The Beginning of the Approved School System

At the time of the merger of the Industrial Schools and the Reformatories into Approved Schools in 1933-34 there were 86 establishments, the majority being former Industrial Schools. By 1938 there were 104 Approved Schools containing 7,268 boys and 1,496 girls. The majority of the new schools, rising from 18 in 1933 to 31 by 1938, were for girls.

Until the mid-1950s the average number of places in a boys school was 100, with a few schools having up to 150 places but very rarely more than this. Some schools for boys offered only 50 places. Schools for girls were much smaller, with an average of 35 places. The range of properties used to accommodate the Approved Schools was considerable. The official handbook on the schools, Making Citizens, published by HMSO in 1946, observed that “a child sent to an Approved School today may find himself housed in an army hut or a small cottage, a reconditioned Reformatory, a Georgian mansion, or a neo-Gothic castle”. The Curtis Committee, appointed to enquire into the care of children, considered that many of the buildings used as Approved Schools were handicapped to some extent because they had seldom been constructed for their existing function (Curtis, 1946).


A Handbook for Managers of Approved Schools (Home Office Children’s Department, 1961) stated that the aims and function of the Approved School training were:

…education (in the formal sense), religious education and guidance, practical or vocational training, attention to health and to the use of recreation, social training (how to live with others) and personal case-work (help with personal problems).

These functions were directed to achieving the aims of the re-adjustment and social re-education of the boys and girls in preparation for their rehabilitation into the community. The Reynolds Report (Reynolds, 1946) into pay and conditions in the Approved Schools suggested that the merits of the system were that, by membership of a small group within the context of the larger group, the child would learn to have status and respect for the rights of others. It went on to argue that, in the larger group, there would be opportunities for freedom in activities during leisure time and instruction to equip the child for employment, which would preserve self respect and encourage self-reliance.

A Tall Order

The extent of the magnitude of the task undertaken by the Approved Schools was fully recognised and explained in a later government enquiry into the management of young offenders, the Ingleby Report (1960). This Report found that children admitted to the schools often had a long history of difficult and anti-social behaviour and that many had been subject to other forms of treatment which had failed. Some children were also behind in their education and had suffered from emotional disturbances, many had been removed from broken or inadequate homes to which they still retained loyalty. There were said to be special problems presented by adolescent girls and by the apparently increasing proportion of more difficult and undisciplined boys. Despite what Ingleby called “such unpromising material” the degree of success was thought to be encouraging.

Curtis Committee Finds Variety

The members of the Curtis Committee visited 52 Approved Schools and so were well placed to comment on the state of the service as they found it shortly after the Second World War. They recorded some detailed descriptions of the schools and these records gave a useful account of the range and type of service then on offer.

An example of a senior boys school with 140 places shows that the building had been taken over from the public assistance authorities in 1936. “Situated on the fringe of an industrial area overlooking a wide stretch of open country, it had extensive grounds for playing fields and a walled fruit and vegetable garden. The building itself was rather forbidding, made up of large barrack-like blocks with a high surrounding wall. An entry archway and workshops had  been added to the building. The living quarters were in one block divided into two identical halves. There was no living room other than a dining room, which also served as a recreation room. In the dining room each table was for 10 boys. Each of the dormitories housed 70 boys in four long rows of beds. There were long concrete floored and tiled wall corridors. Effort had been made to brighten the rooms by paint and distemper. The place looked clean and polished”.

A contrasting example of an intermediate school for 120 boys described a Jacobean country house set in 36 acres of garden and playing fields. “Some of the staff lived in cottages on the estate. The boys’ living and recreational rooms were excellent. There was a beautiful dining hall with tables seating six children. The entire place was cheerful and attractive, the institutional atmosphere being tempered by the architectural beauty and modernisation”.

Some of the schools, especially former Industrial Schools, were  situated in or close to urban areas, but the majority were in the country. The number of schools increased rapidly during the Second World War and one of the major reasons for this development was the need to site schools in what the Sixth Report of the Children’s Committee (Home Office, 1951) called “the less vulnerable areas”.

Although some Industrial Schools and a few of the Reformatories, the predecessors of the Approved Schools, had at some time in their history been schools for both boys and girls, none of the Approved Schools was a mixed sex school. At the beginning of the new system there were five schools with both boys and girls in them and although they were given certificates of approval, they were not taken into the Home Office system and so never formally became Approved Schools.

Categories of School

Approved Schools were divided into categories, designated according to the age range of children they accommodated. This was to separate the younger delinquent and/or deprived child from the older, possibly more hardened offender and also to provide education for the appropriate age groupings. The gradings for boys were: Junior, up to age 13 on admission, Intermediate, between the ages of 13 years and 15, and Senior, up to the age of 17 years. Girls schools were, until 1964 – 1965, divided into Junior for girls under 15 of age and Senior for girls over 15 years of age. Latterly, however, Intermediate Schools were provided for girls aged between 14 and 16 years.

