Children’s Commissioner for England pushes for monitoring and makes claim about Department of Education decision on register during Education Committee hearing
What’s been said?
On 6 October 2020 during a Parliamentary House of Commons Education Committee, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England was asked about her current work. This was at an accountability hearing which the Committee regularly holds with Department of Education “arms-length bodies, including Ofsted, Ofqual and the Children’s Commissioner.” Only two questions in this hearing – #1020 and #1021 – referred specifically to home education, but both they and their associated answers are very revealing.
Firstly, and demonstrating an astonishing disrespect for hard-working EHE parents, MP Jonathan Gullis asked Longfield what changes she thinks are needed “in the system of home schooling to ensure we can safeguard children and ensure that the parents or carers who are in charge of that child’s learning are acting in an appropriate and responsible way.”
In her reply, Anne Longfield took the opportunity to re-state her Feb 2019 recommendation to the Department of Education that there should be a “compulsory register of children who are being home schooled.” [Emphasis added] Although acknowledging that “some people do not like that idea,” she continued to push the issue by adding that “in other countries, in Jersey for instance, it is absolutely normal.”
She also asserted that “The register was agreed. There is a commitment from the DfE for that compulsory register, but we have not yet seen it emerge.” [Emphasis added]
Ms Longfield justified her position by opining “that [HE parents] have to get more support, both at the time when they are considering home schooling, to see if it really is the right result for them, and on an ongoing basis.“ [Emphasis added]
The second question was from Robert Halfon, Committee Chair on whether there should be “stronger inspection of children who are home educated, whether it is by Ofsted or by the local authorities.” Longfield replied that she “recommended…that there should be at least a once a year, if not once a term, inspection. Again, in Jersey this is very normal.” This is not the first time the Children’s Commissioner for England has promoted Jersey’s tightly-regulated home education system, “where a parent has to apply every year to home educate.”
Meanwhile this autumn, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Storey has twice asked a written question on “what plans [the Government has] to introduce a register for all home educated children” following the spring 2019 consultation on Children not in School. Replying to both questions on behalf of the Government, Baroness Berridge wrote that “responses to the consultation have been considered and a formal government response document setting out next steps is expected later this year.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
It is not part of the Children’s Commissioner’s remit to decide government policy, nor to force an issue by making claims; it is to be hoped that her latest ‘announcement’ proves inaccurate. However, home educators cannot afford to make assumptions.
It is clear that the politically high-profile individuals who oppose home education are still at work, despite the potential distraction of COVID-19. Indeed the pandemic may have supplied some ammunition to those determined to muddy the waters, in this case conflating issues surrounding “pandemic schooling at home” with true elective home education. It is up to EHE parents to educate as many people as possible on the difference and to make a stand to protect our freedom from restrictions!
The Children’s Commissioner’s remit is to “promote and protect the rights of children, especially the most vulnerable, and stand up for their views and interests.” However, Longfield was notably silent about the large number of home educated young people who were unable to gain exam grades in the summer. To paraphrase “Animal Farm,” one can only assume she believes that the rights, views and interests of all children are equal but some are more equal than others!
What can I do?
Make your voice heard in the Call for Evidence. The HE-Byte team has made suggestions about points you might like to raise. These are listed below. Given the mounting pressure against home education, it is important to make your voice heard.
Equip yourself with accurate information; educate your MP about elective home education; and fight every onslaught on our freedom to home educate without interference from the State.
If we lose that freedom, it may never be regained.
Bytes in response to the Commons Education Committee’s Call for Evidence: