A Further Opportunity to Register your Views with the Education Committee

Their inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services provides a second opening to tell MPs how the DfE failed your children over this year’s national qualifications

What’s been said?

A long-running Education Committee inquiry is receiving evidence at present. Launched in March, responses can be submitted until Sunday 20 December. This one concerns “The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services”.

Information is requested about how COVID-19 has affected all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system, so the terms of reference are wide-ranging. The Committee want to hear about “short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations” as well as “longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children.”

The effect of exam cancellations, problems with awarding of grades and future uncertainties for private candidates are probably the first things that spring to mind, but there are other topic areas where the HE community can make constructive contributions.

Why does it matter?

The Education Committee’s brief includes “scrutinis[ing] how the Department for Education is dealing with the situation.” Since such means of holding the DfE to account exist, it is worth taking up this opportunity of communicating the impact of recent months on your home educated children.

Do focus on your responses to the Home Education Call for Evidence first though – that closing date is fast approaching. The good news is that the Impact of COVID Call closes later, so any relevant material from your response to the HE-specific one could be adapted for use there too.

The area most likely to prompt feedback from HE parents is: “The effect of cancelling formal exams, including the fairness of qualifications awarded and pupils’ progression to the next stage of education or employment.”

Oral Evidence sessions have already taken place, and on 2 September MP Christian Wakeford raised the problems experienced by private candidates (Q999). You can watch this meeting or download the transcript here. (Resits are mentioned later, but not discussed in detail.)

HE input would be useful in related topic areas too. For instance, were you affected by the delay in the  publication of BTEC results? If so, Q1005-1009 are the relevant ones to read. Do you have young people heading for “apprenticeships and other workplace-based education courses?” Did events of recent months cause them difficulties in this regard? Here’s another opportunity to put this on record.

Whichever route you followed, the final topic about “contingency planning” gives an opening to insist that EHE young people do not experience discrimination again “in case of any future national emergency.”

Evidence is also requested about “Children’s and young people’s mental health and safety outside of the structure and oversight of in-person education.” [Emphasis added]

The way this sentence is expressed reflects a view common amongst politicians and civil servants that children outside the structure and oversight of their version of  “in-person education” (a.k.a. school) are potentially at risk. As twelve year old Lilian Hardy pithily remarked to her mother back in 2018, “I think we need to educate people about home education”.

The HE community knows full well that by opting for elective home education they have been enabled to provide in-person education of a very high standard, all the better for being tailored to their particular family’s needs and interests. But there is an urgent need to communicate this to those who still think children’s mental health and safety are endangered if they are outside the “structure and safety” of the school system.

So wisdom is needed in making a balanced response. On the one hand, given the resilience and resourcefulness of many in the HE community, it is likely that HE parents have not been as “phased” by the COVID episode as many parents of schooled children. “In-person education” has certainly continued for children in home education, and their mental health and safety has remained under the oversight of those who love them most. (Even in extremis circumstances such as family bereavement can be handled in a more timely and sensitive way in the home setting.)

However, many HE children have been affected by the closure of their groups and normal activities during lockdown. Though their home learning environment remained constant and their studies were not totally disrupted, life did not carry on as normal for them. Here then is an opportunity to cite your own experiences.

There is also a category for communicating any impacts on children with special educational needs and disabilities.

What can I do?

Many people struggle with devising responses to obtuse consultation questions. Call for Evidence topic areas give more scope for personalised responses and real-life experience, but do keep them focused and concise.

Be firm, but remain polite and avoid rants. Combine an honest account of any difficulties you faced with factual information about the outcomes for your young people.

If you are preparing young people for autumn resits or for exams next summer, you could reiterate your point about equality of inclusion and facilitating awards for candidates who study privately.

Finally, please be aware too that the Regulating Independent Educational Institutions consultation has been relaunched. This was withdrawn on 7 May due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and reinstated on 13 October . It now closes on 27 November and responses provided before the suspension do not need to be resubmitted.

In February we explained the connection between this consultation and the 2019 Children Not In School one. We also stressed that it will be important that “the stated intention that ‘the registration requirement would not apply to a parent providing home education to his or her children,'” be written in to any primary legislation arising from these proposals.

Further Calls for Evidence or consultations are not what anyone wants. However, it is possible to use them to our advantage at a time when the whole educational system is under huge strain. Let’s speak up for Elective Home Education as a real and positive educational option which we want to see fairly represented and protected in the new paradigm which will emerge after the pandemic is over.