EXCLUSIVE: Croydon Council has been ordered by Whitehall to stop charging some of the borough’s children for reading and writing lessons, a practice described by one angry parent as “demanding money with menaces”. By GENE BRODIE, education correspondent
The council’s education director has been ordered to explain why Croydon has been charging parents more than £3,500 per year for reading lessons for their children, and he has been issued with a firm warning that the local authority is breaking the law in attempting to charge for the lessons in the new school year which begins next month.
The Department for Education wrote to Paul Greenhalgh, Croydon’s executive director for children, families and learning, last month. This was in response to complaints from parents that the local authority has been charging thousands of pounds for some primary school-aged children to attend remedial reading lessons at Croydon Literacy Centre, based alongside Purley Oaks School.
It is believed that Greenhalgh (annual salary £169,107) and Julie Belvir, the Borough Solicitor (on £130,530 per year), who was copied in on the DfE letter, have not yet managed to provide a response to the man from the ministry on the matter of Croydon Council breaking the law.
In his letter, the civil servant wrote that it is clear “that where a school refers a child to the Croydon Literacy Centre during school hours for necessary additional literacy support that cannot otherwise be provided on the school’s premises, the school must fund the cost, including travel between the school and the centre. Parents must not be charged for such additional literacy support”.
The DfE’s letter to Croydon Council marks a notable U-turn by Whitehall.
Inside Croydon first reported in May that the then Conservative-run council was making unlawful charges for reading lessons – despite the Education Act specifically banning such a “pay to learn” policy. But the first appeals to the Education department were re-buffed by the then Secretary of State in the Tory-led government, Michael Gove.
Gove has since been sacked from that job, and it appears that his department is now free to apply the law as it was intended.
The Education Department appears particularly concerned that Croydon is continuing to charge parents for their children’s education into 2014-2015, and it cites the Croydon Literacy Centre’s website and a council brochure, Learning Without Boundaries, which refer to parents having to “pay all or part of the fee”.
In the DfE letter, of which Inside Croydon has had sight, Greenhalgh is told, bluntly, to “explain the circumstances in which such fees are charged to parents, and confirm that parents are not being unlawfully charged”.
The DfE letter spells out the requirements of the Education Act 1996. “Under section 451 of the Act, schools may not charge for education provided at a maintained school during school hours,” the Whitehall official states.
“It is clear from the relevant sections on charging in the Act that this includes both education provided by the school on the school premises and education provided outside the school premises under arrangements made by the school or local authority,” according to the DfE official.
In the past, Croydon Council has insisted that the charges for these lessons, vital for the children’s future, are compulsory. If the fees were not paid, then the child would be denied the lessons that they needed in the basics of reading and writing.
Serious questions remain about the manner in which Croydon Council executive directors, including the borough’s most senior lawyer, Belvir, have been able to ignore the law.
South Croydon resident Anthony Kennedy, who pursued the case with the Education Department, told Inside Croydon tonight, “It is quite appalling that Croydon could ever have thought that it was lawful to charge children to learn to read and write.
“This episode is so shameful that they may as well have been found to be demanding money with menaces.
“Important questions remain unanswered. How was this policy ever authorised and who authorised it? How could the Borough Solicitor and head of children`s services have ever thought that such a policy could be lawful?
“If, in fact, they advised that the policy was unlawful, then on whose authority was that advice overridden? In the meantime, what on earth were the elected councillors from all parties doing while all of this went on?”
Croydon Town Hall has been under Labour control since the end of May, although no action appears to have been taken by the new administration, under Council Leader Tony Newman, to act on this serious matter.
Kennedy is demanding that Croydon Council should re-pay all the fees to parents that it previously charged for providing reading and writing lessons. “The council should also urgently contact those children whose parents could not afford the fees and offer these children the remedial help which they have been denied up to now,” he said.
Inside Croydon contacted Greenhalgh and Belvir to ask whether any response had yet been sent to the Department for Education and whether the council’s unlawful policy of charging children to learn to read and write would be changed.
Greenhalgh is on holiday, Belvir failed to respond.
- Cynical Croydon charging children £3,500 for remedial lessons
- Gove allows Croydon to charge children for reading lessons
Coming to Croydon
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- David Lean Cinema: Stop The Pounding Heart, Aug 21
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- David Lean Cinema: Frank, Aug 28
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- David Lean Cinema: The Two Faces of January, Sep 4
- David Lean Cinema: Fading Giglolo, Sep 6
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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