From Maurice Bridgeland, PIONEER WORK WITH MALADJUSTED CHILDREN (Staples Press, 1971)


Although she died only in 1969 the same is, to some extent, true of Leila Rendel, whose origins were in nineteenth-century liberal philanthropy and whose great personal influence made difficult any conceptualization of her methods. She was the granddaughter of Sir Alexander Rendel, an eminent Victorian radical, and niece of Edith Rendel, a suffragette and pioneer girls'-club leader. Her mother was a Paul (the publishers) and the household was a centre for discussion and activity for nineteenth-century liberals involved in twentieth-century political and social reform.  Leila Rendel grew up in an atmosphere and in an era of individual 'good works' largely dependent on the interests of wealthy and under-employed upperclass women with strong social consciences - a source of energy in this field which increased after the First World War when, although there was less money, there were more women whose life-fulfilment could no longer come through marriage which had either ended, or been prevented, by the decimation of their generation of men in the war. The original committee of the Caldecott school in 1911 consisted of nine women, eight of whom were unmarried.

Leila Rendel was, at this time, twenty-eight, and had been trained in 'Swedish gymnastics', a subject which she subsequently taught in a teachers' training college and for which she became an inspector. In her early twenties she was greatly interested in Margaret Macmillan's pioneer nursery-school work. She always had a passion for teaching and Baroness Stocks, her cousin, remembers that, while still a young child, Leila Rendel had insisted on teaching her the catechism. Her attachment to the established Church was not fixed. Her religion was of a practical kind and she eventually joined the Society of Friends partly, her co-worker Ethel Davies suggests, as a reaction against her erstwhile colleague Phyllis Potter's involvement with the Anglo-Catholics, and in response to the latter's criticism that she lacked any structural basis for her beliefs.

Leila Rendel's original concern in what was to evolve into the Caldecott Community was in taking gymnastics in a hall attached to her Aunt Edith's girls' club. From this developed first a creche, then a nursery school, and eventually the Caldecott Community (named after the illustrations from the Rendel's Caldecott reading books which were used to decorate the walls). The first official home of the Caldecott Community, 26 Cartwright Gardens, housed not only Edith Rendel's working girl's club and a day nursery previously run by Phyllis Potter at Whitefields Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road, but also, by 1914, a mothers' club, an evening play-hour activity and a holiday school. It was also a base for country holidays, medical inspections and a school-meals service. This emphasis on 'the whole child' and the essential interaction of social service and education within the Community was the basis from which all else stemmed.

In 1911 Leila Rendel became secretary and treasurer to the Caldecott Nursery School, where it was hoped 'the children might enjoy that instruction which is usually absorbed by the children of the wealthy in their own nurseries and by virtue of their happier surroundings'. (6) In its present stately home, Mersham le Hatch, this tradition remains unbroken although the world and society (and its attitudes) have changed. No longer would it be possible to record benefactions as they were recorded in 1914 thus: 'The thanks of the Community are due to many people for their help in the past year.... To Mrs Britton, Mrs   Donaldson, Miss Kelsall, Miss E. Rendel, Mrs Philipson, Mrs Philipson's Chauffeur's Wife, Mrs Mooring, and Miss Harrison Rawson for hospitality and care given to various children during the holidays'! (my italics). (7) but many of the compensatory virtues of that supremely self-confident society survived two world disasters. It is still within an essentially secure, ordered and loving framework, and in a gracious environment, that the Caldecott Community endeavours to fulfil its educational and social aim enunciated in 1911: 'To awaken in the children that independence of spirit and joyousness of life which will alone give them the power of realizing to the fullest extent the possibilities of development within their reach'."

In fulfilling its constant aim the Caldecott Community has often changed its external appearance.

In 1917, when it was realized how much the environment of wartime St Pancras frustrated its aim of the healthy development of the whole child, the Caldecott Community was moved to Charlton Court, in East Sutton, Kent (now the home of Red Hill School, see Chapter 11), and so became the first coeducational boarding school for working-class children who were neither 'in care' nor convicted by the courts. Alice Woods gives a very illuminating account of the work there and of its emphasis both on individual development and corporate consciousness. (9)

In 1925, when the Community moved to Cuffley, in Hertfordshire, it was decided that its function would no longer relate only to the socially deprived but to children of any creed, nationality or social class who, by reason of parental death, sickness, divorce, separation or other inadequacy, or through illegitimacy, were deprived of the secure and loving family environment which Leila Rendel had always regarded as essential to their true emotional and personal development.

