WILLIAM BAKER TECHNICAL SCHOOL
Dr. Barnardo's Homes
by R. F. Wheatley
WILLIAM BAKER TECHNICAL SCHOOL is situated nearly two miles north of Hertford, on the road to Stevenage. The School
was transferred from Stepney in 1922, when the Victorian "Elizabethan mansion" and the 98-acre estate, called Goldings, were
purchased by Dr. Barnardo's Homes. It was named to perpetuate the memory of Mr. William Baker, who followed Dr. Barnardo as
Honorary Director of the Homes, but it is referred to locally as Goldings and the boys as Goldings boys. The estate contains a mansion
converted into living quarters and recreation room for boys and resident staff, a Chapel, a School building for general subjects and
instructional workshops for various trades: carpentry and joinery, painting and decorating, sheet-metal work, shoemaking and printing.
The extensive grounds are used for training boys in various kinds of horticulture. There are twenty houses for married staff on the
estate and in the neighbouring village of Water-ford, where there is also a hostel for senior boys. There are the usual good facilities for
sport associated with boarding schools, gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, cricket and football pitches.
Having set the scene, we introduce the principal actors, namely, the boys for whom Goldings means home or school or both from
thirteen years of age for anything up to eight years. The average stay is just under three years, but the reasons both for the alternative
attitudes towards the establishment and exceptional spread in the period of association will become apparent later. It goes without
saying that every teacher loves a willing pupil and every craftsman welcomes an apt and keen apprentice. Our teachers are fortunate in
having a fair proportion of students who measure up to these standards. They are recruited from other Barnardo's Homes, where
doubtless there are still many others looking forward to joining elder brothers or friends here. During school holidays our boys often
return to their former homes, a movement we encourage, since they are our most effective recruiting agents. These boys form the
backbone of the School, set the standards, and provide most of the leadership. The school, however, serves a much wider intake and
the teachers accept it as part of their work to strike sparks of interest out of apathy and fan the slightest signs of conflagration. They
could be excused sometimes if they changed the metaphor and described their job as flogging a dead horse, but in sober truth their
degree of success with such boys, though not total, is remarkably high. Where does the other kind of pupil come from? Some are
fostered children, whose fostering has broken down or is in danger of doing so, some have been tried unsuccessfully in several
different environments and have become delinquent, or teetering on the edge, others have come into care in their teens. A small
proportion have, for various reasons, failed to maintain their places in Secondary Grammar and Secondary Technical Schools. Some
boys in each of these categories have been admitted direct to Dr. Barnardo's Homes, others have been accepted from Local Authority
Children's Departments and Local Education Authorities. Except for the Grammar School and Technical School rejects, the general
level of their schooling is depressingly low. However good the schools they have attended, whatever feast of knowledge has been
spread before them, they have evinced no appetite for it and ingested no nourishment. In a few cases, innate incapacity explains their
state, but much more frequently later development indicates that a lack of incentive to learn is the prime cause. Any success with
specially difficult and unpromising boys always acts as a powerful stimulus to recruiting in this most worrying field of child-care.
Though the School accepts it as part of its social usefulness to absorb and help a proportion of such boys, there is some danger of
Public Authorities thinking of it as exclusively for awkward customers. The truth of the situation is that the School relies on the intake
of steady and reliable boys to maintain the standards to which the difficult and perplexed ones can be introduced. The maximum
benefit from the School can only be derived by boys who bring to the School their contribution of abilities and enthusiasm. For them
success is practically TOO per cent, certain, their prospects in life and value to the community are greatly enhanced and they give the
greatest return for the money and pains invested in them. Before leaving this question of admissions, it might be well to say something
about the problem of getting a boy adjusted and to emphasize that we have no power to retain a boy if he will not accept us. For one
used to a life involving a certain degree of regulation, the adjustment is easy, but occasionally admission is sought for boys who have
successfully rebelled against all restraints, and are accustomed to roaming the streets, staying out late and smoking as many cigarettes
as they can get hold of. It has occasionally happened that a freelance of this description, having had explained to him the difference
between this sort of life and life at boarding school, has nevertheless accepted us and by degrees changed his habits; but sent here
without frank and adequate explanation, such a lad will regard the normal routine restrictions of a liberal boarding school as an
intolerable tyranny and obstinately refuse to see any compensating factors. He may desperately need the steadying influence of a
boarding school, but there is little wisdom in sending him to a free school in the hope that he will settle, when there are excellent
schools specialising in boys who need to be coerced.
