In 2006 I returned from self imposed exile, living on the Costa of Blanca. Back to this Green & Pleasant land all be it inclement at times, we purchased a home in Powys, Mid Wales not so far from Brecon. Once settled in to our new surrounds, I decided that to kill boredom I wanted to take on some part time employment, just two or three days per week. Diligently searching through the local and regional newspaper I became seduced by one advertisement. "Do you have previous experience of working with young people?", "Working in Mid Wales or in the South West of England".
I applied, successfully getting through a casual informal interview held locally; carried out by one of the area managers for the organisation. I was then invited to attend a five day residential induction course. This was away in Somerset at a Manor House Hotel. Each of the days were broken down and given over to lectures, the various aspects that we would be required to supervise. One whole day was given over to First Aid. One afternoon spent on kitchen hygiene, and basic cooking. Another morning was spent on basic book keeping and the maintenances of a cash float balanced from receipts etc. In short we were being trained in domestic management, required to run small single sexed units, 'Care Homes' that accommodated up to three young adults living in them at any one time. On completion of the course and formal examinations a further interview followed.
Being advised, that within two to three days, we would be contacted and informed if we had been successful or not. Within a few days I was contacted via the Royal Mail and invited to attend a further interview in Hereford. At this I was offered a post in a care home run by this private company who took youngsters from local authorities who had been placed by the courts into the care of local authorities. I very soon learnt about the children who had challenging behavioural problems that had been mentioned on our induction course. Also these youngsters had been appointed their own social workers to look after them.
I was assigned to a care home that was isolated out in a rural area about three to four miles outside of a medium sized market town in Herefordshire. Prior to being taken over by this organisation it had been modernised as a private guest home. All bedrooms were large, modernised with built in cupboards and wall mounted colour TV's; rooms also had en suite bathrooms. The home had been given a posh name; however the residents called it the DG short for Dumping Ground. It also had a small separate barn type building across the rear court yard. The barn had been refurbished and modernised and turned into a large classroom referred to as the school. When I arrived it had one youngster together with a team of six of us minders. The teaching staff consisted of a further three staff. For the purpose of this article I'm going to refer to him as Tom. Tom's father had emigrated leaving him in the care of a distant relative when he was aged 12. Sadly this relative had passed away; Tom was taken off the street of Cardiff after being found sleeping rough when he was 13.
Now rising 16 years of age he had become well and truly institutionalised knowing all the rules of the home. Soon after joining this care home a second boy was allocated to us. A chubby boy who had just reached his 15th birthday well built and stood about five feet six tall, and about ten stone in weight; he came from a good home with loving parents and two other younger siblings. Dennis had been taken into care having found drugs when getting into the wrong crowd at school. Becoming too unruly at home, mother could not cope together with the younger siblings, father found Dennis's behavioural problems were impacting on the family business that was run from home. Referred by the court as a first time drug offender to social services Dennis was taken into care and placed with the organisation I was now working for.
We worked in shifts of three staff commencing 10 am each morning. Shift 'A' terminated at 18.00hrs the same day an 8 hour shift. Shift 'B' 10am till 10 am the following day a 24 hour shift. Then shift 'C' terminating at 16.00 hrs a 6 hour shift. In the main it worked out that we did 38 hours per week. Yes we got paid by the hour and this worked out well short of the minimum wage. So what did we do to assist these young adults to make these life changing decisions? We made certain the boys where awake in their rooms and getting washed and ready for breakfast and in time for school. Cooked the breakfast, and cleared away afterwards.
Assisting the boys to get off to school on time, very important to them because providing that they arrived down for breakfast, clean and dressed ready to attend school (no formal uniform; smart, casual) ate some breakfast and left the house, crossed the court yard and into school on time they earned £13.50 for that day. This could be done each and every day, in total over the week they could earn £94.50.
When the boys went into school staff then cleaned the house from top to bottom. However bedrooms were sacrosanct, not to be entered without the boys themselves present together with two members of staff. School commenced at 9.0am. Then at 11am. boys returned for a midmorning refreshment break. Returning to lessons for 11.30 and remaining there till 13:00hrs. Then back to the house for lunch that they had chosen and set the menu for. Afternoons in school tended to be activities off site including horse riding, go carting, football, and judo even ACF.
