HC Deb 16 July 1918 vol 108 cc945-8

Where there are two or more public elementary schools not provided by the local education authority of the same denominational character in the same locality, the local education authority, if they consider that it is expedient for the purpose of educational efficiency and economy, may, with the approval of the Board of Education, give directions for the distribution of the children in those schools according to age, sex, or attainments, and otherwise with respect to the organisation of the schools; and for the grouping of the schools under one body of managers constituted in the manner provided by Sub-section (2) of Section twelve of the Education Act, 1902.

Provided that, if the constitution of the body of managers falls to be determined by the Board of Education under that Section, the Board shall observe the principles and proportions prescribed by Sections six and eleven of that Act; and that, if the managers of a school affected by any directions given under this Section request a public inquiry, the Board shall hold a public inquiry before approving those directions.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, Provided that the powers of distribution of children and grouping of schools hereby given shall not be so exercised as to reduce the number of scholars in average attendance in any school to less than thirty. This Clause, again, deals entirely with non-provided schools, and there is a great deal to be said for it. I should like, in many cases, to see non-provided schools grouped together and strengthened by so doing. There is a similar provision in the Act of 1902, and when I was bringing out an edition of that Act in the form of a textbook I devised a scheme whereby those schools could be utilised to a considerable extent. We are now dealing with this question of grouping, and we have to be careful that we do not do any injustice in order to secure administrative efficiency. I do not think we ought to put it into the power of the local authority to do this. The local authority is given the right of distributing the children and reorganising the schools, and we ought to safeguard the school and not give the local authority absolute power in the process of distributing their children amongst the non-provided schools, for they might distribute them in such a way as to destroy a particular school.

Cases of friction have arisen, especially in regard to one local school whose name is familiar to all of us, in the administration of the law with regard to non-provided schools. Cases may arise where this power of organising the non-provided schools and distributing the children about, moving all classes from one school to another might be so used as to practically be an act of tyranny. My Amendment says that no local authority shall move children from one non-provided school to another to such an extent as to reduce the number of children in average attendance at the particular school in question to below thirty. Under the Act of 1902, Section 9, dealing with what schools are necessary and unnecessary, that Act says that no school shall be considered unnecessary provided certain things happen and provided the number of children in average attendance does not fall below thirty. I know there are cases where the Board still allows schools to go on with a number below an average of thirty, but if they are reduced below thirty by definite and, I assume, tyrannical action on the part of the local authority there might be a strong case for the Board of Education to say that the number is below thirty, and under Section 9 of the Act of 1902 the presumption is that the school is no longer necessary, and they might say, "Please close the school." I hope the President will see his way, if not by my Amendment, in some other way to give us some safeguard that the power of the local authority shall not be used for the suppression of the school, a suppression which might occasionally be desirable from the administrative point of view, but which I submit would be very hard upon the managers or trustees of a school and which might be very much abused and used tyrannically against a school, under circumstances which nobody in this House would defend. I therefore venture to urge that these words should be added to the Clause in the interest of what we all desire, namely, the honest, decent, and fair administration of the Bill.


I beg to second the Amendment.

As I understand it, the whole structure of the Bill is that nothing should be done to injure non-provided schools in any way. That is the intention of the Bill and of the Board of Education. We have had one or two things which some of us think may seriously injure non-provided schools. That may or may not be right but this particular Amendment does show a way in which serious injury might be done to non-provided schools, and for that reason I support it. It cannot injure the framework of the Bill, and there cannot possibly be any harm in putting in the proviso, because I am sure there is no intention in the President's mind of causing any injury to non-provided schools. If the non-provided schools fear injury, surely the right hon. Gentleman will go as far as he can to accept the Amendment.


My hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment is quite right in saying that it would be unfortunate if, as the result of grouping, which it is the object of this Clause to facilitate, certain schools should be closed and their existence terminated. I have already expressly told the House that is not the object of the Clause. The object of the Clause is not the closing of schools but the regrouping of pupils in schools of the same denomination, and the hon. Member may rest assured that the Board of Education will use its influence to prevent this Clause being used as a pretext for the closing of schools. I think, however, that the Amendment which is proposed would work rather unfortunately. I take it that the regrouping will be most useful among the small schools. It will be often much the most convenient plan to have a little body of pupils, perhaps less than thirty, in one particular school, and I feel that it would rather injure the prac- tical value of the Clause if this Amendment were persisted in. For that reason I am unable to accept it.

Amendment negatived.