Damien Hinds on Children Not in School

What’s been said?

The Commons Education Committee held an Accountability Hearing on 26 June with Education Secretary Damian Hinds. He was questioned for an hour and forty minutes on a wide range of educational topics. Inevitably home education was raised. (A longer discussion on SEND provisions will be of interest to many HE families, but is not discussed below. This was in response to an extended series of questions (2426 to 2439) from James Frith (Lab. Bury North), which can be watched here.)

Two questions on EHE (2393/94) were put by Robert Halfon (Con. Harlow), Chair of the committee. He introduced them by citing figures from the ADCS of a one-hundred and thirteen percent rise in EHE children since 2013-14, and a hundred and twelve percent increase in school attendance orders used since 2017. (Note the different time periods covered by these dates, which removes any significant correlation between them.) Halfon then asked about plans for a register which would include EHE children. In his response Hinds stated,

“We talk about home education as a catch-all term. We should not. We should talk about children not in school. Some of those, and you did say this at the end, are being home-educated. Among those who are being home-educated, some of those families have given up everything to care and bring up and educate that child, sometimes with very profound special needs. Sometimes they have had a terrible time at school with bullying and so on and feel that the system has let them down.

“To those parents, I say what they do is amazing. I want the system to give them more support, not to query it. However, there are a lot of children who are not in school who within the data, if you like, appear in the column that says ‘home education’ where there may be no education going on at all, at home or anywhere else. Those children we need to worry about.”

Referring to the Timpson Review on exclusion, Hinds added a new category into the catch-all description of children not in school – those who are persistent truants – whom he said were greater in number than those who were excluded.

Halfon followed up by asking Hinds directly if there should be a register. In reply the Minister said there should be “a register of children who are registered to be not in school.”

Readers can listen to these exchanges in full on ParliamentTV or read them in the official record.

Why does it matter?

Hinds’ explanation of the register reveals more of the thinking behind the recent consultation. He carefully explained that the Government’s classification of EHE now includes children and their families who have not elected to home educate. Many suspect that this conflation of state-funded schools acting illegally (off-rolling), and parents sending their children to unregistered and therefore illegal schools has come about with the intention of discrediting genuine EHE families, and that is hard to argue against. In reality these issues have nothing to do with authentic HE, and everything to do with the Government not being able to keep its own house in order.

Hinds’ addition of regular truants to the “children not in school” category serves to highlight an age old problem HE families have faced for decades. LAs have commonly bolted on responsibility for EHE to the job description of staff in their Educational Welfare departments. Normally these officers have little or no personal experience of HE, and therefore it is easy for thems to consider any child not in school as a problem. It is very apparent that this negative reaction to EHE has now been carried across to the DfE. Consequently, genuine HE families have been put into a pigeon-hole labelled “Children Not in School”, along with truants and children abandoned by the state’s education system.

This new classification brings with it a significant problem, in that it blurs a very important and long-established distinction. It does so by lumping together children who are receiving a suitable education with those who aren’t. For some years the DfE has used the descriptive term Children Missing Education for those children whose parents have not arranged to provide them with an education. This label says exactly what is in the tin; no-one is disputing that such children (and their families) need support – and occasionally legal enforcement – to help the children gain the skills they need for the future. Given such a clear description, which rightly focusses everyone’s attention on whether or not a child is receiving an education, it has to be asked why politicians have found themselves adopting a new term which moves the focus away from a suitable education to the location in which education may or may not occur? Perhaps it is CME which should now be redefined to include persistent truants.

What can I do?

Take time to think carefully about this new classification which was coined for this year’s consultation. In one way it could be welcomed, because it partially shifts the focus away from HE children. However it places them alongside other groups of children who have problems attending schools, who are themselves problematic for schools, or whose parents are failing to provide them with a suitable education.

Ask yourself if you agree with Hinds that the term EHE is now being applied to children who are not being educated by their parents, and if there is therefore a need to describe them differently? You may want to ask your MP why children known to be “missing education” such as truants, who must by definition be on a school roll, are now being classified alongside HE children who are being provided with a suitable education by parents whom the Minister recognises “have given up everything to care and bring up and educate that child,” and later added, “what they do is amazing.”