This paper (previously unpublished) was written in 1968 in the immediate aftermath of the Court Lees affair. Plans were already in hand to disband and replace the approved school service, and the following year the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was passed, introducing the community home system. The attitudes of the authorities and the public described in this paper therefore reflected both the desire for change and the wish to maintain the service, typified in the debate about the canings administered at Court Lees.
Of the scandals in the approved school service which hit the headlines between the end of the Second World War and the passing of the Children act 1969, the Standon Farm Murder and the Carlton Riots were both crises in which boys’ misbehaviour had resulted from the longterm inefficiency of staff and a few immediate causes. In both cases the upset was soon over, the respective enquiries diagnosed the causes and action was taken. At Court Lees, on the other hand, the history and effect of the crises was quite different. The school was running normally, the crisis reached its climax almost uneventfully, but its aftermath reverberated much longer and the public was provoked to greater criticism of the service as a whole.
Press interest was considerable: in the Guardian, for example, approximately one hundred articles, news items, leading articles and letters were written during the fourteen months following the initial article which unwittingly triggered the crisis off. This chapter is in fact based on a large selection of press cuttings from about twenty-five newspapers and journals, (especially those found in the Guardian, which followed every move closely), together with the official Report of Inquiry by Edward Brian Gibbens, Q.C., on the “Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School” (30).
That the crisis ever occurred was ironical as there was already a public crisis of confidence in the system. The White Paper of 1965 on The Child, the Family and the Young Offender (29) had put the approved school service in a turmoil, and while a number of practitioners were awaiting innovations hopefully, others were worried about their tenure of jobs and the destruction of the system, whose cohesiveness gave widespread support to people working in scattered and often isolated schools. Early in 1967, “Schools for Young Offenders” (57) (by Gordon Rose) was published. This book could not in any way be described as polemical, and it merely laid down the workings of the system and suggested a few changes.
On 9th February 1967, Jonathan Steele reviewed the book in the Guardian. His article was critical, and balanced, but in retrospect, some of his words appear ominous. “Just as the public only asks that approved schools keep young delinquents out of sight and out of mind, so most of these committees (of lay managers) and the teaching staffs still see their main function as custodial. Isolated administratively (unlike local authorities’ children’s homes or Home Office borstals), isolated geographically, and catering for children whose family links are slender, the schools slumber on. They avoid publicity, and rarely get it, unless the public catches wind of some physical mishandling of children by the staff above the unofficial but apparently acceptable norm ……. In his book Dr. Rose suggests that the schools should be brought under closer Home Office supervision at the regional level and that their running should be improved by easing out the present managers or else raising their quality …… While prodding the whole system gently forward, the Home Office, like the public, is still turning a blind eye to many of the laggards” (16/13).
Three weeks later, to “add something to the storm”, an anonymous “Approved School Teacher” wrote, attacking the management of his school, the low standards of professional qualifications of his colleagues, the excessive corporal punishment used, the geographical isolation and mentioning the consequent “state of perpetual near-revolt” of the staff. The letter was strongly worded, stating for example, “It is not pleasant to hear a boy screaming (this is no exaggeration; it happens at this school every week; sometimes day by day)” and, “Twice during the past few years this school has avoided open revolt by the boys by the skin of its teeth”. For fear of losing his tied house, the writer declined to give his name. (16/14) .
Immediately the Guardian produced a leading article (16/15); J.L. Burns spoke up for the system by describing the qualities of his staff and praising the value of the variety of schools (16/15); and others attacked, saying for example, “Obviously the whole system needs overhauling” (16/16). At this point the Daily Mail reprinted the letter and joined in the fray. Correspondence continued to flow, with added comments from the anonymous master. (16/17).
However, while the school remained unknown, no action could take place and arguments were based on conjectures. In an effort to put matters straight, the Newsight column of the Daily Mail made an investigation and although all they themselves found was commendable, allegations made by three men seemed to them adequate grounds for a thorough investigation of the whole approved school system (9/8). Soon afterwards Michael Wall reviewed the system in two articles (16/16 and 16/19), speaking in general with approbation but criticising the rigidity of the committal process (16/19). He visited two schools, Herts Training School near Ware, and Court Lees near Redhill, where he noted that, “The atmosphere is friendly, hearty and spartan”. The managers had close contact with the boys, meeting them and discussing their progress every three months. He seemed to find little to attack, commenting that, “Court Lees models itself on traditional public school (not reformatory) lines” and stating that, “The cane is used by the headmaster or his deputy ‘only after the most careful thought'”. He concluded “The weaknesses of the present system do not stem primarily from the composition of the management committees or from unenlightened attitudes within the schools. They are, in the main due to the general lack of facilities for helping the maladjusted, the mentally and physically handicapped, and the victims of bad homes” (16/18).
The Approved School Teacher replied vigorously, (16/20) and soon afterwards sent photographs of the bruised buttocks of caned boys to the Press. On 5th May the Daily Mail published an article including case histories of four boys of whose buttocks they had the photographs. From the case histories, the Home Office identified the school as Court Lees and the anonymous writer as Ivor Cook, a teacher there; and on 15th May 1967, the Recorder of Oxford was appointed to conduct an enquiry. The enquiry lasted from 26th-30th of June, and the Report was published on 8th August 1967, simultaneously with the Home Secretary’s announcement of the school’s closure and the recommendation that all approved schools should phase out caning “as quickly and completely as possible” (16/21).
This double bombshell shattered the lull. Of the ten groups of allegations; Mr. Gibbens had found five proven; (i) that Mr. Fidoe (the previous headmaster) and Mr. Haydon (the headmaster) used the cane freely and sometimes as a first punishment, which is contrary to Approved School Rule 34 (IV). (ii) that the canes were not of the authorized type contrary to Rule 35 (a) being ½” in diameter instead of 8-l0mm. (iii) that on one occasion Mr. Draycon caned a boy who was not wearing his ordinary cloth trousers, contrary to Rule 35 (c), and this irregularity occurred on further occasions. (iv) that in four instances, Mr. Haydon caned boys with excessive severity (the ones who were photographed by Mr. Cook), contrary to Common Law, and (v) that on many occasions Mr. Fidoe, Mr. Draycon and Mr. Haydon failed to record punishments in the punishment book, contrary to Rule 37.
On the basis of these findings, the Home Secretary demanded the resignations of Mr. Draycon and Mr. Haydon, and the retention of Mr. Cook to prevent victimisation. There was considerable discussion between Mr. Jenkins and the managers, and as a result he decided to close the school.
It was at this stage that the controversy really began, and at the time of writing, seven months later, newspaper reports are still printed every few days referring to the latest developments or moral issues still unresolved. Personal feelings ran very high, not only at the school but throughout the country, and random sampling of the public unconnected with the approved school service revealed widespread strongly-held opinions and considerable involvement in the Court Lees affair. The displaced staff attacked the enquiry and the Report bitterly and demanded another investigation to clear themselves; the Managers attacked Roy Jenkins; in the House of Commons a motion criticising the Government’s handling of the affair was defeated by 278 votes to 225 (16/39); a strike of approved school headmasters was threatened and a boycott of the triennial conference at Church House (24/15); and numbers of people defended and attacked the approved school system throughout the country in various media.
The above examples of the disturbance caused by the closure of Court Lees are not by any means exhaustive, but they do indicate the tremendous unrest, especially within the approved school service, which the crisis had added to the already unstable situation. However, the factual truth of the matter will probably never be known. From the first anonymous letter onwards, feelings inflamed the practical issues, whether through horror at the brutality of caning or through a defensive sense of self-justification. Discussion of the rights and wrongs and judgments of the personalities involved are therefore pointless, and serve only to clarify personal attitudes and give grounds for personal justification.
However, we have valid data by which the effect of the crisis can be measured and analysed in the form of the contemporary opinions stated in the press and on television. While these do not necessarily indicate the facts of the situation, they reveal the attitudes involved and images can be built up of the various issues and participants in the crisis, together with its impact on them.