The majority of the schools, like their predecessors, were owned by voluntary organisations which had been founded by people with a definite religious commitment. Thus some schools were run by the Church of England and others by non-conformist organisations such as the National Children’s Homes, Barnardo’s or the Salvation Army. There were two schools run by Jewish orientated groups, although very few Jewish children were thought to have been sent to Approved Schools. The Roman Catholics were the most insistent on children of their faith being sent to their own schools. The Home Office respected and endorsed this belief in the importance of religion in the Approved Schools system.

Each school had its own board of managers: local people of stature selected by the sponsoring agency and by the existing board. No specific number of people were required to make up a board, and this was left to each individual school.

Overall Management Responsibility

The managers were a particularly important group of people in any Approved School as under the terms of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, “…all rights and powers exercisable by law by a parent in respect of a boy under the care of the managers of an Approved School are vested in the managers”. It was a requirement that some of the managers lived within reasonable distance of the school to ensure close contact and adequate supervision. At least two of the managers of a school for girls had to be men and at least two had to be women at a school for boys. The managers of schools run by Local Authorities were appointed by the Local Authority Children’s Committee.

An additional requirement, under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, was that all boards of managers of voluntary run schools had to have at least one local authority representative. The distribution of the management responsibilities for the Schools in 1967 is shown in

Table 1Management Bodies with Responsibility for Approved Schools 1967

  Boys Girls Total


Voluntary Local Authority










From data provided by Rose, 1967

The Approved School Rules 1933 (amended in 1949) were very specific about the duties of the managers and how these duties were to be carried out. A Finance Committee had to be appointed. The Home Secretary had to be informed of the names of all managers and also of their death or retirement.

Managers were required to meet monthly “as far as practicable”. Minutes had to be kept and made available to a Home Office Inspector or District Auditor. Managers were urged to pay frequent visits to the school and at least one manager should visit the school each month and enter observations in the school log book. Managers were responsible for exercising effective control over all expenditure. They were also responsible for the appointment, suspension or dismissal of all staff in the school, although the Secretary of State had to confirm the appointment of a Head. The Handbook (Home Office Children’s Department, 1961) urged that managers:

…should know, and be known by, as many of the children as possible. It is important that the managers should know the staff and be familiar with their problems and the conditions under which the work of the school is conducted.

Staffing of the Schools

The most significant person in the everyday management of an Approved School was the Head. Prior to the 1950s, it was not uncommon for the headship to be the preserve of a particular family. This often involved other posts, particularly that of Matron. The Approved Schools handbook, Making Citizens, published by HMSO in 1946, observed that the post of Matron was a position second only in importance to that of the Headmaster in the opportunities it gave for influencing the boys.

The quality of the staffing in the schools was recognised by the Home Office as an important factor. Concern about this quality prompted the Home Secretary to appoint a Committee (the Reynolds Committee) to examine the issue of remuneration and conditions of service for staffs in Approved Schools. There had been no such review since 1935 and there was anxiety about the poor quality of applicant that was being attracted to the service and the difficulty of retaining able staff.

One of the main reasons for the staffing difficulties of that time was that there had been a rapid increase in the number of Approved Schools during World War II, with the number of children accommodated increasing from 3,913 in 1938 to a peak of 5,973 in 1942. Many of the able bodied men who could have been employed in the schools were serving in the Armed Forces. Reynolds (1946) notes that, “…in many schools the strain had proved too great, especially for new recruits to the staff.”

The complex staffing structure of an Approved School in 1945 (a structure which was to remain until the mid-1960s) was well described in the Reynolds Report (Reynolds, 1946). Schools for boys had the Headmaster, a Deputy Headmaster, Teachers, Housemasters (operating ‘experimentally’ in only a few schools in 1945), Instructors, Clerks, Welfare Officers, Housemaids or Headmaster’s Maid, Cooks, Needlewomen, General Maids, Matron and Assistant Matrons, and, in some schools, Farm Bailiffs. In girls’ schools the staffing was made up of the Headmistress, Deputy Headmistress, Staff Matrons (Instructors), Hostel Matrons, and Cottage Mothers (Housemistresses) and Nurses.

Salaries of Heads were calculated on the basis of the recommendations of a sub-committee of the teachers national negotiating committee, known as the Burnham Committee. There were five grades of schools, determined by their size. The number of children accommodated in individual Approved Schools was counted as double their actual number for the purpose of calculating Heads’ salaries, with three additional increments. Teachers were paid an extra three increments above the norm and were allowed a small payment for an average of 15 hours’ extraneous duties per week.

The post of Housemaster was a post-war innovation. The Reynolds Report defined a Housemaster’s main duties as making close individual contact with a group of boys, planning and supervising their leisure time activities. It was proposed that Housemasters should also become involved in after-care arrangements. “Post holders should be mature men able to obtain a recognised qualification.” They were paid the same salary, at that time, as Teachers, and were to be given an additional increment for each year aged over 25 years, subject to a maximum starting point of £375 per annum.

The position of Clerk carried important responsibilities, dealing with the bulk of correspondence with the Courts, local authorities and parents and with the management of financial transactions and statistical returns.

