Thursday, July 07, 2011

Localism Bill - emergency Trojan Horse alert for home educators.

I haven’t blogged for a long time. Apart from some talk about a bunch of clowns trying to write a set of guidelines to which they daren’t even put their names, nothing much seems to have been happening in the world of home education politics since Graham Stuart’s speech to the Commons at the defeat of the horrific 20-day deregistration clause. Consequently I've been digging our field instead of blogging.

But now there's something to cause us to jam the brakes on developing the self-sufficient dream, stop cruising happily along and come screeching to a halt, dropping the spade and everything. To look, suddenly, in the field full of horses nearby - because something's not quite right with it somehow. They all look innocent enough, quietly grazing away there - except one, which looks a bit oversized and yes.... wooden. A fake horse. A Trojan Horse. Quite convincing though - I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been for Neil T's helicopter searchlight patiently shining on it, pointing it out to anyone with eyes who cares to see.

The fact that this horse must have been there for quite some time, slowly advancing below the radar, is pretty scary. Its builders must possess some skill and so I just know that whatever's concealed inside it can only mean one thing: Big Trouble.

Sigh. I'd much rather just keep digging away here and keep ignoring the weird looking things in other fields, despite my growing unease and despair about them all, despite my - surely paranoid? - feeling that they all seem to be getting closer. Digging earth and tending crops are quiet and contemplative activities, while the children play happily nearby in the grass and the trees. For a long time I can pretend that all is still right with the world. But I know that to ignore that particular searchlight is to lay down and die. And I can't do that to my children and future grandchildren. I have to address the issue - which means approaching the horse and inspecting its contents.

Luckily Neil has beaten us to it, extracted them and laid them out on the grass for us to see. And he's jumping up and down with his searchlight again, shouting "OVER HERE!" He's even made some helpful, eye-catching signs in large print, comprising full explanations in case we didn't recognise them for what they are. I don't know what we'd do without his help, and that of a few others of his ilk. Next to nothing, in my case, except keep digging and try to look the other way - even though I was fast running out of other ways to look.

What exactly is laid out on the ground, then? Some parts of a huge machine: it can only be the one taking shape in the distance - the only machine anyone's working on, these days. (In fact, most people seem to be working on it in some way or another - whether they realise it or not!) So big by now that it keeps blocking out the sun. The machine we're told is going to help us all, but I can't see how my crops can grow and my children can thrive without sunlight, so I don't believe them.

However, I don't see how I - just one insignificant person - can do anything to stop it being built, so I've been trying to ignore it and concentrate on helping the crops and kids instead, in spite of the lengthening cold, dark times. What else could I do? Also - significantly - I don't personally remember asking for help in the first place, but never mind. Such details are lost in the midst of time now, and we're here. Looking at these things on the ground.

These parts look like yet more of the same kind of universal little cogs we're all so used to seeing everywhere around that they've become part of the scenery. But according to Neil's signs, they're quite definitely not the same kind. No, these are *vital components* in transit. In disguise, wrongly labelled, packed up in a Trojan Horse. Neil's right: they must be important.

The box is labelled: Localism Bill, which sounds like a good and useful thing, surely? We've all been feeling starved of proper communication and real democracy at the local level - not to mention that nourishing sense of belonging and protection one feels from prolongued co-operation with one's neighbours. Real local community. That's where most of the important decisions should be made - collectively and face-to-face, in people's kitchens or at most, in village halls. With everyone given chance to speak, no matter how big or small. This might be good news then...? Neil's shaking his head slowly. (First group on this page, if you want to read for yourself, although posting anything on there is a bit like blogging, or booking a spot on the open mic session at a big, busy pub. Pretty daunting in itself! Crowds of spectators, loads of whispering behind hands. Lots of not paying attention. Not much open feedback or response, since responding in itself is to grab the mic and draw attention to oneself, isn't it?)

Its contents include, in 'plain English', the following:

General power of competence

Local authorities´ powers and responsibilities are defined by legislation. In simple terms, they can only do what the law says they can. [Neil says: "ie. they are not free to act ultra vires." (outside the law)] Sometimes councils are wary of doing something new - even if they think it might be a good idea - because they
are not sure whether they are allowed to in law, and are concerned about the possibility of being challenged in the courts.

The Government thinks that we need to turn this assumption upside down.Instead of being able to act only where the law says they can, local authorities should be free to do anything - provided they do not break other laws. [Neil says: "In other words, be free to act ultra vires."]

The Localism Bill includes a `general power of competence´. [Neil says: "ie. power without competence!"] It will give local authorities the legal capacity to do anything that an individual can do that is not specifically prohibited; they will not, for example, be able to impose new taxes, as an individual has no power to tax."

More from Neil:

"Legally [it will mean] I can ask you if I can come and visit you in your home and see you home educating your child! Currently, despite such widespread and long established custom, this is currently an abuse of power, a misrepresentation of powers they do not possess when the LEA does it. They will be able to fix that, and goodness knows what else if the localism bill becomes law. :-( Oh, and they will have the power to tax us for these 'services', so the above example is as disingenuous as it is possible to be."

