Friday, June 14, 2019

Consultation on Registration: my reaction and response. Closes 24th June.

Such has been my dismay about the new government guidance for local authorities - and parents! - on home education, I haven't even looked at the consultation on registration yet. Thousands of us responded to last year's consultation on that guidance and were summarily ignored which has the effect of making us feel despondent, to say the least, about bothering to even read this year's set of questions, let alone make the effort of responding to them. We are busy people. We need to be left alone to home educate our children under the current, perfectly sensible law and not to keep being badgered by time-consuming efforts to tweak it.

So what is the point in answering it? Carlotta puts it very well here:

Not responding isn't a protest vote. The DfE won't give a jot if you don't say anything and indeed will probably be rubbing their hands in glee, thinking home educators have finally been worn out by this protracted war of attrition. But we aren't worn out because we can't afford to be, and because, if anything, the situation in LAs has got worse. Fighting for the rights for families to remain as autonomous as possible has got all the more urgent.

I think she's right. Last year might well have been a process of wearing us down for the big question that's now in front of us. Should home educators be forced to join a register? It doesn't look like a big question, because a register is just a list of names, right? Not always. The proposed legislation resulting from the Badman Review twisted it into an annual licencing scheme with strict conditions attached, membership for which we would have been made to reapply every year. It would not be too difficult to morph this new register into an annual licencing scheme even if it doesn't start out as one, and Badman clearly demonstrated that there is an appetite for it in some quarters.

It's suspicious that the government thinks it even needs a register of home educators, if it's only a list of names and addresses. Most home educators have deregistered from school so will be already on the local authority books and the rest come to its notice sooner or later as a result of Section 436A. This will be even more the case under the new guidance, section 4 of which insists that unregistered families be hunted down by local authorities using whatever means are possible. So why the need to force parents to register too, unless it is to turn it into a licencing scheme?

Onto the consultation itself then. My children love watching reaction videos on YouTube, but of course their old mother is about fifteen years behind the times, so this is my reaction blog. I could do a video to go with it, but it would mostly consist of me rolling my eyes.

The survey may appear lengthy from the number of pages it contains.

Yep, 31 pages. I'm putting aside a whole day for this and it might take longer, we'll see. How do they expect people with younger children than mine to manage it?

This structure means that the number of questions put to each respondent is only just over half of the total in the overall survey form.

That is something I guess. Let's time it. It's 10.45 now, but bear in mind I'm writing this blog alongside my responses, as well as stopping for breaks, being interrupted by children needing, you know, parenting, and so on.

The first page is about who I am, etc. I know you can fill it in anonymously, but I'm using my name and not going for the confidentiality option, in case anyone wants to compare our responses to the eventual outcome. "Continue.."

7. Do you agree that local authorities should be obliged to maintain a register of children who are not registered at specified schools (those listed at paragraph 2.2 of the consultation paper) or being educated under s.19 arrangements?

No I don't, for the reasons I've given above. "Continue.."

20. Why do you not support the concept of a duty on each LA to maintain a register?

I've answered: "Because it is unnecessary. Section 436A of the Education Act already requires them to find such children, check their status and keep the information."

21. Should such a register specify whether children are attending an educational setting (other than their own home) during school hours? Add comments if you wish

This is when I start sighing in frustration, because I've already said that I don't want such a register. This question tells me that we're getting one anyway, in which case, why bother asking me whether I want one? I've said that in my answer: "NO. Because I don't want such a register in the first place. This question tells me that we're getting one anyway, in which case, why bother asking me whether I want one?" If they're going to waste our time like this, we might as well use it as an opportunity to really speak our minds. It might have some therapeutic value, if nothing else!

22. Should the register be widened still further to also include children who are being educated under s.19 arrangements? Add comments if you wish

This is students in Pupil Referral Units etc, the ones who used to be referred to as EOTAS (Educated Other Than At School). "Each local authority shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them." - Section 19. So the local authority already knows about these children, as it is the one making the arrangements for their education. I smell a trap here, because of course it seems reasonable that such children need tabs keeping on them... so we need a register for them, right? No, because there already is one. It's looking more and more like a cover for Badman #2.

I've said: "NO. Since local authorities make the arrangements for this provision, they already know about such children. A further register is therefore unnecessary."

23. Should the register include flexi-schooled children (ie those who are educated at home or elsewhere for some of the week during school hours but are also on the admission register of a state-funded or registered independent school)? Add comments if you wish

This is ridiculous. I've already said I don't want a register and flexischooled kids are already on the school one! How could another compulsory list of names help them in any way whatsoever? Unless it's not intended to be only a list of names...

My answer: "NO. Flexischooled children are on the school register, therefore are known about by authorities already."

24. What information as a minimum do you think the register should contain about each child? Check as many as required

My answer: "No information, because there should be no other register than already exists, which is sufficient. These questions make it sound as if the new-style register is already fait accomplis, so why bother asking us whether we want it or not?"

25. Do you think DfE should prescribe a national format for the register? Add comments if you wish

My answer: "NO. DfE should instead do a far better job of explaining why it thinks this completely unnecessary register should be mandated, and also of distancing itself from the Labour-commissioned Badman recommendations of ten years ago." It's a waste of typing energy, but it makes me feel better to say it. The thing is, as Carlotta said, if we don't respond they will take that as our tacit agreement with the whole thing.

26. Do you believe that local authorities should share information from their register with other local authorities and other agencies? Add comments if you wish

My answer: "NO. They are already allowed to share sufficient information to fulfil their duties. Any more than that would risk breaching case law on data protection. Please see case 2016 UKSC 51." This is the 2016 Supreme Court case against the Scottish government for breaching Data Protection Act with its Named Person scheme. The judges' ruling, which found against the government, applies throughout the UK.

27. Do you think that a local authority should include any information about a child on its register which has been legally obtained from other agencies? Add comments if you wish

My answer: "NO. There should be no register. Case 2016 UKSC 51 has to be complied with." Ending a sentence with a preposition. I must be annoyed! I'm certainly not in the mood to give them any more words than necessary in my response to this chicanery.

28. Do you agree that a register held by a local authority should be open to inspection by other bodies as prescribed by the Secretary of State, in order to check whether the local authority is carrying out its obligations to maintain the register? Add comments if you wish

Bodies. That's an interesting term, isn't it? For all we know, it could be anyone! Why would we want to allow our children's details to be unnecessarily shared around? I don't even know who the next Secretaries of State will be, let alone whether I trust their judgement. My answer is the same again: "NO. There should be no register. Case 2016 UKSC 51 has to be complied with." It protects us from the kind of data infractions that could risk our children's safety. I'm not going to say the words 'judicial review', but my implication should be clear. If anyone other than a machine reads it, which they might well not if the last consultation is anything to go by. ("Because of the quantity of responses received, the department contracted York Consulting LLP to undertake an analysis of the responses to the call for evidence using automated textual analysis.")

29. Do you agree that local authorities should have to make annual returns of collated data from the register to DfE for statistical purposes? Add comments if you wish

I don't imagine the statistics would be used in our favour. We are being moved into a system of being managed from above, and I do not consent. My answer is almost exactly that: "NO. We are being moved into a system of unnecessary and potentially damaging intervention in our children's educational provision, and I do not consent to the proposed changes."

