Amanda Spielman on Monitoring and Civil Liberties

Amanda Spielman on Monitoring and Civil Liberties

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector expresses her frustrations that traditional British values work against the registration and monitoring of home educated children

What’s been said?

Despite its failures to provide a formal response to the submissions received to its inquiry into home education, the Education Select Committee continues to be a platform for its Chair, Robert Halfon, to lobby for both the registration and monitoring of EHE children, the two most recent occasions being Accountability Hearings with Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman on 15 June, and Minister of Education, Gavin Williamson on 23 June.

It is not the purpose of this comment to speculate about why Halfon has chosen to take up a baton previously carried by Graham Badman and Lord Soley, but to look at the messages he is receiving in response from those he presses on this important matter.

On the whole, the Education Secretary kept to the established mantra of his department: they have an “absolute commitment to a register,” and it is “imminent as to when this will be brought forward.” [read/watch] It is concerning though that he departed from the normal script when pressed:

“Should there be at least some element of standardisation in home education? For example, home educated children could be assessed once a year and there could be clear minimum expectations about what children should cover.”

Weakly he responded:

“As part of the register we were not looking at doing that, but we are always open to it.”

This makes clear that no matter what noises have been made in the past by the DfE suggesting that LAs already have the monitoring powers they need, registration remains the thin end of the monitoring wedge.

The implications of Spielman’s responses to Halfon’s questions however should send a very large shiver down the spine of everyone who values a free society, home educator or not. In responding to the Chair’s lengthy opening question about EHE, the Chief Inspector seemingly considered herself sufficiently amongst friends to speak more freely than those with influence normally do. [read/watch]

“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…”

Why does it matter?

There is much in this nine minute exchange we could comment on, including Spielman’s welcome recognition that the state does not, “attempt to impose uniformity within the school system, let alone outside.” However, her desire to set aside established civil liberties in order to impose state supervision on responsible parents is so important it cannot be ignored.

No HE family can allow themselves to assume that registration is a stand-alone exercise – Spielman clearly sees it as a means to achieve the main objective of monitoring. Of course, like so many others, she pitches this as a safeguarding matter, but Halfon is now regularly pressing hard for HE children to have to take both Key Stage tests and GCSEs (see Q841). As in schools, in time this requirement will try to measure not simply the quality of education, but also the content of the education provided. That is the only possible outcome if testable criteria are imposed on EHE children.

Spielman’s comments about Britain being a society which has so far resisted identity cards and other means of state surveillance, reveal that for whatever reason she believes that citizens should not be free to act responsibly unless they have been given permission to do so. Governments which supervise their citizens in this way are not unknown today, China and North Korea being two prominent examples. Not to mention that for the last year and half, communities around the globe have accepted with very little complaint being restricted to their homes unless they had an “approved” reason to be elsewhere.

By now home educators should be very familiar with Lady Hales’ comments in the Supreme Court’s 2016 judgement on the Scottish Named Person Scheme, but they are worth repeating here:

“The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.” [Para.73]

For those who are not aware, as part of its “Getting it Right for Every Child” legislation, the Scottish Government sought to impose a state-appointed official who would have access to information on every child without the knowledge of their parents. All this is based on a particular interpretation of Human Rights legislation and the belief that children belong collectively to the state. It is out of such a belief that totalitarian leanings, such as those expressed by Spielman, emerge.

In her answer to Halfon’s second question [839], speaking about vulnerable children who did not attend schools during the lockdowns, Spielman conflated them with those who are electively home educated:

“There was the loss of that eye of the teacher that is so important for children in mainstream schools, which we do not have for home-educated children. How we get that eye and that physical eye, not just a phone call, really matters. I will make myself unpopular with the home education lobby by saying this, but I do think that, as a nation, we should be concerned about having children who no one ever sees.”

One is tempted to shout in protest, “HE children are seen every day by their parents, by other members of their families and by people in their communities!”

Ironically, this Evidence Session was in two parts, with the first being focussed on “[sexual] safeguarding in schools” and the failure of most schools to protect children they see five days a week. Neither can we ignore the fact that shortly after the session finished, the Tes website ran this headline “Ofsted: Nude pupil pictures not a safeguarding issue.” The following day the Chief Inspector sought to “clarify a few things.”

What can I do?

First, in regard to Williamson’s giving of ground on monitoring as well as reaffirming that proposals for a registration scheme are “imminent,” now is the time to think through how you and your family are going to respond. Are you going to accept state supervision, or are you going to resist the totalitarian ambitions of those who think your sons and daughters belong to them?

Secondly, think carefully about Spielman’s comments on the problems caused by civil liberties. Like the Named Person Scheme, her words have implications reaching far beyond home educating families. Perhaps people you know who don’t get EHE might be more concerned about losing their own freedom to think and live by their sincerely held convictions. They will also probably be alarmed by her attitude to the failure of schools to safeguard pupils on an industrial scale.