.

Boys in junior schools tended to stay for the longest periods and those in senior schools for significantly shorter periods. Boys in junior schools tended to be placed closer to home but over 50% of those in intermediate and senior schools were more than 50 miles from home.

In Chapter 2 Characteristics of the sample of approved school boys, they report that, though most boys were committed for offences of larceny or breaking and entering, most had committed more than one offence and most had been on probation. The offence might not be the reason for making an approved school order.

Boys from middle class areas were more like to get an approved school order for a first offence whereas that only happened to 7% of boys from working class areas. Most were not members of a stable group of adolescents and only 40% of offences had been committed with others, in the case of junior boys mostly with siblings. Most boys came from large families and nearly all, but especially junior boys, had more brothers than sisters but their family patterns were no different from other working class families, other than that there tended to be greater physical or mental illness in their families. A lot had suffered paternal deprivation but less than a quarter had rejected, or been rejected by, their parents, though a third of the senior boys had been rejected by their fathers.

Senior boys were either concluding a history of approved school orders or were older offenders from non-criminal families; over half the junior boys had one convicted parent compared with a third of the senior boys.

Though their measured IQs were only slightly below average, their attainments were below what would be expected for their IQs. Truancy was not a significant factor compared with the impact of a move from primary to secondary school; very few were antagonistic to teachers but they had few friends. More able boys tended to have psychiatric recommendations whereas the less able were ignored. In practice, the researchers observed more disturbed behaviour in the schools with fewer boys recommended for psychiatric oversight.

Only 12% were highly institutionalised and few junior boys had previous residential experience; the juniors tended to be more attention-seeking at classifying school while the seniors needing affectionate relationships were not provided for in the senior schools.

A comparison with a 1962 survey (Field et al., 1971) showed that the juniors were less criminal while the intermediates were the same.

In Chapter 3 The goals of the approved schools, they describe how the previous goals of readjustment and social education were being challenged by developments in the 1960s, in particular by the confusion of the deprived and depraved which had prompted the Home Office to begin to view delinquents as social casualties.

Approved school managers had much wider functions than the governors of ordinary schools but were generally more conservative. Though many had not visited the schools as required, the voluntary managers brought a compassion and dedication that was lacking in local authority managers.

Classifying the goals of approved schools as instrumental, expressive or organisational, the junior schools tended to focus on education and were more likely to stress expressive goals, the intermediate schools organisational goals and the senior schools instrumental goals with a focus on vocation. They tended to reject the custodial goals of the managers and were generally less hostile to the 1969 Act than the managers were. The instructors tended to share the goals of the house staff while the teachers decried any move away from education.

The approved schools shared aspects of other institutions such as a centralised structure, defined roles, limited consultation and decision-making from above with the hospital model originally outlined by Mary Carpenter (1853) which had led to the children being seen as patients who had little choice in what they could do. This meant that they could only express their feelings through absconding, difficult or withdrawn behaviour, though their behaviour was less extreme than that of boys in ordinary boarding schools. Parents had little influence on what happened.

Staff had little experience of alternative residential schools and little understanding of the positive elements in them; their job was really to prepare the boys for work in low status jobs with occasional social welfare and child protection responsibilities.

In Chapter 4 The different styles of approved schools, the authors describe how the senior schools were more like industrial and reformatory schools, often with block structures, little individuality and generally poor living facilities. However, they often had swimming baths, gymnasia, TV and snooker rooms and superior workshops.

At weekends there was minimal staffing and, after cleaning the place, there might be occasional trips out, but most of the weekend was spent watching TV and films with a trip to chapel on Sunday morning and the afternoon for visiting. Only in the nautical schools did the staff have status and only the naval captains were positive. Female staff had little influence and said that male staff caused more difficulties about their role than boys. The senior boys were overtly inadequate, more attention seeking, often rejected and generally homeless.

Three of the junior schools were training-orientated but they had superior accommodation and good recreational facilities during the week, though minimal at weekends when there would be two chapel services and a Sunday afternoon walk.

The family group schools laid a lot more stress on affective relationships and pastoral care. The house units were autonomous, with high levels of personalisation, informal meals and greater contact with the local community and with parents. However, with less emphasis on the classroom, teaching was more orthodox and unimaginative.

Two intermediate schools adopted a campus style with autonomous house units, a unit for boys working outside and excellent facilities with greater emphasis on pastoral care. They had boy committees, though the head still took key decisions. There was a high emphasis on sport and the arts but that led to high fabric maintenance. There was less family contact, little freedom outside the school and less personalisation of space with personal expression restricted to specific lessons/activities. But they were able to hold absconders and had high staff consensus, with frequent staff meetings and higher calibre education.

Schools that described themselves as therapeutic communities tended to be more like 1930s progressive schools but with strong informal pupil worlds; control was exhausting to staff and a strain on staff-pupil relationships.

