Education in Residence. By Norman Cooke, Ewan Anderson, Rosemary Baillon.

Art work by Ian Cool.

The fourth paper considers the role of both formal and informal education within the residential setting. To this end Model 4 is proposed Education: Informal and Formal. This theoretical model was initiated by the York Group, which comprised representatives with experience in all the main sectors of residential care for children and young people under the age of eighteen. It has since been developed to fit practical applications.

Model 4. Education: Informal and Formal.

Figure May 2022

Since residential care in some form can cover all ages up to eighteen, the educational topics have been divided into ‘informal’ and ‘informal and formal’ although the dividing line between the two is flexible. For a child growing up with parents, the earliest education is likely to be predominantly informal whereas for one in extra-family care it may be formal. For the majority of children, formal education starts with school.

At the centre of all residential settings is the individual person. Irrespective of the setting (as identified in Model 1) the individual requires the following minimum requirements for their survival. The quality and quantity of each feature should be sufficient to adequately nurture an individual (and not the minimum only to survive).

  • Food and water.
  •  Sanitation.
  • Shelter
  • Hygiene.
  • Medicare.
  • Safety.

It is not good enough to provide the minimum here. In order for the individual to feel wanted, and hence encourage personal development, they need to be nurtured. The above bullet point list provides the basis for success and a quality of life which will enable the individual to thrive. Quality ‘built provision’ should never be underestimated. Irrespective of background or circumstance, to get the core right; to enhance self worth at the very beginning; will make a massive difference to success, or not. The physical built environment does not have to be new build (though there can be advantages in this). What is important is the security, ambience, access to open outside space, decor that the building allows and so on.

Provided the setting can get the above right and staffing it appropriately, (not just staff numbers but quality of staff – through training [see paper 5]) what is now described will enable the individual to grow both as a person as well as through residential educational opportunity. Hard and fixed rules are not advocated here – the core will reflect ‘to some extent’ the particular institution. Provided everything has been considered and enabled to a high standard then the rest of Model 4 can move into place.

The Model identifies eight segments, each reflecting progress moving outwards from the core. The Model indicates progression in a clockwise direction. This is not literal. For a start the cycle does not constantly repeat itself. It is useful as a Model in that it embraces so many features; these develop outwards as opposed to sequential development through time. Furthermore, the broad progression from ‘Love’ through to ‘Play’ may vary for any number of reasons – the institution, the individuals’ age and maturity, and so on. The Model is most helpful though bringing together in one diagram those features which will indicate the direction of travel and success of the particular residential environment.

In trying to develop the York Group model and set it in an educational context for which it was intended, a broad view has been taken so that all forms of residential education are covered.

An attempt is made to follow the natural steps which are pursued by a child or young person.
The elements of the pathway will be analysed in the context of residential and therapeutic education. The eight sectors will be considered in more detail and give clarity as to what they are. The first four, within the inner circle, come about primarily through informal learning, each develops by building outwards from the centre as follows:-

Love and Friendship.

Many emotions are included in the word ‘love’. Feelings of parents for a child are different from those of the child to the parents in which a key factor is the degree of dependence. For the child growing up in a family, there is ideally mother love at the least.

Initially, the child becomes aware that there is another person sharing the micro-environment,
which, as it enlarges, involves more people. For the child in residential care, this first stage of education is missing and the environment is probably populated by several other people. The intimacy between mother and child cannot be compensated but a feeling of genuine affection can be generated. For the group, there may be attraction, devotion and even attachment, but the common denominator would be friendship.

Replicating parental and sibling love in an environment other than one’s family home is immensely difficult. In Paper 3 about claiming the individual who is new to the setting was discussed. An environment of respect and privacy is most necessary for all. For many, coming into the new environment can be traumatic – new faces, new home, new expectations, and new regulations. Having ‘unconditional postitive regard’ is highly desirable and should be the starting point but this in itself can be most difficult in certain residential environments. It can become a question of separating the individual from the previous environment which may have contributed to their being there. (Custodial settings are being   this instance). However, there may also be issues for those boarding for the first time, or hospitalised for the first time.

Very clear policies should be in place around touch (which can be easily misconstrued, whether intended or not), boy/girl relationships as well as same sex relationships, isolation and solitude (see later), communication within and without the setting, and so on.

Experienced House Parents (and those individuals with equivalent responsibilities in custodial settings and hospital settings) have a particular pastoral role, they set the tone on first admission and can make the difference between a successful placement and less successful as well as the length of stay.

When the new individual has had chance to settle in, gain some understanding to the ethos of the establishment, who to share what information with, which staff they might relate to better than others, as well as the same with their new peers, then friendships may develop.

The complexity of this area should not be underestimated. The new individual brings previous life experiences and expectations which may well be at odds with the new environment. The first hours and days in this their new environment will not only determine the speed of success integrating to their new home, but also all that follows within Model 4. For all young people the process is different according to their own maturity and previous life chances and experiences, there is no ‘fast track’ to success. The setting must be mindful though to the fact that all individuals may have seen, done, been subjected to what they may perceive as love, or friendship, which in fact could have been coercive and inappropriate behaviour. This truth is applicable in all residential environments. Being secure in being loved enables positive friendships to develop.

Basic Life Skills and Self Organisation.

Basic Life Skills start with self-awareness and self-control and develop through communications and interpersonal relationships. With other people, both creative and critical, they facilitate problem solving and decision making. They might be summarised as self organisation.