The next question is for local authorities only, about costings. The one after that...

31. Do you have any other comments on either the principle of registration or practical issues related to registration on the basis proposed?

I'm not sure that I do. I've emphasised that the system already does what they claim this new one will do, so the change is unnecessary. I've mentioned data protection and the supreme court case. I guess I'll add them both again for good measure, in case the responses are analysed on a question by question basis. "Registration already exists in the form of Section 436A of the Education Act and does not need therefore to be imposed. These proposals are completely unnecessary and draconian. Regarding data protection, the Supreme Court judges' ruling in case 2016 UKSC 51 is legally binding for the governments in both Westminster and Scotland." "Continue.."

My shoulders are burning now, and I'm feeling the need to take deep breaths. I'm starting to identify with Hitchhiker's Arthur Dent, lying down in front of the bulldozer that's been sent to demolish his house. In fact, he was lucky he had a physical bulldozer to lie down in front of. We have no such thing: our bulldozer is made of electronic words, gathering darkly in the ether, equally menacingly slowly. I'm going to take a break to fill the dishwasher.

32. Do you agree that parents should be under a legal duty to provide information to their local authority about a child who is within scope of the proposed registration requirement?

"NO." A thousand times no. "Continue.."

We don't get to see the five questions that are asked of the people who think there should be such a duty, let alone contribute any responses to them. Instead, we are taken straight to this:

38. If a duty on parents was created what data should parents have to provide about their child? Check as many as required.

At least there's an "if" here. And I know we don't have to answer these questions - in fact, it's perfectly ok to just go through it ticking 'no' to everything and finish the job in ten minutes or so. But I have ticked 'Other information' to ensure my answer is processed, and responded: "No data should have to be shared. Case law (Phillips v Brown: QBD 20 Jun 1980) says that parents would be sensible to provide information on request by the local authority because its absence could lead to a school attendance order. No further mandation is necessary. Regarding data protection, the Supreme Court judges' ruling in case 2016 UKSC 51 is legally binding for English authorities."

39. Do you agree that there should be a consequence for parents for failing to register details of a child for the purposes of registration?

I'm obviously answering NO to that. There's no box for comments.

40. Whether or not your response to (3) was ‘yes’, do you think that the most effective consequence for non-compliance with the registration process is that it authorises the local authority to begin the school attendance order process by serving a s.437(1) notice on the parents, which begins the formal process of considering suitability of education and whether a child should attend school?

What? Where is question 3? Back to administrative school for you, Secretary of State. Let's assume they mean question 39, shall we? Yes, my eyes are rolling. Oh, now what? Do I think the most effective consequence for non-compliance with the registration process is that we get an SAO for it? Such convoluted phrasing, it could mean any number of things really. I'm answering NO, and there's no box for comments luckily for them.

41. Whether or not you favour any consequences of non-compliance, what alternatives to initiation of the SAO process would you prefer as an effective way of securing compliance?

My answer: "First you ask if I want a compulsory register. I answer no. Then you ask (I think... the question is so convoluted I cannot be sure) whether I think parents should be threatened with an SAO for not registering. I answer no. NOW you ask, what other sanctions for not applying to join this register with whose existence I do not agree should you impose? The answer is NONE. There should be no sanctions and there should be no new register."

42. Do you have any other comments about the concept of a legal duty on parents to supply information for the purposes of the proposed register?

My answer: "The proposed register is completely unnecessary. There should be no such legal duty on parents. Section 436A and case law (Phillips v Brown: QBD 20 Jun 1980) render the whole thing superfluous and redundant." Continue..

43. Do you agree with the general approach that the proprietors of settings providing education in school hours - other than specified types of school - should be under a duty to supply information to local authorities about any child in scope of the proposed register?

There's no scope to comment, so I'm just going to put NO. If we say 'yes' to any of these pre-decided outcomes, we're asking for the whole thing like turkeys voting for Christmas, aren't we? Continue..

Again there are six questions that we can't see because we answered NO to the last one, and instead we are taken straight to...

49. Which settings do you think should be included in the scope of the duty? Alternative provision settings (part-time), Unregistered independent schools, Yeshivas and other full-time settings not requiring registration, Home education groups not requiring registration, Other settings providing education during school hours, Other (add comments if wished)

I'm ticking 'other', so that my response is processed as an answer, and saying: "No settings should be included. There should be no such duty."

50. Which information should proprietors of the settings in scope be required to supply on request to the local authority about a child in scope of the registration requirement? Check as many as required. Name of child, Address of child, Date of birth of child, Other (add comments if wished)

Again, I'm ticking 'other' and responding: "No information should be required because there should be no such duty BUT in regard to data protection, please note that the Supreme Court judges' ruling in case 2016 UKSC 51 is legally binding for English authorities."

51. Do you agree that there should be a sanction on the proprietor for non-compliance with a duty to supply information about a child in scope of the registration requirement?

NO, but from the phrasing of this question, DfE does.

52. Regardless of your answer to the previous question, which type of sanction do you think would be most effective? Fine, Court order requiring release of information, Other (add comment if wished)

I think the sanction should be a sentence of Death by Government Consultation. Oh wait no, we have that already. I am ticking 'other' and writing: "There should be no sanction because there should be no duty because there should be no new register," and trying not to poke my own eyes out. Are we there yet?

53. Do you have any other comments about the concept or details of a duty on the proprietors of settings to provide information about children who attend their setting and fall within scope of the registration requirement?

I think I've lost patience with this now. My answer is this: "Your ideas about settings make no sense. They're completely illogical. Anne Milton recently said:

'​The purpose of the proposed register is to enable local authorities to track the main daytime weekday educational settings for children in scope, and to take action if it appears that a suitable education is not being received in usual school hours. This purpose would not be served by bringing into coverage the register activities carried on in places or at times not relevant to determining suitability, or by including places which are simply hosting educational visits rather than providing tuition and it is not our intention to do so.' (HC Deb, 13 June 2019, cW)

And yet, your new guidance on home education for local authorities says: "9.8 .... However, in home education there is often continual one-to-one contact; education may take place outside normal ‘school hours’ and term time, and the type of educational activity can be varied and flexible. "

Please make your minds up. Do you think all of our education happens in school hours, or not? For your information in my family it does not - it sometimes happens in the evenings and at weekends. Please get your act together if you're going to bring in changes that will significantly affect all of our lives." Continue..

54. Do you agree that there should be a statutory duty on local authorities to provide support on request to parents who educate children at home, of a type to be prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations?

Of course not, because of the old saying: he who pays the piper calls the tune. There's no box for me to say that in though, so I just have to tick NO and "Continue.."

63. If such a duty was to be created which of the following should it encompass? Check as many as required: Advice, Assistance with exam fees, Support for home education groups, Discounted admissions, Checks on private tutors, Newsletters for home educators, Arranging participation in school activity programmes, Other (add comments if wished)

I'm ticking 'other' so that my response is processed, and in the box I'm writing: "There should be no statutory duty to support, even on request, because it could lead to unnecessary and damaging interventions. Local authorities often provide such help on a voluntary basis and if left to their own devices, would continue to do so."

