GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, has discovered that Croydon’s Labour-run council is using a legal loophole to continue to charge local children up to £3,500 per year just to teach them how to read and write
Croydon Council continues to charge some parents thousands of pounds for their children’s remedial reading lessons, despite warnings from the Department for Education about breaking the law which demands that the teaching of basic reading and writing should be provided by local authorities free-of-charge.
Local authorities are banned by law from charging for education, according to the provisions of Section 451 of the Education Act 1996.
Last May, we reported that Croydon Council’s education department was charging the parents of some Key Stage 2 primary school children more than £3,500 per year just so that they can receive their legal right to be taught to read and write. Then, the council claimed that because the children were being taught “off-site”, away from their usual school at the special literacy unit at Purley Oaks, the council was able to raise the charges if the pupils’ schools did not pay for the special lessons from their own budgets.
Some local schools have been able to pay for the remedial lessons from their own budgets. But others – including Cypress Primary in SE25 and Beulah Junior in Thornton Heath – have been forced to present some parents with a dreadful dilemma: pay-up for reading lessons that the state is supposed to provide, or risk their child not receiving all the help and support that they need in this essential skill.
Following some hard campaigning work by one concerned parent, the Department for Education intervened to forbid Croydon Council’s money-grubbing practice affecting some of the borough’s most vulnerable families.
That policy had been introduced in Croydon by the previous Conservative-run administration under Mike #WadGate Fisher.
But according to correspondence between the council and the education department, the Tory policy of charging parents for remedial reading lessons is being continued under Croydon’s current Labour administration. “Croydon is not acting unlawfully,” Paul Greenhalgh, Croydon’s executive in charge of education in the borough, wrote to the DfE in August when he had been told to justify his actions.
Greenhalgh’s defiant response to Whitehall presumably came after obtaining legal advice from the council’s all-powerful Borough Solicitor’s department.
Having been caught out over charging for reading lessons for pupils when they are taught “off-site”, now Greenhalgh’s justification for applying charges to those beginning remedial lessons in this school year is that the children are receiving “discretionary support”, out of normal school hours.
Tony Kennedy, the campaigning parent who brought the complaint to the Department for Education, is disgusted by Croydon’s stance. “I had thought that this issue would have died a death some time ago,” he told Inside Croydon.
“After Labour took power in May, I rather assumed that they would move quickly to get rid of this policy. One expects this sort of thing from the Tories but not, up to now at least, from the Labour Party. We live and learn.”
Kennedy says that Greenhalgh “has not addressed the complaint which I have made” in the council’s response to the DfE. He has asked that Croydon’s Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, should conduct a full audit “to establish the extent of this unlawful charging and to repay to parents all monies found to have been unlawfully received”.
Kennedy has written again to the government department, stating that Greenhalgh has not only admitted that Croydon Council has been making unlawful charges for reading lessons, but that now they have been caught out, for the 2014-2015 academic year they will find another cynical wheeze so that they will continue to charge for the lessons.
Greenhalgh’s letter to the DfE states: “When the Council became aware that schools and the Centre had developed these two types of service, it intervened to ensure there is greater clarity … arrangements for the autumn term 2014 have been changed so that discretionary support, paid, or part paid, for by parents will be delivered out of school hours (after school from 3.30 – 5pm).”
Kennedy first raised his complaint to the council nearly three years ago. “Croydon has all along been aware that parents were paying fees. How could they not have been aware?” he asks.
“It is their Centre. They set it up and established its policies, including accounting arrangements. They produced the original business plan and all subsequent business plans, of which there have been at least two. They employ the staff and dictate their hours of work.
“There is plenty of evidence that long before this summer Croydon were fully aware of, and, approved the charges being made.”
In many local authorities, schools provide remedial reading lessons on site and during school hours. Under the Tories, in a policy which continues to be applied under the current Labour council, all remedial lessons have been located at the Purley Oaks centre, to which children from across the borough have to be transported during, and often after, regular school hours. To force parents to pay for what Croydon is obliged to provide free-of-charge under the Education Act, Greenhalgh and Belvir maintain that the lessons are “discretionary”.
So according to the council’s director of education services, with advice from the Borough Solicitor’s office, children’s reading lessons in Croydon are not “necessary”, as defined by the Education Act.
Kennedy said: “What Croydon now proposes is that between 9am and 3.30pm, that which the Literacy Centre offers will be treated as education, which must be paid for by schools, while, after 3.30pm the Literacy Centre will be treated as something akin to private tuition, which the school can pay for – if budgets allow and the school wants to – but which will otherwise be paid for by parents.”
Inside Croydon called Tony Newman, now the leader of Croydon Council, to ask him to justify how a Labour-run local authority can treat reading lessons for children aged between 7 and 11 as not “necessary”. The call went straight to answerphone, so we left a message with the question.
If he bothers to call back, we’ll record his response and let you know what he says.
- Cynical Croydon charging children £3,500 for remedial lessons
- Whitehall warns council over unlawful reading lesson fees
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