Norman Fowler quickly pinpointed the main topic of argument, noting that ….. “the public, which quickly shies away from the technicalities of a debate upon the escalating costs of an airliner, fell upon this easy to understand case with relish. The issue became corporal punishment and everybody settled down to a cosy argument on whether the Home Secretary was a courageous reformer trying to abolish corporal punishment, or a dangerous softy who had already done enough damage by abolishing flogging in prison” (17/1). The correspondence on this problem was considerable, and although it developed into an issue separate from the Court Lees affair, the punitive image of approved schools maintained a close link and the effect on the system was extensive.
The general topic of treatment and punishment is broad. It is, however, worthy of note that the public image of the schools is one of the major critical factors in this issue, and it was the division of public opinion on this point that led to the intensity of argument and depth of division between the critics and protagonists of the school. The canings at Court Lees were typical of those given by many headmasters in my schools and an accepted part of the running of an apparently efficient school. (Until the day before its closure, the classifying centres were confidently transferring boys to Court Lees, and Mr. Haydon was described as “basically a kind man” even by his main critic, Ivor Cook.) Most of the allegations were virtually technicalities, such as the size of cane; only the severity of caning was culpable by Common Law. On this point many people chose to doubt the evidence and on both sides of the argument, it appears that feelings led to the selection of evidence in evaluating the severity. Frank Ebert, headmaster of Chafford School, however, directed the ball straight into the public’s court, pointing out that it was impossible to cane a boy without marking him. “If the Home Secretary and, indeed, the public don’t want boys marked, caning should be abolished” (16/32). In brief, the caning was the result of the demands of one section of the public; the enquiry and the closure were in accordance with the wishes of another; and the staff of Court Lees were the pawns pushed around in a game where they were condemned for behaviour demanded of them.
As in the Carlton Riots, nobody appeared to benefit in the short term, except possibly the boys. Mr. Cook stated early on in one of his anonymous letters that as a result of the scandal, “I’ll guarantee that there will be a marked falling off in caning for the next six months at least. At present caning is the easy way out. It is a substitute for thought”. (16/17). In fact, the cases judged excessively severe occurred one month later, though no doubt the enquiry led to the cessation of such punishments.
Although physical punishment was diminished, however, controversy raged about the damage done to the boys. Sever correspondents pointed out that mental cruelty was much more pernicious (e.g. 16/29), and that these boys, far from being cowed into submission and incapable of objecting to their treatment, thought it fair and were indubitably attached to Court Lees and its staff. The Liverpool Daily Post leader described the way parents and boys had rallied round as “nothing less than remarkable” and deprecated the destruction of a settled community which had taken time to build up. (41/1).
A Guardian report was entitled “Boys in tears as they leave approved school” and mentioned a letter sent spontaneously to the Home Secretary by a large group of boys saying, “We have all been treated fairly by the headmaster and all the rest of the staff ….. All the boys would sooner keep it as it is now and get rid of Mr. Cook”. One boy who had been to three approved schools described the headmaster as “the fairest of the lot” (16/22).
The treatment of the boys aroused great indignation among the Court Lees supporters. Uvedale Lambert, a manager, protested that the Guardian was “smugly pleased” with their efforts in precipitating the closure and asked, “Are you really in favour of uprooting 115 boys in the midst of their rehabilitation and sending 40 of them back to their families at the shortest possible notice without even a job?” (16/26)
In fact, sixty-five were transferred to other schools, and “there was no indication whatsoever that the boys were anything but sorry to leave their school” according to L. Crewe, speaking from knowledge of the receiving headmasters’ opinions. (20/1). The remaining fifty were released, of whom only six, according to Mr. Haydon, “would have passed our stringent series of pre-release meetings and interviews” . By the end of October, at least twelve of the fifty had been “in further trouble”, and earned the title of the “Forgotten Victims” of the Court Lees affair. (7/1).
The Daily Express presented the story of “Ben”, a Court Lees boy who had been prematurely released because of the closure and, unhappy in his secondary modern, returned to Court Lees, only to be moved on to another approved school. “Ben” called the allegations about corporal punishment “a load of rubbish” (7/2).
On the other hand, Court Lees critics pointed out that sometimes principles have to be stated and enforced, despite the temporary unhappiness that might result from such action, for the sake of the majority in the long run. Thus Mr. Gibbens took as an axiom for his enquiry that, “As the boys at an approved school are detained there under compulsion, they and their parents are entitled to expect a strict compliance with the letter and the spirit of the Approved School Rules and the Common Law, for therein lies their main protection against injustice and abuse of their rights” (30/2). Even those who interpreted the Rules loosely in practice found difficulty in justifying an attack on this principle.
Nonetheless, the staff were highly vocal in their objections to the school’s closure. At the time of the inquiry, no criticisms were made, but once its outcome was known, the staff closed ranks in defence and backed Mr. Haydon and Mr. Draycon fervently, ostracising Mr. Cook and attacking Mr. Gibbens and Mr. Jenkins.
First the accuracy of the photographs was doubted. “‘Some coloured photographs do exaggerate some colourings and minimise others’, Mr. Leonard Edwards, aged 64, the school’s building instructor, said today, ‘We as a staff were not invited to give any evidence in support of our headmaster in any way. We hope there will be so much public opinion that there will have to be a further public inquiry’. He added, ‘I have not come across anyone from the staff who does not want a public inquiry'” (16/23). This attitude hardened, “On Monday, the deputy headmaster, Mr. Roy Draycon, suggested that pictures, like little boys, could lie and declared, ‘We are determined to break the photographic evidence that was given at the original inquiry'” (25/2).
The discussion spread to the British Medical Journal, where the accuracy of the colour, the type of markings and the clinical examination of the boys were all questioned. (6/1 and 6/2). However, as leading articles in the Times Educational Supplement (25/2) and the Guardian (16/30) emphasised – (with amplifications from Ivor Cook) (16/34) – the Gibbens Report had stated, “The colour transparencies were admitted by all concerned to be genuine photographs of the four named boys and an expert witness, Mr. J. Rytina, who is in charge of the photographic department of Guy’s Hospital, London, declared that they were untouched and that the colour was true to life. There was no suggestion that the marks on the boys’ buttocks had in any way been artificially emphasised or altered” (30/7).
Similar attacks were made on the verbal evidence. The Daily Sketch had two-inch headlines “Cane School: A New Probe” . “A probe into whether or not ‘suspect’ evidence was given to the tribunal which closed Court Lees approved school has resulted in fresh statements being taken from witnesses. Three boys at the school and a member of the school staff have been interviewed in the presence of Treasury solicitors. Copies of their statements are now being studied by Treasury legal experts” (12/1).
Again, Mr. Draycon said, “We think the terms of reference of the inquiry were too narrow to base a decision to close the school ……. People are unaware of what has been achieved at this school” (16/24). At this point the organisations stepped in. Senior representatives of the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters, the Association of Headmasters, Headmistresses and Matrons of Approved Schools, and the National Association of Approved Schools Staffs met in London and condemned the closure as “unnecessary and unjust”. “The position could have been adequately dealt with, we feel, by means of a reprimand,” they concluded, (l6/25) and sought a public inquiry “with wider terms of reference than those employed by the Gibbens report”. (25/1). Soon afterwards, thirty approved school headmasters from S.E. England met, and also condemned the closure, terming it “hasty, unjust and unwise”. Dr. Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, also launched a scathing attack on Ivor Cook, in the House of Lords, stating that Mr. Cook was not “the White Crusader” he tried to appear, and in fact used “yellow tickets” to report boys to the headmaster for punishment more frequently than any other member of staff. Mr. Cook denied this. (13/5).