64. What are the potential difficulties, apart from availability of resources, in ensuring that such a duty is properly discharged by a local authority?

"They are immense and probably insurmountable, which is another reason why this should not be attempted. Its regulation would be unnecessarily complex. The whole idea is unnecessary."

65. Should the duty to provide support on request be limited to children whose details are included on the proposed register?

There's no room for comment here, just yes/no, and I can't actually answer it. If I say yes, I'm agreeing with the register, which I don't. If I say no, I'm agreeing with the register, which I don't. Do you notice the way they always refer to the register in the present tense, not the future tense? For them, it looks like a done deal. I am wasting a whole day responding to questions about something that has already been decided on, just so that they can say they consulted and I can say I responded.

66. Should other mechanisms be explored for enhancing access to public examinations for children educated at home, and if so, what? Examination body operated centres, Duty on schools and colleges to allow private candidates, Other (add comment if wished)

I'm ticking 'other', so that my response is processed. My answer: "No such mechanisms should be explored. Home educators opt out of the state system so have to pay for their children's exams." I know it's expensive and we don't like having to pay for it, but it's the only way of keeping the intervening wolves at bay.

Question 67 is for local authorities only, about costings again. Then we have...

68. Do you have any further comments on the issue of local authority support for home-educating families?

So I'm answering: "Local authorities sometimes choose to offer support on request but this should not be mandated because it would muddy the boundary between parental and state responsibility for the education as set out in Section 7."

69. Do you consider that support for home-educating parents should be provided by the Department for Education?

NO! Certainly not if this consultation is anything to go by! Sadly there is no box in which I can tell them this.

70. Regardless of your answer to the preceding question, which forms of support do you think particularly suited to delivery on a national rather than local basis? Check as many as required: General advice to parents on home education, Financial assistance for exam fees, Other (add comment if wished)

Again - and maybe for the last time! - I am ticking 'other' so that my response is processed. My answer is: "National government should not be involved in home education at all. There is nothing in law to connect the two, except through local authorities. The current system works. All of the necessary safety nets are in place and the existing registers all function adequately. National government should ensure that there are enough schools to suit all of the children whose parents want them to attend so that everyone who home educates is making a real, actual choice instead of feeling forced into it." Continue..

71. Do you have any comments on the conclusions set out in the published equalities log, UNCRC analysis and family test?

Oh what, do I have to read those? I am already FIVE HOURS into this process. Right. The equalities log is here...... and the first thing that catches my eye is this:

Although there is no quantitative evidence available to evidence this...

- which on its own demonstrates the need for us to check the rest of this thing. I'm not a member of any of the listed races or faiths but if I was, I'd be annoyed at the implication that just because I was, I therefore needed the local authority to ensure my child received a suitable education. It's an astounding level of prejudice and I have answered, to begin with: "In the equalities log you imply that people of certain races and faiths need local authority intervention to ensure their home education is suitable, just because of their race or faith. This strikes me as being inordinately prejudiced in itself."

Next? The UNCRC analysis. I've added comments on three elements of this, as follows:

"In the UNCRC analysis, you mistakenly assert that "There would be no direct impact on the children concerned from the registration process." But good provision can be damaged by the stress of unnecessary intervention, a fact that you repeatedly ignore because it does not fit your apparent plans. This is why the law works best as it is, with Section 436A on the one hand and Section 437 on the other. Annual requirements to apply to be on a register will cause time-consuming stress and damaging unnecessary educational interventions.

Again, from the UNCRC analysis: "However, some home educators believe that the views of children on home education are not significant compared with parental rights to determine the mode of education. " There was no need to add this snide comment, was there? It is not even pertinent to the question.

Ibid: "By seeking to ensure that children who are educated at home or outside mainstream schooling are more likely to receive a suitable education, it promotes implementation - or at worst, does not obstruct it."

Too hasty 'seeking to ensure' DOES risk obstructing that very thing, which is why Section 437 is wisely phrased the way it is."

And onto the family test.. Wow, this is bad. My response to it is as follows:

"How is...

"If a single parent educates a child at home or arranges education outside mainstream schools then forming a dual-parent family might help that to continue, in economic terms at least."

- remotely relevant to your proposed policy?

"If the proposals lead to fewer children being educated at home or under alternative arrangements outside mainstream schools, these burdens, and impact they have on transitions which add to stress, would be lessened for some families."

This gives the impression that your real agenda is to seek to reduce the numbers of children being educated at home. This kind of thing does nothing to persuade us that you really want to help us.

"Although there would be a small compliance cost for families with registration..."

You are going to CHARGE us for this 'service' we do not want or need??????!!!! Unbelievable.

"If the proposals lead to fewer children being educated at home or under alternative arrangements outside mainstream schools this might reduce the financial burden on the families if such provision ceases, and lessen the likelihood that one parent will need to work excessive hours to meet that financial burden. This could improve that parent’s access to the children."

As above, this looks like the real agenda. Was this engineered by someone who disapproves of home education, then? If so, they were not the right person for the job, if anyone was.

"Some children who are home educated are in reality also carers for parents or other siblings."

I'm guessing you have no evidence with which to.. _evidence_ this. If so, we are yet to see it.

"Some families suffer financial strain because of undertaking home education; if the proposals result in fewer children being educated at home, the incidence of this will be reduced and that might lessen the likelihood of separation."

That's the third time you have referred to the reduction in our numbers as being a beneficial thing. How can we expect or hope for any real support from you then, except to help us to register our children at a school?"

72. Do you have any other comments on the government’s proposals for legislation relating to registration, and support for home education?

I certainly do. They are as follows: "The real agenda is laid bare in the family test. Whoever wrote it does not want home education to be supported: quite the contrary. That person wants our numbers to be reduced and sees this as the desirable outcome. The attempt to frame this in terms of helpful support for home educators must therefore be a lie or at best, the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Most home educators do not want or need your medicine and will not swallow it just because it's sugar coated. As parents our job (under Section 7 of the Education Act) is to protect our children's individually tailored provision from people who would - accidentally or deliberately - damage it. According to the family test, this group of people now appears to also include the DfE." Continue..

And finally......... a whopping six hours later...... I am finished. Submit response

In all honesty, I don't recommend anyone else devoting six hours to this, or anything like it. Who has the time? I don't really, and various other things I should have been doing today have gone undone. But given the likelihood that this completely unnecessary register will undoubtedly morph into an annual licencing scheme, I think as many of us as possible should try to respond, if only to say

NO.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

New guidance and consultation on registration

The Department for Education has this morning published:

I've only had chance to skim-read it all so far, but my initial thoughts are as follows:

  1. The new guidance incorporates some of the more worrying elements of last year's draft and is really only a slightly mitigated version of the draft. In reality this will lead to few changes for home educators who live under the more reasonable local authorities and probably more hassle for all of the others - in the short term. See my next point for expectations over the longer term!
  2. Compulsory registration, even though it is supposed to "function only as a list" and "not change LAs' powers" will, I fear, be ratcheted up in a period of years back to the kind of licensing scheme proposed by Graham Badman ten years ago. The consultation document already talks about allowing for "changes in the scheme in the light of experience".
  3. The guidance (active from today onwards) sets out the ultimate threat of Care Orders we saw in last year's draft, which is unnecessarily draconian, authoritarian and traumatising. The kind of mentality that deems this kind of harsh treatment of families to be in any way appropriate is beyond my understanding.

