Continuing Pressure on Sunak for CNiS Registers

Continuing Pressure on Sunak for CNiS Registers

Lobbying pushes compulsory registration straight back into the spotlight following the King’s Speech!

What’s been said?

The State Opening of Parliament on 7 November marked the start of another parliamentary year, with the King’s Speech setting out the government’s intended legislative programme for the forthcoming session. It is customary for members of both Houses to debate the content of the Speech for several days, looking at different subject areas.

Education minister Gillian Keegan opened the second day of the House of Commons debate on 8 November. As she moved to address ongoing problems around school attendance, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Education Munira Wilson came straight in with an intervention. In her view the Speech had demonstrated that “education is not a priority for this Government.” She then asked why “there was no announcement yesterday about bringing forward legislation for a “children not in school” register, which Ministers promised to do when they scrapped the Schools Bill in the last Session?” [transcript / video]

Defending the ‘phenomenal’ progress her party have made on education, Keegan responded:

“we remain committed to legislating to take forward the ‘children not in school’ measures, and we will progress those at a suitable future legislative opportunity. We continue to work with local authorities to improve the non-statutory registers, and have launched a consultation on revised elective home education guidance. There is a lot of work going on. The consultation is open until 18 January 2024, and we intend to bring forward that legislation.”

Many members wished to speak, but Flick Drummond finally got her opportunity [transcript / video]. After addressing various matters, she concluded:

“…I must regret the absence of a Bill to introduce a register of children not in school… My Bill fell at the end of the last Session, but I note that the Schools Minister has committed to introducing legislation at ‘a future suitable opportunity.’ What more suitable opportunity could there be than the one we have now?”

The wording of my Bill provided a ready-to-run solution, with support from across the House and across the education system. I urge Ministers to look at this again, and in the meantime I will continue to look at ways of getting this much-needed register in place.”

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Education Minister, also alluded to this matter in her criticism of the government’s education record [transcript]:

“ plans to tackle the persistent absenteeism in our schools.. no plans to tackle the growing problem of children who are missing altogether from our schools;”

Various local news outlets covered the debate, example here.

Ex Schools Minister and now Chair of the Education Committee, Robin Walker, incorporated his appeal for legislation on registers in his contribution to a debate on the NHS on 13 November [transcript / video]. Taking around three minutes to drive the matter home, he concluded:

“Nevertheless, the legislation has been drafted. We have repeatedly heard about the strong support it enjoys on both sides of the House, and in the other place it has been championed by Cross Benchers and noble Lords on both sides of the House. I therefore repeat the Education Committee’s recommendation that the Government should adopt a private Member’s Bill on this matter at the first available opportunity. I will do what I can to ensure any such Bill makes rapid progress, and I am happy to work with Members across the House to make sure it has a prominent place in the business of this Parliament.”

Concerns about this lack of legislation were not limited to the Lower House. On 9 November, Baroness Gohir (Crossbench) raised this during a Lords’ debate on the King’s Speech, advocating for strengthened legislation to include [transcript / video]:

“… the establishment of a regularly updated register; the authority routinely to monitor children’s educational progress and well-being; and the power to scrutinise reasons for home-schooling and even relocating to a different jurisdiction, including overseas.”

Away from Parliament, Humanists UK expressed their disappointment about three omissions from the King’s Speech, one being lack of progress on the problem of what they persist in calling ‘illegal schools.’

Why does it matter?

Recent weeks have seen Cabinet and departmental reshuffles, with the resignation of long-standing Minister for Schools Nick Gibb and the reintroduction of ex Education Minister Damien Hinds as Schools Minister in his place.

However, it is abundantly clear that the pressure for CNiS registers remains a priority both across the parties and across both Houses. The proponents who claim this are certainly not wrong.

Some of the reasoning cited above is familiar, but Baroness Gohir of Hall Green’s House of Lords speech is particularly wide-ranging. In her other work she focuses on issues faced by women and girls from ethnic minority communities, but it is disturbing to see how readily a relatively recent commentator on HE has imbibed the prevailing narrative, perceiving a potential further rise in home schooling as a problem.

“It is really important to understand the current situation and fully establish the facts. The Government should therefore publish the rates of home-schooled children over the past several years, the demographics, the hotspots and the reasons for home-schooling. No doubt some of the reasons may include bullying, mental health, subpar education or curriculum-related apprehensions. How do the Government propose to address these concerns? If they are not addressed, we will see a further rise in home-schooling.”

Perhaps some Birmingham-based home educators could seek to engage with her and offer a more positive perspective on HE, or encourage her to focus more on the government addressing the concerns she rightly mentioned within schools, rather than seeing a register as the solution.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) had immediately preceded Gohir, opining that the Government should act on concerns about the increasing number of children ‘receiving an education outside the classroom.’ The possibility of receiving an education outside the classroom was clearly outside her frame of reference, and she also seemed rather naïve about what registers would actually achieve, claiming they would “ensure that children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment, with the tools and flexibilities for local authorities to check that.”

What can I do?

As politicians renew their pressure for legislation on registers, HE families surely need to keep up the pressure from their end, with a particular focus on the current consultation on the revised EHE guidance. Here the issue is not so much registration per se, but mission creep with regard to assessment and monitoring.

We’re probably all familiar with the tale of how objections to moving the piano from one side of the building to the other were overcome; the mission was accomplished by shifting it surreptitiously a couple of inches at a time – and nobody noticed! Beware becoming accustomed to each new normal as it arrives has to be the moral of that little story. This is a time to think carefully about lines in the sand.

Despite exhaustion, over-busy lives and consultation fatigue, there is a need for as many as possible to to submit robust responses about these documents which may have a softer tone than previous versions, but are still advancing the agenda of a state-supervised education for every child.

See our English Consultations page for links to the consultation documents and other helpful articles. It is hoped to include further suggestions as soon as possible, but a careful read through the documents now will help to get you thinking about the issues you might like to raise before the 18 January deadline. We are also adding links to videos which comment on the draft guidance.

Finally, the report “A Suitable Education for Every Child” contains useful reasoning about the benefits or otherwise of registers.