In a forceful letter, A.J. Rees of Druid’s Heath School summed up the staff complaints,
” ………. our two colleagues, Mr. Haydon and Mr. Draycon, have been charged, condemned, and sentenced to the loss of their careers without a fair trial”. Three points were made. 1) The Treasury Solicitor stated at the opening of the inquiry: “No one is in the dock at this inquiry. No disciplinary consequence would follow, or could properly follow automatically upon your report …… the matter would have to be investigated subsequently and gone into, and there would be the opportunity for defence and so forth given”. 2) “The inquiry proceeded on non-judicial lines. Much of the information was not tested or corroborated; there was no cross examination of witnesses;” and so on.
3) The immediate closure of the school gave no time for the defence of those …. “sentenced to lose their careers, their livelihood, and their homes”… The truth of the allegations was not the point at issue; but the treatment of Haydon and Draycon would be remembered as “two definite cases of very irregular punishment indeed” (16/37).
Ivor Cook replied with equal force, pointing out that the Treasury Solicitor’s statement was only part of a legal argument about the consequences, that there was a full judicial procedure with cross-examination, and that every facility was given to those against whom the allegations had been made, to defend themselves. (l6/38). Mr. Cook also wrote persuasive full-length articles in the Tribune (40/1) and the Observer (20/2) attacking his detractors, who were campaigning subtly and forcefully against the validity of the inquiry.
For most members of staff, however, the defensive anger arising from identification with the condemned school began to be gradually replaced by a more conformist consideration of future prospects. On 11th September it was announced that the school “is to be reopened as soon as possible under local education committee management and ‘the great majority of the staff’ will be reinstated” but it was made plain that neither Mr. Haydon nor Mr. Draycon would be re-employed. (13/3).
On a national scale, support still increased, and a strike seemed possible (25/4), but discussion at the time of the triennial Approved School Conference defused the situation.
At Court Lees, however, tension still ran high; Mr. Haydon and Mr. Draycon had had permission granted by the Department of Education to continue teaching, but they still wished to clear their names (25/6) and the new Home Secretary, James Callaghan, was asked to institute a second inquiry. (25/7).
These requests were turned down, but plans for the reopening went ahead. Court Lees was renamed Hays Bridge and the take-over was planned for February 7th. (16/41). (In fact it was early April before the “first group of ten to twelve boys, …. selected with great care” were to be admitted. (16/49).
Here another crisis arose for the staff: eight were not reappointed (16/41). Of these, five were mentioned in the papers. Mrs. Irene Whiteman, the wife of the senior chef was not re-employed as housemother; she was then offered a job as assistant cook which she considered a “gross insult” Willard Whiteman offered his resignation. (16/41).
Publicity was also given to the refusal by Surrey County Council to reinstate George Newmark, a housemaster of long standing “with the finest record in the approved school system” according to Haydon. An 80 per cent success rate was claimed for him, and he was said to be very thorough in his aftercare, with at least 200 boys keeping in touch with him at any one time. Mr. Newmark himself attributed his rejection to lack of qualifications; ironically, lack of training was one of Ivor Cook’s main criticisms, yet he considered Mr. Newmark “second to none” and “a credit to the entire approved school system” and was “absolutely horrified” at George Newmark’s rejection. (7/3).
The refusal to re-employ Mr. Draycon and Mr. Haydon has been mentioned previously, and it is still a source of discontent. In early April 1968, pleas were still being made in the House of Lords that employment should be found for them (16/49), and both were interviewed by the Home Secretary, their notice having been previously extended to April 30th. (16/45). Another article, in May, noted that Mr. Haydon and Mr. Cook were still without work. (16/5l).
Mr. Haydon received a letter saying, “The Secretary of State fully accepts that the excessive punishments which Mr. Gibbens found that you inflicted on boys at Court Lees School were not inspired by morbid or cruel motives. He notes, however, that you find it impossible after reflection in the light of all that has happened since, to recognize that there were serious errors of judgment in your handling of an admittedly difficult situation”. John Gittins of Aycliffe School commented that the Home Secretary had “come a long way in recognizing that Denis Haydon’s motives at Court Lees were simply to run a good school. Anybody who knows Mr. Haydon and the intensely difficult situation he inherited – and for which he was not in any way responsible – will understand that he would use firm control combined with great personal sympathy with the boys” . (16/48). The only hint in the Report of this “difficult situation” was that Haydon had been appointed on 1st January 1967 and wished to impress on the boys that they could not take advantage of him, (30/5), while Mr. Cook had sought the headship and was allegedly influenced by jealousy. (30/4). Other details, circulated privately, did not appear in the public Press, but the latest information indicates that Mr. Haydon still wishes to vindicate himself by a public inquiry. (16/51).
Mr. Draycon meanwhile said, “I think I have had a raw deal, If a deputy headmaster is to be held responsible for what goes on when he is not there simply because he holds a post of responsibility, then the security of tenure of every deputy head in the approved school service is nil” (16/48). He felt this especially since he had not been accused of excessive severity of caning. On leaving the approved school service, Mr. Draycon said “I’ve had my fill ….. after 17 years’ hard work” (16/51).
The final man to receive publicity for his non-reinstatement was Ivor Cook, whose accusations instigated the whole affair. In a much-quoted passage, Mr. Gibbens described him as “a complex character obviously very emotional and intense, apt to exaggerate greatly, sometimes irresponsible in his behaviour, and possessed by a burning conviction that he is the only person who understands the boys with compassion and who is devoted to their interests. I believe that (perhaps to some extent unintentionally) he has set himself up as the boys’ champion against the senior staff” (30/3). In early February he was “told by the head of the children’s department at the Home Office that it was impossible for him to be offered employment in any residential approved school or allied institution”. He added, “I think this is because I have been blacklisted by the Association of Headmasters of Approved Schools. This is in spite of a guarantee by the Home Office that I would be protected against victimisation” (16/43). On television he added, “My job, which I am best at, is dealing with emotionally disturbed children” and he felt that the headmasters who refused to appoint him must have had something to hide. (1/2). He reiterated his claims of victimisation on receiving notice to vacate his house from Surrey County Council. (3/1).
The Guardian took his cause up and gave over a oomp1ete leading article entitled “Small thanks for a public service”, claiming that the Home Office had “a moral if not a legal obligation to find him another job” (16/44). Two months later, Lord Stonham reported to the House of Lords that despite several interviews, Ivor Cook was still unemployed. (16/49). Like Mr. Draycon and Mr. Haydon, his notice was extended until 30th April (16/43), and similarly his future is uncertain. This issue is still hot at the time of writing; Bernard Levin referred in the Daily Mail recently to the campaign to reinstate Mr. Haydon and discredit Mr. Cook as “One of the most insidious and least justifiable campaigns ever to be spawned by a pressure-group combined with some of the seedier members of the Establishment” …. (9/12). However, although his hopes of the headship have been twice shattered, he has the consolations that he was vindicated by the Report, and that the book he is writing on the Court Lees affair, entitled “The Garden of Love”, will have an informed public. (21/1).
It can be seen from this history of staff attitudes that on the one side stood Mr. Cook, backed by the Guardian, a vocal minority in the N.U.T. and (nominally) by the Home Office; on the other stood Mr. Haydon, Mr. Draycon, the remainder of the staff and the bulk of the professional bodies. lvor Cook’s case was weakened by his anonymous letter-writing, his exaggerations, his alleged jealousy of Dennis Haydon and his image as a group reject; but even if he had been thoroughly stable and respectable, his position would still have been difficult for, on finding practices of which he disapproved, the methods of objection open to him were limited. He could have kept quiet as others obviously did (16/28), or left without objection as others had done; but if he were to object, he had only three authorities to whom he could complain. The first consisted of those in charge of his school, the very senior staff whose practices he abhorred, and, linked with them, the management. Managers and headmasters often work closely together and Mr. Cook probably realised that he would receive little sympathy from either; additionally, as he stated on television complaints might merely have induced Mr. Haydon and Mr. Draycon to cover their tracks more carefully. (3/1). On the other hand, this was professionally the most acceptable approach. Having dismissed the managers as “remote and godlike beings” (16/14) with whom he had never spoken, Mr Cook described the second group, the inspectorate, as “nice people” shielded from the staff by the headmaster. Finding these official channels of complaint clogged, blocked with obstacles or mined with threats to his job, Mr. Cook understandably turned to the third potential recipient of complaints and responded to the Press discussion of the approved school system.