I feel saddened by this turn of events, for home educating families thoughout England who will be affected by it and for my own family. It's depressing to think that my children will probably not be able to offer their children the same kind of wonderful childhood of exploration and adventure that they themselves have enjoyed. Being able to help them follow their interests and nurture their curiosity has been an absolute joy and a privilege and one that I would wish for any other parent who wanted it, in the absence of this government-prescribed mistrust and interference from officials.

What can we do now?

Personally I'm not in a mad rush to do anything, because experience teaches me that such events need time to be assimilated and processed through my mind and also through our on- and off-line communities and groups. We have three months to reply to the consultation, but I hope as many home educators and their friends, families and supporters as possible respond to say we don't want a compulsory register. The new guidance needs to be taken apart to see if the worst parts of it can still be challenged and many conversations and meetings will take place in the next few weeks as we try to work everything out and adapt as best as we can to the new situation.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Section 436A again

Much of the draft guidance currently open to consultation is based on a misinterpretation of Section 436A of the Education Act. Without this misinterpretation, which runs throughout the draft, the pre-emptive checking of provision and invasive, problematic ongoing monitoring could not be encouraged. It is not encouraged in the current Guidelines for Local Authorities, as they do not misinterpret Section 436A in this way.

Section 436A instructs local authorities to find children who are missing education. It is not intended to instruct local authorities to check the provision of all home educators, whose children are plainly not missing education. The statutory guidance it spawns does not instruct officers to check the provision of home educated families under this section, and it never has. In fact, the original version of this guidance included this paragraph on the subject:

"If it becomes known that a child identified as not receiving education is being home educated, this should be recorded on the local authority’s database and no further action should be taken unless there is cause for concern about the child’s safety and welfare."

In 2011, Ian Dowty QC was asked to advise Lancashire home educators who were opposing new local policy based on Section 436A being misinterpreted in the same way as this new national draft guidance. His advice included the following:

It seems to me that Lancashire is attempting to put in place an assessment system which is based upon a misinterpretation of s436A and the statutory guidance issued on it so that they create a different regime for a child that they decide is “missing education”. In assessing this, it would appear that Lancashire believes it can insist on using greater powers than the law in fact permits to them.

The rest of his advice is very relevant to the issue we're facing in the current national consultation and is well worth reading, because it explains far better than I did the relationship between sections 436A and 437 of the Education Act.

This misinterpretation of 436A is the most important element of the draft guidance. If we let it go without properly challenging it, we will be set back 12 years politically, to the time before the current guidance was published, and that would only be the start of a series of changes that would lead straight back to where the draft currently wants to go and further. It should therefore be the key focus of our objections to the new draft, because anything else is effectively fiddling around the edges. We do not need to roll over on it; we are in a strong position.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Sections 436A and 437

Section 7 of the Education Act, as we all know, tells us it is the:

Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

And if it looks like we might not be doing this, Section 437 tells local authorities:

(1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.

(2) That period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.

(3) If—

(a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and

(b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school,

the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a “school attendance order”), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.

Section 437 works perfectly well to ensure that our Section 7 duty as parents is carried out while at the same time protecting our Article 8 right to respect for our private and family life, home and correspondence. Crucially, it enables us as parents to decide how Section 7 applies for our own individual children, for each of whom 'suitable' means something different, which is best known to ourselves who live with them and have known them for all of their lives. Section 437 does this very carefully, by ensuring that the local authority's role in 'otherwise' education remains non-intrusive until and unless something makes them think the education might not be suitable.

So how (wail some local authorities) can we know that there is an appearance that education might not look suitable unless we can check everyone's education all of the time?

The answer is that there are many ways in which such an appearance can and does often arise. Police or social work reports being the main two serious sources of concerns. If a family is seriously struggling with living in a reasonable healthy and law abiding way then this would be a good reason to doubt the educational provision and get it checked. Anyone else who is worried about a child's educational provision is at liberty to raise a concern with the local authority who would then approach the family for information about the provision to check that it looked suitable. (Note that this information only needs to be such as would convince a reasonable person - i.e. not an education professional - on the balance of probabilities, because if it went to court it would be a civil and not a criminal "beyond all reasonable doubt" case.)

In 2006, Section 436A was introduced via the Education and Skills Act:

Children not receiving suitable education

436A Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

(1) A local education authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but—

(a) are not registered pupils at a school, and

(b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.

(2) In exercising their functions under this section a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.

(3) In this Chapter, “suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have.”

At the time, only the heads of the main home education organisations were consulted by government so this section reached the statute books without any of the rest of us being warned or given the chance to protest. The people who were informed were told that Section 436A was not intended to target home education.

Here is Jane Lowe, of the Home Education Advisory Service, giving evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Education on the 5th September 2012:

"The two sets of guidance...

(She means the Children Missing Education guidance which explains Section 436A to local authorities - and which still gives no instruction to check home education provision for suitability - and the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities)

... were originally conceived to do two different things. I was involved with discussions when the first draft of that was made, of the Children Missing Education guidance, and the civil servants who we were dealing with assured us that this was not something which was being designed to entrap home educators. They assured us that the whole point of that exercise - giving the statutory guidance on section 436A - was to find children who had completely slipped through the net who were not receiving any education at all. It was not designed to target home educators in any way. And the first version of it actually said explicitly that this guidance does not apply to children who are educated at home."

The draft guidance for local authorities currently being consulted on by the government tries to turn this situation on its head, and use Section 436A to check the provision of every home educated child rather than only the ones about whom concerns have been raised, as Section 437 does.

The problems with this approach are as follows:

  1. Section 7 gives parents the job of causing their children to receive suitable education, not local authorities. In order to ensure the suitability of the provision they must cause their children to receive, parents must be the arbiters of it - until and unless there are concerns that would create a Section 437 'appearance'. If local authorities are checking everyone's provision against the elements set out in Section 9.4 of the draft, for example, then parents will no longer be the arbiters of what constitutes 'suitable provision' in normal circumstances and will be unable to comply with their Section 7 duty.
  2. The funding required for local authorities to thoroughly check the provision of every home educated child in the country will be both astronomical and unjustified.
  3. The Article 8 right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence will be breached - again, unnecessarily because the absence of specific concerns about the provision indicate that it does not need to be assessed.

Section 436A has been used successfully for its original purpose of locating those children for whom no education provision is being made whatsoever for the past twelve years since it was introduced. Home educating parents, on being asked under that section what provision has been made, have only needed to say: "home education" for this to have been accepted - unless and until specific concerns have been raised to give rise to a Section 437 'appearance' that the provision might not be suitable. This has freed up local authority resources for those families who have been in obvious need of more intervention instead of wasting them on unnecessary blanket checks.

