The Revd E.J. Norman in court - issues of school governance

In the 1890s a former curate of Christ Church Watney Street became embroiled in controversy over his parochial (National) schools at Ocker Hill, Tipton, in cases that raised issues about the power that incumbents held over 'their' schools and their employees - including those who lived in tied accommodation -  and the potential for abuse.

Lane v Norman (1891) 61 LJ Ch 149

This was an injunction brought by the headmaster - who had been in post, and in provided accommodation, since 1863 - against his summary dismissal, via the following letter:

To Francis Lane, Head Master of the Ocker Hill National Schools, Tipton, in the county of Stafford.
We, the undersigned, being the present committee of management of the Ocker Hill National Schools, do hereby give you notice that from and after the 25th day of December next your services as head master of the said schools will not be required, and that from and after the said 25th day of December next your salary as such head master will cease to be payable. We also give you notice to quit and deliver up possession of the school-house and premises situate at Ocker Hill, in the county of Stafford, which you now occupy as such head matter as aforesaid, on the said 25th day of December next, as witness our hands this 28th day of September 1891 - E. J. Norman, VIcar of St Mark's, Ocker Hill; Richard Wm. Morley, Curate; Benjamin Lloyd, Churchwarden; George Parsons, Sidesman

The case eventually came to the High Court (Chancery Division) and was heard by North J. There were two issues:

(1) Was this group competent to act, given the failure to fill vacancies in its number, leaving only the clergy and one churchwarden (the other was not consulted) plus a sidesman who had not been formally appointed? This is how the Law Times of 15 October 1892 reported it, and it was cited as a precedent in a number of similar cases about the composition of governing bodies and their authority to act.

Endowed school — Dismissal of schoolmaster — Vacancies on committee — Re-arrangement of staff — On the 18th Sept. 1857 a piece of land was conveyed to the minister and churchwardens of a district church as a site for a chnrch school under the inspection of Government. The deed provided thiat the management of the school, and election, appointment, and dismissal of the schoolmaster and mistress and their assistants should be vested in and exercised by a committee consisting of the vicar and curate or curates and the churchwardens of the district church and five other named persons, subscribers to the school. Vacancies among these five were to be filled up by election by the subscribers to the school for the current year. The deed contained a proviso that no default of election nor any vacancy during any current year shall prevent the other members of the committee from acting until the vacancy be filled up. The five subscribers appointed by the deed had long since died or left the neighbourhood, and no one had ever been elected in their place.

On the 14th Sept. 1891 a meeting of the committee was held, at which the vicar, curate, and one of the churchwardens were present, and also a sidesman, who was not properly a member of the committee. No notice had been sent to the other churchwarden. At this meeting a resolution was passed to terminate the engagements of all the existing staff, in order to make new arrangements. The reason given was, that new arrangements were necessary in consequence of the Free Education Act [this Act of 1891 provided for the state payment of school fees up to then shillings a week, to help poor parents]. No charges of misconduct or inefficiency were brought against the master.

The master brought an action to restrain the committee from dismissing him on the grounds that the committee was improperly constituted, and he ought to have been heard in his own defence. Held, that the committee were competent to proceed, notwithstanding that the vacancies of elected members had never been filled up; but that the absence of notice to one churchwarden and the presence of a sidesman at the committee were fatal objections, and an injunction must be granted to restrain the dismissal. The Court refused to decide whether the plaintiff ought to have been heard, but granted the injunction without costs on the ground that the committee were substantially right, though they had made a teohnical mistake.

(2) Were they entitled to dismiss the head master without giving him reasons (beyond the need for 'restructuring' the staff) or an opportunity to speak for himself?
(He was perhaps elderly, having been in post for nearly thirty years, but no complaint had ever been made against him.)
Edward Cutler QC, his barrister (and incidentally also a keen supporter of the Charity Organisation Society), reminded the judge of a number of other cases where this had been held to be improper, and invalidated the notice given - including one of his own recent judgements, Fisher v. Jackson [1891] 2 Ch 84. When the judge asked
Is there any authority that trustees or any other employers are bound to give a servant an opportunity of being heard when they dismiss him, not on account of any charge of misconduct, but because circumstances compel them to re-arrange their staff? Culter replied the court has taken special care to protect schoolmasters and persons in a similar position against unjust dismissal. In the event, as noted above, the judge declined to give a view on this issue of natural justice.

The second case, in 1897 (note that the headmaster is still in post!) suggests some kind of vendetta against a pupil teacher, with quite improper reasons given for his dismissal. The Vicar said that he was dismissed for neglecting his work as pupil-teacher, but the headmaster did not corroborate this statement, and in cross-examination the Vicar admitted that the affair of the choir had something to do with his dismissal. The judge, in directing the jury, said there was no evidence that the plaintiff had been guilty of gross immorality, gross idleness, or gross negligence, and reminded them that (perhaps regrettably) £20 was the highest damages they could give the plaintiff.

