HC Deb 06 March 1876 vol 227 cc1414-7

asked the Vice President of the Council, Whether the Education Department delayed, from the 6th September 1875 to the 21st January 1876, to intimate the condition of their consent, according to section 23 of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, to the transfer of the Wrentham British School (being the only public Elementary School during that period in the district) to the Wrentham School Board, it having been offered to and accepted by the Board; and what was the reason for the delay; whether there is at present any obstacle to the transfer, the School Board having, in a letter of the 1st February, agreed to relinquish the proposed term or condition of the transfer relating to the cost of carrying on the School, from the date at which the parish first asked for the School Board, as required by their Lordships on the 21st January 1876; and, whether the Department, having intimated for the first time on the 21st January, that my Lords have not yet determined whether the teacher of the National School is entitled to a Certificate. Until this point is determined it win be obvious that my Lords cannot decide whether they are justified in consenting to the transfer, intend by their reply to make their consent to the transfer of the British School to depend on the position of the National School; and, if so, whether such reply is in accordance with the Minute of the Committee of Council of Education, dated the 17th July 1871?


This is a curious case, but it may not be amiss that the hon. Gentleman should have called attention to it, as it will show how easily, unless great care is taken, a locality may be made under the Act of 1870, to bear a double burden for its schools. The question is worded in such a manner that unless I state shortly the facts of the case a most erroneous impression might be created respecting it. Wrentham is a place which had two voluntary schools—one being National, and one British—with school accommodation considerably in excess of what is required by law; both had certificated teachers till 1875, when the National school engaged an uncertificated teacher, with the expectation of his getting a certificate from Her Majesty's Inspector in January, 1876. Two years ago the managers of the British school informed the Department officially that they intended to close their school, having passed a resolution to that effect. Upon this the Department, following the only possible course (Section 12 [2] of the Education Act, 1870, not applying to this, which was to be a united district), issued the usual printed notice to the locality, stating that a deficiency of school accommodotion for 80 children existed, owing to the proposed closing of the British school, and that unless that accommodation was supplied within six months a school board would be ordered by the Department for the purpose of supplying it. Within the time named the requisite accommodation was supplied by the enlargement of the National public elementary school, and therefore a school board was not ordered, the equipment of the place being complete. Information was received some time after the place was ordered to provide further accommodation that the British school had, after all, not closed its doors as it announced it intended to do. There, therefore, remained two voluntary public elementary schools in the place; one, the enlarged National school, now become sufficient for the whole population, the other, the British school, which was still kept open, and both in receipt of Government annual grants. On the requisition of a meeting of ratepayers, a school board was ordered for Wrentham, it being at the same time intimated by the Department, in an official letter, that the school board, as matters then stood, would be unable to set up a school, though it would be able to pass bye-laws for compulsion, as the Department would not be justified in allowing a loan for a school, or probably also in allowing a Government annual grant to a board school, the place having put itself to the expense of supplying voluntarily the necessary accommodation in accordance with the requisition of the Department. The school board, when elected, requested the Department to agree to a transfer of the British school to the board; and here, in direct reply to a part of the Question, I have to say that the delay complained of arose principally from the National school having lost its certificated teacher and from the impossibility of ascertaining how the school would stand till the new master had been examined at the annual inspection of his school in 1876. If he had failed, it would have been a matter for our consideration whether the National school would not have ceased to supply efficient education. As it is, the master got his certificate in January, so that that part of the question is at an end. The obstacle, to which the Question alludes, now existing to the transfer of the British school to the board is this—The sanction of the Department is required by the statute for every transfer; and the Minute, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, only bears upon the details of a transfer, and not upon the principle of the propriety of the transfer itself, respecting which the Department cannot divest itself of the responsibility under the Act. We consider that it would be most unfair, and a breach of faith with those who have, in compliance with the requisition of the Department, supplied the necessary school accommodation, by sanctioning the transfer of the British school to the board, to throw the burden of the maintenance of that school upon the ratepayers generally, the locality having, at the bidding of the Department, on the announcement that the British school was to be given up, provided voluntarily elsewhere all the school accommodation needed. If we were to consent to such acts of injustice, I feel confident that the feeling of the country would soon turn against the Act of 1870. As it is, both the schools in question rank at present as public elementary schools; there is no deficiency of accommodation in the locality, the Department do not hold themselves justified in assenting to the transfer, but the two voluntary schools at Wrentham will, I trust, go on side by side, as they have done, for a long time past, supported with the aid of Government grants, by those who prefer them, as long as they wish to have them.