Home educators in England who are affected by this consultation (Wales and Scotland are not) will have to consider their position en masse if this newly proposed misinterpretation of Section 436A taken forward beyond the consultation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

FAQ: Call for Evidence and revised DfE guidance

The DfE issued this consultation yesterday. Here is an FAQ about it for home educators:

1. Why has the government issued new draft guidance for consultation when Lord Soley's bill is about to go to its committee stage and it isn't compatible with the new draft guidance?

Some of us have a theory that this was the plan all along: that the bill was designed to make enough 'noise' in Parliament and the media to generate sufficient moral panic to allow someone (we're guessing at Daniel Monk) to offer to save the day and some cash by imposing their own interpretation of the statute on us. Mr Monk's Regulating home education: negotiating standards, anomalies and rights article formed the basis for the Badman Review and we think he is probably the 'DM' featuring in the various Freedom of Information bundles we have received concerning correspondence about the bill.

2. What are the main problems with the draft guidances?

They stretch the law to try to make it mean something completely different to the way it has been for decades in respect of home education. The new draft guidance for local authorities bares little resemblance to the existing Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. In future posts I'll hopefully be setting out the problems that will be caused by each instance of this and also the conflicts and incompatabilities with other laws and regulations it gives rise to.

3. How can we respond to the consultation?

The closing date is 2nd July 2018, so we have nearly 12 weeks in which to do so. I will probably put my response in during the final week, having taken as much time as possible to consider all of the many points arising. Some people have responded already but I think that's premature, unless they're thinking of sending additions when the various discussions have finished towards the end of the time period.

4. What's likely to happen with Lord Soley's bill now?

Many of us have been saying for a long time that we don't expect that bill to receive debating time in the House of Commons, meaning it will not be able to proceed much beyond committee stage and become statute.

5. Where else can I read about this or discuss this with other home educators?

The new HE Byte is a good place to keep up with news and updates. A Facebook group has also been set up as a discussion hub. If you want to join this, please email or Facebook message me.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Baroness Cavendish's contribution: 2nd reading of the bill debate in the House of Lords

Lord Soley's bill was read for the second time in the House of Lords on 24th November, during which a scheduled debate on the subject took place. In this post, after a short overview, I'm going to go through Baroness Cavendish's contribution to the debate interspersing it with my comments as they come up. In future posts I will cover the other contributions, as time allows.

I have already covered Lord Soley's first contribution to the debate, Lord Baker's, Lord Addington's and that of Baroness Morris.

Overview:

The debate was mainly monopolised by people who are in favour of the bill, with the notable exceptions of the Lords Lucas and Agnew, who spoke on behalf of the government. The speakers in favour of the bill listed recent news stories and bureaucratic reports calling for more regulation but mostly avoided mentioning the already existing remedies for concerns, as did the news stories and bureaucratic reports themselves. Lord Lucas mentioned the need for more evidence and the absence of need for more regulation. Lord Agnew announced a forthcoming public consultation into the wording for updated new guidelines, which will clarify the legal position for parents and local authorities. We assume the bill will therefore be deemed unnecessary.

The debate:

Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, who has such a long-standing commitment to education. I hope he will be able to move this forward.

As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, there is a growing consensus that registering home-educated children is essential.

A "consensus" that so far seems to have been drawn by only one academic, several politicians and perhaps three dozen local authority officers. As ever the opinions of home educating parents or, more poignantly, "the child's voice" have not yet been sought, but the forthcoming public consultation will open the floodgates to those.

That is a change,

It is not. I have been interested in the political approach towards this niche activity for over twenty years now, and the numbers of those wishing to tighten its regulations remain roughly the same.

and it relates partly to the growing numbers; we do not know what the numbers are, but we know from local authorities that they are growing.

I'd like to invite Lady Cavendish to reconsider her words here. We don't know what the numbers are, but we know that they are growing? That rather suggests that we do have a very good idea what the numbers are. In fact, we know exactly the numbers of all of those whose local authorities know they are being home educated, which is every child who has been deregistered from a school, plus every child whose home educated status has been reported to their local authority under Section 436A of the Education Act. A child's home educated status can be reported by doctors, dentists, shopkeepers, neighbours, relatives, swimming pool attendants - in fact, anyone to whose attention it comes. This results in the vast majority of home educated children's status being known to their local authorities, the remaining few of which will be mopped up by Section 436A in the near future, or reach maturity. This moral panic about the numbers home educating is just that - or an excuse to try to impose further measures of oversight than mere compulsory registration can afford, in future years in the statutory guidelines.

It is important to understand, as previous speakers have said, that home education is no longer the preserve of a small group of bohemian parents or parents whose children flourish better at home because they have experienced bullying or have special educational needs that, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, are not necessarily being adequately met. If I may say so, the latter is a separate issue but it is still very important.

The so-called bohemian parents, or 'philosophical home educators' as they now seem to be called, are the group that tends to home educate from the very beginning, whose children have usually never attended school. This seems to be the group causing the least concern in this moral panic, and yet this is the only group whose children's educational status might still be not known to their local authority.

That is no longer what home education is simply about, and a lot of people are somewhat out of date in imagining it as such.

What? Home education is about educating children other than at school, as per Section 7 of the Education Act. There is so much spinning in this debate, everyone seems to be dizzy.

Precisely as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just outlined, because the good parents are quite vocal and articulate it is easy to overlook that there are now a substantial number of parents whose desire is to isolate their children from mainstream society and from liberal British values. As was referred to earlier, there are also parents who are set on various forms of abuse, which is simply horrific, but the other group is probably—hopefully—larger.

Where a local authority .. have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. This statutory guidance makes it very clear that radicalisation is now classed as 'significant harm'.

I speak as someone who, with the Cabinet Secretary, commissioned the Louise Casey review of integration and opportunity. Among many other things, that review expressed deep concern about the effect of home education on some children who are already almost excluded from society and will face much greater problems and lack of opportunity in future. I was also involved in commissioning the Alan Wood review of local safeguarding children boards, which, again as previously described, expressed the important point that there is no way for multiple ​agencies to get together to share this information and no way for local authorities to assess the very real risk to some of these children. There is a lacuna in the law, and we are effectively sabotaging local authorities’ duty to safeguard children by not closing this loophole.

You also speak as someone, Baroness Cavendish, who is a former aide to Marjorie Scardino when she was the profit-tripling CEO of Pearsons PLC, the digital education giant whose influence on education policy has raised serious concerns. A growing number of home educators is also a growing potentially captive market if it is regulated in a certain way - it transpired that there were digital education providers mysteriously involved in the Badman Review, so we are naturally suspicious about anyone showing an interest in our regulations who has been connected with such companies. Not that I'm suggesting Baroness Cavendish is still connected with Pearson PLC in any way: I do not know whether she is or not.

It is an outrage that the Government do not know how many children in this country are being home educated. As previous speakers have said, we have some impression of the number of children who are being withdrawn, but we have no idea how many children have never been registered. I recently did an interview for Radio 4 with Ofsted’s chief operating officer. He made it very clear that he believes that there may be as many as 50,000 children in this situation. There are tens of thousands of children whom we do not know about. That does not mean that they are all at risk, but it is something that surely we need to know.