It is interesting to note in passing that Dr. Eric Buechse, a housemaster made similar allegations at Quinta School. He was eventually denied access to the boys and ostracised by the staff; the managers declared his allegations unfounded and so he left. It is conceivable that Ivor Cook’s complaints would have met with the same conclusion if he had made them through the official channels. In such a situation criticism of individuals is fruitless for they are moulded by their roles, and the threat to the system posed by critics like Mr. Cook, raises tremendous defensive barriers.
The situation raised by the managers was very similar. The publicity they received was minimal by comparison with the staff, (presumably because they did not live at the school), their conduct was not widely criticised and their jobs were not at stake. But their response to the criticism of Court Lees, with which they identified, was one of defensiveness, and their lack of rapport with the Home Secretary was one of the most unfortunate end disturbing aspects of the whole affair.
The full tale of misconceptions and disagreement will probably never be known as the managers and the Home Secretary gave different accounts of their negotiations immediately after the incident. Discussions took place very speedily prior to the publication of the Report, but while Roy Jenkins was widely blamed for the precipitate closure of the school, the Guardian pointed out that the “closure of the school arose not out of the report itself but because of the attitude of the managers. They apparently wanted to retain the headmaster, against whom allegations of excessive caning had been proven, and dismiss Mr. Ivor Cook, the teacher who had had the courage to raise the issue in public. This was clearly unacceptable, and as long as they were not prepared to concede this, the Home Secretary had no alternative” (16/30). This clear and logical line of argument is blurred and complicated by counter-allegations by the managers that they had offered to remove Mr. Haydon and had been under the impression that with this assurance the school would remain open. (25/2). Mr. Jenkins alleged that the managers did not appreciate the implications of the report, but there were no recommendations in the report as a result of the limits he set and so there could be no implications. Furthermore, he refused to allow the Chairman of the Managers to show the report to another manager until the meeting discussing the closure and arrived at the meeting with his plans already laid for the closure, thus clearly expecting no negotiated settlement. Suggestions that Mr. Jenkins’s adamant attitude was intended to steamroller the school into Local Authority management circulated, and, as with the Carlton episode, the whole nature of management was once more brought forward for reconsideration.
One disturbing fact is that the management found wanting at Court Lees was fairly typical of many boards in the approved school system. Michael Wall’s article left an impression of conscientious interest, and the Court Lees managers always considered themselves progressive. They had rebuilt the school in 1926 and again on moving in 1936, thus producing the first purpose-built approved school of the century. “A unique occasion in the long and proud history” of the school had been their centenary celebration on 27 November 1957 when the Home Secretary, then R.A. Butler, visited. (4/1). High standards had been maintained by Col. W. Churchill Hale, who died on 11th May 1961 after 92 years of continuous management by himself and his father; his successor was Judge Cohen.
The argument against voluntary boards of managers was put briefly in Ivor Cook’s first letter. “The school managers are ….. from a single class: persons with some money, no work, and a desire to salve their consciences by devoting an hour or two a month to ‘good works'”. Being “retired country gentlemen and various middle-class wives,” they “do not understand the boys or their parents, and have no idea at all of what living on a low working-class income may involve”. Other major points of attack were their self perpetuation and lack of public representation when “Every penny that they handle is public money”.
The discussion elicited an interesting attack on the Local Authority management system from J .W. Parr, a. chairman of the managers of a junior school for 15 years under Local Authority auspices. He pointed out that the domination of the schools by Children’s Departments was detrimental, that interested councillors were difficult to find and that too frequently party politics dominated petty matters as well as major policy. (25/5). A major benefit, however, was the liaison with local authority facilities such as architects’ departments.
One manager writing to the Guardian anonymously pointed out that if managers were to fulfil their duty and “ensure that the condition of the school and the training, welfare and education of the boys under their care are satisfactory, they should be qualified in inspecting these nebulous factors”. He also recommended an increase in compulsory visiting, but concluded that an increase in staff training and salaries would be more beneficial (16/28).
Reform of some sort was clearly necessary, for the Court Lees management was found wanting in that it was unaware of the canings. (Mr. Gibbens declined to criticise the management on this point. (30/8)) They were also unable to communicate adequately with the Home Secretary; in top level discussions rapport was vital and the lack of understanding between the two sides when the decision of closure was made was one of the most deplorable aspects of the affair.
The role of the Home Office was equally vital, and attracted much initial criticism, but this died away as attention was diverted to the staff complaints. Although ninety strong, the Inspectorate had been unaware of the irregularities, and no full-scale inspection of Court Lees had been undertaken since 1963. The leading article of the Tribune noted that …. “the real scandal is that such bullying and brutality can continue for so long undetected by Government inspectors” (quoted in 25/3). (Mr. Gibbens, incidentally, never found “brutality” proven and its first official mention was in the House of Lords speech by Lord Stonham when he said, “The main issue is one of brutality… there is no other word for it”. (24/17))
The popular conclusion was that, as with earlier upsets, the Inspectorate should be increased (19/2), but here the ultimate purpose of inspection is raised. Of the five proven allegations, three would need the Inspectors’ presence at every caning for adequate checking, while the other two would demand regular buttock inspections and measurement of cane diameters. Such inspection would be clearly ludicrous. The system relies more on an awareness of the right atmosphere and trust between the Home Office, management and staff. And of course, verbal cruelty cannot be inspected at all; ultimately the integrity of the practitioner is all-important.
If the Inspectorate considers advice and reform its main duties, then an increase may well be necessary as the rapport needed to effect change takes time and involvement. This aspect does not seem, however, to have been the cause for suggestions of an augmented Inspectorate.
In the event, the picture given of Inspectors is of faceless officials. The reply to Ivor Cook’s scorching first letter was typical: under the title “Approved school caning: Home Office replies” there was a tame reiteration of the regulations, given by “a spokesman” whose hands were clearly tied. (16/15). Once the Daily Mail had published the boys’ case histories, on May 5th, speedy work behind the scenes pinpointed the school, which was visited on the 6th, 7th and 9th. By the time Ivor Cook telephoned the Home Office to admit that he had written the letters, they already knew. It was then that he was interviewed by “senior officers of the Home Office Children’s Department” and it was decided to set up an independent inquiry.
In the inquiry, L.J. Wardle, a Superintending Inspector, acted as an assessor, and at the closure of the school, the Deputy Chief Inspector, Sidney Gwynn was “at the school virtually full-time, helping to arrange the removal of boys to other schools” (16/22). His statements quoted in the Guardian are factual, tactful and unsurprising. Other references to senior officials occasionally crop up in the news items. But throughout they showed Olympian tactfulness.
Again, the image was scarcely that of a dynamic, innovating force whose policies would drive conservative elements into opposition. One is again reminded of the quotation from the article which provoked Ivor Cook’s first letter, “While prodding the whole system gently forward, the Home Office, like the public, is still turning a blind eye to many of the laggards” (16/13).
Most of the criticisms of the Home Secretary and the Recorder of Oxford have been mentioned in other parts of this paper, but their roles offer two further points of interest.
First, they were the two laymen involved in this case and thus attracted much criticism from those who felt that they had not evaluated the situation adequately before reaching conclusions, or had been influenced by factors such as politics, which should not overrule professional opinion.
Secondly, the narrow terms of reference, the narrow acceptance of these terms and the narrow logic which led to closure led to widespread feeling that much good work had been undervalued and many other factors had been overlooked. Resentment and anxiety soon spread, and were directed against Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Gibbens. Others, such as the Guardian leaderwriter welcomed the clarity and logic of the report and the closure.
On the first point, it was felt that the professional image of teachers had suffered and that no other profession would accept interference so passively.
The suggestion by a layman that caning should be phased out roused anger not so much at the loss of the cane, but at the interference of a non-practitioner who was able to offer no alternative.
