HC Deb 15 December 1954 vol 535 cc1939-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heath.]

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I feel somewhat diffident about detaining you, Mr. Speaker, the House and my hon. Friend, in particular, at this time of night.

The matter to which I desire to refer is one of those personal, human problems affecting some of the previous rights of individuals about which we in this House pride ourselves that we are deeply concerned. Among those rights is the right of a parent to have his wishes consulted in connection with the education of his child or children.

I wish to stress the wording of Section 76 of the Education Act, 1944, which prescribed that, as far as possible, pupils were to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. The wording is: In the exercise and performance of all powers and duties conferred and imposed on them by this Act the Minister and local education authorities shall have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. The matter concerns a constituent of mine, Mr. R. C. Gilkes, who lives at Radyr, Glamorgan, near the northwestern fringe of the City of Cardiff. Until September, 1953, he and his family lived at Fairwater, which is within the Cardiff city boundary. From September, 1952, until he moved in September, 1953, his son, Richard, attended the Howardian High School, Cardiff.

In September, 1953, family reasons obliged Mr. Gilkes to look for a larger house, and the only suitable house with adequate accommodation that he could find was at Radyr, to which he moved. Soon afterwards he was advised that his son must leave the Howardian High School and in future attend Whitchurch Grammar School, which is in my constituency and is roughly North of Cardiff.

Mr. Gilkes has told me that immediately he received this information he sought, on three occasions, an interview with the Glamorgan County Director of Education, but for some reason—I do not quite know the reason—he failed to obtain an appointment in a reasonable time. He then, in October, 1953, appealed to the right hon. Lady who was then the Minister of Education against the instruction for his son to leave the school in Cardiff and go to Whitchurch Grammar School. Meanwhile, after appealing, he advised his son to continue at the Howardian High School, and the boy did so.

The father received no further communication from the Ministry or from either of the local education authorities until May of this year. During this long period of seven or eight months Richard continued happily at his old school where his work and his sports had been extremely satisfactory. It seems that during this time the boy and his father imagined that their wishes had been, or were being, met. They imagined that no news was good news, but in May of this year Mr. Gilkes learned that Richard was not to be permitted to remain at the school after the end of the summer term.

Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)

How old was Richard?

Mr. Gower

At this time he was 13½ and he had completed two years at the school. When the reply was received in May, 1954, family circumstances had again changed and the house at Radyr was found to be too large. Therefore it was possible for Mr. Gilkes to contemplate returning to Cardiff to live. Since the end of last May my constituent has tried hard to sell this rather large house. It is not easily saleable. He has tried by private negotiation and through several auctioneers in Cardiff. He hopes that a sale will not be much longer delayed.

Since last May, I have been in correspondence with the right hon. Lady the former Minister of Education and also with the county education authority. Finally, I raised the matter at Questions in the House some months ago. I am afraid that on all occasions I met with a refusal to contemplate any alteration in the direction that Richard must leave the school which he has attended for two years.

I am told that in the Cardiff and Glamorgan areas it is not uncommon for pupils who have completed two years education at a school, in similar circumstances to those I have described, to stay there if their parents wish. When the matter first arose my constituent's son had not completed two years' attendance at the school, but I submit that the eight months delay without a reply has resulted in the boy completing the two-year period.

Secondly, I stress that the boy is very happy in the school. He longs to com- plete his education there among his friends of two years. He has done well at work and at games and it is not unnatural that the father should desire that the boy's wish should be gratified. Thirdly, I emphasise that in the correspondence and interviews of which I am aware it has never been suggested that Richard's place in his form at the school has been required for some other pupil from another school in Cardiff or some other place.

Fourthly, Mr. Gilkes has undertaken that neither the Cardiff City Council nor the Glamorgan County Education Authority shall be involved in any extra expenditure. He has promised to pay all the cost of transport for his son to and from the school in Cardiff.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

How far is it?

Mr. Gower

The distances between Mr. Gilkes's present residence and the two schools are not very much different. The school in Cardiff is approached conveniently by rail from Radyr into Queen Street, Cardiff, whence there is a direct, regular trolleybus, or bus service to the school; the other is less convenient, because the railway station at Llandaff-North, is a long way from the school at Whitchurch. It will be more practicable, and the boy will be less exposed to the weather if he continues at his old school. In practice, it is more convenient for the boy to go to Cardiff than to the Whitchurch.