Weekends visits to attractions such as Alton Towers, theme parks, paint balling, course fishing; one afternoon per week taken into a large local town to do the weekly shopping, hence the reason why they supposedly planned their own menus. Discipline; this came about by fines, deductions from a days earnings for misdemeanours. It was not long before Dennis had learnt from Tom just what they could get away with, example refusing to attend school after the mid morning break meant they had to remain confined to their bedrooms. Foul and abusive language, spitting; fines would be imposed similarly at the evening staff meeting if any staff reported they had been uncooperative then further fines could be imposed. However fines could not be imposed leaving a boy with less than £5 per day.
Smoking was not banned in fact boys could use earnings to purchase these, and staff were encouraged to do this for them. We did have the choice over this, I was very adamant I would not be doing this. I had visions of being summoned to court and charged with being the cause of Lung Cancer to one of the boys. The boys did not take kindly to me refusing to purchase these for them but soon learnt not to goad me over it.
We received a phone call one evening from a distant relative of Toms, informing us that his father would be returning to the UK and wanted to visit Tom. I informed them in accordance with the regulations of the organisation; they should make contact to Tom's social worker, who in turn would talk to Tom about this pending visit. Checking through Toms file that evening I noticed that during the past two years Tom had been in care, he had not received a visit from his care worker only correspondence via the house manager. No face to face contact. In due course Tom was advised of this pending visit. His behavioural pattern changed. The slightest thing would trigger him to violent rages. Demolishing items of furniture, even setting fire to things in the house. One Saturday morning whilst I was outside with Tom he decided he wanted to go into the class room. Being the weekend, the classroom was locked and out of bounds in the absence of any teaching staff. Only the house manager had the keys, and not on the premises that day. I advised Tom of this, which he seemed to accept; leaving him in the care of one of the other care workers both smoking. I returned to the office. It was not too long before that member of staff came in to advice Tom had kicked in the two ledged and braced doors and gained access to the school. He was now setting fire to the class room.
Investigating only to find the class room trashed with a small fire taking hold of broken door panels, piled up in the centre of the room. Asking Tom to come out to allow staff to put the fire out, and make certain that he did not suffer any effect by smoke inhalation. A hale of foul and abusive language followed, then a chemical fire extinguisher turned on me. I phoned the local fire brigade, and then the police. Surprised when asked by the police to confirm my staff number also confirm that if they did attend to restrain Tom, would the organisation press charges? Some seven months previous, Tom had done this before on that occasion my employers had declined to press charges. I assured the police officer, if they did attend, I most certainly would be prepared to press charges also attend court if needs be; the incident could escalate and endanger life. The fire brigade turned up together with the police, Tom was restrained and carted off into custody, I spent best part of the remainder of that Saturday completing incident reports etc.
The following Monday I was interviewed by the Area manager, who informed me that I had broken the organisations protocol, in as much as I had not contacted the area manager prior to contacting the police. Also was I not aware that the organization charged local authorities on average £2500 per week to take CARE of a child. Was I not aware that pupils' were allowed to commit up to £1000 worth of damage before contacting the police etc., and should this incident get to court, any adverse publicity would do nothing to enhance the reputation of the organization. Needless to say it was not too long after this I realized this was not the type of youth work I wanted to do, certainly it was not CARE but 24/7 containment of vulnerable young people.
On reflection Tom's original offence, why he was placed into care originally, he had been abandoned by relatives, and found sleeping rough? Very similar to so many of the boys that I grew up with in my day at Kingham Hill, coming from troubled backgrounds. Determined to find out why local authorities are not now placing those children who are in need of a boarding school education into boarding schools, I decided to contact a former headmaster David Shepherd MA, who was at KHS 1975 -1990 and pose the question.
Response: from David Shepherd MA.
David was a housemaster of Bradford House then Warden.
This is his response to my questions about the Buttle Trust, did it still support children in need of a boarding school education today in 2011 & 2012?
Most certainly the Buttle Trust still supports suitable children at boarding schools. I've just retired as a Trustee and chaired the school fees grants committee for many years.
