Approved Schools in The 1960 –Time for Radical Thinking

The 1960s: a decade of social and legislative innovation

For many in the Approved School service the prospects for the decade did not, in 1960, give much cause for optimism. There was general anxiety about the continuing rise in juvenile delinquency, despite the benefits of a welfare state that had done much to reduce poverty. There was concern also about the manner in which, in 1959, public confidence in the service had been further undermined by the troublesome events at Carlton School (see previous article).

The Report of the Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services (Seebohm, 1968), later known as the Seebohm Report, recorded that changes were brought about by additional powers conferred on local authorities by the Mental Health Act, 1959 and the Children and Young Persons Act, 1963, and that there were new developments following the Youth Service Albermarle Committee Report on the Youth Service (Albermarle, 1958), the Younghusband Working Party on social workers in health and welfare services (Younghusband, 1959), the Newsom Report (1963) and the Plowden Report (1966) on the education services. All of these changes resulted in a general upheaval in local government and especially in the education and social welfare services.

The concerns in the Approved Schools were well expressed by Frank Ebert, the Secretary of the Approved Schools Staffs Association (Ebert, 1960). He noted the discernible progress in the field of education in general, with the increase of teacher training to three-year courses and the expansion of university and technical educational resources. He observed, however, that no such general optimism pervaded the Approved School service. The mood was rather one of doubt and expectancy. The gloom was to be lifted, temporally, by the findings of the Ingleby Report (1960). This committee had been appointed in 1956 (but did not report until October 1960) to enquire into the working of the law in England and Wales in respect of children and young people, with particular reference to delinquency and to children in moral or physical danger. The committee also considered the powers of the local authorities and their adequacy for preventing the neglect of children.

The Ingleby Report emerged as a fairly conservative document, concentrating for the most part on tidying up legislation and procedures. It favoured the retention of the juvenile courts and wished to marginally increase powers of magistrates by, for example, allowing them in some instances to name the actual Approved School to which a youngster would be sent. It also urged the retention of the Approved School system as a separate system, not merged with any other residential provision. The most radical proposal was that the age of criminal responsibility be raised from 10 to 12 years of age (with a possibility of it becoming thirteen or fourteen at some later date). The Report commented on the need for secure provision, as also had the Carlton School Report (1960). The Ingleby Report recommended that closed facilities should be provided for children already in the Approved School system and that ‘closed blocks’ should be a facility within classifying schools.

Raising of the age of criminal responsibility, the provision of secure accommodation and improved arrangements for after­care were the only recommendations of major significance for the Approved School service. The Ingleby Report was an affirmation of the establishment view of the continuing importance of the Approved Schools as a resource for dealing with juvenile delinquency.

There were some feelings of unease amongst those in the schools regarding the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility. If implemented, this would result in the removal of the younger age range (8-11 years old) from those then eligible for junior Approved Schools, and more significantly, it signalled a discernible shift in attitude towards delinquency and the younger child. Greater emphasis would be placed on the child’s need for care and control and less on his criminality.

The Children and Young Persons Act 1963

The Children and Young Persons Act 1963 took up many of the recommendations of the Ingleby report. The Act’s main emphasis was on the need for local authorities to promote the welfare of children. To facilitate this, the Act gave local authorities statutory powers to carry out preventative work with children and families, including the prevention of appearances before juvenile courts. Heywood (1965) observed, that the Act :

…marked a new attitude, a final moving away from the paternalistic protective child-centred attitude to positive and skilled family-centred work. Case work treatment in the home in itself became a justifiable service and the removal of children from home a form of differentiated treatment for a child, to be used only when he required the particular kind of care and help which the children’s department could give him by placing him elsewhere.

Two specific results of the 1963 Act were that the age of criminal responsibility was raised from 8 to 10 years – a cautious response to the Ingleby proposals – and the other was that local authorities were encouraged to designate some remand homes as classifying centres. The Home Office took up the spirit of the 1963 Act in respect of the younger delinquent by asking Police to consult local children’s authorities before any action was taken in the juvenile court against children aged between 10 and 12 years. This process was to be much extended in later years.

There remained, despite the changes brought under the 1963 Act, a growing body of opinion that the existing juvenile court system was inappropriate. There were specific indications of the growing support for this view from the recommendations of a Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Kilbrandon, appointed by Parliament to review the operation of the law in respect of juveniles in Scotland. The findings of this Committee were published in 1964 (Kilbrandon, 1964) and were later to be enshrined in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. The major change brought about by this Act was the removal of children under 16 years of age in Scotland from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. The Kilbrandon Committee concluded that children appearing before the Courts, whether they had committed an offence or were in need of care and protection, had similar needs both for social and personal care. It was decided that juvenile courts were not the best way of dealing with these problems because of the difficulty of distinguishing, in such a setting, between the needs of justice and the welfare of the child. In Scotland, therefore, Hearings were appointed to deal with all matters formerly dealt with by the juvenile courts. The establishment of the facts, where disputed, remained with the Courts but, except in serious matters such as homicide, the treatment was to be determined by the Children’s Hearing Panel.