By 1934 many local authorities were asking the community to accept, as its special concern, the disturbed and difficult children of broken homes, and in 1938 the Caldecott Community became one of the first schools to be recognized by the Board of Education under Section 80 of the Education Act, 1921, as an appropriate establishment for those children whose behaviour problems had led to their exclusion from normal schools. As the inevitable outcome of a conjunction between its care for the deprived and a socially and politically troubled world - in which the breathing space between two cataclysmic wars seemed filled by economic disaster - this function of the Community increased. By 1962 the proportion of maladjusted children in the Community had grown to almost two thirds although Leila Rendel's intention was always preventive rather than therapeutic: 'To rescue intelligent children from disintegrated homes early enough to prevent maladjustment, and possibly delinquency'. (10)


Leila Rendel's interest in delinquency was, doubtless, born in St Pancras before the First World War but it was in the Second World War that the problem was put firmly in her capacious lap. For a few years (1941-5), during which it was in exile on Egdon Heath (Hyde Heath), the Caldecott Community accepted its status of a junior approved school, in response to the increasingly recognized need for a therapeutic rather than a punitive attitude to those many juvenile delinquents whose actions were a clear expression of their social and emotional needs. In a paper, The Child of Misfortune, given in 1952, Leila Rendel not only recognized that 'a large proportion of these young offenders are of normal personality, and their difficulties arise through distortion caused by emotional stresses of abnormal home environment' but she also pointed out that they were usually 'the unprotected children of the streets recruited from the poorest ranks of the population'," children who, she knew from long experience, shared the psychological problems, but not the supportive and influential backgrounds, of middle-class children. Despite its temporary change of status and the difficulties produced by wartime chaos there was no fundamental change in the philosophy of the Community. The approved-school children, all of whom were under twelve when they arrived, fitted in easily with the resident evacuees, refugees and maladjusted children, and frequently proved much less difficult.

After the war, although the Caldecott Community ceased, at its own request, to be an approved school, Leila Rendel continued to be involved with the needs of the delinquent, as she was with those of all distressed children. In the course of the Curtis Committee's enquiry (12) leading to the Children's Act of 1948, Leila Rendel, together with Dr Hilda Lewis, mooted the idea for at least one home in each [L.E.A.] for the temporary reception of children with, in particular, the necessary facilities for observation of their physical and mental condition'. (13)

A pilot experimental reception centre was opened in October 1947 at New House, near Mersham le Hatch, under the general supervision of the directors of the Caldecott Community, which it was hoped would be of help in ascertaining and providing for the individual needs of all homeless and disturbed children. From the first the majority (94 per cent) was composed of children in the care of   Kent County Council, most of whom had been remanded from a juvenile court. Maladjusted children, or children disturbed in ways other than delinquent, could be supported only by reference through the school medical officer under Section 48 (3) of the Education Act, and the value of the reception centre was lessened by the absence of any referrals by voluntary agencies or for children temporarily in need because of parental illness, death or poverty. Thus, to the discouragement of their protagonists, the image of reception centres was biased even before they were officially established, although they did succeed in pioneering methods of classifying and assessment which have, subsequently, been of great value in work both with the delinquent and the maladjusted. (14), (15)

In 1956 a 'family group' home was established at Smeeth, Kent, for children who were considered to need greater individual care than the main household could provide. These fifteen children, although cared for separately by a housemaster and his wife, remained part of the whole Community.

Recent development of the idea of community homes and the integration of the social services related to children as envisaged in the White Paper Children in Trouble and in the Seebohm Report indicate how far the Caldecott Community has remained a forerunner in methods of social education.

Amid all this change one thing remained constant. From 1911-69 the essential security of the perpetually changing community came largely from the presence in it of Leila Rendel. Although her approach was essentially dynamic, flexible and progressive, she was herself reliable, stable and conservative of the 'good' things from her radical but upper-middle-class Edwardian past. Physically very large, she embodied permanence and, even when the Caldecott Community was homeless and divided during the war, she remained, in the words of Lady Stocks, who was close to her at this period, 'unfluffable'. Through crisis and change Leila Rendel continued to embody the love, comfort and stability which provided the essential therapy of the Community. Her genius 'lay in her ability to make contact with children. Children really loved her and she loved them. She would go, to endless trouble with the individual child and, although she was very close to them, she kept a composure and had a lack of sentimentality that they respected.' (16) She remained 'fascinated' by children and every child knew of her interest in it individually, and although she indulged in what Lady Stocks regards as 'the family habit of adopting children' she seems to have succeeded in achieving if not emotional detachment at least emotional egalitarianism.

