Red Hill School is a residential special school in the Weald of Kent. It caters for an establishment of 52 boys of high intelligence with special educational needs for emotional or behavioural difficulties. It offers both a therapeutic environment for the social and psychological benefit of the child and a full academic programme to GCSE and 'A' level standard.

The school stands in 26 acres. The main building was built in 1612 and many modern additions have been made. It is seven miles from Maidstone and a mile from three neighbouring villages. The nearest railway station is 4 miles distant with an hourly service to London Charing Cross. The M20 is approximately 6 miles distant with excellent connections to the country's motorway network.


The school was founded by one of the pioneers in work with disturbed children, Otto Shaw, in 1935. As Principal, he operated as a psychotherapist using Freudian insights into maladjusted behaviour and established a Community Meeting influenced by A.S.Neill of Summerhill. This would provide peer group controls which the pupil could accept. After the war, Red Hill was recognised as a Non-Maintained Maladjusted Special School and ceased to be mixed. In the1960s, ill-health forced Shaw increasingly to withdraw from close work with children.

As a result of this a much broader base of responsibility for therapeutic work emerged with individual teachers taking on a counselling role for a few children. The school continues to maintain its community-based self-government and self-discipline systems. We do not embrace any one theory or school of practice and there is a recognition that various and differing factors may benefit a child, from behavioural control and reinforcement in the classroom to psycho-dynamic transactions in counselling.


To provide a tolerant, supportive atmosphere and the opportunity to develop relationships with peers and adults through which the sources of disturbed behaviour can be examined and resolved.

To make provision for the full range of developmental needs of boys placed with us.

To ensure that the academic potential of each pupil is realised as far as possible. To give opportunities for the development of individual interests and talents.

To offer appropriate facilities for boys to integrate into local communities.

To prepare boys for leaving by developing the necessary life skills, offering or arranging careers guidance and ensuring the existence of a supportive family or alternative context.


1) The boy must be of high academic potential with a good verbal ability. Our experience has shown us that if we accept less able children, we reinforce their low self-image because of the speed of comprehension and verbal dexterity of their peers. The degree of organisation and responsibility demanded by the system of clubs and committees is also perplexing for the less able.

2) The child should be between eleven and fourteen years of age although exceptions are made for older boys.

3) The child may come from any part of the U.K. Over the past decade the school has become more heavily weighted towards placements from the South-East of England. The school has easy access to the motorway system (see map at end).

4) The child will generally be supported by fees paid by the Local Education Authority. Private placements are very few and direct placements by Social Services are rare. As we do not offer fifty two week care it is important for there to be some permanent base for the child to return to in the holidays or at least a realistic prospect of this.


Residential placement inevitably has as its main effect the separation of a child from home. The reasons for taking this step should be positive, based on mutual agreement and must be seen as part of a defined policy. Most of our children are from intact and concerned families with parents who are confused about the difficulties which have arisen. It is essential that they see themselves in partnership with the school in releasing and restoring more productive relationships.

It is the practice of the school to interview prospective pupils at the school and to see parents at a later stage if placement seems probable. The main advantage of this is to make clear that the choice of coming to us is made initially by our prime client, the boy himself. The parental interview is designed to explore the parents' perceptions of the source, nature and intensity of the difficulties.

Subsequently we expect that direct therapeutic and supportive work will be undertaken by agencies in the home area. It is often an essential feature of work with adolescents that there should be visible space between a disturbed boy and his parents and both sides can benefit by focussing their mutual difficulties and experimenting with new approaches during holiday periods. However this model is not always appropriate and the facilities are not uniformly available; in these circumstances there will be a staff decision to make a commitment to working with parents in a planned way.

Regular reports and communication with parents are part of the practice of the school and they are encouraged to visit regularly. In most cases parents will be responsible for clothing provision, pocket money and additional expenditure.


Red Hill is unusual in that the care staff are teachers, many of whom live on site. They are mostly subject specialists who with the vital ancillary staff take on the care of the children through the day and night. This results in a unity of purpose in the institution and enables the child to see his adults as complete human beings rather than teachers or social workers. Children have very wide access to staff outside school time and the informality of these contacts is deliberately cultivated. As a result the child can experience a continuing personal interest in him as an individual. There is a qualified nurse employed to deal with the everyday medical emergencies.


Boys live in small dormitories with two or three others, later in single units. They are encouraged to personalise their own areas and to introduce and use their own equipment: this often includes kettles, toasters, record players, and can extend to computers and television sets. Small pets are allowed subject to reasonable hygienic regulations.

The geography of the school does not allow a house system. Staff flats are dispersed around the school. A music room, hobbies room, library, snooker room and games hall are available to the boys.



The school structure has evolved over 50 years and is very complex. Its aims are (a) to encourage responsibility in the child, (b) to provide comprehensible and acceptable channels for aggression and for self-expression, and (c) to provide controls for difficult behaviour. This is achieved by giving the children considerable control over decision making and involving them in the day to day running of the school within strong and accepted structures.

The Community Meeting, Joint Meeting of the Bench Members and the Teachers' Meeting are responsible for rule-making according to the powers and responsibilities of each and are enforced by the Court. Citizens are self-elective with their choices subject to the approval of Bench Members. Bench Members are also elected by their peers with ratification by the staff. The two groups meet once a fortnight separately and then jointly to discuss promotions, disciplinary matters and school policy. Their powers and privileges are in line with their status.

"Qualities expected in the prospective Bench Member or Citizen include personal reliability and responsibility, dedication to the school, involvement in the clubs and committees of the self-governing system and some leadership qualities. . . it is hoped that most community members will be able to assume the role of Citizen during their time at the school."



