Files reveal approved school drug trial plans in 1960s

The BBC is reporting that Home Office doctors gave the go-ahead for experimental drug trials on children at two approved schools in the 1960s, National Archives files show.

At Richmond Hill Approved School in North Yorkshire, housing pupils aged 15 and older, the most disruptive boys were given an anticonvulsant drug to see if it would control behaviour.

In a document dating from late 1967, Dr JR Hawkings, a psychiatrist attached to Richmond Hill, wrote to the Home Office asking permission to conduct a drug trial on boys who were “impulsive, explosive, irritable, restless and aggressive”. 

He wanted to give some of them a drug called Beclamide. The anticonvulsant, which has sedative effects and was prescribed for epilepsy, is no longer widely in use. Although Dr Hawkings said this would be “a perfectly normal and legitimate therapy for certain types of disturbed adolescent”, he also said that it had not been widely tested on such boys. 

The papers show Home Office psychiatrist Dr Pamela Mason welcomed Dr Hawkings’s plan. On 1 November 1967 she wrote: “From the clinical or practical point of view these are the boys that can produce considerable problems within a school and this sort of research into possible drug treatment is to be welcomed…I would recommend maximum support for this project.”

According to notes on the file, the trial went ahead in 1968, with boys given the drug for six months. 

Bob Hammal, a teacher at Richmond Hill between 1968 and 1972, was appalled to learn of the trial. “What really did shock me more than anything was that parental consent was not sought and was not thought to be necessary by the powers-that-be,” he said. He believes that had he, or other colleagues, known at the time, they would have tried to stop it, or acted as a whistleblower if that was not possible.

More at: Files reveal approved school drug trial plans in 1960s

How do you think a study like this got approved by Home Office without any parental consent? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie

Are you a trainee teacher, NQT, teacher, headteacher, parent or  just someone who cares about education and has something to get off  your chest in a Schools Improvement Guest Post? Follow this link for more details at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin (around 7am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link.

We now have a Facebook page - please click to like!


Thousands share their experiences of sexual harassment in school after calls for compulsory sex education
PFI schools built in Scotland 'owned by offshore firms'
Categories: Teaching.


  1. Another example of the abuse of children whose care was the responsibility of the authorities.  Using underage children as guinea pigs without parental consent is inexcusable.  But back in the 60s people were still calling for boys like these to be birched – using ‘juvenile delinquents’ for drug trials would perhaps not have caused much of a rumpus.

Let us know what you think...