Thomas Shearer put the attitude crisply in a reply to a Times Educational Supplement leader, “What is disturbing about the present case ….. (as you fail to note) is that as a result of the publicity, in which teachers were made answerable overnight to hectoring television interviewers and noisome pundits of all kinds, the image of the profession as a profession has taken another blow. Many who are fully aware of the urgent need for reform in all the matters involved would agree that they might have done equally well without the aura of sensationalism that blighted the Court Lees affair …. even if the discreeter methods would have deprived journalists of copy in the silly season and the Home Secretary (whose officers emerge with such great credit from a matter undetected by themselves) of further liberalizing laurels. As you are only concerned here to berate the teachers you dismiss any of the extenuating circumstances and airily neglect to mention any of the genuinely good achievements of Court Lees” (25/3).
The suddenness of the decision to close the school and the powerlessness of’ staff in residential work to affect the decision both added to the resentment felt against Roy Jenkins, and the change of Home Secretaries brought hopes that redress might be made.
On the second point, the narrow terms of reference have already been mentioned as grounds of complaint by the staff. This is worth considering in greater detail as a comparison with the Reports on Standon Farm Murder and the Carlton Riots reveals some interesting differences.
The other two enquiries were ordered to report on the state of discipline at the schools and on any contributory matters. Mr. Gibbens was only authorised to investigate allegations of irregular punishments. As a result, official discussion arising automatically excluded mitigatory factors which might have led to the continuance of Court Lees’s certificate. It also limited public discussion largely to the hackneyed theme of corporal punishment. The wider issues of management, lack of staff training and school isolation, which were all given prominence in Ivor Cook’s first letter (6/l4), arose only in newspaper correspondence and articles, although all these three subjects are of more importance than the caning. The authorisation did not permit recommendations, by contrast with the two earlier reports. Consequently Mr. Jenkins’s bombshell closure had no official recommendation or explanation, and the mystery and argument surrounding the decision added to the resentment. Presumably the Home Secretary felt that the precision of the inquiry would prevent recommendations clashing with those of the impending White Paper and Seebohm Committee Report. In fact, equal disturbance was caused by the implications of the introduction of Local Authority managers and the phasing out of caning.
The Report was produced in three months as against the four months taken for the Standon Farm and Carlton ones; it was described by Guardian leaders as “admirable” , “scrupulously cautious in evaluating evidence” (16/21), “rigorous and balanced” (16/30), but a number of features are unusual. In the case of the Carlton Report a thorough study of the approved school system was justifiably attached to the evaluation of the disturbances (27/2); but most of the Court Lees introduction was irrelevant because of the narrow terms of reference (30/1). Standards of acceptance of evidence also vary tremendously, as can be seen in the incident on 2nd January 1961 which Mr. Haydon did not remember (although it was only his second day as headmaster) and in which he successfully denied giving a boy more than six strokes of the cane, contrary to the evidence of the boy and Mr. Cook, while Mr. Wright’s denial that he held the boy’s head between his (Mr. Wright’s) legs, was over-ruled in favour of the boy’s evidence alone. (30/6). Such variation does not affect the ultimate conclusions, despite their subjectivity.
Finally, let us consider the impact on the remainder of the approved school system. To assess this accurately, each school’s absconding and caning statistics would have to be evaluated and many personal opinions assessed. But the general impression of despondency and chaos was obvious.
Following the directive on phasing out caning, and possibly through fear of the example of Court Lees, corporal punishment dropped considerably and in some schools it was abandoned. By comparison with the 162 canings in the July-September quarter of 1966, there were 423 in 1967. Furthermore, absconding rates rose. As boys learnt of the Court Lees affair, they realised the lack of sanctions available to staff and a number of schools experienced mass abscondences. Only junior schools where the news had not percolated remained unaffected. This unrest occurred not so much because boys had previously been caned regularly and beaten into submission, as because in many schools training relies on a clear routine and system of rules; once the lynchpin was removed, the house collapsed and the security given by the knowledge of an ultimate sanction vanished. These disturbances naturally left staff despondent, and a number of headmasters must have been only too well aware how typical and normal a school Court Lees was. Committals also declined, (24/18), – possibly a reflection of the magistrates’ views on the typicality of Court Lees.
Like the tip of an iceberg, a number of these troubles reached the papers and others which were unconnected became newsworthy with the tag of approved school scandal.
In the wake of Court Lees, the Quinta Approved School gained publicity. Dr. Eric Buechse, (mentioned earlier), had been a housemaster there and had successfully complained about ill treatment on one occasion, but on a second occasion he was asked to leave. Two boys from the school visited him in August 1961 and complained that corporal punishment had increased since he had left in November 1966. The complaints were passed on to the Home Secretary and they were investigated. It was agreed by all concerned “that corporal punishment should be phased out as soon as possible” and the Home Secretary stated in a written reply that inspectors would “continue to keep in close touch”. (16/35). The Daily Mail interviewed Dr. Buechse who gave them the quotable definition that privately run approved schools were “jungles turning boys into criminals” (9/14).
The Sunday Express mentioned that there were investigations into alleged brutality at two approved schools and Harrietsham Remand Home, Maidstone (21/2) and the Sunday Mirror reported later in the year that three approved schools were being investigated following reports of indiscipline and unrest. St. Thomas More School, Southport was named. (22/1).
Other events at approved schools also made headlines such as “Sniffs put boys in hospital: Two try fumes for ‘kicks” ‘, referring to Wellesley boys. :By the time the story was printed as front page news it was already some days old, and the boys, who had been sniffing cleaning fluid, were all well again, despite the lurid descriptions of the after effects mentioned in the Journal. (15/1). The suicide of a boy at Ardale School also gained six column-inches, with detailed quotations from the headmaster. (16/40).
The three most notorious incidents after the Court Lees affair, however, were the closure of Kneesworth Hall, the sacking of Brother Cassian at St. Swithin’s Nautical School, and the Loaningdale School murder. Each reveals important facets of the public response to the system.
Kneesworth Hall had been running under voluntary management with M.M. Simmons, an ex-Inspector, as headmaster for nineteen years. It was experimental in nature, dealing permissively with intermediate boys of high intelligence. The school was situated near Royston, and close contact was kept with Cambridge. The combination of permissiveness and intelligence frequently led to control difficulties as the boys singly or en masse revealed unrepressed character disorder which would have probably remained concealed in a more highly structured school. Abscondences and thefts did little to help local relations and a series of upsets about the time of Mr. Simmons’s retirement led to its closure. On 19th November 1961 a new management under Cambridgeshire County Council took over, all staff were under notice to leave and a complete changeover of boys was expected. The immediate dispute which led to the closure had been over the appointment of the new headmaster, but much of the pressure which led to the change was the result of local opinion. Although this dispute reached the national Press, coverage was not extensive and many of the problems were not publicly voiced. (16/33 and 16/36). Ironically the news broke almost simultaneously with that of Court Lees, and while Court Lees was censured for excessive caning, Kneesworth Hall had never used corporal punishment. It was renamed Kneesworth House.
The experimental individuality and difficulties of Kneesworth were known in the approved school service, but the dismissal of Brother Cassian as headmaster of St. Swithin’s School proved more alarming and sensational. Allegations were made by William Williams, a retired naval lieutenant who had been an instructor in the nautical department for five years, but was dismissed in 1965. In the Court Lees controversy, he wrote to the Daily Mail, alleging excessive caning (9/13). He said later, “I began to become uneasy about what I had seen soon after joining the school. I tried to get something done internally but to no avail. My disapproval came to the notice of the headmaster” (9/11). On television he said that he did not only object to excessive canings but also to the unofficial beating and roughing up of boys by the Brothers. (2/1).
The allegations of unofficial punishment were found unproven by a joint committee of managers and inspectors, but in two instances (in July 1964 and February 1966) excess severity was used, and the practice of wearing drill shorts for caning had been irregular. The Home Secretary recognised the headmaster’s long service and devotion but said in a statement, “The Home Secretary proposed, and the managers accepted, his views that in the circumstances the interests of the school and of the boys, would be best served if the headmaster, whose term of office was due to end in June 1968, should anticipate this by taking at once his accumulated leave” (9/11).
