The term came into use in 1933 when Approved Schools were created out of the earlier "industrial" or "reformatory" schools. They were mostly run by voluntary bodies, under the overall supervision of the Home Office (or the Scottish Home Department, in Scotland), and subject to rules made by the Home Office, notably the Approved School Rules 1933. The Home Office maintained a team of inspectors who visited each institution from time to time.
Approved Schools were essentially "open" institutions from which it was relatively easy to abscond. This enabled the authorities to claim that they were not "reformatories", and set them apart from "borstal", a tougher and more enclosed kind of youth prison.
Offenders sent to approved schools, as well as receiving academic tutition, were assigned to work groups for such activities as building and bricklaying, metalwork, carpentry and gardening. Many Approved Schools were known for strict discipline,.
The term "approved school" officially ceased to exist in the UK in the early 1970s. As a result of the 1969 Children & Young Persons Act, responsibility for these institutions passed from central government to local councils and they were renamed "Community Homes".
However, the name "approved school" is still used in some former British territories, such as Singapore.