Research Collections

Children in trouble

Paper delivered by the Rev. Alistair Ramage at the Social Work History Network Conference held at Heatherbank Museum of Social Work on 26 & 27 June 2003.

Ned pupils should be in Borstal screamed the headline in the Glasgow Evening Times of the 2nd of June this year. Its rather more sober stablemate, The Herald, had produced the results of a poll commissioned by the newspaper from NFO system three on in their words disruptive and problem pupils. The second question of the survey asked respondents: Should pupils with social, emotional and behavioural problems be educated in mainstream schools or in separate special schools. The results of this question show 52% voting for separate schools and 40% for mainstream schools with the remainder listed as ‘don’t know’. Returning to the Glasgow Evening Times of June 2nd, the article on the subject than produces the information that Government figures show school staff were subjected to 5412 violent incidents last year. And just to show you the full value of having a parliament in Scotland, MSPs were recently discussing the pejorative implications of labelling a young person as a Ned!

The purpose of this paper is to present a brief historical survey of how Scotland has worked with the group of children that the NFO systems 3 poll describes as having social, behavioural and emotional problems. The paper will begin with the ragged school movement of the mid 19th Century and will then work through to today’s residential schools. The paper will conclude with part of a video showing three residential schools today and including testimony from children involved. This subject is the research for Heatherbank Museum for 2003 and is planned to result in an exhibition in the Winter to supplement the video. Consequently this paper only touches on some of the themes and is not able to look at subjects such as the Children’s Hearings system in Scotland, the recently established youth courts or Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution, Lochburn House. It is intended that all these subjects will feature in the exhibition.

In 1860 the Rev. Dr. Thomas Guthrie of Edinburgh published a volume containing his three pamphlets concerning Ragged Schools entitled Seedtime and Harvest. Guthrie is often quoted as the founder of the Ragged Schools of Scotland. Other sources refer to him as the apostle. I think that Guthrie would much prefer to have been regarded as the nurturer of the seed sowed by others and harvested after his death. His first introduction to the idea of Ragged Schools was in 1841 when he was the Parish Minster of St.John’s Church in Edinburgh. On a visit to Anstruther in Fife he saw a picture of the cobbler’s room of John Pounds in Portsmouth. Pounds started teaching ragged children free of charge in his shop in 1818. Guthrie wrote about the incident Pounds like a good shepherd had gone forth to gather in these outcasts, he had trained them up in virtue and knowledge, looking for no fame, no recompense. In the midst of that huge social revolution in Scotland that was to be the Disruption of 1843, when the national Church of Scotland effectively split in half, Guthrie never forgot this experience. In that year he recorded a visit to a police office in Edinburgh where he observed a number of children, homeless and houseless, who found there a shelter for the night. Cast out in the morning, this wreck of society came drifting in again at evening time.

Meantime in Aberdeen Sheriff Watson was distressed by the number of children who had committed a petty crime and faced him in his courtroom. Rather than sending them to prison Watson resolved to establish a school for boys. In 1841 his Industrial Feeding school opened to provide reading, writing and arithmetic; without these he can never rise above the lowest level of society. In addition three meals a day were provided and the boys were taught useful trades such as shoemaking and printing. A school for girls followed in 1843. As a law official however Sheriff Watson was placing in the school children who had been arrested for vagrancy.

This link between the law and the ragged school was reflected in 1842 when the then Governor of Edinburgh Prison, Governor Smith laid before the Inspector of Prisons a proposal to establish a school of industry for juvenile delinquents [semantics are interesting]. Three years later he printed a circular letter calling the attention of the Edinburgh Ministers and magistrates to the fact that 740 children under 14 had been admitted to prison in the previous three years. Dr.Guthrie was greatly influenced by the thinking of Governor Smith and Sheriff Watson and in 1847 he published his first plea for ragged schools By the end of the year Dr. Guthrie’s Edinburgh Ragged Schools had been founded, one for boys, one for girls and one for children under 10. In all they catered for 265 children.

Guthrie followed his first plea for ragged schools with two others in 1849 and 1859 respectively. The latter was especially notable in that it opposed some very negative legislation which appeared to be aimed at moving the ragged and industrial schools towards places where those children committed by the courts would be placed. Dunlop's Parliamentary Act of 1855, referring only to Scotland, conferred powers on magistrates to detain for five years in a certified Industrial school any young person under the age of 14 years found begging or not having any home. Interestingly the idea implicit in Dunlop's Act of provision of residential care for the children us also found in Guthrie's third plea of 1859. He writes Those whose homes are so cruel or so vicious that they would certainly suffer from spending the night there, sleep within our walls. He then proceeded to quote from Count de Metz who established a colony for young delinquents in Mettray in France which together with the work of Pestalozzi in Switzerland and Wichern in Germany is usually seen as the beginning of the idea of the Reformatory.

