HC Deb 06 May 1875 vol 224 cc156-8

asked the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education, Whether his attention has been called to a reported tyrannical exercise of authority in the case of a Mrs. Marks, by an officer of the London School Board, in an attempt to compel the attendance at school of her eldest girl, aged eleven years, having charge of two infant children; and, whether the case, as reported, is true; and, if true, whether he can inform Parliament that steps have been taken by the Board to prevent the recurrence of similar acts of tyranny?


Sir, the Education Department has no authority to interfere with the discretion of the school boards respecting the manner in which they exercise the powers conferred upon them by the Act of 1870, of compelling the attendance of children at school, when once the bye-laws have been sanctioned by the Committee of the Privy Council. Sir Charles Reed, the Chairman of the London School Board, has, however, been so good as to forward to me a letter from one of the members of the Board in whose division the case occurred, showing that the matter was immediately investigated, and explaining the circumstances. As far as my present information goes, drawn from this source and from the letters which have appeared in The Times, I cannot see that there was any tyrannical exercise of authority on the part of the officer respecting Mrs. Marks, who was, at the time, in receipt of out-door relief. I would remind my noble Friend that, by the bye-laws of the School Board, all children beneficially and necessarily at work above 10 and under 13 years of age are obliged to attend school for 10 hours a-week, and not more; and that by the Act of 1873, passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), the guardians are bound to make it a condition of continuous relief out of the House, that all children between five and 13 years of age attend school, unless they have passed a certain Standard, granting such additional relief—if any—as may be necessary for that purpose. In this case both bye-laws and Act were broken; and to show the extreme difficulty of making exceptions as to their enforcement, I may mention that a woman living near Mrs. Marks complained to the visitor of her children being compelled to go to school while some of Mrs. Marks's children were let off. The provision for the very serious money difficulties of these cases, beyond the school fees, rests with the guardians; but the School Board and their officers are bound to see that the law is obeyed. I have always expressed my opinion that great delicacy and consideration are needed in working the bye-laws for compelling attendance at school—and when you deal with the very poor, the class for whom the Education Act was specially needed, whose heroic efforts in many cases to keep themselves from pauperism no one who knows them can praise too highly, it is impossible not to be grieved to think of the distress and privation which, for the time, they must undergo under the Education Act, however confident we may feel that in the end it will be for their own and their children's benefit and for the advantage of the community. I am glad to have this opportunity of saying that I have no hesitation in affirming that, as far as I can ascertain, these compulsory powers have, as a rule, been used by the London and the other school boards with remarkable judgment, care, and discretion. Unless, therefore, Parliament wishes to reverse its legislation respecting compulsory attendance, I venture to express an earnest hope that hon. Members in Parliament, and also magistrates on the Bench, will support the school boards and boards of guardians in the exercise of this most irksome, most difficult, and most laborious part of the duties which the Legislature has committed to their charge—namely, that of compelling the attendance at school of the unwilling children of unwilling parents.


said, he would, at the earliest opportunity, call the attention of the House to the case, because he believed it to be a specimen case.