What’s been said?
In a wide-ranging interview with The Times, 10 November, Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, answered questions on education-related topics including knife crime, school exclusions, alternative provision, social media, faith schools and the stress caused by testing. In the midst of this catalogue are two paragraphs concerning home education. In the first the reporters summarise current popular “fears” – they “receive little or no education at all” and “children in unregistered schools being indoctrinated with extremist ideology while being categorised as educated at home.” Then they defer to Amanda Spielman’s and Ofsted’s call for a register.
The second paragraph is mainly Hinds’ response to questions about the latter:
Mr Hinds “hasn’t ruled out” a register but is not committing himself to anything just yet. “Compared to the past there is now a heightened awareness of some of the issues around extremism but we must be incredibly careful never to conflate that with that the category of people who do feel they’ve been let down by the system. Sometimes talking about any further regulatory moves can sound to them invasive.”
Why does it matter?
Recent answers to written questions, confirmed by the response to this Freedom of Information Request, indicate that the Department of Education have had their work cut out analysing the responses to the recent English HE Call for Evidence. While this process is ongoing, home educators are having to wait in anticipation of what they will say. It has to be noted though, as we have pointed out, that politicians and increasingly the media have reverted to lobbying mode. It is hard to tell whether or not they are worried by what they hear leaked from the DfE. It is therefore helpful to find out what the senior responsible Minister has to say on the matter.
The two points made in what Hinds reportedly said suggest that he is in part listening to to HE parents. First, he is aware that there is a significant danger of conflating potential terrorists with hard-working parents seeking to do their best for their own children. Secondly, he recognises that amongst the increasing numbers of families electing to teach their own children, there are significant numbers who genuinely believe they have been let down by the state education system. That the Education Minister commented in such terms to reporters from a newspaper which has frequently been hostile to HE is encouraging. That he appears to be warning of the possible pitfalls of only listening to the anti-HE lobby is even more welcome news. Whilst home educators should not build up their hopes too much, we should appreciate such comments from a key politician.
What can I do?
HE families should not give up hope. Nor should they assume that there is nothing more they can helpfully do. Just as those who are seeking a register have raised their voices once again during recent weeks, so we need to keep the government alert to our concerns.
Those families who in Hinds’ words, “do feel they’ve been let down by the system,” may wish to share their experiences with him. We suggest the best way to do this would be to write to your own MP saying that you were interested to read the Minister’s comments in the Times. Then briefly relate your own experience, before very importantly asking your MP to convey your thanks to the Minister for his awareness and express your hopes that he will discourage Local Authorities from invading your family life by overstepping their legal responsibilities.
Asking your MP to contact a minister on your behalf normally results in them forwarding your letter to that minister, with a covering letter of their own. The responsible minister is then required to reply to your MP personally, and you should receive a forwarded copy of their letter. Hence your comments are more likely to reach the top rather than getting lost amongst civil servants, and there is the added bonus of keeping the issue before your own MP.
However you choose to do it, keep speaking up and making your voice heard for the freedom to teach your own children. It will be worth it.