Have the Conservatives Shifted on Home Education?

Posted 17/08/2017 by randalluk
Categories: Home Education UK

This blog rarely gets my attention these days, but every so often something prompts me to add to its contents. I was nearly kicked into typing in January this year when Baroness Deech asked a question in the House of Lords about Home Education. On Wednesday 11 Jan. she prompted a short discussion by asking about the ‘S’ word – “safeguarding”:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Wood review of local safeguarding children boards, what steps they are taking to assess the risk to children in unrecognised school settings or receiving home education.

You can read the 7 minute discussion in full here in Hansard.

I intended highlighting this and the connection with OFSTED’s lobbying for the regulation of Home Education initiated by its recently retired chief Sir Michael Wilshaw. He had previously linked “unregistered schools” to home education. His attitude to HE made me wonder if he saw himself as the heir to Graham Badman, and his failed attempt to regulate home education. I wrote about this at the time here, here and here. Just before his retirement Wilshaw made a final effort to drag home education into the “illegal schools” debate. The BBC allowed him to conclude an interview with an unchallenged diatribe on the evils of home education. You can listen to an extract from the interview here or in full here (both on the BBC’s website). Baroness Deech did not seem to want his campaign to lose momentum after his retirement.

In the end other things distracted me and I never got round to commenting on this minor attempt to nudge the Government towards changing the law on HE in favour of more State intrusion. As it happened, this author did a much better job of highlighting the steady drip of lobbying being targeted at Ministers: The Casey Report: Alarm Bells for Home Educators? (If you have not heard of the Wood and Casey Reports, I encourage you to read this article.)

I first noticed Baroness Deech when she supported Badman’s proposed changes included in the Children’s Schools and Families Bill introduced by Ed Balls. I remember her from when the Second Reading of CSF Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 8 March, 2010. At the time I commented on that debate here.  Another noble lord who supported Badman on that occasion was Clive Soley.

At the start of the new Parliament following the recent General Election, Lord Soley became the latest to stand up and gnaw at the present law on home education in England. Let me be clear from the start that his Private Members Bill is very unlikely to make any real headway. Fiona Nicholson of Ed Yourself has done an excellent job here of detailing the track record of the failure of House of Lords Private Members Bills to get debated, never mind become law. I do not think therefore that there is any direct threat from this Bill, as insidious as it is, in that it is unlikely to become law. If you have not read the Bill, you can find its full text here. Here is the key extract:

 Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill (HL Bill 11)

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.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—
1 Duty of local authorities to monitor children receiving elective home education

(1) The Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 436A (duty to make arrangements to identify children not
receiving education), insert—

“436B Duty of local authorities to monitor children receiving elective home education

(1) Local authorities have a duty to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education in their area.
(2) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must register the child as such with their local authority.
(3) Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their area (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”).
(4) The assessment set out in subsection (3) must monitor the—

(a) educational;
(b) physical; and
(c) emotional

development of each child.
(5) The assessment may include—

(a) a visit to the child’s home;
(b) an interview with the child;
(c) seeing the child’s work; and
(d) an interview with the child’s parent.

(6) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must provide information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when requested.
(7) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument specify—

(a) the arrangements for parents to register a child with their local
authority under subsection (2); and
(b) the methodology of the assessment.

(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(9) In this section “elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them outside the school system.”

“Badman rides again!” is the only way to describe this bill.

Let me state again that I do not think this Bill has any real chance of becoming law, but it is yet another drip in the constant flow of drops from those seeking to nationalise other people’s children for their own ends. All this is being done in the name of safeguarding and more recently security, i.e. the latter to prevent “extremism”, though n0-one to date has given a clear definition of what that means, other than anything contrary to David Cameron’s ‘British Values’.

Lord Soley’s bill was discussed across most home education lists and I encouraged people not to think it was an immediate threat in itself, but to see it as part of a subtle, stealthy campaign to shift the Conservative Government away from its strong support for not changing English law on home education. I did encourage people to write to their MP (unless they were known to be anti-home education) and ask them to contact the Education Secretary on their behalf in the wake of it. Taking my own advice, my wife and I wrote to Owen Paterson, our MP, and asked him to raise the following on our behalf:

We would therefore be grateful if you could ask the Secretary of State for Education what the Government’s response is to the proposals contained in this new Bill. Please could you also ask if there has been any change in the Government’s views on home education since the start of 2016. We would appreciate it if she could confirm that children’s education will remain the responsibility of their parents throughout the life of this Parliament.

 We wrote to him in early July and at the start of August received a reply which included a copy of the following response from the Secretary of State. (Text below the image):

Justine Greening Letter 1 Aug 17

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State

Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street Westminster London SW1P 3BT
tel: 0370 000 2288 www.education.gov.uk/help/contactus

Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A OAA

1 August 2017

Dear Owen

Thank you for your letter of 5 July, enclosing correspondence from your constituents Mr and Mrs Hardy, about the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill.

As I am sure you will appreciate, I cannot comment directly on the Bill, except to emphasise that it is a Private Members’ Bill and, as such its contents are the responsibility of Lord Soley as its sponsor. The Government will respond to the Bill at the appropriate parliamentary stage.

We recognise that issues such as registration, monitoring and educational diversity for home educated children are ones on which there are strong opinions, on both sides of the debate. We want all children to receive a good education whether they attend school, or are educated in some other way, and we need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place are fit for purpose.

Thank you for writing to me on this important matter.