This carefully-worded statement produced a variety of headlines. “Headmaster asked to leave R.C. boys’ school” (10/42), “Head Told To Leave Approved School” (1)/4), “Headmaster told to quit over beatings” (19/1), and “Callaghan rules on monk who was ‘too severe’ in two cases” (9/11). Another cutting was entitled “Teachers back sacked monk” , explaining that he had been advised to appeal. (39/1). The local residents also supported Brother Cassian, and approached the Home Office with a 3,000 name petition demanding his reinstatement. (7/5). Interviewed on television, an organiser said, “A good man has had a shabby deal”. Local people were grateful for all he had done as there had been “very few breakings out since he had been there and people felt safe in their homes” (1/l). He was a popular boxing referee, well-known for his interest in amateur boxing. (l9/l).
This scandal died away, but two points emerge. First of all, the local residents identified strongly with the school and local relationships were clearly admirable. Secondly, Brother Cassian was held accountable for actions almost four years earlier. The double effect of the speedy Court Lees closure and the investigation at St. Swithin’s reaching far into the past left approved school headmasters in a still more critical position.
The third crisis occurred at the experimental Scottish school, Loaningdale, at Biggar in Lanarkshire. Numbers in the school were low and the atmosphere free with the emphasis on therapy through easy relationships between staff and boys, with the whole social milieu as a basis for treatment. One night in August 1967 a Loaningdale youth murdered a girl from Biggar in the cemetery; his guilt was established by means of forensic odontology and the case attracted wide attention.
The Guardian commendably made no mention of the murderer’s approved school origin, publishing a brief news item entitled “Man found guilty of girl’s murder”, (16/45), and later an article entitled “Self-discipline of young offenders”, describing the school’s court system. (16/47). The two were left unconnected.
The reports of the Daily Record and Scottish Daily Express however provided well illustrated, sensational and blunt attacks on the school, with a complete mid-paper spread (11/1), and a whole-page article respectively (7/4). The views of the mothers were contrasted, the girl’s saying, “I’ll never forgive him”, and the youth’s, “I will stand by my son”. In both papers, the opinions of James Telfer, the Provost of Biggar, were given fully, “The security there is terrible” (about the school). “If it were left to the people of Biggar, the place would be closed immediately. There is a tremendous amount of ill-feeling in the town about it. Since the murder there have been a fantastic amount of complaints registered by people who have not voiced them before”. “The least this town will accept is a complete gutting-out of the staff”. Councillor Fred Stephen, the Burgh Treasurer, said, “We never wanted Loaningdale School but we accepted it because the authorities said it was right. We tried our best to take the boys into the community. We knew it was an experiment – an experiment that has cost the life of a teenage girl. It was a tragic, costly experiment that failed, and worse still, the people in this town always felt that something terrible would come out of Loaningdale”.
Little mitigatory material was published. The new security system was discussed in both papers. The Scottish Daily Express pointed out that “Kilted John Wilson” had recommended the boy’s transfer on the grounds of unsuitability for the quick-release Loaningdale programme. (7/4). The Daily Record also included an article entitled “A system that is working well”; in it, John Pirie pointed out that this was the first murder in the school’s history of over a century. “This fact needs stating, not in any way to condone the killing of 15-year-old Linda Peacock, but to counter the hysteria about security at approved schools which inevitably will arise” . After a description of the Scottish system, he concluded, “These circumstances should not be used to attack and undermine an approved school system which works – and works well” . But a reasoned article of this nature could not hope to persuade its readers when placed alongside subheadings such as “Shut this school says the town” and “The family who mourn for a daughter”, while huge headlines announced simply “Tell-Tale Toothmarks” (11/1).
In this instance local feelings attacked the school system, staff and boys, in a place where, ironically, an experiment in community involvement was of prime importance to therapy.
Of these examples, only the Loaningdale murder could have been guaranteed any prominence independently of Court Lees. The St. Swithin’s case arose directly from correspondence on excessive canings, and all the others acquired extra news value because of the spotlight on Court Lees. As a result of these scandals, discussion of the White Paper sank into insignificance in the public eye, although pressures to produce concrete proposals for action increased. A Deputy County Children’s Officer, for example, pointed out that the planning of new facilities such as remand homes was impossible and that “the atmosphere of insecurity in so many sections of the service is having an adverse effect on the children” (16/38). However, the attention granted to the crises and the width of resulting comment indicate that an assessment of the approved school image in terms of attitudes revealed in recent newspaper articles and correspondence is valid, for he repercussions affected the whole system. One headmaster attributed the poor image to the lag in public awareness of the innovations since Carlton, the increased general delinquency and the uncertainty of present penal methodology. (24/22).
What conclusions can we reach therefore in analysing these recent crises? In many of the issues, developments are concealed and attitudes camouflaged because it is still only fourteen months since the first anonymous letter, and the uninvolved clarity needed for accurate assessment comes only with time. Two things are obvious: the closure of Court Lees caused an immense amount of unhappiness, ill-feeling and personal suffering in the short term, whether the hastily-released boys, the dismissed staff or the anxious approved school service is considered, and secondly the crisis led to a wide discussion of many aspects of the approved school system and child care in general.
The two facts above are clear on the most cursory knowledge of the closure, but other topics and trends which emerge demand an analysis of facts or opinions. It must therefore be re-emphasised that the following analysis is made in terms of the public image of the system and is based on published material in newspapers, magazines and the inquiry report. Additional material, such as confidential information circulating within the service is therefore excluded, and conclusions reached have therefore to be understood in terms of attitudes and their effects, and not as a justification or condemnation of the people concerned.
By comparison with the distortions of fact at Carlton – and indeed, the manufacturing of news – the Press acted commendably. The irregular canings came to light through the newspapers and full coverage was given to a matter, which was of considerable public concern. The Guardian which consistently supported Mr. Cook, Mr. Gibbens and Mr. Jenkins nonetheless sympathetically reported the feelings and opinions of the boys and staff of Court Lees. Sensational journalism (exemplified in the admittedly sensational case of the Loaningdale murder) was rarely apparent. Even a headline in the Daily Mail “Beatings School to be closed”, (9/10) (which might be attacked on the grounds that it describes the school by only a minute proportion of its treatment of boys,) can nonetheless be excused on the grounds that in journalism the main proposition has to be communicated as speedily as possible, while the full story was spread over half the front page, and some of the second. It is possible that restraint was exercised after the Carlton recommendation that approved schools might have to be legally protected from irresponsible press conduct, (21/7) but it is more likely that a genuine progressive interest in child welfare and the individuals’ rights inspired the concern shown in the general articles on the approved school service and the leading articles.
The crisis produced four specific and four general topics for discussion. The first specific matter was the only official theme, that of corporal punishment. This created a wide division of opinion; its excessive (but scarcely abnormal) use at Court Lees attracted widespread condemnation, whereas its absence at Loaningdale and Kneesworth was again condemned, in so far as its absence was part of an experimental therapeutic system. Caning was attacked more than ever before, and the argument spread to its use first in schools for handicapped children and then day schools.