Political changes and radical thinking

In the 1964 General Election the Conservative Party was replaced by the Labour Party as the new Government, a change which resulted in a more radical approach to social issues. This was reflected in the field of delinquency, in the White Paper, The Child, The Family and The Young Offender (Home Office, 1965). This paper was based on the emerging climate of opinion following the publication of the Ingleby (I960), Kilbrandon (1964), and Longford (1964) reports on juvenile delinquency.

There was general agreement by the three Committees about the nature of the problems that needed to be addressed. The differences came not in the solutions they suggested but rather in the priority which each gave to them. Ingleby suggested the long-term solution might be the re-organisation of the various services concerned with the family into a unified family service. Longford argued that change was needed ‘now’ as the first step in the establishment of a new family service. Kilbrandon had similar thoughts, “The existing statutory social services concerned with children’s problems should be reorganised into a new comprehensive local department – the social education department”. All stressed the parental role and the assistance needed to aid them in carrying this out. All pointed to the need for the integration of existing services and all emphasised prevention. Ingleby argued for the improvement of the existing structures to achieve these ends, Longford and Kilbrandon urged more radical measures.

In the Government’s White Paper, The Child, The Family and The Young Offender (Home Office, 1965), the movement towards the creation of an integrated family service was acknowledged as a major overall strategy. Such a service, it was claimed, would more effectively support the family, which in turn would greatly reduce the possibility of the creation of the type of environment in which children became delinquent.

The Government believed that urgent action was required to reform the existing law in respect of children and young people. Its most radical proposals were that children under 16 years of age should be removed so far as possible from the jurisdiction of the Courts, and that each local authority, through the Children’s Committee, be empowered to appoint local family councils to deal with each case in consultation and agreement with parents. Where agreement on the manner of dealing with the child could not be reached with the parents, or where the facts were in dispute, cases would be referred to a family court.

The family court would be a special magistrate’s court. This court would deal with unresolved issues concerning children under the age of 16 years, with adoption, consent to marry and affiliation orders. The family courts would have the power “to make any order which is now appropriate to a juvenile court, except that, where long-term residential training was considered to be appropriate, the child or young person would be committed to the care of the local authority”.

A further court was proposed for dealing with offenders in the 16 to 21 years of age range. This would be known as the Young Offenders Court, would deal with all but the most serious offences (murder, rape or robbery) and be chaired by a legally qualified person when dealing with indictable offences. The Young Offenders Court would have the same powers then available for dealing with the 17 – 21 year-olds in respect of non­custodial sentences, for example, fines, attendance centres. Prison and Borstal sentences would be replaced by Youth Training Centres (an amalgam of Borstal and Senior Approved Schools) and Young Offenders Institutions. Offenders could be sent to the former for up to two years and to the latter for periods longer than two years.

The major impact of these proposals for the Approved School service would be that provision for the under 16 year-olds would be assimilated into a range of residential services available for children at the disposal of the local authority. For those aged 16 years and over such provision would be part of a more general resource for the older offender at the disposal of the Court and still overseen directly by the Home Office.

These proposals were not particularly well received by the Approved School service, as was evident from the editorial of the September 1965 issue of the Approved School Gazette. Amongst the questions it suggested the Report had failed to address was the question of manpower; where were “the additional army of skilled workers necessary to implement these new reforms to come from?” The editorial questioned the future structures, doubting if the junior and intermediate schools would relish the thought of being reclassified as children’s homes, and asked about the future viability of the voluntary managed schools. Finally, it stated that:

In the present climate of moral breakdown in our society it may be argued that it is hardly the right time to remove from the minds of irresponsible young people the awesome disciplinary influence of appearing in a Court of Law.

Other professionals were more sympathetic to the White Paper proposals. Elizabeth Marshall, the President of the Association of Child Care Officers, declared:

the incorporation of the Approved Schools within the residential provision of the local authorities children’s departments is regarded as an important and necessary development.

The proposals were also welcomed by the Residential Child Care Association and by the Association of Child Care Officers.

The general prospect of the child care service managing the Approved School service clearly appealed to those in the local authority sector while it was less welcome to staff in the Schools. No one was stating that the Approved School service, albeit in a new structure, was unnecessary. Indeed Alice Bacon, the Minister of State for the Home Office, said in a speech about the White Paper that “A good standard of residential care is the whole basis of effective advances in the service as a whole” (Bacon, 1965). This was an unusual public acknowledgement of the significance of residential child care.