In Chapter 5 Control in the approved schools, the authors note that staff were controlled through appointments and promotions and that most control of the boys was utilitarian, through loss of pay or points; only four schools had prefects. There was regular caning in two schools and occasional in two; elsewhere it was rare.

Institutional control was used more in the junior training, senior and campus schools while control by orientation, for example, to work or a trade, was less used than in ordinary boarding schools. The Church of England and Methodist schools were more oriented to religion than the Roman Catholic ones.

The boys preferred adults who were strict and fair and preferred controls that had already failed with them. Loss of home leave was the most unwelcome sanction followed, a long way behind, by not being allowed out, the cane or loss of privileges.

The authors suggests that the sorts of controls proposed by the Advisory Council in Child Care (1970) will involve a significant move towards the use of expressive controls.

In Chapter 6 Pastoral care in the approved schools, they report that pastoral care was used mostly for family or small problems rather than private problems but there was great variation between schools which was not linked to the style of the school. The boys’ use of pastoral care was generally higher than in ordinary boarding schools and was associated with their commitment to the school’s goals but declined with length of stay except in junior schools. Overall, there was a gap between the pastoral care the boys needed and what they received.

In Chapter 7 Boys’ day-school experiences and the contribution of the approved schools’ education and training departments, the authors report that the boys’ general view of teachers as unfair and uninterested masked different opinions of individual teachers. However, the advantages of small group teaching were not exploited – there was often a contrast between good workshops and poor classrooms – and there were poor educational expectations. Some trade training had resulted in buildings being built by boys but the trade techniques taught were outdated and, though senior boys were often treated as adults in workshops, this was not extended outside the workshop. Most used maintenance departments for the unemployable, disturbed or recalcitrant. The trade training was isolated from the education system as a whole.

In Chapter 8 The impact of schools on boys’ commitment, the authors set out the boys’ accounts of the goals of the schools; these did not correlate with staffs’ emphases nor with background factors, as Clarke and Martin (1971) had also found. Boys valued a wide range of things and were, apart from the senior nautical school, happiest in campus, family group and junior training schools.

In Chapter 9 Boys who were transferred from the schools before completing their training, they note that one in eight were transferred, of whom 80% were recommitted after a court appearance. However, there was a range from one third in one school to none in another, with campus schools having the least transfers, junior training schools the next least and seniors the most.

Boys who enjoyed the school, had no previous convictions and were committed to the organisation were transferred least and those with a long institutional history were more likely to be transferred but the schools with the lowest transfer rate also had the lowest recommittal rate.

In Chapter 10 The boy world, they note that the boys were not backward at disclosing adverse aspects of regimes. There was very little underlife and nothing of the emotional homosexual world found in ordinary boarding schools, and only a few schools had an elaborate system for bringing in contraband.

There was wide consensus on norms across schools and low consensus on anti-school norms. Delinquency reinforcement varied between schools but small activity groups, though not always used successfully, and a federal system of houses tended to decrease deviant activities/associations.

In Chapter 11 The staff world, they note that the staff were the long-term inmates with many heads in post a long time. There was more delegation in family group and campus style schools but most contact with staff was formal; there was little of the informal contact in ordinary boarding schools.

There were few single staff compared with ordinary boarding schools; most were married and had little contact with the outside world. There were few opportunities for developing informal norms, though they tended to resist the emotional demands of children, and dependent relationships were mostly made with marginal staff and occasional visitors. Many were caught in the salary and accommodation trap and had few alternative job opportunities.

In Chapter 12 Following the boys on release, they note that, by the time of the follow-up, one third of the boys had been out over two years and one sixth were out of local authority supervision. Only eight schools were able to get follow-up documents from the local authorities, four schools got telephone reports and for six schools they only had staff information; in the cases of 42 boys they had no information at all, other than that they were not on the Criminal Records Office files.

In Chapter 13 Boys’ criminal activities after release, the authors begin by cautioning about the limitations of criminal activity as a measure of success but note that the schools with high recommittal rates also have higher rates of failure. The schools which the boys enjoyed tended to have less delinquency; they tended to be effective over time and to be unaffected by a change of headmaster. Boys with previous residential experience tended to have a higher re-conviction rate as did those with psychiatric oversight in the junior and senior schools, though not in the family group schools.

There were no associations with boys’ backgrounds except poor relationships with peers at day school or truancy but a lower re-conviction rare was associated with a good work record and good family relationships on release.

Even taking these factors into account, four schools had significantly better outcomes; they are “isolated, total and controlled. But they are happy places, with high levels of staff involvement and pastoral care” (p. 229). With high expressive control and boys committed to a wide range of goals these “successful schools tend to shelter all types of boys successfully” (p. 230).