The issue you touch on with Social Workers is the core of the whole matter. About 40 years ago local authorities decided in principle that sending children to boarding schools was a 'bad thing.' The basic objections were I think two fold - one, it is seen as a good thing in principle to keep families together, no matter how dysfunctional the family may be, and secondly boarding was seen as ideologically unsound - elitist, snobby, the reserve of the wealthy and so on and therefore unsuited to children who came from any sort of deprived background. The best example I can give of the depths to which this philosophy pervaded social service departments came in the late 80s early 90s in the wake of the Children act when social services were given the job of inspecting boarding schools. Many of them of course
had never been in a boarding school and had the greatest difficulty in distinguishing between care homes - which of course have had serious image problems for years of a kind totally different to boarding schools – and also couldn't imagine that families would deliberately send their children away from home for schooling. And of course they were stuck in the view that
all boarding schools were 'like Eton and for toffs!' Another consequence of this philosophy was that LEA's closed many of their own boarding schools. ILEA for instance had two absolutely superb boarding schools, Ottershaw in Surrey and Woolverstone Hall in Suffolk, catering for inner city children; they closed them both, to the disadvantage of many children who were already not blessed by their backgrounds.
And that's why Kingham Hill lost such a large number of the children being funded by local authorities. In Teddy Cooper's day the proportion was comfortably over 50%; [during that time KHS had 214 boys a boarding school] in my day this percentage had dropped to the low teens. I don't know what it is now. But we should stress and never forget that the reduction in the number and proportion of children funded by LEAs and social services at the school is not the result of a policy shift by the school; it springs from the changed philosophy of social service departments as described above.
Since then the Trust and other bodies have been struggling with social services to convince them that boarding is the right answer, for financial and social reasons, to the circumstances of many children who are taken into care. In my time at the Trust we would regularly get referrals to us from for instance heads of state schools and occasionally even from individual
Social workers saying that they had a child for whom boarding would be the right answer - and our response was always to go back the local authority to ask why they won't undertake the funding of a child, especially one being referred to the trust by one of their own employees. The answer was frequently no - illogical I know but there it is. Then we would start putting together a funding package as described now.
There have been constant campaigns. The most obvious was the Pathfinder Project, in which a working party: consisting of representatives from the Trust, with ex Bradford Housemaster - ie me, as a Trustee; from the Boarding Schools Association - run at that time by Adrian Underwood, ex Bradford Housemaster; from a few social service departments and from the Ministry of Education, actively pushed by Andrew Adonis - ex Kingham Hill; but the intransigence of most social service departments has meant that progress has been slow.
The fault if it is a fault is with local authorities, not with central government which under both administrations has been very supportive.
All this as answer to your question; does the Trust still support children at boarding school? Yes; and if you ever come across any worthy applicants, encourage them to check out the Buttle website. How does this leave the other charities? They all put together financial packages, pooling their own resources with money from local authorities if they can persuade them but overwhelmingly with generous bursaries from a whole range of schools. One of the many jobs of the case workers at places like Buttle is to know which charities might be appropriate to help a specific child and then to ring their colleagues in these charities and seek their participation in a package; and of course to persuade the schools to increase their bursary contribution.
It is impossible to overstate the degree to which so many boarding schools are wonderfully generous in their bursaries for boarding need cases. Of course the country doesn't want to know this because it goes against the popularly held view that boarding schools are selfish and elitist and snobbish.
Buttle also has a special interest in trying to cater in boarding schools, for children who are 'at risk of being taken into care.' The very expression 'at risk,' begs the question that being in care is not a desirable outcome if it can be avoided. And Buttle includes in its concern not only children from dysfunctional families but also children in families which have suffered serious loss. We think for instance of children where the parents have died and the children are being catered for by a relative, e.g. an aged grandmother who finds it increasingly difficult to cope with lively teenagers, or by an aunt who already has several children of her own, or by an elder sibling who has to go out to work to make a living. We frequently find that the relative with help can cope for three months in the year i.e. during school holidays but not for 12 months in the year i.e. on a full time basis. The child is still at risk of being taken into care; boarding reduces the likelihood of that happening. And the children enjoy what has become a Buttle mantra - 'security, stability and a good education.
As you can see John, this is an issue which is close to my heart.