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.

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