Therapeutic Education at the Cotswold Community


Ron Dare was the Consultant Educational Psychologist to the Cotswold Community during the 1970s and 1980s. He took on this work following his retirement as Senior Educational Psychologist in Wiltshire’s Education Department. He was committed to a psychodynamic approach as the following short article makes clear.

John Whitwell


Ron Dare – 13th May 1982


The views of many people concerned with educating children are greatly influenced by their own memories of childhood and school, and by their attitudes to the authority of their own parents. This can lead to schools being run to suit the needs of teachers and inspectors to a greater or lesser degree and the inner needs of children are inadequately thought about, and not given enough consideration.

In formulating a plan for a therapeutic educational community like the Cotswold, the special characteristics of the deprived, damaged and disturbed boy (which they share with the rest of humanity) must be the starting point of our views. The following characteristics, common in a measure, to us all, are present in these lads to a marked degree and, in my opinion, must be regarded as of supreme importance in developing an educational philosophy for the boys of the Cotswold Community.

These lads have a very weak sense of identity. This results from their not having been able to work through depth relationships and identification with their parents. They are unconsciously, deeply uncertain of who they are and where they belong and most of the difficulties, learning and otherwise, spring from this. Their weakened sense of inner reality makes it difficult for them to deal with “outer” reality in terms of the society in which they live. The ensuing characteristics must form the basis of our educational plan.

They resort to and have in general a rich phantasy life. This can be turned to a varied use of art in all its forms. They are creative and phantasy can be turned to creativity to build up some sense of inner value.

Their image of themselves is invariably a bad one and one must seek to transform a bad self image into acceptable feelings about themselves. So educative processes must be positive, giving them feelings of doing work which is well done. This is very difficult as they are suspicious of and threatened by too much praise. It can lead to a degree of self expectation that they cannot live up to – and they can too easily sink back into despair.

Their bad self image springs from feelings of rejection by their parents. They see themselves in care, and in the Community as a punishment for being bad. They can only meet this by rejecting in turn their parents, about whom their feelings are extremely ambivalent. They invest all adults and authority figures, police, teachers and social workers with these mixed feelings of a little goodness and much badness. This makes the role of the teachers a nerve wrackingly difficult one. Physical punishment can only be counter-productive, reinforcing their feelings about the hostility of the adult world. Indeed punishment is irrelevant in the terms of therapeutic rehabilitation. So teachers have to know their own inner needs when they have to react to the testing and destructive behaviour of the boys. If they have unresolved authoritarian and identity feelings about themselves they will be corrupted by the aggressive outbursts of the boys into institutionalised ways of dealing with them.

Having a weak sense of identity means that the boys are at the mercy of their own instinctual needs. We are obliged to contain within ourselves our own despair, hatred and aggression (to make us fit to live with). These unformed people have little inner reserve with which to do this, and they must immediately act out the frustrations of life which continually beset them. So the teacher must be able to be a caring bound setter. He must be able to prevent the inner rage of a boy getting beyond the lad’s control with the consequent development in the boy of overwhelming feelings of guilt. Physical holding in the Winnicott sense may sometimes be effective. Then again, the unbelievably difficult task of the teacher must be so to constitute the running of his class that the boy can be helped to perceive what is going to trigger off an aggressive explosion and, either circumvent it or minimise its intensity.

Again it is characteristic of our lads that they see caring adults not as people to trust or relate to, but as objects to be manipulated to satisfy self-centred needs. Then conformity and “good” behaviour is not a real response but a ploy to achieve ulterior aims. So an uncorrupted, uncollusive attitude of non-acceptance may be necessary in dealing with a boy who is ostensibly conforming to school needs.

This is a very brief and inadequate outline of the requirements of a teacher in the Cotswold to the boys in his care. He has an almost insuperably difficult task.

I can only outline the curricula of the content of education.

All pre-formulated ideas of the content of an educational curriculum must be critically viewed. The work done must be subordinate to the special needs of the boys outlined above.

The therapeutic importance of “creative phantasy” in all its forms – music – written work – expressive art – crafts such as plasticine work, woodwork and toy making cannot be overstressed and must be a first consideration.

Generally the basic educational skills of reading and maths can only be taught individually at the child’s own pace. It must be a “caring” gift from the teacher to the boy, analogous to the food a loving mother gives to her family. Generally speaking in such a “one to one” relationship the teacher will learn which is the best method of approach for a particular boy.

An important stage will be reached when boys can learn to cope with their inner destructive needs and work together on group tasks and so accept the society they live in.

It follows from what has been said that teaching in a therapeutic community is a supremely difficult task in which there are no outside experts. It can only be learnt by teachers who understand – themselves – why they have chosen this profession – and the special needs of their pupils. They may find at the end, that they have prepared lads for a society which is superior to the one in which we live.

May 1982