In Chapter 14 Boys’ release to work and school, the authors describe the rather haphazard way in which boys were encouraged to seek employment, mostly in working class occupations and mostly in downwardly mobile jobs though a fifth, especially from the campus style intermediates, were upwardly mobile.

Though 27% took advantage of their trade training, 90% had moved to a non-related job in their first year. There were high failure rates in apprenticeships and, though they changed jobs more often than ordinary children, two thirds received favourable comments on their work standards. Boys released to day school were reported as badly behaved though less so than before conviction.

In Chapter 15 Family and peer group relationships, the authors consider the impact of relationships following release. While 15%, mostly seniors, did not go home on release, only those who had been to campus schools experienced improved family relationships, with 53% experiencing serious disruption in the family within two years of release and many deteriorating family relationships which doubled the re-conviction rate. A poor parental situation was more likely to lead to delinquent associations but favourable peer groups led to a lower risk of re-conviction. Being isolated was, however, not significant for success or failure.

In Chapter 16 After care, the authors point out that the 1969 Act had removed the obligation on aftercare officers to report to schools and half the boys had only had one aftercare visit in 18 months; 15% had had none. However, most boys were indifferent to aftercare whether from the school or the local authority and there was little association between aftercare and further criminal activity.

In practice there were wide variations in the attitudes of schools and in their responses to boys’ requests for help and in the approaches of the aftercare officers

In Chapter 17 Research conclusions and a model of care for young offenders, the authors summarise their findings and recommend that approved schools should follow the patterns of the successful schools, offering education and vocational training with the option to attend local day schools. They should be organised into diversified sub-units with clear rules, pastoral care and greater participation by children and parents.

Radically different provision is needed for the high-risk older boys, possibly on the lines of outward bound, but they add that there is “little in the presenting behaviour of many children now being recommended for security which would suggest that they could not be contained in more open environments” (p. 295) .


The most striking result of this study was that isolated institutions, the very ones assumed to be most damaging, could in fact be the most effective, provided they pursued a wide range of goals, the staff were united and the children supported them. One explanation is that, like successful adoption and fostering placements, the high levels of staff involvement and pastoral care, combined with the lack of arguments among themselves, meant that staff had more time to devote to the children. Polsky (1962) found that changes of staff do not change the culture of an institution and this may go some way to explaining the long-term success of these schools.

Though the authors describe parental involvement as limited, it is worth noting that the boys rated loss of home leave as the most severe sanction and that most returned home, suggesting that most of the boys had retained stable adult relationships throughout their times in the schools. The study may provide indirect support for paying more attention to family involvement, in that those who experienced deteriorating family relationships on return home were more likely to be re-convicted – though this could be overridden by attending one of the four highly successful schools.

The finding that the children preferred staff who were strict and fair suggests that most were at the dependent stage (Wolins, 1973), which may help to explain why the therapeutic communities were less successful than their advocates would have assumed. Millham et al. were working from a sociological rather than a psychological perspective but their account of the successful schools suggests that they offered something akin to the love tempered with restraint which Wolins suggests children at the dependent stage need.

The schools shared with the cottage homes studied by Polsky (1962) the absence of most staff over the weekend but only the therapeutic communities had the strong informal pupil worlds found by Polsky in an institution also committed to therapy.

The finding that the more decentralised schools tended to be more successful reflects the research by King et al. (1971), which highlighted the interaction between unit heads and children as the key factor in quality care.

This research had been completed before Taylor and Alpert (1973) had shown that aftercare support had no effect on outcomes but their findings support this conclusion.

Advisory Council in Child Care (1970) Care and treatment in a planned environment: a report on the community home project London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag December 2008.

Carpenter, M (1853) Juvenile delinquents, their condition and treatment London: W & F G Cash See also Children Webmag November 2008.

Clarke, R V G and Martin, D N (1971) Absconding from approved schools Home Office Research Studies 12 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Field, E, Hammond, W H and Tizard, J (1971) Thirteen-year-old approved school boys in 1962 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Home Office (1968). Children in trouble Cmnd 3601 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

King, R D, Raynes, N V and Tizard, J (1971) Patterns of residential care: sociological studies in institutions for handicapped children London: Routledge & Kegan Paul See also Children Webmag April 2009.

Lambert, R and Millham, S (1968) The hothouse society: an exploration of boarding-school life through the boys’ and girls’ own writings London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Millham, S, Bullock, R and Cherrett, P (1975) After grace, teeth: a comparative study of residential experience of boys in approved schools London: Human Context

Polsky, H W (1962) Cottage Six: the social system of delinquent boys in residential treatment New York: Wiley

Taylor, D and Alpert, S W (1973) Continuity and support: following residential treatment New York: Child Welfare League of America See also Children Webmag March 2009.

Wolins, M (1973) Some theoretical observations on group care In D M Pappenfort, D M Kilpatrick and R W Roberts (Eds) Child caring: social policy and the institution Chicago: Aldine

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