The effect of her personality and her rejection of dogma makes it difficult to analyse the principles and structure of her work. 'No theory is admitted by Miss Rendel, or her partner, Miss Davies, that has not been tried on the touchstone of many years' experience.' (17)

Leila Rendel was not only a born educator and a trained teacher but she remained essentially a progressive, sensitive and flexible educationalist. Her educational theory had evolved both from the Froebelian and the Montessorian schools of her youth. The main object of the original school was seen as providing 'a garden to test and weed out the new educational theories of which the last decade has been so full. The Community would like to test the new theories that are slowly but radically changing our national education; it would like to be not a universal model but a forerunner. It does not wish to preach community life, nor Montessori games, nor country holidays; but to show by trial   what are the good, and what are the bad, tendencies in modem theories of collective life and non-collective teaching'. (18) Although non-collective teaching was assumed to be best for children of all ages - as were self-discipline, spontaneous grouping and free choice within an 'integrated' day - a less absolutely permissive ethos soon developed. One incident was of particular significance:

It was some months before we realized that the children themselves felt restless and lost. The situation reached a climax when a small boy put his head round the door of the directors' sitting room and said abruptly and bitterly, "You seem to forget, Miss Leila, that we are young and you are here to look after us! " . . . From then onwards we exercised a somewhat more limited and guarded freedom. For the achievement of balance between discipline and freedom there can be no hard and fast rules. It can be maintained only by an openness of mind, an alertness of spirit, and a willingness on the part of the adult to grow with the children themselves. (19)

It is particularly interesting that although Leila Rendel decided that 'Montessori did not work with "wild children"', the description which Stewart gives of the essentials of a Montessori class describes exactly Leila Rendel's subsequent approach. (21) He perceives that although the order may appear to proceed from the children's group, the directress is, in fact, dea in machina whose job it is to isolate the disruptive child from the group until the group magnetism compels him to return and conform. 'Hers is the ultimate but unobtrusive authority.'

The work of the junior children (the seniors now go to nearby schools) was organized in terms both of group activity and individual work quotas with the emphasis on experience and discovery and the full use of the country environment, and a 'respectable' standard of work was insisted on even from the youngest pupils, since a large part of the object was to build up self-respect through genuine individual accomplishment.

It was typical of Leila Rendel that, as problems changed or became more complex, she was prepared to modify her policy in the light of experience and research. As the Community catered increasingly for maladjusted children so she sought assistance in coping with their educational problems. In 1955 an experimental unit was set up to study the effect of individual remedial education on children who were deemed to be retarded through the effects of their disturbance. It was considered that readiness to learn depended not only on maturation and intellectual ability but on the child's total personal and social experience, and the extent and direction of its motivation. The remedial sessions in reading  and arithmetic were conducted through the medium not only of specific books and other material but through a wide range of play and creative materials.

The general results of the two-year experiment were a significant and maintained progress in reading ability, a marked, but seldom maintained, increase in arithmetical ability, and a pronounced and overall improvement in personal behaviour and adjustment - which came, it was concluded, not only through the close personal attention given to each child but also through the discipline of learning and the experience of success.

The following case is typical both of the children involved and the progress achieved:

George came to the Caldecott at the age of 9 years, because of the effects of an unhappy strained home. Both parents were artists, the father being an alcoholic asthmatic and the mother a cold, rejecting woman. George also suffered from asthma and had come to a complete standstill educationally. At the age of 7 years, after two different schools had tried, he was given a private tutor for 2 years, but continued to be an extremely anxious boy, severely blocked with regard to all social or school learning.

At the start of treatment George was markedly lacking in self-confidence, slow in all his reactions, and full of fears.

Response to remedial treatment was slow but steady. As emotional tension gradually decreased, he became able to respond to teaching. However, each holiday provided a setback, as his mother insisted on coaching him which again increased his anxiety. Yet from being a complete non-reader and terrified of the subject, he became able to face his difficulties and persevere despite them. (21)

It was again typical of Leila Rendel that the unit, having been shown to be of value, was continued as an integral part of the Community. Its function was enlarged to include very disturbed children who might profit in other ways from individual attention and the opportunity to play or be creative in an encouraging atmosphere. 'Individual needs could be catered for; the immature could play at a younger level without fear of ridicule; the apathetic or isolated child, unable to respond in a larger group, could find stimulation in the more sheltered environment of a small group; the aggressive could be provided with acceptable outlets without causing harm to people or property. (22)

In remedial education, as in many other educational innovations, Leila Rendel fulfilled her intention to be a 'forerunner'.

As a therapeutic community the Caldecott has also fulfilled the expectations of its founders who, in 1914 when there was no thought of working with 'maladjusted' children, saw individual adjustment to emotional and social frustrations as their chief experimental aim. 'As far as the experiment has gone ... it is precisely in this direction that the Community hopes for its most interesting results' (Third Annual Report).  Principles were enunciated then which still form the basic assumptions of the Community's therapeutic work.

