Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee

Schools with security, not prisons with education – Justice Minister sets out plan for new Secure Schools. 

Minister Dr Phillip Lee has today outlined the next steps in the Ministry of Justice’s pioneering vision for Secure Schools.

As part of the Department’s promise to put education at the heart of youth custody, it has today (1 Jun) published guidance setting out the expectations and requirements for prospective Secure School providers.

This is the first step in delivering on the commitment to build new Secure Schools and has been developed in close partnership with charities, trusts and partners who specialise in working with children and young people.

This innovative 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.

For the first-time ever - educators will be given the independence to run unique custodial establishments, shaping their own tailored curriculum with greater flexibility and control of their custodial environment.

Secure Schools will have up to 70 places, and will be run by not for profit child-focused and creative providers who will put education, healthcare and purposeful activity at the heart of their work to rehabilitate young offenders.

Today’s announcement will enable potential Secure Schools providers to start preparing applications in anticipation of the opening of a formal application window later in the year.

Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee said:

Good education in and out of the classroom is the key to unlocking a secure and stable future for young people and I am determined to drive forward our comprehensive reforms so that young people are equipped with the skills to live successful, crime-free lives on release.

Physical activity is key to a productive day in custody and I want education to be at the heart of the core day with children in Secure Schools engaging with health and education services that are tailored to meet their individual needs.

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.

The number of young people in custody has fallen significantly, from around 3,000 in 2010 to approximately 1,000 today, but those who remain in the system have challenging and complex needs and have often been deprived of their chance at education. Secure Schools will demand and deliver ambitious standards for all young people, engaging them fully in education and physical activity, to divert them away from their criminal past.

There have been challenges across the youth estate with unacceptable levels of violence. But there are early signs that standards are improving, with recent inspectorate reports on Feltham and Werrington YOIs praising the significant improvements in safety and child protection. Secure Schools aim to build on this and set the standards and direction for future youth custodial provision.

Secure Schools are just one of the many areas of reform being driven forward by the government, with the Justice Secretary recently launching a new Education and Employment Strategy to set prisoners on a path to employment from the day they arrive in custody. This impacts across the estate and Secure Schools will form a key part of embedding education at the core of youth custody.

Secure Schools will accommodate both girls and boys between the age of 12 and 17. The government is developing a specific inspection regime to robustly monitor the performance of Secure schools. 

Secure Schools will be run by secure school academy trusts and will be governed and run under the same legislation as children’s homes and academies. The government will also host an engagement event this summer to invite potential providers to learn more about the project.


This paper sets out an initial vision for what we are trying to achieve with secure schools and is aligned to the key principles set out by Charlie Taylor:

  • child focussed providers
  • strong leaders with freedom and autonomy
  • a specialised workforce offering bespoke provision for individual children that has education
  • healthcare and physical activity at its heart – a therapeutic environment in a secure setting

It is the effective delivery of a service that incorporates all of these principles which will distinguish secure schools from existing youth custodial provision.

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