THE father of an Alton boy who needed time out of school to study world-class chess, says he is living under constant threat of court proceedings for failure of duty regarding his son's education.
Peter Williams (senior) is urging the Local Education Authority (LEA) to either "go to court or shut up" following a three-year wrangle which has seen nine-year-old Peter (junior) taken out of mainstream schooling to be educated at home.
But while local county councillor Tony Ludlow has tried to reassure the family that legal proceedings would be embarked upon as a last resort, and that the LEA is hoping to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the problem, Mr Williams said he has neither seen nor heard any indication of this.
"In fact, it is like getting blood out of a stone," said the local man, who has become so disenchanted with the LEA that he is calling for the resignation of Hampshire County Council's recently appointed executive cabinet member for education, David Kirk.
This unconventional time in the life of young Peter Williams began three years ago. The youngster had taken up chess at the age of five. Having been taught the basics by his father, the boy displayed a flair and understanding way beyond his years. Peter (junior) now has more than 20 trophies and numerous competitions under his belt and is rated as the best under-14 player in the country.
Peter made his international debut in Gibraltar last January and has not looked back – since then he has gained a world-class Fide rating and has become a recognised international player.
It makes him a very unique little boy. Bright, articulate and proud of his achievements, Peter began his schooling at St Lawrence Primary, where he found the work easy.
When it became obvious that Peter had a special talent for chess, his parents, Peter and Carol, asked if their son could be released from school for one day a week to be coached by a grand master. His weekends were devoted to competition and he needed mid- week preparation to help realise his full potential.
The school and the LEA argued that one day a week was too much and said that Peter could only be taken out of school on a half daily basis amounting to the total annual fortnight tolerated for unavoidable term-time holidays.
This, according to Mr Williams, was in spite of evidence on the county's website that children with great sporting ability were entitled to regular time off school for training.
And therein lies the rub. The LEA did not accept that the rules for athletic achievement could be applied to chess and would not make an exception, even though Peter had displayed what is viewed in chess circles, as potential world-class genius. As a result, the boy was taken out of school and for the past two years and two months, has been educated at home by his father.
Mr Williams is in possession of a notice, dated July 7, 2004, for failure to put Peter into full- time education and, having heard nothing to the contrary, is expecting imminent court action. He also believes that the county is treating Peter (junior) as a truant.
Not so, said Tony Ludlow. In a statement this week, Mr Ludlow said that in fact the LEA was planning to propose a way forward but that this would have to be cleared with any head teachers and governing bodies who might be involved and could not be achieved until the end for the school holidays.
He stressed that David Kirk was anxious to come to an amicable solution and would be prepared to discuss any suggestions with the family.
Having lost faith in the LEA, Peter Williams (senior) says he would be prepared to consider different options if he was told what they were and if he felt they would benefit his son.
"While some counties actively encourage chess, Hampshire doesn't seem to be able to think outside the box. Many things could have been done by Hampshire LEA to assist Peter but so far not one single positive action has been taken to help our special son."