Don’t lock up young offenders – send them to top boarding schools instead

Placing at-risk children in custody doesn’t work. They need the same educational support as their richer peers

Illustration by Thomas Pullin
Illustration by Thomas Pullin

Not long ago, driving through a Warwickshire town looking for a residential school, of a kind, I drove past a group of pupils walking in a crocodile. The uniforms caught my attention – the girls’ skirts looked unusually long, flapping around the ankles, an eccentricity denoting privilege. The boys were dressed in suits, and they were accompanied by a master in long robes.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by these pupils from Rugby School – one of Britain’s famous, establishment boarding schools, home of the eponymous sport – I was in the town of Rugby after all. But the place I was looking for was a very different one. I’d come to Rugby in search of Rainsbrook, a “secure training centre” (STC) just a few minutes away, home to around 75 children – not so much boarders but young offenders sent there by the criminal courts.

The physical proximity of Rugby and Rainsbrook makes comparisons unavoidable. The first, founded in 1567 by Queen Elizabeth I’s purveyor of spices, is where the children of the wealthy go to be educated; the other, run on public funds by private security companies, is where the children of the poor go to be punished.

The only thing the two remotely have in common is their unusually high cost. At over £30,000 a year, Rugby School is unaffordable for most families. I wonder if they realise they are footing the bill for Rainsbrook, which costs a cool five times more, at £163,000 a year. With such a huge difference in price, there is naturally a difference in quality. Pupils leave Rugby School boasting A-level grades three times better than the national average, and go on to the best universities, including the dozen or so who get into Oxbridge.

Graduates from Rainsbrook, on the other hand, can most realistically expect to end up back in the criminal justice system.


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