To appreciate what the School attempts to do and how far it is successful, we cannot do better than study an analysis of the school
leavers for the past year (1957) who numbered seventy-four all told.
1. Restorations .................... 14
2. Non-trade jobs .................... 4
3. To other educational establishment ........ 1
4. Approved schools ................ 3
22 Placed in Craft Employment
5. Fully trained journeymen printers ........ 7
6. Carpenter-joiner apprentices ............ 20
7. Painter apprentices ................ 3
8. Gardeners .... .... .... .... .... 10
9. Boot and Shoe Trade ................ 8
10. Sheet metal work ................ 4
52 Total 74
1. Restorations. This year showed a higher proportion than usual.
Change in home circumstances may at any time, by agreement, or by revocation of an Order, cause the withdrawal of a boy from the
School. In a proportion of these cases, the boys subsequently follow the trade for which they are trained.
2. Non-trade jobs. These four cases represent failure as far as trade training is concerned, but socially the boys may have benefited
before taking up unskilled or semi-skilled employment.
3. Other Educational Establishments. One severely handicapped boy transferred to Queen Elizabeth's College, Leatherhead.
4. Approved Schools. Of these three boys one had been a member of the School for eighteen months. The other two absconded
shortly after admission and were committed.
5. Journeymen Printers. By agreement with the Trade, the School provides a complete and comprehensive training; boys who have
the desire and aptitude to become printers are indentured to the School Master Printer and thereafter are paid the appropriate
apprenticeship rate. They live first at the hostel and later in lodgings and are associated with the school until they are twenty-one, and
enter industry as journeymen. Many are working in local printing offices. Their long association with the School creates tradition and
the Old Boys' Association, largely promoted by them, adds continuity and local standing.
6 and 7. Building Trades Apprentices. A Building Trades Advisory Committee, representing employers and operatives and the Hatfield
Technical College, meets each term. The members of this committee get to know the boys and recommend those thought suitable to
become building trades apprentices. Openings are found through the good offices of the Joint Apprenticeship Committee of the London
Building Trades Federation and other local apprenticeship committees. An allowance towards their apprenticeships of up to twelve
months is made for their school training.
8. Gardening. There is a qualified teacher of gardening, assisted by a foreman gardener and four under-gardeners. Together with
about thirty boys in training they cultivate and maintain kitchen and ornamental gardens, lawns, trees and shrubs, glasshouses and
playing fields, so there is a variety of experience. Boys are found situations in private, college or park gardens, as groundsmen or
nurserymen, according to temperament and aptitude.
9. Boot and Shoe Trade. Despite the introduction of synthetic materials into the boot and shoe trade, which tends to reduce the
volume of repair work, good quality shoes will always be worth repairing and there is a brisk demand for skilled workers. There are also
good openings on the manufacturing side for the boys with a basic knowledge of shoe construction and materials used in the trade.
10. Sheetmetal Work. By making a great variety of household goods, fitting machinery guards and carrying out other constructive work,
the boys of this department learn the basic skills of sheet-metal work —cutting, shaping and joining—which can be applied in many
different branches of industry. They also learn to use a gas welding plant.
The above explanatory notes contain certain information about the trade training, and it is only necessary to supplement them with some
statement on method and principle. To begin with, the normal age of admission is thirteen plus, so until a boy is fifteen years of age
we overlap the statutory compulsory education period. During this time the main emphasis is on general education, similar in content
to that in most Secondary Modern schools. With small classes of thirty or less—half this size for backward groups—and helped by the
stimulus provided by other activities, a great deal of remedial work is done for boys who have the capacity to learn. For one day each
week these junior boys are allowed to go into the workshops of their choice, partly for practical work and partly for the kind of general
knowledge naturally associated with the trade. It would be possible to quote endless examples of this, but anyone could understand that
a hide, cut up and handled in the boot shop, would be a good starting point for a lesson on ranching. During the junior stage there is a
certain amount of mind-changing, but by their fifteenth birthday almost all of the boys have found what they want to do within the
limited field available. At the beginning of the term following their fifteenth birthday, trade training (theory and practice) occupies four
days per week, the fifth being devoted to general education. The school awards its own certificates of competence in schooling and
trade skills, but can only live by satisfying the standards required by employers in the different industries. There is one circumstance
which is of tremendous help to the instructors in the workshops, namely, that we are part of a very big organization which usefully
absorbs all that we can produce. Some is consumed in the home itself; the painters have their meals in a hall which they decorated, the
carpenters renew the floor of the printing shop, and we all partake at times authorised, and some at unauthorised times, of the harvest
of the gardeners. In addition to home consumption our goods go everywhere, to Barnardo nurseries, schools, hospital homes, bazaars
and exhibitions and back come the letters of appreciation. All this is really a great stimulus to effort and pride in achievement.
