Teachers should help to set up new youth prisons, Chris Grayling has said.
The Justice Secretary called on school staff to help plan new secure colleges in a bid to improve education for young offenders. And he suggested that some of these colleges could be opened on the same grounds as schools for excluded pupils, known as pupil referral units.
In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement (TES) Mr Grayling said he had been inspired by the diverse range of groups, including teachers, who have submitted bids to open one of the Government's flagship new free schools. "My challenge is beyond the conventional providers of detention services to the education world... how could we do this better?"
Of plans to open youth prisons on existing school grounds, Mr Grayling said: "It may well be that someone comes back and says, 'I can run a pupil referral unit (for excluded children) with a small, secure institution alongside it and do a better job for you'." He added: "I genuinely have got no prejudged view about what the end product of this will look like or should look like."
Penelope Gibbs, chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, which works to reform the system, warned that mainstream school teachers were "unlikely to have the expertise needed" to run the new institutions. "Providers of custody for children must be absolutely specialist," she told the TES.
Ministers announced a consultation on plans to boost education for young offenders in February amid concerns that high numbers have been expelled from school and have low literacy levels.
Most 15 to 17-year-olds in custody have been excluded from school at some point, while half of those are assessed as having the literacy levels of a seven to 11-year-old, the Government has said. Learning disabilities are generally more prevalent among young people in custody, according to the Ministry of Justice, and education within the youth estate is "patchy".
In the 12 months to June 2012, 3,645 of all young offenders sentenced received a custodial sentence. In 2012/13 the Youth Justice Board expects to spend approximately £245 million on the detention of young offenders.
Youth offender institutions are contracted to deliver 15 hours of education per week, though this is not frequently achieved, the MoJ said. Earlier this week a report by an independent think-tank found that nine out of 10 young offender institutions (YOIs) fail to deliver the minimum requirement of 15 hours of education to each teenager per week.
Responding to the Government consultation, which closed this week, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said the current system fails to provide basic schooling. The number of hours of education in YOIs has dropped 15% in two years to an average of just 11 hours per week for 2011-12, figures obtained by the CSJ following a freedom of information request showed.