Secondly, management came under attack. The Court Lees managers were functioning with average efficiency and attacks on them implied attacks on the whole system of management. The Home Secretary’s imposition of Local Authority management on Kneesworth and Court Lees was indicative of the official trend, but the composition of the managing bodies remained inadequately investigated until Julius Carlebach’s book (34), and managers’ duties had remained undefined until the handbook was published after the Carlton riots. (28). The role of managers in loco parentis has always been nebulous, as the contact maintained by the enthusiastic early Reformatory managers could scarcely be expected to continue once the system had expanded and was going about its daily business in a more settled and less exciting manner. Furthermore the turnover of boys in some senior schools today makes meaningful contact with individual inmates difficult (5/2) and those with adequate qualifications and experience to be managers often have inadequate time to build close contacts. Nonetheless an interested and influential body of local people who can act as a balance, check and source of help for the staff is vital to the efficient running of establishments where abnormal problems are the rule and here the complete community may become rejected in its locality because of its intrinsic nature.
lvor Cook attacked the management bitterly – “remote and godlike beings” (16/14); Michael Wall said that the Court Lees managers met the boys for whom they were responsible every three months; managers discussed their problems in the papers; and Roy Jenkins converted two schools to Local Authority management. Yet as Julius Carlebach pointed out, the Home Office did not even know how many managers there were. (34). This lack of information and the Court Lees irregularities do not necessarily imply a greater need for official control, whether Home Office or Local Authority, but an increase in contact is certainly indicated. The retention of voluntary managers and the increased participation of local authority representatives, as envisaged in the 1968 White Paper seems ideal (31/1), and as the Times pointed out, the interest of voluntary bodies would have to be watched. (24/14).
Thirdly, the role of the Inspectorate needs further consideration. The negative image and lack of inventive dynamism have already been mentioned, but it appears that even in day-to-day affairs, greater efficiency could be expected at the Home Office, and officialdom in general.
In all the three inquiries mentioned, the staff had to run their schools for some months in the knowledge that, even if the ringleaders had been removed, they were in charge of boys who had the power over them of making anonymous allegations. It would therefore have been helpful if inquiries had been immediate, preventing the increase of tension and uncertainty. Indeed, it was when Mr. Hadley, the Inspector, truthfully pointed out that an inquiry would take some weeks that the Carlton boys, wanting immediate action, began their final frenzied riot, while at Standon Farm and Court Lees the suspense for staff was considerable.
In other matters, Mr. Haydon complained at the slowness of the Home Office in clearing his name by comparison with the speed of the Department of Education in deciding to allow him to teach. The support against victimisation offered to Ivor Cook amounted to an extension of his notice until 30th April 1968 and then the offer of pay until August 1999 while he undertakes a year’s further training. (16/51). It is also a criticism of officialdom that a newly appointed headmaster should be expected to abide by rules republicised last in 1952 without being officially informed or without a check on his equipment being made.
At present the data above lead to the conclusion that, let alone present a polished approved school image to the public, the Home Office does not even scrub it clean, but follows around vaguely mopping up the messes it finds, leaving the whole aspect somewhat sullied. The implementation of the 1968 White Paper, however, may effect a change.
The crisis also produced four more general problems, more serious and more difficult to cope with.
First of all, the whole nature of approved schools was questioned. Typical of those who wanted a full-scale “Curtis type” inquiry was R.P. Repworth, a Probation Officer, who wrote that the approved school service was ready to slip through the legalistic loophole of the narrow terms of reference of the inquiry and avoid putting its house in order, “How much more evidence is needed before something is done? What in short is at issue is whether proper standards of child care and remedial education are being practised in approved schools” (16/21).
In all four major crises, there was a clash between axioms and practice. At Kneesworth and Loaningdale the theoretical basis of training led to local upsets and the schools suffered for using therapy which the local public found unacceptable. At Court Lees and St. Swithin’s the customary traditional practices of punishment were held up for scrutiny against the Approved School Rules and Common Law and found wanting. In all cases, the schools were criticised.
This clash symbolises a deeper theoretical conflict. On the one hand the schools have to contain delinquents and in so doing repress unacceptable traits; on the other hand, in caring for the children, they are expected to help them mature, a brief which necessarily involves difficult crises. Approved schools are balanced on a knife-edge. Partly through their historical tradition (which includes the size of the institutions), partly through a natural inclination of staff towards repressive action when faced with a threatening situation, and partly because of the public remit, the schools often have a rigid basis to their training with many features limiting rather than extending boys’ personalities. Expectance of individual casework and therapy, psychological testing and psychiatric oversight influence the regimes, however, to a limited extent. The result is that except in the most conservative and most advanced schools, there is neither the stabilising consistency of a rigidly-run school nor the individual-centred therapy of the permissive establishment. The consequent confused approach of this “hodge-podge of semi-autonomous institution” (16/13) may be a contributory cause of the declining success rates. The system is falling between the proverbial stools.
Criticism of this type leads to a closer consideration of the type of boys, staff and regimes at the schools. The boys’ image does not seem to have changed; they are both rejected as dangerous individuals, such as the Loaningdale murderer, and as a public nuisance, as at Kneesworth. Yet concern for their welfare once “put away” is considerable, and the staff image has suffered through the crises, with the emphasis put on lack of training and indiscriminate brutal canings. The changing image of the regimes is characterised subtly in two comments from the Guardian, “Court Lees models itself on traditional public school (not reformatory) lines” in a fairly approving article (16/18) before the inquiry was metamorphosed into “A few approved schools are still depressing parodies of a Victorian public school” in a leader condemning Court Lees. (16/21).
This type of criticism leads to the second general issue. Standards of work in approved schools may have deteriorated because of the anxiety and tension within the service. A large number of cuttings indicate the insecurity and resentment of the Court Lees staff after their treatment, and the defensive unity of the professional organisations in backing them shows the wider impact of the closure. Not only methods of work criticised by non-professionals but tenure of work seemed uncertain.
Put in its most bald form, the causation of the closure was tenuous. Jonathan Steele’s criticism of Gordon Rose’s book led to Ivor Cook’s letters, which led in turn to the photographs, then the enquiry. Of the ten sets of allegations which involved only six of the forty-one staff, only five were proved against two staff, and of these only the allegation of excessive caning against Mr. Haydon were considered serious. It was agreed that Mr. Haydon and Mr. Draycon should be dismissed, and only because of the managers’ refusal to retain Ivor Cook did the Home Secretary close the school, thus vitally influencing the careers of all the staff and boys, and indirectly the whole service.
The implications of the St. Swithin’s inquiry into canings almost four years earlier, and the fact that the canings departed only slightly from the accepted norms added to the anxiety of practitioners, and senior staff in particular. The whole system, and Court Lees in particular formed into a tightly-knit defence, with Ivor Cook, Dr. Eric Buechse and William Williams as rare exceptions.
One possible cause for the closeness of the defence is the service’s isolation. Schools are often geographically isolated; staff are frequently socially orientated to remaining together with few outside contacts; and public suspicion of institutions of which it has little knowledge often rejects the staff together with boys. In this situation many staff need the support of the solidarity of colleagues.
Another possible cause is that training often depends on rules, authority, status and justification, in order to build up a sense of responsibility, security and stability for the individual within the school and for ease of administration. In such circumstances, staff expect to be in authority and their word taken as truth; equally they expect actions to be justifiable. Thus, like the boys, the staff became hurt and angry when dealt with peremptorily and when there was no appeal machine against the closure. Nor, despite the narrow logic of the closure, were they able to feel this was justifiable and their resentment drove them together.
This attitude was criticised in the Press by W.B.. Allchin and others, “It has been amazing to note the lack of self-criticism in those concerned with this serious abuse of corporal punishment. This lack of self-criticism on the part of those involved suggests to me that the Home Secretary’s action was the only right and proper way” (16/28).
In this light, it can be seen that the nature of the system was largely responsible for the type of resentment. However, it was strongly felt that Roy Jenkins had acted as a political steam-roller, and James Callaghan’s appointment as Home Secretary gave hopes that things might change.
Anxious for a resolution of staff anxieties, Mr. Callaghan announced at the opening of new buildings at Mobberley Boys’ School that staff would be protected in any re-organisation, that new appeal machinery would be set up, that Approved School Orders were to be abolished, and that voluntary management was to be retained. The Guardian reported, “Mr. Callaghan said afterwards that phasing out corporal punishment in approved schools was a matter for the experience of those in the schools. ‘I think a lot will depend on the personality and experience and approach of the staff and headmaster’, he added” (16/46). Again, in an interview with the Sunday Times, he said, “If I could achieve real advance in the policy on child care and treatment during my time here, I would feel I had done something worthwhile ….. One or two unfortunate incidents recently have caused people to form a bad impression of them (approved schools) which is not justified. The staff in these schools have a very difficult job, and the disciplinary codes both that they have to operate and that they suffer from are not clear enough” (23/1).