The main emphasis of the School must always be on its craftsmanship, for it is the wonderful provision of workshops, machinery and
instructors which is its distinguishing feature. Doing a man's job is a natural aspiration for a boy and to be engaged in work which is
interesting for its own sake, requiring an extensive period of training and continued schooling, is a stabilizing factor during adolescence.
There is, of course, much more than schoolwork at Goldings; it is a place of multitudinous activity in sports, hobbies and social life.
To list them all would be tedious and many would be common to all boarding schools. One guiding principle is that wherever possible
our activities are outward-looking. Our social programme for Winter and Spring terms includes a weekly dancing class to which local
girls are invited and there are many occasions when boys and adults enjoy themselves together. Naturally we like our Old Boys to
come back and see us occasionally, but do not reckon frequent returning as an index of success. If we must function as a prop to begin
with, we aim at gently disengaging ourselves in time and our efforts are directed towards making a boy feel confident at club evenings,
whist drives, dances or any gathering where he is likely to meet other young people and become independent of us.
A communal life such as ours is restricting in some ways, for the sheer mechanics of getting through the business of the day, the
timekeeping and the need for supervision, prevent the degree of flexibility possible in a small family unit; on the other hand, many
opportunities come to boys at Goldings that others would covet. Membership of the Bugle Band or Gymnastic Squad takes them round
and about. Boys get invited to parties, fetes, factories, sports arenas and radio, television and film studios, meeting and conversing with
the famous and fashionable. Television has given much publicity to their service as Ball-boys at the All-England Tennis Championships.
In this, as in many other spheres, they do not feel at all patronized, they give their skill and feel they are of service to their hosts.
One must believe in the value of an establishment to conduct it successfully, but that does not imply a belief, either that it is not capable
of improvement, or that it offers the best environment for all the boys in the age group for which it caters. A brief sketch, such as this,
must suggest to the knowledgeable more questions than can be answered here. Finance is an irksome and restricting factor in all our
work, and so is the difficulty in recruiting and retaining adequate home staff of the right calibre. As to what is a suitable home
background for older boys, this is a very complex question. During the years following the Children Act of 1948 it became fashionable
to decry any large establishment with a communal life and to value child-care provision directly in proportion to its apparent similarity
to a normal small family unit. Experience has shown that children do not always react as reasoning adults argue that they ought to.
During the past Christmas, a young member of the School, on whose behalf several attempts had made made to provide a foster home,
was invited to spend the holiday with a family of kind working folk. The set-up appeared ideal and Mother and Father were quite
certain they and the lad and their own children were going to have a happy time together, making hopeful references to the possibility
of a more permanent connection. He was returned in disgrace by a bewildered couple. It will be difficult to explain to them what went
wrong, though an attempt will have to be made. What is certain is that we at the school cannot opt out of the task of socially educating
the lad, we must persevere, however unrewarding he appears. Some boys thrive on demonstrative affection, even possessiveness,
others are ruined by it; again others do well on it in small doses, at holiday times and ready in the background when needed. It is now
becoming more generally realized that the search for the ideal environment for a deprived child is illusory, the course of wisdom being
to maintain different varieties and to ensure that each is good of its kind.
"You can take the horse to the water, but you can't make him drink" is an aphorism peculiarly applicable to the business of child-care.
If we presumptuously assume a total responsibility for a boy's response to his opportunities, we end bv giving him the impression that
it is only the adults who are on trial and that his proper function is to be one of the trials. The William Baker Technical School puts
opportunity within a lad's reach and the staff do all they can to encourage him to grasp it. Many do so eagerly, for others much coaxing
and patient waiting is required and there are a few, it must be admitted, who are temperamentally incapable of the steady application
needed in skilled employment.
Finally, it would not be right to omit to mention that our founder, Dr. Barnardo, felt compelled to his great work by his Christian belief
and evangelizing fervour, so that we would not be continuing his mission if we confined ourselves to training boys for jobs and to be
socially agreeable, however well we did it. Ours is an inter-denominational protestant association, whose avowed object is to lead our
children to belief in Christ and His redeeming power. There is no yardstick by which achievement of this aim may be assessed; it is a
matter of faith.