Page v Norman & others (Justice of the Peace vol 61, p699)

In 1897 at Dudley County Court, before Judge Griffin, Samuel Stephen Page [acting through his father as 'best friend' since he under age] sued E. J. Norman, vicar of Ocker Hill, Arthur Thomas Onions Hawkins, Benjamin Lloyd, and George Parsons, managers of Ocker Hill National Schools, to recover 'general damages' of £20 for wrongful dismissal from his position as pupil teacher at the school.

Mr Disturnal [William Josiah Disturnal, later a distinguished KC and advocate - he died in 1925] (instructed by Mr T. Jones, Wednesbury), for plaintiff
Mr Frank Deeley (Dudley), for Mr Parsons
Mr Emerson (Birmingham), for the other defendant

Mr Disturnal, in his opening, said that all the defendants were managers of the schools at the time in question, but it would appear that the whole of the management of the school, church, and all the establishments were practically in the hands of the vicar. The plaintiff was 17 years of age, and received his early education at the Ocker Hill National Schools. He obtained a scholarship, and finished his schooling at the Wednesbury Higher Grade School. Mainly at the suggestion of the vicar, the plaintiff became a monitor at the Ocker Hill National Schools, and was afterwards apprenticed as a pupil teacher. The agreement was entered into on December 11th, 1896. He continued to go to school through January, February, and part of March, when he was dismissed from his employment. He did not know what enormities the defendants were going to allege against the boy to justify his dismissal, but he should call the head master and all the other teachers to prove that the boy's conduct was quite exemplary.

In addition to his duties as pupil teacher, the lad sang in the choir, and assisted at St. Mark's Mission at Toll End. Early in March the plaintiff went to Ocker Hill Church to sing in the choir, when the vicar asked him whether he had been to the Toll End Mission that morning. He said he had not, whereupon the vicar ordered him out of the choir, telling him not to come again. The vicar wrote a letter to the boy's father,  stating that the managers thought it desirable to call his attention to some irregularities on the boy's part - he did not seem amenable to the discipline of the managers in behaviour, work and co-operation. The only thing against the boy was that he did not attend the early morning mission. The father replied asking for a precise charge against his son. If there had been anything against him it was reasonable to expect that the vicar would have replied, but he took not the slightest notice of the letter.

The boy continued to attend school until March 28th. On the next day - a Sunday - he went to the morning service as usual, and sat in a part of the church that appeared to give annoyance to the vicar. The vicar appeared to have been much angered, and went to the boy, and asked him and asked him to take a seat in the choir. Having been improperly dismissed from it, he declined to go into the choir again, whereupon the vicar said If you do not come into the choir you shall not come to the school in the morning. He went to school as usual, and the vicar appeared on the scene and said Are you going to sing in the choir? The boy said I am not, whereupon the vicar said There's the door, take your hat and go. He went, and his father wrote to the vicar through his solicitor. The vicar apparently took no heed of the warning, for he sent the boy from school ignominiously before all the scholars and teachers, as though he had been guilty of a terrible crime. After that further letters were sent by the plaintiff's father's solicitor, but no attempt was made by the vicar to justify or explain his conduct. Singing in the choir had no more to do with the agreement of apprenticeship than the man in the moon. It was not a matter of damages with the plaintiff. He had been publicly expelled from the school, and by it he had lost his examination and and practically lost a year of his pupilage, and he had had a stigma placed upon him, and until his character was cleared it was hopeless for him to get another school. (
Plaintiff bore out counsel's opening statement.)

Mr Francis Lane, head master at Ocker Hill National Schools, stated that the plaintiff was under his control, and he never had complaints of his disobedience.
His Honour said the duties of the choir were outside those of a pupil teacher. The vicar might as well ask the plaintiff to black his shoes as to ask him to attend the choir. Mr. Emerson, for the defence, said the plaintiff was dismissed for idleness and disobedience.  The Rev. E. J. Norman, in his evidence, said the head master made several complaints about the way the plaintiff did his work, and once said he was ashamed that he should have to work up such a boy for examination. In fact, he thought the master was prejudiced against the boy. He had had to complain of the plaintiff's behaviour, of his absence from his Scripture lessons, and of the character of his work. He could prove that for three months the plaintiff and another teacher annoyed the whole of the congregation of St. Mary's Church.
His Honour: But that has hardly anything to do with the pupil teachers' work.
The witness said he turned the plaintiff out of the choir because of his bad behaviour.
His Honour:  You have no right to dismiss a pupil teacher because he behaved badly in the church.
The jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff for £20 against all the defendants except George Parsons.

[Footnote: in 1898 Samuel Page was appointed organist and choirmaster of St Paul West Bromwich, moving two years later to All Saints Episcopal Church, Newton Stewart; and in 1902 became the organist of Crathie church (attended by the royal family when at Balmoral), living at Caimaquheen; he also directed music at Braemar Roman Catholic church, the Braemar Choral Union, Braemar United Free Church Festival and Ballater Amateur String Orchestra. In Crathie churchyard is a tombstone with the inscription
In loving memory of Samuel Stephen Page, for 56 years organist at Crathie, d.15 July 1960 aged 79 - interred at Cupar [in Fifeshire]. His wife Bessie Sophia Hodgkinson d. Lochnalair 14 July 1938: their son Percival d.14 March 1959.]

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