This meets twice a week. Two Bench Members and a Citizen make decisions on cases that are brought before them concerning bad behaviour, claims for damages and regular definition of day to day rules.

Formal behaviour is strictly adhered to and children are able to accept the fairness of judgement by their peers. The main sanctions are fines against pocket money. If the child goes into debt, he must do community work to repay his debt.

A boy's view of Court procedure.

1) The Bench Member will ask the accuser for his matter.

2) The person will say who he wishes to charge and for what.

3) The accused will be asked if he admits this.

4) The two people will be asked for their evidence.

5) After a series of debates in which other people put up their hands and give evidence, the bench will give its verdict.

I think this system works well. There is no corruptness in the judging except where the Bench Members are prosecutors, when their word is believed. The system gives every member of the community security which each person needs."


On arrival, each boy is appointed to a member of staff who can advise and assist during the period of settling in, while building up a close relationship which is usually maintained throughout the boy's career at school. Staff combine their counselling role with teaching and care tasks which, while presenting occasional problems, has the advantage that the adult is seen as a complete person, not just a "teacher". Counselling skills are developed with the support of a consultant psychologist who attends for regular sessions.


We offer a full curriculum to examination level in classes which are small (rarely more than eight). Entrants under 14 years will normally be accepted into one of the two junior classes.

The Junior Reception class is based in the Stables Classroom, a secure protected environment away from the main teaching area. The class does attend the main school for science and craft lessons. There is a designated class teacher responsible for English, Humanities and R.E. Much emphasis is placed on an active curriculum with opportunities for direct experience. The class teacher acts as counsellor to each pupil in the class initially.

Class 2 is normally used for children between the ages of 13 and 14. They still have a class teacher with whom they spend a third of the week for English and Maths. The class is designed to give the boys a sound basis on which to build when they begin their examination courses. This often involves a lot of very basic groundwork to give them confidence to progress and to fill in any gaps in their educational background. Other objectives are to increase their concentration span and encourage an ability to co-operate and work as a member of a group as well as on an individual basis.

With the present referral pattern at a later age the children then move to their two year G.C.S.E. courses in the next class. However should this pattern change it is possible to develop an intermediate class. In Class 3 it has become customary for children in this class to take their first public examinations in the form of the Associated Examining Board’s Basic Certificates in core subjects. These are valuable in giving the child a taste of success before the considerably greater challenges of G.C.S.E.. We have in the last five years offered courses in Art, Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Studies, Craft, Design & Technology, English Language, Literature, French, Geography, History, Mathematics, Politics and Physics. Most of these are available to A-level. At the end of their first year of studies the child can then opt for six subjects to add to the compulsory core of English, Maths, and General Studies. After two years we would expect him to take several subjects at G.C.S.E. although this may be limited by the extent of his previous educational or present emotional disturbance.


Science is taught in small groups of between three and six pupils, so that the necessary individual attention may be given. A school-developed integrated science course is followed in the first two years, leading to single-subject courses. The teaching of Physics and Chemistry is largely experiment-based, along the lines of Revised Nuffield courses.

Art has a firm and important position in the curriculum both as an examination subject and as a therapeutic medium under the supervision of a trained art therapist.

We have a fully equipped woodworking area in the cellar of the old house, which is widely used in out of school hours for recreational purposes. We also have a fully equipped metalwork shop.


The school has a Careers Teacher and maintains regular contact with the Maidstone Careers Service and the Kent Education Committee Special Careers Officer. Because few of our children are from Kent we also work closely with careers officers from the boy's home county.

We are developing a range of Work Experience placements in the Maidstone area ranging from shopwork to working with handicapped children. These provide opportunities for our children to gain confidence in dealing with the outside world in formal settings.

We offer a wide range of activities both inside and outside the school, many of which are self-generated and regulated. There is a full range of sports, some of which are pictured here.

On site we have a sports hall, used for many indoor sports, an outdoor swimming pool, a hard court for tennis and a large football pitch. Children have regularly taken part in the local youth football teams and the school has a team in the local village table-tennis league.

Music-making is an informal part of the school centred on the Music Room, with its electric guitars and drums. Individuals have taken formal Music lessons and examinations. Among other popular hobbies are model-making and model railway building. One of the highlights of the school year is the Christmas Party with its mildly satirical revue.


We encourage children to mix in the local community whether this be by taking part in village whist drives, Scouts or Air Training Corps, or going to the Maidstone Libraries or Youth Orchestra. Local Youth Clubs are also used extensively. This is an important counterbalance to the necessarily protective and sheltering environment of the school. It brings boys face to face with norms of behaviour and expectation. It also redresses the imbalance represented by a predominantly male community.

In the penultimate week of the Summer Term there is an Activities Week in which the children experience a complete break from school routines and as far as possible get away from the school buildings. These activities have included a walk from Calais to Boulogne, a cycling tour of Belgium, a camp based at Appledore, Kent, a project to help restore the Kent and East Sussex Railway at Tenterden, and an adventure camp on Dartmoor. All of these provided novel and educational situations for children thrown back onto their own resources. In the final week we hold a frenetic Sports Week using as many of our sports as we can accommodate in which the staff, to general amusement, take part.

In the past Summer holidays the school has held a camp in the Lake District based at the National Trust Site at Dungeon Chyll, Langdale. From that base we have been climbing, pot-holing, canoeing, fell-walking (all led by qualified instructors), orienteering and sight-seeing.

These camps have provided a welcome break for many children in the middle of the long holiday and are often the only real holiday the child will get.

The 28 photographs and map originally part of this document have been excluded from this computer transcription file. [Ralph Gee. February, 2002]