The earliest reformatory in the UK was Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, established in 1836. It was described as intended to train boys, who were under the sentence of transportation for two or three years before the removal from this country. In 1852 a committee of the House of Commons was formed to inquire into the condition of criminal and destitute juveniles in the country, and what changes are desirable in their present treatment in order to supply industrial training, and to combine reformation with the due correction of juvenile crime. Dr. Guthrie was called upon to give evidence to this committee and in one of his answers he laid the basis for the Reformatory. What I contemplate is first a ragged school, for the purpose of catching children before they reach prison; and then a Reformatory School for the purpose of telling upon the children who have already become criminals. The result was Lord Palmerston's Act of 1854 which accredited reformatories and importantly funded them out of public funds. They grew very rapidly; In 1859 the Reformatories and Refuge union had been formed and a report issued by the government inspector appointed to visit certified Reformatories and Industrial Schools showed 14 Reformatories and 19 industrial schools in 1866 in Scotland. They were very much the product of their age.

In 1841 in Paisley Miss Elizabeth Kibble left a large bequest in her will to found and endow in Paisley, an institution for the purpose of reclaiming youthful offenders against the law. This resulted in the opening in 1859 of the Kibble Reformatory and the transfer of 14 boys from the Ragged School. Nearly 150 years later the Kibble Education and Care Centre now cares residentially for 57 children with an additional 40 attending on a daily basis. Today's Chief Executive, Graham Bell, says It can be difficult to raise finds, particularly as we are not a school that looks after kids who appeal to people's sympathies. A conversation between Mr Bell and Dr.Guthrie would be interesting!

Another local example of Victorian sensibilities in the establishment of reformatories is seen in the Glasgow Reformatory for girls in 1854. This was originally sited in Rotton Row in the very centre of the city in an area now almost totally occupied by Strathclyde University. In 1870 the decision was taken to move out to what was then known as East Chapelton and today is the extremely salubrious dormitory town of Bearsden. The new site was chosen in order that the children should be removed from their former associates and influences, and to prevent their friends from being able to visit them. From photographs of the building taken before its demolition in the late 1970's it can be seen as a very grandiose building which judging by its range of outbuildings was intended to be self supporting. A further clue to this last intention is found in a reference to the fact that the Reformatory housed a large laundry which enabled the girls to undertake washing for residents in the East Chapelton [now Bearsden] area.

Industrial Schools, Ragged schools, Reformatories, these were to see the 19th Century out and indeed it was not until 1933 that the next development happened. In the meantime a totally different approach to residential child care for disruptive and problem pupils. Rather bizarrely and perhaps a little quaintly the scheme which was to last 80 years was named after a village in Kent: Borstal.

The separation of young people and adults in prisons was an idea that had a long heritage. William Brebner, the noted governor of Duke Street Gaol in Glasgow had introduced such a scheme in 1838 However the idea that there should be separate establishments for young people was not formally made until a major parliamentary report known as the Gladstone Report in 1895. This report however had no application in Scotland and three years later a group of Scottish MPs met with Lord Balfour, the Secretary of State for Scotland to petition for a similar investigation in Scotland. The result was a report presented in 1900 under the chairmanship of the Earl of Elgin. The Gladstone Report reported that the ages between 16 and 23 were crucial in the development of re-offending criminals. Their deliberations resulted in the opening of a reformatory for young offenders in part of the convict prison in Borstal village, near Rochester, Kent. Significantly the Elgin Committee did not declare any age parameters for the separation of young offenders from adult offenders. They felt that governors should be left to make their own decision on this subject. In 1908 the Prevention of Crime Act institutionalised the Borstal movement and in 1911 the Prison Commissioners for Scotland opened the first similar institution in the village of Polmont near Falkirk. Its official name was the Polmont Institution, though universally known as Polmont Borstal. The building selected had formerly been a boys' boarding school called Blairlodge. Considering the nature of the regime in borstals it was ironic that Blairlodge School was described as a large private boarding school for gentlemen's sons. Indeed the similarity between the boarding school and the borstal was well noted by one writer who described them as a strange mixture of strict discipline, housemasters, short trousers, corporal punishment, manual labour, PT, boxing and rugby. Quite a good prospectus for Gordonstoun, Fettes or indeed Polmont Borstal. Borstals finally became Young Offenders Institutions in the Criminal Justice Bill of 1980.

An interesting review by the medical officer of Castle Huntly open Borstal, Dr Ruth Munro was published in 1975, 26 years since the establishment of the borstal. It offers an interesting light on developments in care in the various forms of residential education in 20th Century Scotland. In 1946 the school situated in Longforgan near Dundee became an open borstal receiving boys from Polmont. Two years later Dr Munro noticed that there was a steady intake of weak little boys, the product of parental neglect. She proposed that the borstal should accept what she called bruisables, boys who because of physical or nervous disability were likely to fail at other borstals. In more recent years she records substance abuse beginning to take hold At one point the Matron observed over half the boys going down with pyelitis, a kidney disorder. On investigation it turned out that the boys had been mixing brasso with their lemonade. The epidemic was cured by removing the brasso and confining the boys to bed for a week on an adequate but monotonous milk diet.