Any child, home educated or schooled - who is at risk of suffering "..significant harm, the [local] authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare." The law is already sufficient to address this - in other words, as Lord Agnew points out later in the debate: "We think they already have the tools for the job."

The other issue that concerns me deeply is the correlation between home-educated children and the growth of unregistered out-of-school settings. It is easy to imagine home-educated children sitting around the kitchen table or in a cosy sitting room. The reality is that some of them are not at home at all: they are going out every day to tuition centres, often Islamic tuition centres, some of which are legal, some of which are illegal, and very few of which are monitored. To give one example, the director of the Siddeeq Academy in Whitechapel was one of nine people arrested by the Metropolitan Police counterterrorism squad a few years ago. The academy has now been closed, but if you talk to the very small unit at Ofsted which is trying to identify and close down these schools, it will openly tell you that it is very difficult to identify their number. Registration would be the absolute bedrock that we need to enable the system at least to identify and follow those children.

A child is by definition not being home educated if he or she is attending school. That genuine home educators are being threatened with tighter regulations just because the Church apparently cannot be stood up to, is nothing short of scandalous. The illegal schools should be closed and if it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they should serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education. I do not know the answer to illegal schools being difficult to identify but if they are, then merely knowing the names of children who are being home educated will not help. Visiting them once a year will not help: the only solution is for the state to literally follow the children everywhere they go, which is completely unviable.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, understandably said that some of the clauses — about emotional development and so on — are unrealistic. It is absolutely right that we do not create a monstrous bureaucracy around this and that light-touch regulation is essential.

As explained above, light touch regulation won't go anywhere near solving most of the alleged problems this moral panic has raised. If this bill ever did make it into legislation it would be an enabling clause, which would give rise to ever stringent annual revisions in the associated statutory guidance.

But if the Minister is willing to look at this properly he will need to consider to what extent we are asking social workers to fulfil their duty under safeguarding rules, which they would do and should be allowed to do anyway, and to what extent we also want to involve Ofsted, which would be very different. That would be an investigation and analysis of the education that children are receiving, and that is an open question.

This paragraph is quite hard to decipher, but I think she might be saying that Ofsted should be involved in investigating and analysing the education we're giving to our children. If Ofsted also wants this, then that might explain their own contribution to the moral panic.

Personally, I think that registering the children is essential, and I would hate anything to derail the possibility of achieving that. Perhaps it might be left to another time.

What, Ofted inspecting our provision? Yes of course, it would go into the updated guidance if the legislation ever changed, which does not look likely. Assuming Ofsted beat the local authorities to the job - a battle which I suspect will be left to another time: quite some years hence.

I hope that the Government will now take this seriously. It is time to act. There were a huge number of interactions between the Government and the previous and current Chief Inspectors of Education on this issue. It is not a new issue, but it is now much clearer that it is a real problem and I hope that the Government will act.

One carefully managed and orchestrated moral panic does not a real problem make.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Baroness Morris's contribution: 2nd reading of the bill debate in the House of Lords

Lord Soley's bill was read for the second time in the House of Lords last week, during which a scheduled debate on the subject took place. In this post, after a short overview, I'm going to go through Baroness Morris's contribution to the debate interspersing it with my comments as they come up. In future posts I will cover the other contributions, as time allows.

I have already covered Lord Soley's first contribution to the debate, Lord Baker's and that of Lord Addington.

Overview:

The debate was mainly monopolised by people who are in favour of the bill, with the notable exceptions of the Lords Lucas and Agnew, who spoke on behalf of the government. The speakers in favour of the bill listed recent news stories and bureaucratic reports calling for more regulation but mostly avoided mentioning the already existing remedies for concerns, as did the news stories and bureaucratic reports themselves. Lord Lucas mentioned the need for more evidence and the absence of need for more regulation. Lord Agnew announced a forthcoming public consultation into the wording for updated new guidelines, which will clarify the legal position for parents and local authorities. We assume the bill will therefore be deemed unnecessary.

The debate:

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I also welcome the Bill that has been put forward by my noble friend Lord Soley, and congratulate him on the work that he has done. I also want at the start of the ​debate want to recognise the work done by Graham Badman some time ago. I suspect that if Graham Badman’s report, which was about to be put into effect in 2010, had been allowed to come into force, we would have already addressed these issues. I know my noble friend Lord Soley said he tried to speak to Graham Badman and build on the work that he has done.

The Badman Review was supposed to be investigating "whether home education could be used as a cover for some forms of child abuse, such as forced marriage and domestic servitude". It found no such evidence. Instead, it raised questions about its author's integrity and collapsed in a pile of recriminations and counter recriminations. Its recommendations amounted to an annual licensing scheme for home educators, which would have breached their dutes as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act, because they would no longer have been the arbiters of their children's educational provision. By cheerleading this initiative so many years after it failed, Baroness Morris signals herself to be - at the very least - resolutely deaf to our children's educational needs. Perhaps it's what we should expect from the woman who failed her A levels, resigned her Education Secretary post because she failed to meet her own numeracy and literacy targets and who "generally voted for university tuition fees".

Also, Lord Soley tried to speak to Graham Badman..? That's intriguing, because it sounds like Mr Badman neglected to respond. Surely he hasn't changed his entirely principled and not remotely potentially personally profitable view that "changes in the regulatory and legislative frameworks are necessary"? That would be bizarre indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was absolutely right. When he said he thought back to his time in office and what he did about home education, that made me think back to my own time in office. In truth, we did not do much either.

As Secretary of State for Education and Skills from only 8th June 2001 until 24th October 2002, I don't think she had chance to do anything at all, but luckily no action needed taking on this issue.

At that time, the principle of a parent’s right to educate their child other than at school trumped everything else, but times were different. It is not about justifying whether that was right or wrong, but things have changed since the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I were in office. In two chief respects, the context now is different.

The context is not now different. The wording of Section 7 of the Education Act remains exactly the same and all of the pre-engineered mission creep in the world won't change it.

First, as a society, we do more now to accept our joint responsibility for the well-being and protection of every child. We have always thought we do that, but so many cases in recent years have shown that we have not always done it. That is at the top of everyone’s agenda. The obligation that we owe as adults, as a society and as policymakers to every child to do what we can to protect their well-being is paramount.

Instead of focusing their time and efforts into strengthening local authority's responses in cases where the current regulations are often not correctly acted upon, this group of people is instead choosing to cause upset, distress and educational disruption by attempting to compel every home educated child to be monitored unnecessarily. I suppose it's easier to drink tea and eat home made cakes every year in a typical home educator's sitting room than it is to face down the proprietor of an illegal school and force it to close, whilst still pretending to be "doing something", but the former causes unnecessary stress to families and unnecessary expense for the state, while the second directly addresses the issue of people who are actually breaking the law for their own profit.

Secondly, we accept more now the right of the child to have an education, which may sometimes trump the right of parents to decide that their child should be educated in a particular way.

Yes it might, and when every school child has his or her educational preference met, then we can begin to ask the home educated children too. My own children are regularly offered school or other provisions by the way, as are most home educated children I know. Strangely, they are not keen to uptake the opportunity! The younger ones have never tried school but they hear enough about it from some of their school-attending friends to know that it is best avoided and I've heard hundreds of school-related horror stories but am only aware of two or three home educating ones, about which the local authorities did not take the correct action, incidentally.

