23 JUNE 1939, Page 12



AT the age of fourteen I was sent, to be cured of my delinquencies, to an " approved " school on the out- skirts of Woking. In spite of a charming rural setting, it was a mean, joyless institution. Behind its regimen was the belief that we boys were faced with a stern Malthusian future, where we must work hard for small rewards. For this and this only, we were trained. In ill-equipped workshops we laboured at depressing tasks ; in cramped class-rooms we learned a minimum of letters ; and twice a week an ex- sergeant taught us military drill. Even those interests that might be expected to transcend the deadweight of indus- trialism were reduced to the same drear level. Sport become a technique for producing sturdy workmen. Music's end-object was a safe job in an army band. And even religion was distorted into a dull apologia for the existing social order.

We were an unhappy band of children. Behind us lay bad homes, broken homes, where we had tasted but rarely the generous intimacies and essences of life. We hungered for such imponderables. And the school gave us nothing— at the heart of the approved regimen was a dearth of all that makes regimens bearable. We tried to create a warmth within the indifference, a private life of our own. But love, generosity—these need to be encouraged ; we could only convert into our inner experience the facts we found around us. Tears were the only human responses that came easily to us, so we built our communal life on a basis of tears. We bullied each other fiercely, we made a dark aching jungle of our ties. And then we left the school, to carry our ruth- lessness abroad.

That is how I remember my school, fifteen years ago. The other day I revisited it, in the ambiguous capacity of an ex-inmate turned journalist. It was a strange, elusive ex- perience. The surrounding countryside had changed almost beyond recognition. Suburban housing estates have replaced the meadows and copses I knew, and the narrow, leisurely road from Woking has become stream-lined and arterial, with formal roundabouts every so often. But the school itself seemed scarcely touched by the times. The laurels under the kitchen windows have the same greasy, cooked appearance ; wickets and goalposts are chalked on the playground walls just where my own generation had chalked them ; the dormitories still have that cold, rank, pervasive smell. It was too personal, too stuffily a part of me, to remain detached about. The past rose up to overwhelm and degrade me.

But the headmaster (the same headmaster), conducting me round the school, was aware of important differences. The school farm is his pride, and he pointed out how greatly it has changed since I had known it. There is a new cow- shed, with a concrete floor; a washing-shed, where the milk- pails can be cleaned and dried hygienically. A field has been wired over for the cultivation of fruit-bushes. In the hothouse, enlarged to treble its former size, tomatoes and cucumbers were ripening for school consumption, amid a fine display of exotic flowers; in an annexe to this shed a class- room has been equipped, with a simple laboratory bench, where scientific horticulture is taught. The headmaster's enthusiasm was justified. Labour, intelligence and love have been lavished on those thirty or forty acres to produce a living work of art.

Two large, bright workshops have been added to the school, also. In the engineer's shop, well-equipped with centre-lathes, drills and bench tools, an astonishingly high standard of craftsmanship obtains among the boys. Unlike other institutional workshops of this sort, the range of work here is not limited by the necessity to fulfil large Govern- ment contracts of a repetitional nature ; the instruction can advance unimpeded from one process to another. In the new woodwork-shop, too, I was impressed beyond my ex- pectations. Here I saw a boy turning wooden salad bowls d is Waring and Gfllow with a deftness that promised him a bright future in Kensington.

But these are the instructional aspects of the school ; and their value stands or falls ultimately by the quality of social life underlying them. Boys whose ages range from ten to sixteen need a healthy communal background if they are to take full advantage of the instruction given them. Unfor- tunately I had little opportunity of enquiring into this. The boys were at work during the two or three hours of my visit ; and there was no chance of talking unrestrictedly to any of them. There were indications of some improvement. A tennis-court has been marked out on the asphalt play-yard. The dining-hall has been panelled to good effect, and pleasant refectory tables and chairs have replaced the bar- barous trestles and forms I recall. There is more variety and decency in the clothing. In the band-hut boys were practising dance-music as well as military marches. These things, it may be presumed, have done something to lighten and diversify the inner life of the school. But I could find few provisions for spontaneous, unorganised recreation. There is as yet no library, no room equipped for indoor games, no well-stocked gymnasium, no place to which a boy can retire for a quiet hour when surfeited with his fellows. Are these too much to expect of a school where a,boy may spend anything from one to six years of his life? It is not good for boys to have their every hour organised for them ; but now, as when I was an inmate, their unorganised leisure is spent herded in the play-yard, where bullies breed in boredom.

If one may judge from external evidence, bullying is still a feature of the communal life of the boys. Twice within recent months runaway boys from this school have appeared in London juvenile courts and complained that they had been unbearably bullied by older boys. And the faces I saw in the workshops seemed to substantiate this—sullen, unhappy faces, more ready with scowls than smiles.

It may be that I am wrong in attributing these unpleasant- nesses to the inadequate social resources of the school. The headmaster complained, with some justice, that the increased use of probation and foster-home facilities by the juvenile courts in recent years has resulted in his being sent only the more unmanageable types of boys. But disappointment with his progress has probably led him to exaggerate this cause more than is necessary ; for, as the methods of the courts have improved, parents and guardians have been more ready to make use of them, and the residue of cases that are now sent to " approved " schools cannot differ much from those former cases that came before the courts only when parental patience was exhausted. And when all possible allowances have been made, there remain the obvious outward signs of improvements disproportionately divided between the instructional and social sides of school-life.

It is no fault of the headmaster's, of course. Just before I left he unrolled, with loving hands, a set of architect's irawings, and explained them to me. A two-storey exten- sion of the main school buildings is projected. There are to be new airy classrooms, with playrooms and a library above them. Perhaps, too, a hobbies-room, where boys with a constructive bent will find tools and encouragement. They were very nice drawings, with coloured lines and fine shading. The headmaster hopes that one day he will be granted the money to realise them in terms of bricks and timber and human happiness.