Would it not be most unfortunate in the boy's school career if, in his third year, he has to be moved to the Whitchurch School, his parents then resume residence in Cardiff, and this problem should arise again? According to the evidence, there is room in the school, and it will cost the education authority no more for the boy to remain there. The father will pay all the extra expense arising. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, even if he cannot give a final answer tonight, to say that the matter can, and will, be re-considered.

11.57 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

This is the fourth occasion on which the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has brought this case to the attention of the Ministry of Education. I make no complaint about that, because I think it is evidence that he has followed his usual custom of making every possible effort to redress what he conceives to be a legitimate grievance. I have every sympathy with his constituent, but I hope he will not be too dismayed when I tell him that I cannot go further than the answers given on the other three occasions.

Mr. Gilkes moved from the area of the Cardiff Education Authority in September, 1953. The hon. Member for Barry did not mention that he then had two sons in Cardiff schools. The elder, Robert Edward, was in his fourth year at the Newport Road School, and the younger, Richard Hugh, was in his second year at the Howardian School. It is with the latter that we are concerned. Under the Education Act, 1944, the responsibility for providing a child's education rests with the authority in whose area his parents live. Therefore, when Mr. Gilkes moved from the Cardiff area it became the legal responsibility of Glamorgan to provide for the education of both his sons. The Glamorgan authority agreed to allow the elder boy to stay where he was, and to pay Cardiff for his continued education at the school. The authority were not prepared to do the same for the younger boy on the ground that, in their opinion, a change of school at his age would not have an adverse effect on his education.

This decision was in accordance with a long-standing agreement between the two authorities, whereby a pupil who had not attended a Cardiff grammar school for a minimum of two years would automatically be transferred to a Glamorgan school on moving into the Glamorgan area.

Mr. Gilkes reported the matter in October to the Ministry of Education and protested against the decision. I think I ought to point out that the operative date in this case must be September, 1953, when the Glamorgan authority said that it was not willing to continue the education of the younger son at the Howardian School in Cardiff.

After very full consideration—and I have plenty of evidence of that—my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh), the then Minister of Education, decided that she would not be justified in requiring Glamorgan to accept financial responsibility for Richard Gilkes's continued education at the Howardian High School; because Glamorgan would in fact have been required to incur additional expenditure, as I shall show in due course.

The main consideration by which the Minister was guided in making her decision was the fact that the Glamorgan education authority could offer a place in Whitchurch Grammar School, and also the principle that a change of school before the end of the second year could be made without detriment to a child's education. I shall also refer to that point later.

Thereupon Mr. Gilkes informed my hon. Friend that he was intending to sell his house in Glamorgan and would in all probability be returning to the Cardiff City area. My hon. Friend then contacted the Minister, who informed him, on 3rd June, that she was not prepared to reconsider her decision at that stage, since there was no firm assurance that Mr. Gilkes would move in the near future. This reply was reaffirmed in an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 15th July, 1954, and, by the present Minister of Education, as recently as 1st November. Nevertheless, Richard Gilkes was allowed to complete the last school year at the Howardian High School, but his father was informed early on that he would not be allowed to continue after the end of that school year. I understand that he has not begun attendance for this third year at the Whitchurch Grammar School; indeed, my information is that he is not at present attending any school.

No one doubts that it is Mr. Gilkes's intention to move back into the Cardiff area when he can, but until there is some indication when that will be my right hon. Friend cannot ask the Cardiff Education Authority to agree to his continued education at the Howardian High School. To do so would have much wider repercussions than my hon. Friend envisages, since, as I propose to show, there are many people in the Glamorgan area who would like to send their children to Cardiff high schools. I fully appreciate that much distress has been caused to Mr. Gilkes and his family, but the present situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. If he remains in Glamorgan, and the family continue to reside there, the authority there will eventually have to take steps to secure his son's attendance at the Whitchurch Grammar School. On the other hand, if firm arrangements are made for the move back to Cardiff all these difficulties will be over.

My hon. Friend will probably accept that as a fair statement of fact, but he stills feels that justice has not been done. He has said that Richard Gilkes made good progress at the Howardian School. I think he has in mind that the headmaster there would probably have liked him to continue in that school.

My hon. Friend also referred to Section 76 of the Education Act, 1944, and I wish to comment on his reference to it. Under that Section local education authorities are obliged to have regard to parents' wishes for their children's education, but it must be understood that the exercise of the parents' choice—and my hon. Friend used these words—is contingent upon it being compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. … I quite agree that the question of efficient education does not enter into this case, as that can be provided both in Cardiff and at Whitchurch Grammar School, but there remains the question of unreasonable expenditure. I agree, again, that Mr. Gilkes has in fact offered to pay any extra transport cost involved, and it therefore seemed to my hon. Friend that no question of unreasonable public expenditure arose. But in fact there would be expenditure which the Minister, in coming to her decision earlier this year, has held to be unreasonable.