The third factor in play here is that if you are the Minister, you can claim that there is guidance of a sort that deals with this issue. However, the guidance was published a decade ago by two Ministers who are now sitting in this House and relies on a trick that often happens in government. It says that they have the right to check that every child is well and getting a decent education, but then denies them every power that they would need to carry out that job. You can tick the box and say that there is guidance, but the bottom line is that you say to a local authority that if it suspects anything is wrong, it must do something about it, but you deny it the right to collect the information, the right to go into the home, the right to ask questions, the right to speak to the child.

The level of misunderstanding inherent in this paragraph is quite astounding. Firstly, the guidance does not say local authority officers have the power to check every child is well and getting a decent education and nor should it. The safeguarding duty set out in law is a passive one, not an active one and this is for two very good reasons: to target resources on the children who really need it; and to allow a degree of trust and freedom for innocent people about whom there are no concerns. The first is important to avoid the needle in the haystack problem as well as protecting the public purse and the second to preserve the presumption of innocence.

Nor does the guidance deny local authorities "every power" to check on the safety of children and the quality of their education provision. Properly reflecting the law as it does, it explains that if there are concerns, then thorough checks can and should be made. This is why we have Section 437 of the Education Act and sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act. Baroness Morris is either scandalously ignorant of such provisos in law and guidance, or this part of her contribution to this debate is alarmist in the extreme. As for the argument that says, how can local authorities know about concerns before they're reported to them? The answer is: they can not, and nor should they try to because such a change would lead to innocent people being constantly checked without end for crimes they have not committed, just in case they have done something wrong. The infringment this would cause on our Article 8 privacy would be unacceptable and damaging for all concerned.

Times have changed and it is quite clear that there is a problem to be solved.

No. What is quite clear is that those who would have us more regulated for philosophical or political reasons will use every case they can to try to prove that we need to be more regulated because we somehow present an increased danger to our children than school-using parents when we statistically do not.

People will say we do not know the extent of the problem, because we have not taken the powers to collect the information.

People who, for reasons of politics or philosophy, disapprove of home education will apparently say anything that suits their argument, and the more emotive the issue the more likely they are to try to make use of it to achieve their ends.

I thought about the groups that could be included in this, and part of the problem is that, understandably and rightly, the most vocal group is that of parents who do the job well and who for whatever reason have decided that the type of education they want their child to have is better delivered outside the formal school structure. Often the children are very gifted or have great special educational needs, but the way the parent wants to structure that child’s learning is one that the system of education has not been able to deliver for them, or they have been dissatisfied with the provision of education they have had. They are the articulate group and the ones who complain whenever we try to address this ​issue. I do not want their rights threatened — they are doing a good job, although it is not what I would choose for my child, and I absolutely respect their right to do that. But their voice should not take away from our obligation to protect children who are not in that group.

I am perplexed about the apparent absence of logic in this point and will restrict myself to repeating patiently yet again: the obligation to protect children who might be in need of services is amply covered by Section 17 of the Children Act. The obligation to protect children who might be at risk from significant harm is amply covered by Section 47 of the Children Act, and the obligation to protect children about whose educational provision there are concerns is amply covered by Section 437 of the Education Act. What more do these people want? CCTV in our homes?

Another group being educated other than at school are those who are deliberately hidden from society and are mistreated and abused as a result. They are not supported to flourish and thrive in society and are maybe, as my noble friend Lord Soley said, radicalised, or brought up and educated in a way that does not give them the skills, the attitude or the social skills to thrive as citizens.

There are laws to protect this group, as listed above. They should be used properly in order to fully help those who need to be helped.

One growing group that absolutely appals me are those parents who feel obliged to educate their child at home because they have been excluded from school and are advised by the school that the best thing would be to educate them other than at school. This is not a deliberate choice on the parents’ part, but a set of circumstances brought about by a school that wishes to exclude the child, which leads to the child being educated at home. So there is a linkage, and I suspect the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, might say something about this, between unregulated schools and children being educated at home, which I had not clocked until the previous HMCI spoke more about it last year.

Section 13 of the Education Act confers a duty on local authorities to: "contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community by securing that efficient primary education, [and secondary education] are available to meet the needs of the population of their area.". Are we just completely overlooking the Education Act nowadays, or ought we as a nation, particularly our local authorities, to at least consider adhering to the duties it sets out? It should go without saying that if a school is off-rolling less preferred pupils then that school is not meeting the needs of the population.

The principle in the Bill that we need to know more about these children — who and where they are and why they are not in school — has to be right, and I very much support the aspect of the Bill that would do that. If we want to collect those figures, we must have a way of doing so. If we want to safeguard the well-being of the child, we have to know about them and talk to them. We have to know who is educating them and where they are being educated. We have to check what is happening to them. But those provisions in the Bill have to be right.

No, because it would not stop with just knowing which children were being home educated. The real end goal of all of this obsessive tracking and tracing is to monitor the educational provision and to ban it wherever possible. This is the only conclusion we can reach when the protective laws are already so clear and being so blatantly ignored in so many cases.

Where the Bill is also right but far more contentious, and I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Soley indicated that in his opening comments, is on where we say to society, “Thou shan’t make judgments about the quality of education being delivered”. I think we should make some judgments but I do not pretend it will be easy. This is the most difficult part of the Bill. In the interests of every child and of safeguarding a child’s right to education — a child’s right to education is a United Nations provision — I think there are things that we as citizens can agree on: a child should be literate and numerate and have access to physical activity, the arts, culture, science and all those wondrous things. In truth, though, while the state is very good at inspecting within a very regulated framework, it is less good at exercising judgment and discretion where people are not absolutely following that framework and regulation but are nevertheless doing a decent job. Most of us have talked to teachers and head teachers who have complained about the present inspection framework, and I can well imagine how nervous some parents are that they are going to have that conversation with some sort of regulator.

Yes. You can see already how it begins: "A child should be literate and numerate and have access to physical activity, the arts, culture, science and all those wondrous things." Statements that seem on the face of it to be perfectly reasonable and appropriate and applicable to absolutely every child, but which a little more consideration shows are not. Parents know their individual children better than local authority officers can and decisions about the provision should be made by parents, with local authority officers only intervening where it appears that this might not be suitable. The law on this is very powerfully and subtly framed in the negative, to afford every freedom to the parent to choose the correct provision according to her knowledge of the child's educational needs. It does not need to be changed.

I say to my noble friend Lord Soley, the proposer of the Bill, that he was absolutely right to acknowledge that that is an issue, but it is not one that we should ​not take on. It is just one where we have to be sensitive, and I hope that in considering the implementation of the Bill we will talk to those parents who are doing a good job of educating their children and do not want to have to change too much. We should make sure we can accommodate their needs. To ask a state regulation system to accommodate innovation and quirkiness almost does not go together as a request, but somehow we have to get this right.

