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Volume 649: debated on Thursday 16 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Education in respect to the gypsies and other travellers living in caravans in a place in north-west Kent, details of which have been sent to him, how many children of school age were not attending school at the latest convenient date; how many were refused admittance to local schools; and what action is being taken to ensure that the children receive education services in accordance with the statutory obligation.

Thirty-nine children living in Darenth Woods were recently found not to be attending school. Twenty-two children were presented without notice at Stone Church of England Primary School on 6th November but could not be admitted on the spot. The Kent Local Education Authority is taking steps to accommodate in suitable classes those children who are not already in a school.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain when these suitable classes are to start? Is he aware that the people who live there are threatened by the local authority, which says that when it has bought the land it will have them turned off in seven days? Also, will he explain why, since the people have been there so long, the education authorities did not get the children to go to school before I spoke to the people and advised them to send their children to school?

The hon. Member's interest in the gypsies is very well known, and I am glad that he has found these children. I have written to him about the circumstances and about placing them in schools. I really think that the Kent Education Authority does its best when it knows that the children are there.


asked the Minister of Education if he will request all local education authorities to supply him with details of the number of children of gypsies and other travellers, of school age, living in caravans, shacks or motor vehicles in England and Wales, not attending schools, and of how many, who have reached eight years of age, who have never registered for or attended school.

The figures which the hon. Member asks for would soon be out of date. Local education authorities try to make the best arrangements they can for such children whey they can trace them.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that there is a statutory obligation about all children going to school? Is he aware that other countries have provided special schools for such children and that we are the worst country in the world in dealing with them? I shall produce evidence of that in our debate on 1st December.

I do not think that any local authorities knowingly fail in their statutory duty to provide suitable education for nomadic children, but they must first know that the children are in their area.