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The government has set out the first steps in delivering Secure Schools as part of moves to reform youth custody. The philosophy is more about schools with security for young offenders, rather than prison with education, with the specialist schools putting tailored education and healthcare at the heart of youth justice.

Education in a secure environment


The guidance outlined by Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee sets out the expectations and requirements for prospective Secure School providers and has been developed with charities, trusts and partners who specialise in working with children and young people. The approach to education in a secure environment will combine the ethos and best practice of schools with the structure and support of secure children’s homes.

Tailored curriculum


The initiative will see educators for the first time given the independence to run unique custodial establishments, shaping their own tailored curriculum with greater flexibility and control of the custodial environment to address offending behaviour and support rehabilitation.

Secure Schools, which will have up to 70 places, will be run by not-for-profit providers who will put the focus on education, healthcare and purposeful activity for their work to rehabilitate young offenders.

Potential Secure Schools providers can now start preparing applications in anticipation of the opening of a formal application window later in the year.

Breaking the cycle of re-offending


Dr Lee said good education was the key to unlocking a secure and stable future for young people and give them the skills to live successful, crime-free lives on release.

“Secure Schools will focus on the root cause of offending, by intervening early to help break the cycle of reoffending – making our streets safer and diverting young people away from a life of crime,” he said.

Secure Schools will accommodate girls and boys aged 12-17, with the government developing a specific inspection regime to robustly monitor their performance. They will be run by secure school academy trusts and will be governed and run under the same legislation as children’s homes and academies.

Education and physical activity


The number of young people in custody has fallen from around 3,000 in 2010 to 1,000 in 2018, but those who remain have often been deprived of their chance at education. The government says Secure Schools will engage young people fully in education and physical activity, to divert them away from their criminal past.

However, the initiative has not received universal backing and the Howard League for Penal Reform believes Secure Schools are not the answer and instead want fewer young people sent into custody whilst improving the educational facilities in centres that already host children in custody.

Across Europe, children are detained in places including prisons, secure units, police stations and mental health units but despite reductions in the number of children in prison, England and Wales still has the highest level of child imprisonment in Western Europe.
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