We must remember that the education system is based on local Government areas and it is a general principle that local education authorities provide for the children of their own area. The authorities therefore understandably do not like children entering schools in another area without good reason, and the receiving authorities, in this case Cardiff, do not like taking children from other areas unless they can find room, and unless they are paid by the home authority. The Education Act provides that authorities taking children belonging to another authority should normally be recouped the cost of the education provided, and the authorities have, in fact, among themselves fixed sums to represent the cost of providing different kinds of education. The appropriate sum is then paid to the educating authority by the home authority.

If therefore, Richard Gilkes were to remain in Cardiff—for his second year he remained there at Cardiff's expense, but they are not willing for that to continue—it follows that Glamorgan would be expected to make the extra district payment to Cardiff. Glamorgan have themselves a place for Richard Gilkes in their Whitchurch School and save little or nothing if he does not take it up, but they would have to make this payment to Cardiff, and that, to the Glamorgan authority, represents an additional charge. The charge itself is in the neighbourhood of £55, and this is the charge that the Minister of Education held, by implication, to be unreasonable expenditure.

Against the expenditure must of course be set the child's educational interests, and had it been considered that the child would suffer by being transferred the extra charge would have been incurred, and a charge in fact has been incurred in the case of the elder brother, who has remained at school in Cardiff. But in the case of the younger boy the Minister held that there was no educational disadvantage in the transfer. In the first place, at the time when the matter arose, Richard Gilkes had been only one year in the Cardiff School. Secondly, there is no evidence to suggest that Whitchurch School does not offer satisfactory education.

Mr. Gower

I quite agree that these are two excellent schools. But my case was entirely that the boy had settled down in the Cardiff school, he was doing well there and he and his parents were most anxious that he should stay there.

Mr. Vosper

I am glad to receive my hon. Friend's confirmation that he considers Whitchurch a satisfactory school. He mentioned earlier that the schools were equidistant from the parents' home, and in view of his local knowledge I would not argue that particular point. My third point here is that we cannot use in evidence the fact that both boys go to Cardiff—they go to different schools and would not travel together.

The hon. Member may say that while Glamorgan incurs an extra charge Cardiff does the reverse, and he may feel that the existence of local government boundaries may fetter the parents unduly. On the general question of local government boundaries, the answer is that Parliament has thought fit not to have a central system of education, and, given the local educational system, complete flexibility is not always obtainable. In many areas there are good practical reasons why flexibility is not possible.

In an area such as Cardiff, for instance, there is a continual influx of pupils from other parts of Great Britain. If parents who transfer their address outside Cardiff, as is the tendency, and do not also change their children's schools, the Cardiff authority will be considerably embarrassed. In addition, there are many people living on the fringe of Cardiff in the Glamorgan area who would, if they had the opportunity, wish to educate their children in the Cardiff high schools. I can assure my hon. Friend that if I met his request tonight, there are many other cases that would have to receive equal treatment and not only in the Cardiff area, but throughout England and Wales.

In these circumstances, the arrangements which Cardiff and Glamorgan have had for a number of years are sensible. When a parent appeals to the Minister, as he has a right to do, a decision is made in each case on its merits—I would not like the impression to be given that a parent always appeals in vain. But in this case my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side, and the present Minister, are satisfied that the arrangements have not proved unreasonable.

Richard Gilkes has now been out of school for one term. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my advice that he should endeavour to persuade his constituent to send his son next month, in the January term, to the Whitchurch Grammar School. His constituent may feel that by so doing he will prejudice the chance of his son's going later to the Howardian School, if he should again take up his residence in Cardiff; that point may be in the mind of Mr. Gilkes. But I can give my hon. Friend this assurance, which have from the Cardiff authority, that the moment the Cardiff authority has firm evidence that Mr. Gilkes is taking up residence in Cardiff again, they will readmit his son Richard to the Howardian School.

Mr. Gower

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance. I did not want to deceive him about the distance. Whit-church School is, in actual distance, nearer to the home, but for purposes of convenience there is not a great deal in it.

Mr. Vosper

I understood that to be the case, but I was not placing too much stress on the distance between the schools: I was emphasising the fact that the two schools are similar in character, and that the Whitchurch School is the one within the authority for the place where Mr. Gilkes is living.

Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes past Twelve o'Clock.