The critics of the proposals focused on the folly of abandoning the justice model, with its formal courts of law and its residential provision designed primarily for young delinquents. Those who supported the proposals pointed to the benefits the flexibility would bring to the child care service. Bacon (1965) acknowledged that:

there will always be some very difficult children for whom we have to cater, perhaps in special establishments of the type of the present Approved Schools, but what I have always thought was wrong…is the Approved School Order which has always been so inflexible…and so the White Paper envisages the abolition of the Approved School Order, as such, in favour of the committal of care to the local authority…[who] can treat the fluid, in the way best for the child at any particular time.

Coming to terms with change

The 1965 White Paper was intended to provoke informed discussion before final proposals were drawn up and laid before Parliament, and it enabled interested parties to think beyond their initial response and offer a formal submission. The combined Approved School Associations submitted a response in September 1966. This document indicated a shift in attitude from the initial scepticism and general hostility to the proposals to cautious acceptance of the need for some radical change:

We have regretted for many years the isolation of Approved Schools from the mainstream of education and indeed, from many activities in the field of child care. We have, therefore, no desire to preserve the status quo. (Association of Managers and the Associations of Headmasters, Headmistresses and Matrons and the National Association of Approved Schools, 1966)

The Association stated that although in their view the committing of an offence could not, and should not, avoid the stigma of criminality, the treatment of offenders should never carry this stigma. They proposed that 17 years, not 16, should be the upper age limit for the treatment of offenders. They rejected the idea of the replacement of the juvenile court but proposed that, once that court had ruled on a case, reference could be made, if necessary, to a ‘family service’ for decisions on treatment.

This was an acknowledgement that the needs of the delinquent and non-delinquent from a troubled family could be similar and of the fact that the whole family, not just the child, required a response to its problems and difficulties. Approved Schools should, they proposed, be a part of the Family Services’ resources. They would become boarding schools retaining ‘as much independence and autonomy as possible’. This last point was an indication, despite a stated desire to overcome isolation, of a determination to retain autonomy. This wish had been a feature of the Schools, and was to contribute to their decline.

Following a lengthy period of consultation a second White Paper, ‘Children In Trouble’, was published (Home Office, 1968). This contained a number of significant compromises, whilst retaining some of the salient points of its predecessor. The first major compromise the new Paper made was to restrict its proposals to those children of 17 years of age and under (as opposed to those of 21 years in the first Paper); the second was to leave the system of juvenile courts intact.

It was proposed that children between the ages of 10 and 14 years would no longer be subject to prosecution as offenders. Instead, if a child committed an offence, it would be possible to ask the court to place him or her in the care of the local authority. Young people from 14 to 17 years of age would still be subject to prosecution but they too could be placed in the care of the local authority.

Community Homes for children

The powers of the court were to be changed, replacing Probation Orders by Supervision Orders and offering a new concept of supervision called intermediate treatment, which in due course would replace attendance centres. The Approved School Order would cease and borstal placements for all under 17 years of age would be abolished. Local authorities were to become responsible for developing a comprehensive system of community homes for children, which would be planned by joint committees of authorities, in consultation with voluntary bodies wishing to participate.

Despite these modifications Children in Trouble still contained radical changes to the existing system. The removal of the Approved School Order, the merging of the schools into a system of Community Homes, the setting up of Regional Planning Committees, the changing role of school managers, the idea of Intermediate Treatment, all would have a profound impact on the Approved Schools and would mark a major change in their status.

An editorial in the Residential Child Care Association’s monthly magazine, The Child in Care, in June 1968 was typical of the general welcome given by the child care worker, both field and residential, to the proposals:

On the whole a wise and imaginative document has been given to us. …it may seem positively revolutionary to the heads of some Approved Schools that they will become part of a Children’s Department. In reality however, this ought to be seen as the first part of a natural development of co-ordination so that a broad-based flexible service widely comprehensive in its available resources can be offered to those in need in a swift and efficient manner.

This assessment of the likely responses of some Approved School heads was true to a degree but the general response of heads was better summarised by John Gittins (1968b):

Like everyone else I have been studying the White Paper very closely and one thing is immediately apparent – this is a very well engineered piece of work. At the same time, however, I have met no one who seems fully to have grasped all the implications of the proposed changes. I would sum up the prevailing mood as ‘rather pleased but rather muddled and hoping that somebody will tell us how it will all work out’.

It must be acknowledged that there was some cynicism and disenchantment with the new liberal approach from staff engaged in daily dealings with the youngsters. This mood is well captured in a satirical song, Foresight Saga by A.J. Henderson, published in the same edition of the Approved School Gazette as Gittins’s observations. Below are two of the nine verses:

In our Community Home,

In our Community Home,

The children are darlings, they’re no longer brats.

We have little parties and heart-to-heart chats,

And all sit around in White Paper Hats,

In our Community Home.

In our Community Home,

In our Community Home,

They’ve abolished all evil, no stigma will stick,

No one’s to blame for we’re all might sick,

You’re cured by the time you can say ‘Uncle Dick’, (reference to then Home Secretary-Dick Crossman)

In our Community Home.

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