Best Wishes
Justine

RT HON JUSTINE GREENING MP

I have no problem nor am I surprised by her not commenting at this stage on Clive Soley’s bill, but that was not the point of our letter. At the start of 2016 we wrote to the previous Education Secretary about a newspaper report stating that she had ordered a review into home education (details here). Nicky Morgan replied and included this key commitment:

I can assure Mr and Mrs Hardy that we fully respect the right for parents to educate their children at home, providing a suitable education is delivered full time. This proposal does not interfere with parents who choose to educate their children at home.

It may be my suspicious mind, but it seems to me that that was a far clearer response that Justine Greening was able to give us earlier this month. Gone is the “respect for the right for parents to educate their children at home” and it has been replaced with the “need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place are fit for purpose”. [Emphasis mine of course.] That to me suggests a shift in the Conservatives’ stand on home education.

Together with the Liberal Democrats, they stood firm in 2010 against the Balls and Badman attempt to regulate (control) who can home educate and what they should teach. Now, following persistent erosion from certain educationalists and their political allies, I believe their resolve is wearing thin, and we are slowly moving closer to another significant attempt to change the law on home education in England.

You may not think that the current Government will u-turn on this matter, but please remember that in the last 7 years the Conservative Party has made some very significant changes of direction on a variety of issues. Even if the law remains unchanged for the life of this Parliament, who knows what will happen when Labour regain power, as they almost certainly will one day, be that under Corbyn or one of his successors. Badman came out of the blue, and there was great relief when his proposals went down the plughole in the pre-election ‘Wash-up”. However, since then there has been a significant softening up of politicians by repeated cries of “Wolf!” in regard to home education. At all levels of politics the message that home education is “dangerous” is getting across! From personal contact we know that “safeguarding” is now a major worry for local councillors. The home educating community need to remain on the alert and do all they can to promote the positive face of their chosen life-style. Why not tell our political representatives how well our children do when they get out into the big wide-world?

Early in this post I linked to an article which asked if there were alarm bells sounding for home educators? That author responded to Lord Soley’s bill with a change of tone. You can read their comments on it here: Persistent Alarm Bells for Home Educators.

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Nicky Morgan Comments on Home Education

Posted 13/02/2016 by randalluk
Categories: Home Education UK

My previous two posts, The Propaganda Machine Turns Once Again and Thank You BBC, were in response to a report in the Independent headlined, “Nicky Morgan orders review on home schooling amid fears children having minds ‘poisoned’ by radicalised parents”. This article was published on Sunday 20 December 2016. In my first post I encouraged readers to write to their MP asking them to ask the Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education if there was any truth in the report. This is something we did ourselves at the start of January, and yesterday (12 Feb.) we received her reply which has been forwarded to us by our own MP, Owen Paterson.

A scan of her letter is below; the full text follows the image.

160203NickyMorganLetter

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP
Secretary of State

Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street Westminster London SWIP 3BT
tel: 0370 000 2288 www.education.gov.uk/help/contactus

Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A OAA

3 February 2016

Dear Owen

Thank you for your letter of 13 January, enclosing correspondence from your constituent Mr and Mrs Hardy, about home education.

The article in The Independent to which Mr and Mrs Hardy refer centres on the risk posed by some tuition centres and part-time settings which offer services to parents who educate their children at home. Parents who educate their children at home are free to use other providers to supplement their own efforts. There is evidence from Ofsted reports and local authorities, however, that in some cases these settings can otter poor education and pose a safeguarding risk, thus making these children vulnerable to harm or at an increased risk of radicalisation.

We are determined to ensure that this problem is addressed. My department has recently completed a call for evidence on the proposed system tor registering and inspecting out-of-school education settings and I am currently considering how to take forward the proposals for regulation of such settings. I can assure Mr and Mrs Hardy that we fully respect the right tor parents to educate their children at home, providing a suitable education is delivered full time. This proposal does not interfere with parents who choose to educate their children at home.

Thank you for writing on this important matter.

Yours ever

Nicky

RT HON NICKY MORGAN MP

 What then are we to make of the Minister’s reply?

In the first place we may choose to disagree that the Independent’s report was focussed on “the risk posed by some tuition centres and part-time settings which offer services to parents who educate their children at home.” It clearly wasn’t – though it was set in the context of those concerns. I am not alone in thinking this because when others members of the media followed on with their own reports (see my earlier two posts for links) they too focussed on the “proposed review of home education”. Now it may be that Ms. Morgan does not wish to admit that one of her staff spoke out of turn, or that she does not have control over Sir Michael Wilshaw’s OFSTED and it was he who was briefing against her. Whatever the reason she failed to directly address the content of the article, the HE community can be grateful that she did not say, “Yes, I have ordered a complete review to be completed a.s.a.p.”

I believe we can also be thankful that she concludes her letter with this comment:

I can assure Mr and Mrs Hardy that we fully respect the right for parents to educate their children at home, providing a suitable education is delivered full time. This proposal does not interfere with parents who choose to educate their children at home.

I suspect that the reference to “delivered full time” is more in the context of unregistered schools than any legal definition of “full time”, for none exists especially with reference to home education. Given that clarification, it is good that the Education Secretary has restated that the present government fully respects the right of parents to educate their children themselves.

I have posted Nicky Morgan’s reply here because it is the first comment I know of from her since the Independent reported that she had ordered a review of home education. I hope that we were not the only ones to write to her over this matter, and I suspect others will receive a similar response if they have not done so already.

This does not mean however that the HE community can relax; there is plenty of work still to be done educating local authority councillors and their staff on the legal status of home education.