The majority of Headmistresses of girls’ schools were not qualified Teachers, unlike the Headmasters in most boys schools. The Committee accepted this, observing that the problems that are dealt with in girls’ schools “are more often of a social or moral (nature) than an ordinary type”. While the prospect of a qualified Teacher being a Headmistress was welcomed it was accepted that other relevant qualifications, such as social work, might also be appropriate. The Committee also recommended that the posts, in girls’ schools, of House Matron and Cottage Mother should be designated as Housemistress.

In 1949 there were 1,075 filled teaching posts in the Approved Schools, including 273 Heads and Deputies and 462 Trade Instructors. This resulted in a general staffing ratio of 20 pupils to a Teacher, usually with a Handicraft Teacher in addition. In schools where trade training was given, the standard aimed at was 10 pupils per Instructor. The Select Committee on Estimates (Select Committee for Estimates, 1948-49) thought it necessary to record, for the benefit of potential critics, the reason for the apparent generous staffing of Approved Schools. They noted that a child in an Approved School had to be supervised 24 hours a day and that there was no reserve of Teachers. Unlike other boarding schools they were open throughout the year and had to be kept running whilst some staff took their holidays.

Staff in Residence

By 1960 the number of Housemasters and Housemistresses had increased to 240. The teaching staff remained, however, by far the largest group at 910 (this included Heads and Instructors). The population of the 117 schools at that time was 7,770. The ratio of the professional staff was 1 to 8 pupils.

Although salaries for staff were depressed, there was a belief that the accommodation that was offered made up for any shortcomings. Reynolds reported, however, that the standard of accommodation was notoriously low, even though there had been some progress, and maintained that the lack of proper amenities not only discouraged some applicants from accepting appointments but caused others to resign shortly after appointments had been taken up.

The accommodation provision did improve in the 1960s. The Williams Report (Williams, 1967), which enquired into staffing issues in all forms of residential care, noted that the majority of Heads of Approved Schools expressed themselves satisfied with their own accommodation and that of married staff but were concerned about the position of single staff. It was also noted that half of the care staff were resident in the same building as the children and a further third were resident on campus but in separate accommodation. It was generally held that the professional staff of the Approved Schools had to live in or near the school.

A flat rate was charged for accommodation, one for single quarters and the other for married quarters. Heads and Matrons were given accommodation, and emoluments, completely free of charge because, it was said, their responsibilities ran throughout the 24 hours of the day.

The expectation and general acceptance of the notion that staff would be resident on or near the campus of Approved Schools continued until the introduction of the Community Home Schools in 1972. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly there were definite financial benefits. Secondly because of the hours of duty it was usually much more convenient to live on the campus. Thirdly there was a belief that, as staff, they were part of the residential community of the Approved School, which meant being readily available in a crisis and often at other times and so adding to the security and support offered to children and colleagues.

Staffing Divide

The Sixth Report of the Children’s Department (Home Office, 1951) recognised that the Reynolds Committee had been of great significance in laying down general principles and specific terms of salaries and conditions. It had related the salaries of Teachers, Instructors and Heads to Burnham scales and laid down a requirement for qualifications before a certain salary and status could be achieved. The position of Teachers in respect of extraneous duties was clarified and annual leave of eight weeks was agreed.

The new post of Housemaster was introduced, which the Sixth Report called “the social worker type of staff”. Despite Reynolds’s wish that Housemasters should hold a recognised qualification, in practice such people were hard to find. A compromise position was reached whereby the schools’ managers could appoint an unqualified person to such a post if they had been accepted by the Home Office as suitable for training in due course.

In 1951 separate salary negotiating committees for Teachers and Instructors and for Housemasters were formed. The divergence that grew between these two groups of staff was to contribute to divisions within the Approved School system and weaken its abilities to function effectively. It was also to be a significant distraction from the issue of survival at a later stage.

Training  Provided

Opportunities for residential child care staff to undergo training was made a priority by the Home Office, and the Central Training Council in Child Care was given the task of establishing full-time training courses. By 1966 there were 14 one-year courses in various parts of England and Wales leading to a Certificate in the Residential Care of Children, and two Senior Certificate Courses of one-year duration, one at the University of Bristol and the other at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Despite these training opportunities and an insistence by the Home Office that all Housemasters and Housemistresses who were appointed had to be suitable to undergo training at a later date, the Williams Report (Williams, 1967) found that only 15% of residential child care staff were qualified, though this figure was slightly higher for staff in Approved Schools.

As the teaching profession was much better established and as, after the Second World War, all teachers were required to be qualified, their pay and conditions of service improved at a much more rapid pace than that of the residential care workers. In her study of Community Homes, Cawson (1978) considered that the eventual consequence of this, and of the parallel development of the social work emphasis in the schools, was that there was a dominant group of professional staff who had been trained to fulfil one set of professional goals and were expected to divert their energy and resources to the fulfilment of completely different ones. She concluded that, “It seems inevitable that this would create organisational strain”.  This was to prove one of a number challenges for the Approved School system.

Jim Hyland based this article on material from his book “Yesterday’s Answers” (1995).

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