The objective of the School Boards was, perhaps inevitably, school attendance, and in the enforcement of this the Industrial School were found useful in the last resort. Between 1870 and 1876 a number of truants were sent to Industrial Schools under section 16 of the Industrial Schools Act, the parents pleading in self-defence that the children were beyond their control. To send children to a residential school from which they could not be licensed out before 18 months had elapsed, and where they would probably be retained till close on 16 years of age, appeared to be a very drastic and expensive remedy for mere non-attendance. The Elementary Education Act of 1876 provided, therefore, that a child sent to an Industrial School at the instance of a local education authority could be licensed-out after one month conditional on attending an Elementary School, and within two years some of the more enterprising School Boards had established Industrial Schools of their own to give effect to the net provision. These special Industrial Schools became known as Truant Industrial Schools, or Truant Schools. Two such schools (Upton House, London and Hightown, Liverpool) were opened in 1878 and one (Sheffield) in 1879. By the end of 1893, 15 Truant Schools in all were in operation in England and Wales and for a number of years the total number of boys in the schools averaged about 1,220, with between 4,000 and 5,000 on Licence.
At first the Truant Schools were not pleasant places. They smacked of the prison rather than of the school; provision for solitary confinement was more evident that that for instruction, and it is some consolation to think that the schools were never used for girls. The appointment of officers who had had experience in Industrial Schools, however, gradually let to the adoption of more enlightened methods, and during recent years less regard has been paid to mere paper results and more to the quality for the successes, with the result that even the formed showed an improvement, and such Truant Schools as Upton House and Highbury in London and the Midlands School at Lichfield, succeeded in accomplishing in the course of a few months and at the latest by the time the boy was 14 years of age, everything that could be desired in the way of giving him such a start in life as should ensure his ultimate success, provided always that the home surrounds were not too unfavourable. But just as the schools appeared to have solved the problem the number of boys committed to them began from various causes to decline, till at times the number in the schools fell below 1,000, and though, mainly through the opening of a school in Scotland, the total at the end of 1906 had risen to 1,232 the number of boys on licence is only about one half of what it formerly was, and many of the English Schools are far from being full.
The title Truant School is becoming more and more a misnomer, and it may be hoped that it will disappear, giving place to the only legal title Industrial School; but at the same time it is also to be hoped that the number of schools which can claim to be short term Industrial Schools will not diminish but steadily increase.
The most recently established Truant School, and the only on every opened in Scotland is that of the Glasgow School Board at Shettleston, a fine school and in many respects worthy of the second city in the Empire. But it is maintained at great expense to the School Board, and there is danger of its being stinted in certain important particulars, notably the provision for expert schoolroom instruction. The Shettleston School, however, will bear favourable comparison with most of the English schools of the same class and may indeed be said to have begun where several of them ended. Not its least claim to importance is that it represents the first real instance of a Scottish School Board identifying itself with the Industrial School system, and before long valuable results may possibly accrue from the excellent example of Glasgow.
All the Truant Schools are owned and managed by local Education Authorities either separately or, as in the cases of the North London, the Holme Court, Isleworth and the Midlands, Lichfield, by a combination of two or three Education Authorities acting in partnership for the purpose.