The environment was to be as harmonious and as free of frustration as possible, for self-control was not to be learnt by overcoming difficulties and confusions, not from the habit of being in trouble, but from character achieved by each child being given a real sense of responsibility for his own actions, the compulsion of inner self-discipline derived from a demanding but loving and secure community'. 'There comes a time ... when the child begins to take up the   responsibility for his own life. If at that moment he is helped and encouraged he will find his own individuality and undergo a sort of mental conversion.... After that he can face his own troubles as he meets them and it is from there that his discipline will come. (23)

The actual physical environment was considered to be of great importance and country living and cultured and graceful surroundings were important. It is interesting, in this connection, that an ex-pupil of the Caldecott, an accomplished criminal, once complained to a member of staff that the sort of elegance, comfort and culture which he had experienced as a deprived child in the Community was an inducement to crime - since only through criminal activity could it be subsequently purchased by the 'working classes'. (This view that special schools, by protecting children from bad environments, unfit them to return to their own social milieu - has considerable, if not such extreme, support.)

Within this secure and congenial environment the interaction of the group was thought to have its own therapeutic value. Leila Rendel said: 'Children come here said to be difficult in behaviour, but before long most of them settle down and find their way. It is the children who help one another.' Children were expected to conform to a fundamentally middle-class ethos in which reasonable standards of quietness, orderliness, good manners and cleanliness were implicit. Noise in the dining room would be muted if Leila Rendel rang the bell and the  Community's newsletters are full of gently mocking comments on nonconformists. Children who were too disturbed to cope with normal school work, or a normal mealtime situation, were allowed to 'opt out and were known as 'special'. It was assumed that community pressure ('How awful it must be to be "special"') and a desire to be accepted would produce a reasonable degree of conformity which was a strain neither to the individual nor to the community.

Although it was thought necessary for the development of self-discipline that there should be a progressive assumption of responsibility, under guidance, and although Alice Woods describes an early experiment in self-government at the Caldecott in 1920 (24) responsibility was never 'shared' in the later sense of that term (see Chapter 15). School meetings were held at first weekly, then monthly, but did little more than affirm faith in the executive. In direction as in sympathy the Caldecott Community was essentially individualistic. On one occasion an earnest and puzzled German research worker asked, after a considerable stay, 'But where is the administration?' and was told 'Well, usually, in the girls' bathroom' (where Leila Rendel would often sit and discuss both individual and community problems).

Another apparent paradox was that although great emphasis was placed, in principle, on the importance of the warmth and support of a good family - of which many of these children were deprived - the Caldecott Community, though all-age and co-educational, was not run on any genuinely family basis. The children were divided into age groups both for lessons and for most communal activities, and the boys and girls were not only in separate groups but, at Mersham le Hatch, in separate wings of the building. There was no intention to replace the original families or parents, however bad, if they existed and close   contact was maintained through informal visits and school 'occasions'.

Leila Rendel herself did not consider the Caldecott Community the ideal environment for the very deeply disturbed child, although many such children doubtless responded to her care. She recognized her limitations (a rare quality in pioneers) and when children could not profit by staying in the Community they were sent to such institutions as Finchden Manor (see Chapter 10) or the Mulberry Bush (see Chapter 15), which offered a different regime or treatment approach. Others, brought up from infancy in the Caldecott Community, have been sent later to Gordonstoun (of which Leila Rendel was a founder-governor) in order to develop in a new and more challenging environment.

Leila Rendel's appreciation of Kurt Hahn and Gordonstoun was reflected in her policy at the Caldecott. One does not expect in a school largely for socially and emotionally deprived children to find a regime of cold showers, early morning runs, school meetings devoted mainly to ritual re-readings of the 'charter' and reaffirmations of faith. The use of school uniform as a mark of privilege (the uniformed were the trusted and responsible) savours strongly of Gordonstoun's caste system of 'white stripers' and 'colour-bearers'.

On the whole, however, the Caldecott Community avoided extremism while remaining receptive to new ideas. Its strength lies largely, perhaps, in its continuity, which has been maintained by a nucleus of loyal, if underpaid, staff. When Leila Rendel died in March 1969, her co-director since 1931, Miss Ethel Davies, remained in charge. Miss Davies originally came to the Community as an assistant   housekeeper in 1928 for a salary of £50 a year and in answer to an advertisement for someone with 'a passion for cleanliness'. The Caldecott continues as an independent primary school and a home for secondary-school children, and has over a hundred pupils. It fulfils many needs and will doubtless continue to act as a 'forerunner` in social-educational care in accord with the spirit of its founder, whom no change of scene, financial crisis, world disaster or advancing age could frighten into a static security.

 pp sr001


Article from Maurice Bridgeland, PIONEER WORK WITH MALADJUSTED CHILDREN (Staples Press, 1971)

Photograph, thanks to Simon Rodway OBE