Britain’s first alternative to prison for school-aged offenders will be launched by a global education charity in later 2020, the Government has announced.
The Oasis Charitable Trust, which already runs 52 academies across England, will open the new facility at what is currently the Medway Secure Training Centre, in Kent. Up to 64 places will be available for boys and girls aged 12 to 17 who have been either sentenced to custody or held on remand, says the Gov.UK website.
What are secure schools?
The pilot project is part of a government push to put education at the heart of youth custody, The Guardian reports.
The plan has been in the pipeline since 2016, when a report from the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales warned that children in public sector offender institutions received an average of just 15 hours of education a week, compared with a recommended 30 hours.
The chair of the board, Charlie Taylor, warned that “staff shortages and rising levels of violence” were preventing an increase in time spent on learning.
The Ministry of Justice has committed £5m to refurbish classrooms and residential areas at Medway and fund services there in order to create the first of the secure schools. The new institutions will play a “key role in tackling youth violence” by combining “the ethos and best practice of schools with the structure and support of secure children’s homes”, according to the Government.
Justice Minister Edward Argar said: “Secure schools are critical to our vision for youth custody – placing education, healthcare and purposeful activity at the heart of rehabilitation.”
“Services provided to young people will include mentoring and working with young people at risk of violence and abuse,” says Schools Week.
Who will run it?
The Medway contract has been awarded to the Oasis Charitable Trust, a not-for-profit company that specialises in schools in deprived areas. Most of the institutions were rated by Ofsted as failing before being taken over by Oasis.
After being turned around by the organisation, 80% are now rated as good or outstanding.
Medway “has been dogged by allegations of mistreatment of the young inmates by staff for years”, The Guardian reports. The youth prison was previously operated by private firm G4S, which was stripped of its contract following a Guardian expose three years ago that revealed long-running abuse.
The new Medway secure school will provide young people at risk of violence and abuse with a “second chance” through education and mentoring, explains Oasis’s founder, Reverand Steve Chalke.
“We believe that every young person is capable of change and of making more positive choices about their life and their future. Therefore, our emphasis will be wholly on rehabilitation and restoration rather than retribution,” Chalke said.