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Approved Schools

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 14 June 1950

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Popplewell.]

6.32 a.m.

Having waited so long, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office having come prepared to answer certain questions about approved schools, I think he will forgive me if I detain the House a few minutes longer and ask him these questions so that he can tell the House about the general position of the approved schools.

We are all well acquainted with the very difficult problem of the form of correction or punishment or discipline which it is best to carry out on juvenile delinquents. Obviously there is a grave objection to almost every form of punishment, and yet it is quite clear that something or other must be done in those cases. While there is general agreement that we do not want to put young people in prison or in institutions approaching to prisons if we can possibly avoid it, and as those other forms of punishment, whatever their merits or demerits, are not a complete solution of the problem, the experiment of the approved schools has been tried. I think it is important that the House should have this opportunity of discovering with what success that experiment has met.

There are obviously from time to time certain problems of discipline within the approved schools, as was only to be expected. Although many of the boys and girls behave themselves during the time they are at school, it is only to be expected there would be a minority breaking out in one way or another and making themselves a nuisance in the neighbourhood from time to time, I find a great complaint that is made by headmasters of these schools is that before the 1933 Act, and to some extent before the last Act, they were allowed to make recommendations in the case of boys absconding that they should be sent on to Borstal.

Of course, they can still be sent on to a Borstal institution if they have committed further misdemeanours, but by circular of the Home Office the headmaster is no longer allowed to make those recommendations. It is the complaint of headmasters that in the old days, although in point of fact they rarely had to make such recommendations, the knowledge that they had this power in terrorem was an effective weapon of discipline. Today it is difficult to find satisfactory alternative methods of discipline. I should be glad of the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on this point, and I hope that he can give me the reasons why headmasters have been deprived of these powers. I should also like to ask him whether it is not desirable for them to be given the power, or some alternative disciplinary power, to enable them to have a more effective influence over this small minority.

There is the further problem of what to do with them when they leave an approved school. Many have come to the schools because they have been in unsatisfactory homes, and merely to allow them to return to these unsatisfactory homes, without anyone keeping an eye on what they do, would be extremely unsatisfactory. If the Under-Secretary could say a word or two on the after-care situation I should be grateful.

The approved schools now consist of boys and girls guilty of quite concrete offences, and others who are in no kind of sense criminal but merely rather difficult. I understand that one of the reasons against recommendations to Borstal is that it would be wrong to recommend Borstal for those who have committed no offence. Whether it is desirable that those two sorts of young people should be mixed together, in the sense that they are mixed together at present, in the approved schools, is something which I am not at all certain is right or wrong. I would ask the Under-Secretary to be so good as to give me the answers to these particular questions and such general report as he is able to give on the success or failure of this very difficult problem of the approved school. It is obviously a problem that is in any event an extremely difficult one in which to get a satisfactory solution.

It is obviously essential from the point of view of the reformation of the young people that the approved schools should not be in too deserted a place, and should be within sight, or at any rate within reach, of normal civilised places so that they should not be separated from normal humanity. Yet if they are near towns and villages it is inevitable that now and again there will be unfortunate incidents. In the same way it is extremely important that the self-respect of the boys and girls should be built up by giving them reasonable equipment for their games, and reasonable amenities. I have come across one instance where the boys at an ordinary school who used to play cricket against an approved school, complained that the boys from the approved school came with bats and pads of a superior quality such as none of them could afford themselves, and they used to ask the headmaster if they could be sent to the approved school. Again it is a difficult problem of balance. At this time of day nobody would wish me to make a long speech, and I would rather give way to the Under-Secretary and ask him if he will be so good as to give us the answers and the report he has brought to the House.

6.42 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for having given me an idea of the points he was going to raise. The fundamental point I will deal with right away. It is true that managers of approved schools must get the consent of the Home Secretary before bringing a boy before a court on a charge of absconding. That is the effect of the Ninth Schedule to the Criminal Justice Act, 1948. Previously, under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, managers of approved schools could bring an absconder before a court on their own initiative, and the court could either send him back to the approved school with an increased period of detention up to six months, or if he were over 16 could send him to Borstal.

It is in the last point that the difficulty lay, because the system had these two defects. Some managers used to seize this opportunity of getting rid of the difficult boy. The second fault was more serious: a boy who had been sent to an approved school because he was in need of care and protection, and who had not committed any offence, might suddenly find himself sent to Borstal merely because he had absconded from the approved school. Therefore, in the 1948 Act this was changed, and managers have to ask the Home Secretary for permission to bring before the court a charge of absconding.

When that application comes to the Home Office several things are considered. The most obvious points are the nature of the approved school and the character of the boy, because it may be far better to send the boy to another approved school rather than send him to Borstal. If it is considered that he should be sent to Borstal, if the court approves, authority is given and the managers are allowed to bring the case before the court.

To give some idea of the numbers involved, there were, in the last complete year, 1949, just over 100 applications from managers, of which 60 were granted. In about half these cases the boys were sent to Borstal. In considering the number of absconders, I would remind the House that these approved schools are schools and not in any way prisons. They are open, and therefore absconding is very easy. I should stress that approved schools are approved. That is to say, they are approved by the Home Secretary under the 1933 Act. They are places to which boys and girls under 17 can be sent for education and training to make them good citizens. They can be sent there if they have committed an offence, or if they are in need of care or protection.

At the schools they receive ordinary classroom education, and vocational training as well. The overwhelming emphasis is on building up character, because these boys and girls have suffered in the vast number of cases from a bad environment. There are 9,000 scholars at these schools today, and they are being made into the good citizens that we hope they would have been in any case had they not had the unfortunate experiences which sent them there.

The importance of after-care can be dealt with fairly shortly. It is, of course, the two or three years after leaving an approved school that is the danger period. It is for that reason that the 1933 Act gives managers of approved schools powers of supervision over a boy if under 15 until 18, or if over 15 until 21, or three years, whichever is the shorter period. Managers can recall a boy in his own interests if he is under 19. A manager goes out of his way to find a job and suitable place for a boy to live in, which may not be his home. The headmaster or the staff, or in some cases the special welfare officer, or in other cases the childrens' officer of the local authority, acts as a guide and friend to the boy released from school.

How can we measure the success so far? It is difficult to measure it by figures, but those figures I have are encouraging. In the first place, within three years of release 66 per cent. of the boys and 80 per cent. of the girls do not appear again in the courts. Although there are 150 schools in the country, we have been able to close 10 this year because the number of children requiring this training is declining.

Can the Under-Secretary of State tell me how much co-ordination there is between different schools? My impression is that the manager of one approved school does not know anything about the system in the other schools. Surely there are many occasions when it would be obviously desirable for a boy to be sent to some other school.

It is for that very reason that from 1st July the Home Office system of inspectors of these schools is being decentralised into six regions. In every one of these regions the inspector will be able to keep in touch with the schools in his region and bring the different types of schools, some voluntary, some local authority, into touch with each other.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes to Seven o'Clock a.m.