Ancestry UK

Rathgael Training School, Bangor, Down, Northern Ireland

The Rathgael Training School (equivalent to an Approved School in England and Wales) was opened in 1968 and occupied purpose-built premises on Rathgael Road, Bangor. It replaced the former Malone Training School and accommodated up to 180 of the most difficult, damaged, disturbed and, in some cases, delinquent children from the Protestant communities of Northern Ireland. Rathgael was intended to take a more modern and progressive approach in the provision of care and education for boys.

The establishment comprised a senior school for boys aged fifteen or over, and a junior school. The senior school had 70 places in three house units with a pre-release flat with twenty places; the junior school had 94 places in four house units providing 80 places and a pre-release unit with fourteen places. A reception unit carried out a five-week assessment of newly admitted boys. The school was also divided into the care side and the justice side so that offenders and non-offenders could be dealt with separately.

Each house unit had its own staff, led by a house warden, which included housemasters and housemothers, together with teachers and instructors who performed many duties on top of their teaching role.

The residents were awoken at 7.30 a.m. After breakfast at 8 00 a.m., there were some household chores and some free time until 9.00 when school began with assembly in a building called the chapel. There was then class work or workshop work until lunch, which was served in the house units, followed by more class work and workshops until about 4 p.m. In the junior school, subjects taught included literacy, mathematics, geography, history and physical education.

In 1985, the girls' Training School at Whiteabbey was closed and its residents transferred to Rathgael which became a mixed establishment from that date. Rathgael closed in 1998 but continued in use as a juvenile justice centre under the name 'Lakeside', managed by the North Down and Ards Trust. In 2007 it became the 'Woodlands' juvenile justice centre.

In 2014, Rathgael was one of thirteen institutions examined by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI). The Inquiry concluded that there had been a number of instances of systemic failure relating to the school, including: unrecorded or unregulated physical punishment by some staff, a failure to prevent bullying of residents by their peers, and the sexual abuse of a small number of girls by staff.


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  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Hyland,Jim Yesterday's Answers: Yesterday's Answers: Development and Decline of Schools for Young Offenders (1993, Whiting and Birch)
  • Millham, S, Bullock, R, and Cherrett, P After Grace — Teeth: a comparative study of the residential experience of boys in Approved Schools (1975, Chaucer Publishing)