Does this mean that the recent lobbying by Halfon, the LGA, the ADCS and others has been superfluous, or is it a signal that a register is just the next step towards a greater objective?
What’s been said?
The Education Committee is slowly publishing the submissions it received in response to its inquiry. On 8 December, twenty-two were added to those of the four witnesses at the “First” Oral Evidence session. These are all from organisations, mainly LAs and governmental bodies, with just three from within the EHE community.
There is little point in listing all the governmental organisations, though perusing their submissions carefully would make a worthwhile research project. The focus of this Byte is the submission from the Department for Education. It is not unusual for government departments to respond to Select Committee inquiries, as scrutinising the work of the Executive is part of Parliament’s remit.
Government departments can be inventive when it comes to finding ways of making announcements, and this submission contains a few pieces of new information in its twenty-six points. One is:
“12. Over 5,000 responses were received to the [2019 Children Not in School (CNIS)] consultation and the Government response setting out next steps will be published in due course.”
Well done, everyone!
It appears, however, that our efforts have run like water off a duck’s back. In the section about negating the impacts of COVID-19, we find this paragraph:
“23. To support parents and children who may be considering, or have already withdrawn their child from school for, elective home education, we remain committed to a registration system for children not in school. More work is required on the practical aspects of delivery and the Government will also be engaging further with the home educating sector. Further details on this will be set out in the Government response to the CNIS consultation.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
The implementation of a register which included EHE children would be in danger of ceding parental responsibilities to the state. One has only to look at the recent LGA report “Children missing education.” As we have already observed, their mischievous insertion of the word “formal” into a legally defined term changes its meaning entirely. Against this background, the whole of that report signals the direction of travel being mapped out by those lobbying to curtail parental freedom to decide what is in their child’s best interests.
The route follows these contours: registration; monitoring; introduction of measurable standards (i.e. “formal” education); imposition of a curriculum; licensing of parents by the state; outlawing home education altogether except in exceptional circumstances. This is already the situation in Sweden, and France is taking the fast-track route, with President Macron playing the “radicalisation card.”
You might think we are a long way from that in the UK, but consider a very recent Written Question from Lord Storey, a serial offender when it comes to scaremongering over EHE. He wanted to know what the Government is doing “to ensure that home-schooled children and young people do not become radicalised.” The Minister, Baroness Berridge, replied on 8 December stating amongst other things:
“Local authorities are responsible for taking action when it appears that the Elective Home Education provision is unsuitable. This will include assessing if the provision conflicts with ‘Fundamental British Values’ as defined in Government guidance.”
The problem with this is that Fundamental British Values [FBV] are not clearly defined anywhere and have already been used to undermine cultural values in faith communities. Since their introduction by David Cameron, Ofsted have used them to close schools teaching traditional Jewish, Muslim and Christian values.
Back in 2018 we cited an article by Professor John Howson in response to an announcement in June 2014 that independent schools would have to teach FBVs. Recognising that this turned established law on its head by making the state rather than the parent the arbiter of suitable education, Howson asked “And what about the home schoolers, are they now also to be monitored for British values, and parents told they cannot continue if Ofsted doesn’t think they are British enough?” Now you know the answer!
As it happens, in another question Storey enquired when the Department would publish its response to last year’s Children Not In School consultation. In her reply Berridge stated, “a formal Government response document setting out next steps is expected later this year.” She had told him the same thing in mid-October, but this repetition means that we should expect to be told within the next two or three weeks how the DfE intends to engage “further with the home educating sector” concerning a mandatory register.
What can I do?
You could panic and spend the coming months worrying about what you are going to do. Change does seem to be coming, but not on 1 January 2021. Remember that, as well as Brexit, the Government is still dealing with COVID-19 issues, which affect the DfE significantly. Therefore nothing is likely to happen in the immediate future, apart from some further form of “consultation.”
In the meantime you might find it helpful to think through the implications of this comment from another part of Berridge’s answer to Storey, “Local authorities’ duties in respect of safeguarding children (set out in the Children Act 1989) apply to all the children in their area, no matter how they are educated.” Have home educators properly considered the modern mantra which has been drummed into LA staff that they, rather than a child’s parents, are responsible for keeping all children safe?
Finally, prepare yourself and others for this fight to continue. It is no longer about LA officers who are ill-informed about education law; it is about civil servants and politicians who have a view of the law which is very different to that shared by most EHE families. Consequently it looks as if we could be heading to the courts, just as Scottish parents had to do in order to bring to nothing the Named Person Scheme. The threat to educational freedom is ubiquitous across the UK.