Youth justice review calls for shift towards education

10 Feb 16

Young offenders should serve their sentences in secure schools rather than prisons, initial findings from former head teacher Charlie Taylor’s review into youth justice suggest.

Taylor’s interim report, published yesterday, found that the youth justice system would be more effective with education at its heart. The report recommends smaller, local, secure schools that draw on both educational and behavioural expertise to rehabilitate children.

Taylor said he is “convinced” the youth justice system needs reform to give children the support and education they need to become successful adults.

“Education is important for all children, but for those involved in reoffending it is vital. We need a resolute focus on giving children in trouble with the law the skills, qualifications, and aptitudes to lead successful, law-abiding lives,” he said.

The report found that, while the number of children in custody has declined by 64% since 2006/07, to its lowest recorded level, almost two thirds of those who are in custody reoffend within a year of release.

Around 40% of young people in institutions for young offenders under 18 have not been to school since they were 14, and nearly nine out of ten have been excluded from school at some point in their lives.

In young offenders institutions, children only receive 17 hours of education every week rather than the standard 30.  

Taylor’s interim proposals suggest that re-designing the youth estate would allow it to cater for a smaller, but more challenging, group of children in custody.

Education should be placed at the centre of youth custody, it said, by drawing on the culture of aspiration and discipline which is evident in the best alternative provision – external providers used by schools to prevent pupils from being excluded from education or to try and re-engage challenging students in learning.

As such, it recommends prisons be replaced with smaller secure schools which help children master the basics in English and maths and provide high quality vocational education in a therapeutic environment.

Local areas should also have a greater say in the way children are managed by devolving responsibility, control and money from Whitehall, it added.

Lord McNally, chair of the Youth Justice Board, said the report includes many reforms it had advocated, especially the creation of small, locally delivered custodial establishments with a focus on education.

But he also cautioned that care should be taken not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The reduction in the number of children in custody, which has presented real opportunities for reform, has been achieved as a result of 15 years of investment in community-based intervention, and McNally stressed this must be sustained.

Taylor will now continue his review of youth justice, looking at the way young offenders are dealt with in court and the sentences given, how to prevent offending in the first place and how to reintegrate children back into the community following custody.

His final report will be published in the summer.

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