Gloucester House - Welcome sign

Gloucester House Day Unit is one of the unique services run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. It specialises in helping the most vulnerable and the most disturbed children. It was originally part of the Child Guidance Training Centre (CGTC) which merged with our Children’s Department back in 1985.

Gloucester House is a leading special school with a uniquely integrated specialist clinical team offering high quality education and therapeutic services for up to 21 primary and early secondary aged children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

Child's picture from Gloucester House

Gloucester House was opened by the CGTC in 1968. The CGTC itself has been helping ‘disturbed’ [sic] children since 1929. Its original premise was in Islington and it was there that they first developed a multi-disciplinary approach known as the medical model. With the coming of World War II the Islington base was closed down and the children and staff evacuated. After the war the CGTC returned to London and joined the NHS in 1948, but only resumed its training role.

Tavistock Centre 1965

The Tavistock Centre in 1967

The CGTC moved to 33 Daleham Gardens in 1963. Then in 1967 they moved into to the newly built Tavistock Centre, or ‘Freud Hilton’ as staff called it. This left 33 Daleham Gardens free so that they could create a Day Unit for ‘seriously disturbed children’.

Gloucester House 1891

Gloucester House (as it looked in 1891)

The house at 33 Daleham Gardens was originally built by the architect George Sherrin (1843 – 1909) in the 1880s. Sherrin was also responsible for the More Gate entrance of Lincoln’s Inn, Routings Store on Kensington High Street and several London Underground stations, including the arcade around South Kensington.

The Day Unit was a hospital school, run by the NHS. Dr Margaret Collins was its first medical director, Eve Richards was their first child psychotherapist, Gillian Miles was the psychiatric social worker and the educational psychologist was Doris Liebowitz. The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) provided three specially trained full-time teachers (including the teacher in charge) and one part-time ‘remedial’ [sic] teacher for the Day Unit.

It was made up of three groups of around six children, each taken by a teacher and an assistant. The groups were organised by age ranges: from four to seven, from seven to ten and ten to fourteen.

Child's picture from Gloucester house

The Day Unit was intended as a short-term placement to help children who had broken down in mainstream school. The aim was to help them overcome their difficulties and return to their school.

Their premise was that ‘disturbed’ children were in the grip of unresolved unconscious conflicts, and the way to help them was to provide a contained understanding structure where they could express and work through these conflicts. The idea of having a teacher and teaching assistant per class was intrinsic to the Unit as they provided a model of the parental couple, as well as supporting each other.

In 1985 the Local Health Authority decided to close the CGTC, so it joined the Tavistock Clinic merging with the Children and Parents Department to form the Child and Family Department.

During the merger, Lesley Holditch (a Tavistock Clinic Educational Psychologist) was central to the reestablishment of the Day Unit. She was involved with the Mulberry Bush School in Oxfordshire, which had been set up at the end of World War 2 by Barbara Dockar-Drysdale.

Barbara Docker-Drysdale at the Mulberry Bush School 1948

Barbara Docker-Drysdale at the Mulberry Bush School 1948

The Unit started operating under Mulberry Bush School’s Department of Education (DfE) number, teachers were employed and paid by the Mulberry Bush School and for a while it was known as the Mulberry Bush Day Unit.

In 2005 Nell Nicholson, the current head, joined. Her first job was to get a DfE number so that the school could run in its own right. The school was renamed the Tavistock Children’s Day Unit, but families and pupils informally called it Gloucester House, so it was reframed as Gloucester House, The Tavistock Children’s Day Unit.

Gloucester House 2019 with Head Nell Nicholson

Gloucester House in 2019, with current Head Teacher Nell Nicholson

In 2014, because of low pupil numbers, the service was radical remodelled. The leadership changed from being medically led to educationally led. Costs were reduced by almost 30%. The age range was extended back to the original five to 14 years and new outreach department was developed. In the same year it was awarded an ‘outstanding’ status in every Ofsted category.

Numbers have now stabilised and Gloucester House specialises in working with children who have often been suspended, expelled or even turned away from pupil referral units as too disruptive. Given such a challenging cohort of students it is surprising that the vast majority are successfully returned to mainstream education.

Child's picture from Gloucester House

In our centenary year the future looks bright for Gloucester House as its ideas around reflective practice and multidisciplinary teamwork are more relevant than ever. Its outreach programme has successfully engaged with mainstream schools and supports them in developing practices that are reducing the need to exclude children from education.

Author: Glenn Gossling, article first published in In Mind magazine in 2018


A short history of child guidance in England

Marcus Johns tells of his experiences of working at Gloucester House