It would be easy to think that the victory for home educating families over the Balls-Badman assault on our families all came in the hectic 56 hours between 10 am on Tuesday 6th April and 6 pm the following Thursday. That is all it took between Gordon Brown visiting Buckingham Palace, so triggering the dissolution of Parliament, and a much curtailed CSF Bill receiving Royal Assent. However, it should be obvious to all that it was the efforts of very many HE families educating their MP’s in particular, which gained the support we needed early in the Bill’s life, which secured the support of both main opposition parties so as to ensure the demise of Clause 26 and Schedule 1, when the Wash-up came. What happens next will depend mainly on the result of the election, but that is for another Parliament.
Having begun the task of documenting the Bill’s passage through Westminster in both video and audio files, I thought my archive would not be complete without including the relevant snippets from Wednesday and Thursdays action packed, but almost entirely procedural, sittings in both Houses of Parliament.
House of Lords – Wed. 7th April
The CSF Bill was a long way down the queue for its airing in the Lords. This meant it was after 11 pm before peers reached the Clauses 26 & 27 and when they did it was over and done with in around 1½ minutes. It only took that long because the Conservatives wanted it on the record that they thought the power to regulate HE in Wales should be devolved to the Assembly there. (Personally, if I lived there I would think that was preferable to leaving it with Westminster.) I have not been able to capture the video of these few seconds, but I do have the audio. The events are recorded here in Hansard (scroll up just 2 lines for the best bits), but it does not detail the quip by the person in the chair, whom I presume is the Deputy Lord Speaker.
I love the moment where he says concerning the vote on Schedule 1:
The Not Contents, I am glad to say my lords, have it.
He was not as glad as hundreds of HE families across the country were to see it ripped out of Ball’s Bad(man) Bill!
House of Commons – Thurs. 8th April
The CSF Bill was also low down on the order papers in this place, but it was to have its brief moment. It took just 50 minutes in all between 2:16 and 3:06 pm. It is all in Hansard starting here and covers just one and two part pages.
HE was mentioned by all the main speakers, but only the briefest from Vernon Coaker the minister who was looking after the Bill’s during its demise. To make up for it he did mention HE twice – here is his first brief comment.
Observant viewers will note his promise – or was it a threat – to
…bring these matters back before Parliament in the near future, along with other measures that we have had to remove from the Bill, such as toughening home-school agreements, home education and the ability to collect data for the new school report card.
He was followed by Nick Gibb, who also had two comments to make, both in the same speech and the second of much more substance.
He too highlighted Labour’s commitment to reinstating their proposals if they win the election, by quoting Ed Balls’ letter to Michael Gove after he had to agree to the dissection of his work:
“I will be campaigning to ensure that this Government is returned and that these measures do make it on to the statute book in the first session of the new Parliament.” (Full letter here.)
Perhaps the most forceful points came from the Liberal Democrats’ designated spokesman, Phil Willis.
It is worth quoting his main comment on HE in full:
My last comment is on home education. There is a fundamental flaw in our thinking in this country-this was brought home in the debate with the home educators-that it is the state’s job to educate our children. It is not; it is the parents’ job. The Education Act 1944, and indeed Forster’s great Act of 1870-an Act brought about by that great Bradford Member of Parliament-both state that it is the parents’ duty to educate their children, and that the state acts as a convenient default mechanism when necessary, which most of us, myself included, have used.
I completely agree with that!
Next to speak was Christopher Chope (Con) who reminded the House (and HE families his intended audience) how fortunate it was that Balls only came up with his plan so late in the life of the Government.
It was now up to Vernon Coaker to conduct the ‘Last Rights’ on Clauses 26 & 27 as well as Schedule 1. However, in doing so he had to protest for one last time that their plans were always well intentioned. In doing so he did manage to put forward yet another ‘reason‘ for proposing them in the Bill.
Did you spot it? DfCSF ministers have repeatedly switched between Badman’s report and the Bill being about education standards and at other times about safeguarding. Now, in the last days of that same team comes yet another excuse:
We did not intend to oppose home education. We strongly support it, and the right of people to educate their children at home. The clauses that have now been withdrawn drew attention to the need to know more precisely where children were. That was the point of the compulsory registration scheme. If people were to ask whether the state or local authorities knew where all young people were, the answer would sometimes be no, and I think that that raises important questions. We did not wish to end people’s right to educate their children at home; we were merely suggesting that there should be a better understanding of what was going on.
No matter how much I try to find it in all the words that have been spent on these plans by those who have argued for them, I cannot see anything which suggests something as inoffensive as an information gathering exercise. What I saw was a foundation laying exercise which could in the future lead not just to a licensing scheme for HE, but also the means to prescribe what should be taught and how. In the present climate of an ever increasing tick-box bureaucracy these proposals could easily become the means of disqualifying parents from home education simply because they do not match up to the ‘fit and proper persons’ image in the mind of lower level local government staff! Remember that OFSTED has already proposed that CRB checks should be mandatory for parents who wish to HE! See here for its submission to the CSF Select Committee, which argued:
Para. 3.2.3, sub-point 3
Current guidance states that parents may employ other people to educate their children and that parents are responsible for ‘ensuring that those whom they engage are suitable to have access to children’. Registration would not of itself prevent those who have a conviction for offences against children, including parents, step-parents or privately-employed home tutors, from home educating children. Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks should be a requirement of registration.
I think that is enough for now. Whilst I am nor sure the Parliamentary dishwasher got rid of all the grime in every Bill during these hectic two days, I am very thankful that this greasy chunk of ideology driven ‘reform’ went down the drain at speed!