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Volume 649: debated on Thursday 23 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Education if he will consider the establishment of special temporary all-age schools near caravan sites organised by gypsies and other travellers whose children are at present receiving no regular education.

It is for local education authorities to decide how best to provide for the education of nomadic children whilst they remain in the area. On both educational and economic grounds, attendance at a local school is generally the best arrangement.

I appreciate where the responsibility lies, but these are very special cases, with very limited numbers of applications in widely scattered parts of the country. If my right hon Friend could see his way to organising a special central pool of teachers with the necessary special experience, it would help the problem very greatly where it arises.

The difficulty is that the children move about. I think that my hon. Friend would agree that it is better to try to fit them into the schools which are in their area.

Does not the Minister recognise his responsibility here? Education is the key to solving a problem which is looked on by some as a scandal and others as a nuisance. Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise the unfairness when some of these children of 10, 11 or 12 years of age who cannot read or write are put into classes, which are already too large, with regular school children? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that other countries have dealt with this problem by providing special classes in the areas of gypsy encampments? I have a letter from a headmaster which states:

"The problem of admitting gypsies to the school has been a constant worry for several years now".
Will not the Minister wake up to this great social evil?

It is for local authorities to provide education for the children in their area. In my experience, they do their best, but we must first know that the children are there.