The law as it stands already accommodates our needs while at the same time protecting those children who are in need, at risk, or whose education might not be suitable. It just needs to be properly implemented. As Baroness Morris seems to realise on some level, improving it is no easy matter and any change - in accordance with the rule of good intentions and unintended consequences - is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

I welcome the Bill. I congratulate my noble friend on bringing it to the House; he has a long record of taking an interest in this issue. Primarily, it will set us on course to deliver more effectively our obligation to protect every child and ensure that every child has access to a good education. We should tread warily, however, and fear that we may damage some good provision, but these problems are no greater than those we face in implementing any legislation or bringing in a policy that we know at its heart is good. I hope the Bill will get a Second Reading and I look forward to the debates that might ensue.

It will damage a lot of good provision. This is not a risk people should take with children and their education. Laws are already in place to address the problems raised and sufficient arguments have still not been made to properly dispute this fact.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lord Addington's contribution: 2nd reading of the bill debate in the House of Lords

Lord Soley's bill was read for the second time in the House of Lords last week, during which a scheduled debate on the subject took place. In this post, after a short overview, I'm going to go through Lord Addington's contribution to the debate interspersing it with my comments as they come up. In future posts I will cover the other contributions, as time allows.

I have already covered Lord Soley's first contribution to the debate and Lord Baker's.

Overview:

The debate was mainly monopolised by people who are in favour of the bill, with the notable exceptions of the Lords Lucas and Agnew, who spoke on behalf of the government. The speakers in favour of the bill listed recent news stories and bureaucratic reports calling for more regulation but mostly avoided mentioning the already existing remedies for concerns, as did the news stories and bureaucratic reports themselves. Lord Lucas mentioned the need for more evidence and the absence of need for more regulation. Lord Agnew announced a forthcoming public consultation into the wording for updated new guidelines, which will clarify the legal position for parents and local authorities. We assume the bill will therefore be deemed unnecessary.

The debate:

Lord Addington: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has the habit of stealing everybody else’s thunder — but I have never seen him take out the entire Government Whips Office before. There we are: we live and we learn.

The Bill is very interesting and undoubtedly the best thing about it, and something that must be carried on, in the heading of Clause 1: “Duty of local authorities to monitor children receiving elective home education”. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, has effectively put his finger on something of a black hole. We do not know how many children are in this group. We do not know what is happening to them and that is really where we should have concern. Indeed, if only a one-clause Bill comes out of this with only that and some form of basic inspection or chasing up in it, we will have done a very good service to the entire education structure.

I'm struggling to know where to start with this, so I will start at the end. Home educated children are not generally thought of as being part of the entire education structure, which exists for parents to optionally outsource their Section 7 duty to cause their children to receive an efficient full-time education, which is suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. This outsourcing by parents is what enables the existence of an 'entire education structure'. Those of us who choose not to outsource our Section 7 (and incidentally, instinctive parenting) duties should not be inspected where there is no specific cause for concern.

I say that because the minute you start looking into something you suddenly find something that affects the little world that I come from, with my interests as a dyslexic and president of the British Dyslexia Association and my business interests in assistive technology.

That's interesting to me personally, because one of my now-adult sons was deregistered from primary school due to severe dyslexia. In desperation, after the school consistently punished him for not being able to spell etc, we got a private, detailed diagnosis - which the school then refused to read or even acknowledge. Home education improved his situation immeasurably.

In relation to Clause 2(2) and monitoring and support for education — that is, reading, writing and numeracy — it has to be said that the general provision within the educational establishment for supporting those with special educational needs is patchy at best.

Yes, I'd heard very little had changed since our well-documented problems over twenty years ago. I wrote to the Education Secretary amongst others to explain our experience and it seems to have changed nothing. I know we weren't the only ones.

The framework for the core content of initial teacher training was put out in July last year. Section 5 mentions for the first time that a few of the most common SENDs should be included in teacher training. It is that tenuous. If you have an institution such as this, how in hell is it going to monitor that you are doing this properly if you have taken your child out of the education system because it is not doing it?

Bit of a convoluted question, perhaps based on a misunderstanding. Deregistered children are known to their local authorities because the headteacher who received the deregistration letter is legally obliged to notify the local authority of it. Also, is Lord Addington suggesting that parents whose children's special educational needs have been failed by the school system should then be subjected to extra checks in home education? Because the school let the child down, the parents should not be trusted? It's a perplexing idea.

Suddenly, with the best of ​intentions, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has caught his toe in a bear trap. However, I am prepared to prise it open for him by saying that the monitoring of education, and some reference to it if he wants to keep it in there, would be better.

It seems like he is saying that very thing.

Now that we have good voice to text/text to voice technology, there is an argument about when you start using it for a child who is severely dyslexic — to go to what I know best. There is a huge argument there. “No, you must have spelling standards”. Let me give a personal example: my daughter’s spelling was better than mine when she was seven. A person who has anywhere near the degree of problem I have — very few do — is never going to learn to spell or write correctly, and the correct thing for them to do is to start using the very up-to-date technology that is creeping into everything now and is becoming more mainstream.

Yes, this is exactly my son's experience and conclusion. Home education has been perfect for him because it gave him full-time access to the latest technology that was unavailable to him in school.

You would not ask somebody in a wheelchair to complete a cross-country course, so you have to be careful about this. That is a traditional group, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. We have both come across it; we have both met people who have taken their children out of those situations because the school cannot cope, will not cope, does not have the money or does not understand. It goes on and on. That group must be catered for in this because they are doing the state a service by providing relevant help. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, has acknowledged that. We have to make sure we take it into account.

Actually, they are doing their child a service - as well as complying with their own legal duty as the child's parent. If the available schooling is not suitable for the child's needs then the parent has little choice but to make her own arrangements. The 'catering' that should be provided by the state is a suitable school. If it cannot do this, what can it do? Nothing.

However, I agree with everything else that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. I suspect that we have been briefed by similar people because I have many of the same points—of course not made as well, but there we are.

The most interesting line from the whole debate, in my opinion, and the explanation for eleven pointlessly identikit contributions to it. Is this supposed to be democratic?

People are disappearing

They really are not. It is not an episode of Dr Who.

— I will come back to the point about special educational needs — into very substandard education.

No, the substandard education is in schools.

As the noble Lord pointed out, children, too, have rights in education. Lots of arguments are going on about inclusion. I have always said that the child’s right to an education comes first.

Tell it to the schools, please.

We should bear that in mind. I hope that we will be able to bring this forward — but if you want to take a journey, you should start well. The first line of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is a very good start. If we can take that and develop it, we will be going down the right path.

The first line of the bill is: "A bill to make provision for local authorities to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education; and for connected purposes." I think Lord Soley has changed his mind about it already, so Lord Addington may be disappointed.

I hope that the Minister, when he answers, will be able to let me know how we are progressing on initial teacher training. I have not given him any warning of this question, so a letter will be fine. I hope we will be able to go on about that so that we can get an understanding about how that core group, which used to dominate this market, is being dealt with in the current education system, and also get an idea of the thinking about people who are taking spurious steps and, particularly, about private schools which are operating under the cover of home education. In the future, we need to talk more about those two things that have come out of the Bill.

A core group which used to dominate this market....? What a telling phrase.