Debate Highlights the Need for Home Educators to Change the Narrative

Debate Highlights the Need for Home Educators to Change the Narrative

MPs debate motion “That this House has considered the potential merits of a register of not-in-school children” ahead of the Second Reading of Flick Drummond’s Private Member’s Bill on LA Children Not in School registers

What’s been said?

Westminster Hall debates are not the full-blown affairs which take place in the main chambers, but they do serve a useful function, as this House of Commons Visual Explainer helpfully shows. Though not involving a vote, such debates enable backbench MPs from any party to raise awareness of an issue, seek to influence government policy, and get the views of all participants on record.

This may help to explain why Flick Drummond secured such a debate prior to her Register of Children not in School Private Member’s Bill, which has its Second Reading debate scheduled for 15 March.

With a little over three weeks to go before the scheduled debate, she was allocated a ninety minute slot on Tuesday 20 February, to debate the motion “That this house has considered the potential merits of a register of not in school children.” [Video / transcript]

She also condensed key points from her speech into an article, which was published in Conservative Home prior to the debate.

On the day, she introduced the motion with a clear statement of her concerns and purpose:

“But what is of huge concern to me and many colleagues in this House, and what this debate seeks to address, is that no one – not Government, local authorities or schools – can honestly answer the question: how many children are missing from school? A good education is pivotal to a child’s future success, yet we do not know how many children are not in school, where they are and what quality of education they are receiving, if any. We do not even know if they are safe. That is not acceptable.”

A handful of MPs were in attendance, with Schools Minister, Damien Hinds, giving the response from the Government. From his input, we note that everyone is still working in the dark to some extent because the full text of the Bill is not yet known, though we expect this will be published quite soon.

His statement that “the Government cannot support a private Member’s Bill prior to Second Reading,” was carefully balanced by “that which my hon. Friend seeks to do and what the Government wish to do coincide,” i.e. the Government are backing this. That is why Second Reading is an important watershed.

Despite Hinds’ optimism about “the support element of the measures,” it is our belief that support offered with ulterior motives is, and always will be, suspect. It will never be able to “encourage positive engagement between local authorities and home educators.”

Why does it matter?

Drummond went on to refer to the Prime Minister’s description of a good education as “the closest thing we have to a silver bullet.”

Registers have come to be viewed in very similar terms, a silver bullet being defined as “a simple solution to a complicated problem.” But the crucial question which few in the Westminster bubble are even asking is, can registers, would registers, really address all the concerns of those MPs who passionately advocate for them?

In his book “The Magician’s Nephew” C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.”

It’s evident from the similarity of contributions to the debate that the reasoning behind the establishment of registers makes a great deal of sense to politicians – all led to believe that they need to know all there is to know about every child in the country. That is because they have been standing in earshot of an accepted narrative, which has been repeated, enhanced and drip-fed to the media and political classes for a very long time.

But the very same narrative makes little sense to the majority of home educating parents.

Below is a brief selection of others’ input to the debate, to demonstrate how the familiar narrative, jargon and common, sometimes contradictory, threads have been absorbed by nearly all contributors. (Please try to read/watch their speeches in context.)

Sally Ann Hart – Conservative, Hastings & Rye:

“A not-in-school register would provide a systematic way to track children who are not attending school.”
“By having a centralised record, we could identify patterns, intervene early and prevent children from slipping through the cracks.”

Tim Loughton – Conservative, East Worthing & Shoreham:

“We closely regulate our schools – some would say over-regulate… Once a child is deemed to be home educated, all that regulation and all those checks fall away, and it is down to trust with the parents.”
[in context of Alternative Provision] “…this is not about intruding or meddling: it is about supporting, monitoring and tracking.”

Helen Hayes – Labour, Dulwich & West Norwood:

“far too many children are now falling through the cracks and not getting the education they need. We need action to ensure that if a child is not in school, the local authority is clear about where they are and what education they are receiving.”

Damien Hinds (Minister for Schools):

“Registration will, however, better ensure that we defend children’s rights to a suitable education.”
“Although such an increase is not necessarily an issue….Without a statutory register of children not in school… we cannot know for certain the scale of how many children are missing education. We cannot know for sure how many children are in home education and what subset are in home education but not receiving a suitable education, or how many are receiving no education at all.”

What can I do?

Read the transcript or watch the debate, and try to get into the mindset of those advocating for registration. This is important if you want to champion successfully for an alternative point of view.

Make no mistake about it, the prevailing view is very well established, and regularly reinforced by all the prominent influencers.

Human-scale stories can sometimes reach places where ideas and statistics cannot go. Think how many parliamentarians cite experiences they have heard about via their constituents. Real life stories play a powerful role in changing minds, and minds are changed one person at a time.

Have you a story to tell? Could you share your experience with your MP, explaining why HE is important to you, and why you would be adversely affected by registration?

How else could you share with others the positives of your HE journey, or indeed the negatives of your child’s experience of the state education system? Recently BBC South ran several reports on local radio and the evening TV news, featuring contributions from a number of local HE parents. These served to communicate a positive view of HE to the wider public. One determined ex-home educator recently got some very robust points across about the dangers of Drummond’s Bill by writing an article in Conservative Home, which is widely read by Conservative MPs and Peers.