HL Deb 13 June 1882 vol 270 cc971-4

rose to call attention to the Letter from the Education Department of the 23rd May 1882 ordering the establishment of a board school for the Willesden district. The noble Earl cited the provisions of the Act of 1870 as to the formation of school boards under ordinary and under extraordinary circumstances. In the former case there was to be notice, and, if objection were taken, public inquiry. In the latter case, if the discontinuance of a school or schools led to a deficiency of accommodation, the formation of a school board might be ordered. Willesden was just outside the area of the London School Board, and it had a large and increasing artizan population. By the co-operation of all classes, provision had been made voluntarily for elementary education. But the closing of a Wesleyan school for 136 children was followed by the receipt of a letter ordering the establishment of a school board to meet an alleged rapidly-increasing deficiency of school accommodation. It was denied that, having regard to the whole district, there was any such de- ficiency. There was in the district a total population of 27,360. The estimated accommodation required for the children was, in the opinion of Mr. Willis, the Inspector, 3,964 places. The present accommodation was 4,577 places. If to this number 432 were added in respect of new buildings, the total number of places would be 5,009, showing a clear surplus of 1,045 places. Possibly the answer of the Department might be that there was a deficiency in the parish of Willesden as respects school accommodation, and that condition might have been arrived at by omitting from the list of schools St. Augustin's and St. Luke's, because they were not strictly within the boundaries of the parish. One of these large schools was, however, on the boundary, while the other was only a few yards outside the limit. Moreover, they were erected for the express purpose of providing for the educational wants of Willesden—a fact which was recognized by the Education Department when they were originally built. The course taken by the Education Department was open to several grave objections. First, it was an offence against the general spirit and intention of the Education Act. That intention was clearly expressed by Mr. Forster in 1870, when that right hon. Gentleman said that the object aimed at was only to supplement existing voluntary efforts. In a populous district like Willesden, where there was a nice balance of supply and demand, the sudden closing of an existing school was a very dangerous act. The Department was only to proceed in a summary manner where application was made with respect to a school district, or where it was satisfied that the managers of an existing voluntary school were unable to carry it on. Neither of those conditions had existed in the case of Willesden. The feeling of the district was entirely against the change which had been made. Even if it were otherwise, the Department was not justified in the course taken. An inquiry ought previously to have been held. It was the more right that such an inquiry should have been held, because voluntary efforts in that parish had triumphed over great local difficulties. He understood that the step once taken could not be reversed; but a great hardship had been inflicted, he quite believed, uninten- tionally, and he thought that some means should be brought into existence whereby such a hardship should be remedied.


in reply, said, he had no reason to complain of the noble Earl for bringing forward that question. The Department, however, had only followed the usual course. He wished to make no greater excuse for himself in the matter than if he were actually President of the Council, and, indeed, he was as responsible as if he had recently been appointed Lord President. He quite understood the way in which the facts had presented themselves to the noble Earl's mind. But the noble Earl had not been quite accurate in his reference to the Education Act. If he had read the second sub-section of Section 12 of that Act, he would have seen that the power given to the Education Department was intended to meet precisely the case which had happened at Willesden. When the Department was satisfied that an existing school had been discontinued, or that the school accommodation was insufficient, it was empowered, after an inquiry, public or private, to direct the erection of a school board. That was precisely the case at Willesden. A considerable boys' school was closed, and, there being no prospect of the deficiency being supplied, the Department ordered the erection of an additional school. The noble Earl said that the school accommodation in Willesden was not only sufficient, but more than sufficient. But this parish had so increasing a population that it was scarcely possible for an Inspector of Schools at any time to say whether the school accommodation was sufficient or not. The accommodation that was sufficient to-day was not sufficient to-morrow. But, irrespective of that, the opinion of the School Inspector was that in Harlesden, which was a portion of the parish of Willesden, a boys' school was urgently needed at this moment. Nothing was being done, and, as far as the Education Department knew, nothing was in contemplation, which would supply the place of the school that was stopped at Harlesden. The fact was that so long ago as January last the committee that managed the Harlesden Boys' School adopted a resolution to the effect that they were compelled to close the school in consequence of the gradual with- drawal of support from the school by the public, who preferred a board school. Ten days elapsed from the time when notice was given before the order was made by the Education Department. He believed that between the 9th and the 19th of May no communication of any kind was made to the Department. The action of the Department, to say the least of it, was thoroughly legal under the terms of the Act. But the Department did not confine their attention simply to the closing of this school; they took into view the whole condition and prospects of the parish of Willesden. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl that this power of the Department ought to be exercised with great caution; but he could not but think that under the circumstances he had described the establishment of a board school was necessary. He could assure the noble Earl that the order for the establishment of a board school was made in the interests of education in the parish of Willesden.


objected strongly to the course which had been taken in this matter. Because one school holding 120 children was shut up in one part of the parish of Willesden, though its closure could affect only, at most, a limited part of the population, and there were other schools affording ample accommodation within no unreasonable distance, notice was at once peremptorily given by the Committee of Council that a board school must be established. The Committee of Council, he contended, had not originally fixed a definite period, and had not allowed sufficient time to elapse before issuing their final notice, and had acted in contravention of the Statute regulating such questions as that now before their Lordships. The Committee of Council had applied the Statute in a harsh and unjustifiable manner. The irrevocable step which had been taken was unjust to those who had made voluntary efforts in the parish, and the answer of the noble Lord opposite was most unsatisfactory.