England: round-up of key topics
The Education Select Committee’s Inquiry into Home Education came to a climax at the end of July when its report was published. I have put my summary of developments and their relevance to the future of EHE in a separate comment, for those who wish to understand more about its significance.
The Department for Education is under continued pressure for not responding to its Children Not in School consultation which ran from April to June 2019. As pressure has mounted it has restated many times that it is committed to introducing a registration scheme of CNiS, but does not intend any other changes in legislation in respect to monitoring of EHE children. The most recent statement to make this point is its response to a petition launched after the publication of the Education Committee’s Report.
Written questions about EHE and related matters have continued to be asked by MP’s and Lords. A search lists 56 questions which feature “home education” in either the question or the answer during the last twelve months. Often the questions are simply a form of lobbying, but they are also commonly an expression of ignorance on the part of an MP – peers tend to be better informed.
Lord Soley briefly took centre stage on 21 July in putting pressure on the DfE to introduce registration (and monitoring). His Normal Oral Question was allowed just ten minutes of debate in the House of Lords, and according to Humanists UK six of the nine peers who asked questions were members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Minister Baroness Berridge stuck to the DfE’s script in her answers.
The Judicial Review of Portsmouth City Council’s EHE Policy will be heard on 18th October in the Administrative Court, Bristol. PCC have done all they can to obstruct the process, but lost an important procedural stage on 11 August when the Judge approved a request for a costs cap, and an expedited process were granted by the court in full. The Judge was very clear in their decision that they considered the issue to be of national importance and therefore deserving of a full judicial review hearing. Latest updates along with links to the Judge’s Ruling and a FAQ document are on the Portsmouth Home Education Group fundraiser page. The Judge’s comments confirm what HE communities have recognised for some time, that this case is actually a test of the legality of the 2019 non-statutory guidance on EHE.
Ofsted continues to press for registration of EHE children, the latest example being Amanda Spielman’s comments in this BBC News item broadcast on 27 August.
Of particular note is her comment to the Education Committee during an Accountability Hearing on 15 June which illustrates her view that the state, not parents, has primacy over education and that she has little regard for civil liberties. In Q838 she commented:
“That is really important, but more generally throughout my time I have been pushing for a registration requirement for home-schooled children so that we know who they are, where they are and who is taking responsibility for their education. Without that it is impossible for anyone to monitor. It is a relatively difficult thing to establish in this country because we are permissive by default and always have been, not just in education. We do not have a national identity card requirement. People do not have to prove their right to exist every day or to access any service. However, I do think this is a particularly important one and I welcome the proposals that have been published, which are, I hope, coming back and being resuscitated in DfE now that it is moving out of emergency mode.” [Emphasis mine.]
The response to Covid-19 and the chaos caused by it in schools, colleges, etc. is what Spielman meant by her final comment in the above paragraph. It has severely affected the inner workings of the DfE, not just with an ever-changing situation, but also because the majority of its staff have been working from home for over a year and a half. My personal conviction is that without this disruption, the DfE may by now have moved its plans for a registration scheme forward perhaps to the stage where an Education Bill containing proposals was already before Parliament.
How severe is the disruption? On 9 February Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee, told Channel 4 News, that “We’ve got the four horsemen of education apocalypse galloping towards our children.” A phrase he recycled at the end of June at the start of this article in the Telegraph “Act now to reform education or a generation of ghost children will be pandemic’s haunting legacy”.
The disruption of A Level’s and GCSE examinations in the last two years has severely impacted EHE candidates. The shift to “teacher assessed grades” has not worked well for them, even though this year the DfE funded exam centres to make it possible for private candidates to be awarded grades. One disadvantage of the scheme was that it did not apply to IGCSEs, as these are not classified as “national exams” like GCSEs. In many subjects, however, the GCSE syllabi are designed for school children not independent candidates studying from home, and so IGCSEs are favoured by many EHE families. In October 2020 a new association was formed by EHE families to discuss the problems faced by private candidates – see the Home Educators’ Qualifications Association website for more information.
N.B. Whilst younger HE children have in many ways been the least affected educationally by repeated lockdowns, many have missed the socialisation they were used to in local EHE groups and outdoor activities.
A new Children’s Commissioner for England was appointed in March. One of Dame Rachel de Souza’s first initiatives was to launch The Big Ask, the biggest ever survey of children in England, and the outcome has yet to be announced. A major weakness was that it was indeed an exercise in asking children rather than listening to them. One positive aspect was that Education Otherwise was asked to organise <an on-line session at which HE young people spoke with her staff>. EO reports, “The young people certainly challenged the Commissioner to do better.” It will not be hard for her to be more positive about EHE than her predecessor Anne Longfield, but regrettably her initial response to the Education Committee’s recent report> suggests that she has still to heed their voices.
Interest from the media continues. On Monday 6 September, ITV Regional News carried the following report:
Isle of Man & Wales
The most encouraging news this year concerning EHE has come from the Isle of Man. In early February the Education Minister announced that plans to increase requirements on EHE parents had been dropped. Importantly he recognised that the Island’s laws, which are based mainly on UK law, already possess “existing powers within the Act to allow the Department to investigate and require more information if it appears that an individual child is not receiving suitable education, and I think that safeguarding part is extremely important.”
Whilst the situation in Wales has been relatively quiet compared to England, it remains finely balanced. After the previous administration abandoned proposals for both the registration and monitoring of HE children due to disruption caused by the response to Covid-19, The Children’s Commissioner for Wales announced last September that she was conducting a Review of the Government’s failure to act in the interests of children in regard to EHE and Independent Schools. She published her Review in February and updated her comments on the holding page in June following the election of the new Senedd.
Whilst the previous Welsh Government issued its response, the present one has still to announce what action it will be taking.
In recent weeks it was also noted that the Welsh Government had published a compilation of 144 submissions received to its Local authority education databases consultation. However, it was spotted that they had failed to redact the IP Address of one respondent. The document is currently not available from the consultation web page; however a copy is available here with the offending IP details obscured. Like the responses to the Westminster Education Inquiry, this document provides a wealth of information for anyone with the time to read and comment on its contents.
France & Portugal
France: In October last year President Macron announced proposals for an anti-extremism Bill which would include the banning of home education except in exceptional circumstances. The Bill, including the HE proposals, was passed in July. Parents’ organisations lodged a formal appeal with the French Council on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, but the Council rejected their appeal on 13 August. I understand that there may be a further opportunity for others to object to the provisions of the Bill regarding HE, but the outcome is far from certain.
Most available information is in French; one website has posted a summary in English, but it isn’t very clear. Information in French: The French Council’s ruling see section concerning article 49; droit-instruction.org & lesenfantsdabord.org.
Portugal: In April a law was passed under Covid-19 emergency powers to impose further restrictions on home education. Information has been hard to find, but according to the HSLDA:
“At the moment, regulations are under development with the new Home Education Decree no. 55/2018 that established a curriculum for primary and secondary education, guiding principles and organizations and evaluation of learning… The Decree gives total authority to the central government to disapprove “requests” to homeschool and requires parents to have a university degree before they apply.”
More detailed information is available on Ericeira Living website.