The steady intake of weakly little boys [and girls] into the Ragged Schools and the Reformatories had not meanwhile dried up. In 1933 the Children and Young Person's Act, applying to the whole of the UK was passed. Section 79 of the Act read The managers of any school intended for the education and training of persons to be sent there in pursuance of this Act may apply to the Secretary of State to approve the school for that purpose. Ragged Schools had passed into history and from now on the approved School was to fulfil at least part of their purpose. Interestingly in the light of the difference between Scotland and England in the age levels appropriate for borstals, the 1933 Act went on to say in paragraph 81 The Secretary of state may classify approved schools according to the age of the persons for whom they are intended. And later in the same paragraph the words a person sent to an approved school is sent to a school appropriate to his case. In the same year a statutory order was approved referring to Scotland which dictated the rules for the management and discipline of Approved Schools. The discipline area of the rules is inevitably concerned partly with the detail of corporal punishment but even here sentences such as The type of punishment to be used shall be determined not only by the gravity of the offence but also by the temperament and physical condition of the offender suggest at least a relatively enlightened approach in the rules. Similarly in paragraph 9 the sentence Boys and girls shall be taught the right use of leisure and the value of healthy interests, and for this purpose as great a measure of liberty as possible shall be allowed during free time suggest that the spirits of John Pounds, Sheriff Watson and Thomas Guthrie had not entirely deserted the parliamentarians of 1933!

The Approved Schools [Scotland] Rules were revised and issued in a new document in 1961. Apart from upgrades the changes are mainly extensions rather than revisions. One interesting section is that on parents. The tone of the rules has become noticeably more relaxed here. The 1933 rules allowed the children to receive letters. The 1961 rules encouraged the pupils to write letters and provided free postage stamps for the purpose, as well as continuing to allow children to receive mail.

Three years later the Report which was to establish a milestone in childcare procedures produced by the committee under Lord Kilbrandon was published. It was an extraordinary document that has led to much literature examining its revolutionary children’s hearings systems. 12 years later Martin and Murray were to opine if, towards the end of the 1960’s some UN official had been asked to compile a short list of countries in which an original and forward looking system of juvenile justice was likely to become firm rooted, it is unlikely that he would have rated Scotland high among his priorities. As indicated in the opening part of this paper, time does not permit a discussion of the Children’s hearing System. Another section of Kilbrandon however refers to Approved Schools.

In a way the whole Kilbrandon Report could be said to refer to approved schools. The original remit under which the committee was appointed by John Mclay, then Secretary of State for Scotland was to consider the provision of the law of Scotland relating to the treatment of juvenile delinquents in need of care and protection or beyond parental control.

In paragraphs 179-185 the report investigates the 24 approved schools existing, the vast majority under voluntary management. In very cogent prose the committee identified that many of the children in approved schools were in greater or lesser degree disturbed children. Consequently recommendation 32 of the report reads the provision of special residential accommodation for all classes of children requiring special measures of education can in our view be assessed in proper balance and perspective only if handled by a single local authority, and the whole range of such provision made available to the juvenile panels [the original name for children’s panels.] Such a recommendation led to many years squabbling about the correct administrative placing of what Kilbrandon determined to call residential schools. However the die was cast for the integration as a generic group of all schools for children with special needs including those of a social, emotional and behavioural nature.

This squabbling was hardly resolved by a number of Government circulars in 1971. Under these new instructions financial responsibility for approved schools was transferred from education to social work; initiative to find places in the schools from social work to education; and the recover of absconders from the schools to social work. But for many Circular SW/11 was the clincher. It determined that in future approved schools were to be known as List D schools. As one distinguished writer on Scottish Social Services commented and so highly individual establishments with traditions of over 100 years were relegated under the neutral nomenclature of clerical convenience.

More Serious than nomenclature however was the closure of the establishments themselves that began in 1983.

The initial motivation for the closures was financial. In February 1979 representatives of local authorities were described by the Glasgow Herald of February 13th of that year as having rebelled against massive rises in the costs of maintaining pupils in List D schools. The newspaper describes the costs as £152.46 a week, which was equally shared between the government and the local authorities. In 1981 the then Secretary of State announced the first closures of List D schools to be followed in the next few two years by more. The Fides Report into List D schools which was published in 1983 recommended that the government should 'persuade' local authorities to take over the running of the List D system by setting a date for withdrawal of funding. In March 1985 came possibly the most emotive blow. The closure of Dr.Guthrie's boys school was announced to take effect from the end of that month The Scotsman on the 6th of February quoted one of the trustees as declaring Whatever happens the trustees are determined that the philanthropic vision of Dr Thomas Guthrie should be maintained. The building was advertised at offers above £400,000 and was bought as a Nursing Home, which is still its present function.

So a vision that began with the apostle of Ragged Schools would seem to have come to an end. But as a journal article of 1985 declared List D schools believe in making people conform to what they believe to be a reasonable standard of behaviour, and taking measures to compel them to do so if necessary. The schools may no longer be called List D, the Residential Schools title that Kilbrandon wanted back in 1964 now being preferred, but 12 of them are still very much alive.

This paper was then concluded by the showing of a video made by Glasgow Caledonian University students entitled ‘Children in Trouble’. The video shows footage of three of today’s residential schools and has considerable amounts of testimony from pupils in the schools. It is available for viewing within Heatherbank Museum.

Comments: Alistair Ramage

Social Work History Network conference report