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.

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