Children in residential education may flourish best when accepted in love by those around them – carers, House Parents, peers – older and younger. All have a role to play here whether conscious of it or not. Daily structures change over time from the moment of birth onwards. For an infant; toilet training, taking turns, routine, being heard, listening to others and good manners can start from a relatively early age but all of these basic life skills, and more, require teaching and nurturing. Furthermore, access to age appropriate medical support will need to be addressed with any child finding them self in residential care. As indicated in Paper 3 anyone coming into child residential care should receive full support from the state with regard to vaccinations, dental, eye care and so on.


With Basic Life Skills embedded Self Organisational Skills become a natural progression. These further develop with maturity and age expectations.

Identity and Personality,

Individuality, especially to those that know them well, can become obvious in very young children. Differences increase with age as appearance changes. Qualities, beliefs and traits all add to what is recognised within the group as personality.

Children in residential care who may or may not know their birth parents and siblings, should be given time and space to explore their birth family. Social Services should be consulted around how and when this might happen as well as frequency of contact and by what means, all of this along with ethnicity and race should all be explored and documented for now as well as future reference. The individuals’ identity will impact on personality.

Self Esteem and Confidence.

With personality, success in relationships and competence in life generally, self esteem grows. Within the group self confidence can develop bringing acceptance, clear identity and a degree of belonging. These all produce pride, acceptance and a growing confidence.

Any child or young person coming into residential care, especially for those for whom it is their first experience, requires special help around their self esteem. A ‘noisy’ individual does not necessarily mean they are boisterous of extrovert. Likewise someone timid or shy does not necessarily mean they are introvert. Both such behaviours may shelter someone coming to terms with their new surroundings and adjusting to very different expectations – but they are still adjusting. Isolation and solitude are very different behaviours. Some struggle with isolation but there are times when solitude can bring some relief and time for reflection. Supporting, enriching and nurturing an individual’s self esteem enables greater confidence in life which in turn can bolster their self belief.

The following four areas are enhanced by informal and formal residential education:-

Basic communication and Information Exchange.

With the onset of schooling, the range of communications is greatly enhanced. To the oral and non-verbal is added the written; together with and supported by a variety of scientific (digital) devices. Active listening becomes a prerequisite as contextual communications develop.

These all point to the significance of active listening and importance of information in education.

A child who is new to the residential experience may indicate some disadvantage with regard to basic communication. The refugee, those in the custody sector and some social facilities may struggle here as a result of trauma, deprivation or illness. Input from speech therapy through to IT skills may better prepare an individual for their current placement as well as all future options. As communication is enhanced so confidence in Information Exchange increases, in all its formats.

Discipline, Control and Regulation.

For all young people discipline may be supportive, preventative or corrective. In residential education, control, direction and regulation are crucial. An important training of the individual involves behaviour modification. Without basic discipline education becomes virtually meaningless. Education opportunity and outcomes are certainly massively enhanced with self discipline.

Most residential establishments will have different codes of conduct with expectations to discipline. Some (often boarding schools) may encourage Combined Cadet Force (CCF) training. The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme as well as many outdoor activity centres all provides opportunities for individuals to explore potentially dangerous activities in a structured and disciplined manner. Boundary setting and hence discipline start at a very early age though. This may have been disrupted or never taught and understood prior to admission to the residential setting and will require especial care and nurturing. Without understanding, appreciating and being a part of a disciplined environment could lead to conflict in later life. Knowing one’s limitations in terms of risk taking can assist in taking positive choices around such topics as gambling and other addictive behaviours.

Social Skills and Interaction.

Social Skills result from many aspects of education, particularly relating to the use of personal space.

In group living, listening, cooperating, sharing and manners, to name only a few skills
become central to life. In is very important to develop sensitivity to the feelings of others. This requires familiarity with basic communications and self discipline. Some of this may be taught, most will come through day to day living and learning and mirroring good social skills. The residential environment gives a good opportunity to explore better social skills through group living.

An individual with poor social skills is likely to underperform both educationally and socially. This may be an even greater hindrance in a residential education setting. Enhanced social skills promote improved interaction with peers and staff and once again give a voice to the individual.

Play and Co-operation.

This is an important part of education ranging from recreation to serious learning, from football to music. Play may be social, physical, constructive or even fantastical. There are games and sports with rules and those diversions which develop at the whim of the players. There may an underpinning of physical fitness or mental agility or play may be just for amusement. It may be competitive or perhaps an enjoyable way to spend time.

The importance of play may be easily underestimated. Stimuli for play need not be expensive games. The young child when presented with a large box can amuse themselves through all manner of play. The impact of structured play in enhancing everything that has been alluded to so far as well as in its own right are immense.

Out of play comes co-operation. Being part of a team and knowing your limits as well as your skills – both intellectual and problem solving – leads to greater co-operation. Likewise, musical skills whether part of an orchestra or choir and being capable of responding appropriately, irrespective of perceived status is paramount to a good outcome. Responding appropriately to the referee or conductor ensures the desired outcome for the group.

This paper has only touched the surface on the advantages which are brought about through education in residence. Whilst academic achievement may have often been the measure by which education in residence is valued, this is only a part of the advantage. So much more is achieved which will in turn have a major impact on the success of individuals and their contentment and contribution to the world in their later life, as has been shown here.



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