In other words, our current power as families to restrict officials' ability to monitor, test and otherwise control our home education provision - our ability to say "STOP. You can't do that, because it goes beyond the law," (and the only means we had to keep the Badman/Balls dream from becoming a horrific reality) - will be removed from us. This power will be negated. We won't be able to use it any more. It will no longer apply.

That's what was in the Trojan Horse, and how it will affect home education in England.

So now we know, now that we've all seen it for what it is (in part. I'm sure it's lots of other things besides!) - what are we going to do about it?


Blogger Tim said...

Now, I can see why this is a concern and while I can see that this might encourage councils to turn up on people's doorsteps and demand to be let in to watch the home-edding, I don't think it would enable them to do anything if you refused to let them. They would still need explicit powers to enter someone's home.

Which this would not give them.

10:49 am, July 07, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

That sounds reassuring Tim, if it's the case.

11:15 am, July 07, 2011  
Blogger Firebird said...

The key seems to be "(1) A local authority has power to do anything that individuals generally may do." and individuals may NOT monitor how I meet my EHE duties unless I expressly allow them to.

I've read a few briefings, most with a specific concern and agenda, and there's a general air of unease on one side and a feeling on the other that it won't make any practical difference.

Oh I can certainly see some LA EHE inspector trying it on, just like they'll quote CME or ECM or anything else they think will daze and confuse their victims into compliance, but I'm not seeing how it's going to grant them any additional powers.

It's good to keep a close eye on any and all new legislation, "the Price of freedom is eternal vigilance", but so far I just don't see that this one is the problem that Neil is saying it is.

1:22 pm, July 07, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

That sounds encouraging too. Thanks.

1:54 pm, July 07, 2011  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Wondering how it differs from Labour's 2000 Well Being Power....

about which I have quietly panicked for a while.

6:37 pm, July 07, 2011  
Blogger lucy.web said...

Thanks for flagging this up, Gill. I'm not on the home ed lists atm so I don't see things other than here, and this feels like a significant thing. It's ringing alarm bells for me in two main ways. Firstly because although I take the point that yes, if the LEA/council come knocking on the door then those of us who know the law will still, as always, have the right to tell them to bog off … but I worry about those people who *don’t* know the law. What will happen to them? And how will their reaction lead to changes in the law that might erode our rights further? It seems like a foot in the door too far, for me.

And the biggest alarm bell for me was how it seems to mesh with French law, which holds the position that you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. I wasn’t aware of this before we moved here but it’s a hangover (apparently) from Napoleonic law, and it seems to be the basis behind much of French life. If the government decides you’re doing something wrong then it is down to the individual to prove you’re not (obviously with *far* inferior resources and expertise), and not up to the govt to prove that you are, iyswim. This is a seemingly trivial thing but is, IMO, *huge*. You don’t need to read many sci-fi books etc to know this hardly ever turns out well for individual people.

This Localism Bill seems like yet more frog boiling, doesn't it? I wonder how much more they have to turn up the heat for enough of us to jump out of the pot?

6:43 pm, July 08, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

Carlotta, I've got that bookmarked to read now (she says with trepidation!)

Lucy, thanks so much for that. I think you've just hit a rather large nail right on the head.

7:43 am, July 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they are given the same powers as the individual, I can't see how that allows them to encroach on the privacy of our own homes.

For instance, I couldn't walk over the road to my neighbour and demand to enter and see her children, so I fail to see how they could, either. Unless there's something I'm missing...

12:28 am, July 18, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Daisy. My understanding is that this bill/act will change the fundamental way we interface with officials though. We will no longer be able to say to them "You can't do that: it's not within your powers," and expect to have our position supported. After the bill is passed, officials will no longer be constrained in their actions by the boundaries of regulation.

7:49 am, July 18, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

And it's at the committee stage of the House of Lords. So: nearly passed.

7:50 am, July 18, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate that, but even if the bill is passed, they have no more right to enter your home than I do.

The law doesn't prevent them from requesting it, but it doesn't support it, either.

As has been mentioned, those who will be most affected are newcomers to home-ed who aren't fully aware of their rights and obligations.

We had an EWO trying to pass the Badman report off as actual legislation last year. When it comes to home-ed, you really have to be on your toes.

12:12 pm, July 18, 2011  
Blogger Gill said...

"Instead of being able to act only where the law says they can, local authorities should be free to do anything - provided they do not break other laws."

So we'll be constantly having to demonstrate that they're breaking other laws. Which - I agree - isn't much different from now in some situations, but I think it might make other situations worse.

You're right - we definitely have to be on our toes. Can't believe this bill got so far through Parliament before one of us (Neil) noticed what it could mean for us.

12:59 pm, July 18, 2011  

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