This is the type of encouragement that the staff looked for previously unsuccessfully, and its earlier absence is significant of the third major issue, lack of communication in many fields of approved school work. At Court Lees neither the boys nor their parents communicated their excessive punishment to the managers or Home Office; the managers and Roy Jenkins misunderstood each other: at Carlton there was lack of boy/staff rapport; at St. Swithin’s the Home Office and managers became confused over their treatment of Brother Cassian; at Kneesworth and Loaningdale relations between the public and the school were poor. In all these examples, poor communications led to misunderstanding which created or heightened the crises. In particular, there was suspicion between those in authority and those in their power; Mervyn Stockwood’s description of Ivor Cook, for example (42/1) and Lord Stonham’s asseveration of brutality (24/17), (both guarded by parliamentary privilege), were widely attacked as unjust and this argument involved further issues. Again there was no opportunity to appeal against the school’s closure and a further enquiry would have implied criticism of a senior Minister. (24/23).
Furthermore, because of the ossification of the roles played by the different groups, it was impossible to bridge the gaps. If local managers had been active, a fund of goodwill might have forestalled the reactions against Kneesworth and Loaningdale. If Mr. Gibbens had had the courage to consider the nature of the Inspectorate and management as relevant to the concealment of the caning irregularities, then there might have been broader and more useful outcome to his report, though in fact the 1968 White Paper has fulfilled this need subsequently. If the Inspectorate had felt strong enough it could have influenced the Home Secretary and the system, by preventing anxiety through swift action and clear policy.
In the absence of meaningful relationships, people took each other at role value, and feelings predominated over facts. Thus Mr Jenkins personified Authority, and Mr. Haydon became the Brutal Headmaster, while Mr. Cook became the Sneak. These dramatic roles were not forced on the system by the Press, growing up partly from the events but mainly by the nature of the system itself. Only when Mr. Haydon’s difficulties were recognised and when individual headmasters’ experience in judging the value of caning was considered, did a true picture of the individuals build up and the feelings subside.
Response to the crisis varied even among the limited numbers of psychiatrists who wrote to the Times on the subject. There was wide division, with Dr. Ling supporting Court Lees and deprecating the closure (24/19), Dr. Craike condemning approved schools and welcoming the closure (24/20), and Dr. St. Blaize-Molony offering an alternative way of running an approved school with Ardale as an example. (24/21). The public rejection at Loaningdale and the support of St. Swithin’s were extreme examples of a wide spectrum of reaction, but attitudes predominantly depended on feelings rather than facts.
The fourth and final general issue is therefore the use of these feelings and of the other ideas in renovating the system. One important point to remember is that any re-organised service will have to incorporate the old staff, and for efficiency the anxiety created by denigration of the approved schools is and will be detrimental therefore.
As it is conceivable that delinquents will carry with them a stigma, regardless of the name of the places where they live and regardless of treatment, it is perhaps advisable that public interest is not aroused too frequently. The first reaction of society is to reject and repress its delinquents, the second is to care for them enough to salve the public conscience after the rejection, and the third is to accept them therapeutically with a view to their rehabilitation. Public involvement of the third type is invaluable and has sometimes been shown to schools by their local communities. This has, however, involved the schools in considerable efforts to relate to and communicate with the local people. In cases where public interest is aroused indiscriminately, it has usually been a result of a scandal and is likely to produce only hostile rejection, with the boys, staff and system as scapegoats.
Significantly, in all the crises, staff have come in for criticism either primarily for professional lapses or secondarily because of misconduct by boys. Informed comment, however, is naturally welcome.
But to remove the stigma and keep the schools from the public eye provides no constructive solution and might merely allow the schools to “slumber on”, (16/13) The service contains talented and devoted people; many school buildings are well-equipped and modern; the system is admired by many overseas visitors. What is lacking and causing disgruntlement is therefore its organisation. The present static roles of the Home Secretary, Home Office, management and staff, together with systems such as committal and licence, allow for little innovation and prevent the communication and application of new ideas. The suggestions in the 1968 White Paper should help to break down the rigidity of the roles allowing for closer relationships between police and children’s departments, residential and field work, and child care and educational personnel. The more involvement and genuine understanding there is, the less will feelings such as resentment cloud vital issues.
Once such feelings cease to predominate, then basic attitudes can be more freely and securely reviewed. The value of corporal punishment may then be decided by research and objective testing, rather than by feelings of abhorrence or needs to show superiority. Here another great need of the service becomes apparent. Despite recent increases in research, far too many decisions from the Home Secretary downwards are based on what is felt rather than known. For such a system to work, the person with the feelings has to be insightful and persuasive, such as Sydney Turner or Charles Russell. Otherwise the system has to be based on thorough knowledge, and research adequate to meet the demand must be considerable; without it, precipitous changes are dangerous and the cautious and pragmatic planning of the 1968 White Paper is to be commended.
If the Court Lees canings had not come to light, all the general topics raised above would still have been discussed, though corporal punishment would not have received the same prominence.
A public opinion survey conducted approximately seven months after the closure of Court Lees revealed a small proportion of people who felt very strongly about the affair, though over three-quarters of the sample decided that they knew too little to answer detailed questions. Men gave almost twice as many decisive answers of approval or disapproval of various aspects of the affair than women, though answers were proportionately similar and approximately equal numbers (14%) admitted to changing their opinion of approved schools as a result of the Court Lees affair.
Interviewers were asked to indicate their approval or disapproval of Mr. Cook’s letters, Mr. Haydon’s actions, Mr. Gibbens’s report and Mr. Jenkins’s closure of their school. Mr. Cook and Mr. Haydon were met with balanced approbation and disapproval, though in both cases under 25% of the sample expressed a decisive opinion. Mr. Gibbens attracted equal balanced attention but the total decisions amounted to less than 10%. Of the closure, however, 11% approved and 21% disapproved; as one might expect, this also attracted most comment. However, despite their admitted ignorance of many of the detailed aspects of approved school work, 50% thought the system generally well run, and only 9% disagreed. A government would be glad of such a popular image!
Among a group of doctors, clergymen and probation officers, 11% admitted to changing their opinions as a result of the Court Lees case, (approximately the same as the public sample), and they were on the whole more decisive in their answers. Forty-two of the forty-nine probation officers answering the above question, for example, denied changing their opinions. In evaluating the parts played by Mr. Cook, Mr. Haydon, Mr. Gibbens and Mr. Jenkins, the clergymen were undecided, and divided evenly in all cases. The doctors disapproved of Mr. Jenkins’s closure decisively, of Mr. Cook’s and Mr. Haydon’s actions moderately, and approved of Mr. Gibbens’s report, though few answered this section. The probation officers were evenly divided on Mr. Cook’s and Mr. Jenkins’s roles, but disapproved strongly of Mr. Haydon’s actions and approved of Mr. Gibbens’s report. The small size of the sample prevents all but the most general conclusions being reached, but it was clear that of the three hundred recipients of questionnaires, a large number felt strongly on the matter. Probation officers were frequently reluctant to express opinions on professional grounds or sprang to the attack (or, more rarely, the defence) of the system. A number of others expressed concern, such as the doctors who argued that the colour photographs constituted dubious evidence.
The crisis therefore probably stirred up more interest than the subjects would otherwise have received, and the second White Paper may have been precipitated by the resulting pressures. Mr. Jenkins, for example, was asked about future plans in the House of Commons (24/16). But unlike Standon Farm and Carlton where management and housemastering and building projects received a boost, there is no area of approved school life where one can yet attribute advance to the interest arising from Court Lees. In the future, however, when the immediate disturbance and anxiety has dwindled and when the issues discussed above have been resolved, then possibly we may see the benefits of the Court Lees Affair.
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