The Independent has an article about High Close School in Wokingham, one of three run by the charity Barnardo’s, which specialises in children with Educational Behavioural Difficulties and is soon to be featured in a Channel 4 documentary.
At first glance, Josh is a pretty average 14-year-old. He likes to play on the computer; he argues with his sister, Demi; his sentences have a tendency to trail off midway through. But after a minute or two it becomes clear that he isn’t quite like other boys his age – and if you ever meet Josh he’ll unabashadly tell you why.
When he was three, Josh was taken into care; the amount of adults who have come and gone in his short life makes for grim reading. By the age of six Josh had been moved 25 times, between relatives, friends, foster parents, carers – sometimes in one place for just one day. His birth mother had problems with drugs.
Without much coaxing Josh might also divulge that he is prone, in his own words, to “punch stuff and swear at people, proper,” and that his increasingly aggressive behaviour not only resulted in his being excluded from mainstream school two years ago, but has threatened to harm his adopted mother Sue, who took him on when he was six: “You think a lot of love and a lot of attention will be enough,” she says. “I don’t think I realised how difficult it would be.”
Since he left mainstream education two years ago Josh has been enrolled at High Close School in Wokingham, one of three schools run by the charity Barnardo’s. It specialises in children with Educational Behavioural Difficulties, those who we used to call “problem children”. There’s a very wide spectrum of backgrounds, but it includes children in care or who have been adopted, kids who are victims of domestic abuse, and some, like the three students at High Close when I visit, who live at a children’s home the rest of the time.
High Close will be 60 years old next year. In 1948 the original building was bought by Barnardo’s in order to educate girls; since then the school has changed beyond all recognition. Now staff here care for 80 children from the age of seven to 18, around 30 of whom are weekly boarders living across four “units” – Cedars, Pinewood, Acacia and Willows – set in glorious green grounds near the main school. Each house has a living room, a kitchen and games room, with staff on hand at all times. The kids have a say in the décor, and so the walls are covered with pictures of Banksy stencils, group photos of grinning faces and tongues sticking out at the camera, and – delightfully – a huge poster of Freddie Mercury.