Friday, February 28, 2014

In an age before children had rights.

This story from almost 100 years ago shows us a very different world and one can't help thinking that the parent and the child would get a very different hearing today. Of the three schools mentioned here, the Church of England school was at Stony Stratford of the High Street, the Council school was the building on the corner of the Wolverton Road and the Secondary School was the new County School on Moon Street. It is now Bushfield School. It was in those days a fee paying school.
At the Petty Sessions on Friday, December 1st 1916, with Mr. F.W. Woollard in the chair, Samuel Purser, a labourer of the town, was summoned for not sending his boy to school. Mr. Herbert Bentley, Chief School Attendance Officer, Aylesbury, represented the Bucks Education Authority, and representing the defendant was Mr. Charles Allinson, a solicitor of 89, High Street. Mr. Bentley said there had been no attendance since the summer holiday. The boy had answered a teacher at school which caused some laughter, and the schoolmaster reprimanded him for his conduct.  
The boy was said to have committed some breach of discipline and the teacher reported it to the headmaster. The parents had applied for the boy to be transferred from the Church of England School to the Council School, but having twice considered the case the school managers each time concluded that ‘it would be a breach of discipline and have great weight amongst other children.’ However, the parents would not send the child back, and he supposed that they were prepared to send him to the Council School provided the Committee gave him a transfer. Mr. Bentley then read a High Court of Justice decision on the matter, which he contended applied to this case. In cross examination he said the boy had been refused admission to the Council School, whilst as to the fact that the lad had attended for a fortnight, but was then ‘fetched away,’ he said he instructed the teacher that the pupil had been wrongly admitted. He had no authority to exclude a boy from school. 
In his questioning Mr. Allinson said that 103 attendances out of a possible 115 had been made up to March, and the boy’s conduct was fair. When asked if he knew that the boy suffered from mental aberration Mr. Bentley denied any knowledge. Then in the continued questioning, 
“He has never been punished in any shape or form?” 
“I had no knowledge of it.” 
“Has he ever had his head banged on the table or been hit on the head?” 
“I could not say.” 
“Has the lad ever been told by the teacher he was only fit to feed pigs?” 
“I am not aware of it.” 
“What is your power to refuse a transfer?” 
“So far as the legal obligation to a transfer there is such a thing as discipline.” 
“Did you lay my letter before the Committee?” 
“I did not.” 
“Don’t you think it was your duty to have done so?” 
“No, sir.” 
“You decided it on your own?” 
“No, sir.” 
“What did you do then?” 
“I consulted my chief, Mr. Watkins.” 
“Are you willing to give the boy a transfer to a school where he will have a different environment?” 
“The case would have to be considered by the Committee.” At this point the Magistrate’s Clerk, Mr. E.T. Worley, pointed out that in the Bye Laws not a single word was said about transfers. 
Mr. Bentley then said “For your enlightenment, I might say that the Government regulations were drawn up by the Board of Education. There is one observation which speaks of capricious removals which are not allowed. It is a matter of upholding the discipline of schools.” 
Mr. Allinson then said he was justified in the face of the doctor’s certificate in saying there was a reasonable excuse for not attending school as required by the Act. This was a case where the boy was made a butt of because he went to help in a piggery. He was bullied by other boys and the teacher ‘took it.’ Counsel further alleged that when it came to thumping the boy’s head it was time to intervene, and he thought the father was justified in respectfully asking for a transfer for the boy. The lad had put in full attendance at the Council School for a fortnight. There was no doubt he would still have done so, if an officer hadn’t told the teacher not to admit him. In order to get the boy educated, and save him any further misery, his father then went to the Secondary School at Wolverton, being quite prepared to forego luxuries and pay the high school fees there. However, they required ‘a two years character,’ which the headmaster on being applied to refused. Consequently Mr. Allinson’s client was glad to be in court that day to define his position. 
Evidently the County Council ‘in their wisdom’ would refuse the boy admission into any of their schools, despite the headmaster of the County Council School being perfectly willing to take him, as he was a quiet pupil. Mrs. Faith Ellen Purser, the wife of the defendant, then made a complaint about the children ‘calling’ him at school. He seemed very unhappy, and in the middle of a meal “he absolutely lost himself and was absent minded.” She said that one day there was a slight bruise on the boy’s head when he came home from school. 
When the chairman asked if she thought that the boy’s health and comfort was being interfered with by attending this school, she replied “I do, sir.” 
To this the chairman said “That’s the point. To my mind it is the greatest tyranny on the part of the school or the teacher to interfere in such circumstance.” 
For the defendant Mr. Allinson said that if the facts had come to their knowledge they would have granted a transfer, for which they had pressed. Lamenting that no master was present, the chairman said that in some 50 cases of this kind from these schools only once had a master taken any interest. Mrs. Purser stated that she had applied numerous times for a transfer on the grounds that the child suffered certain mental aberrations. She wrote some of the letters to the Committee and her husband had written some. She told the headmaster as soon as began to notice it, but when asked if she had made such a statement in any of the letters she said she hadn’t put it like that. “I told them he suffered from his head a lot.” Asked if she had any medical evidence previous to the certificate, which bore the current day’s date, she replied “No, because I took care of the child.” After a brief retirement the chairman announced that having considered all the evidence the Bench were unanimous in dismissing the case.

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