Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse hears from senior civil servant that registration of children not in school is only the first step to planned monitoring of EHE children and assessment of the content of teaching.
What’s been said?
On 19 October the House of Commons ordered the printing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse [IICSA] report into Child protection in religious organisations and settings investigation.
What does this have to do with families who educate their own children?
For over a decade now all types of accusations have been levelled against home educators, including the use of unregistered schools either to radicalise (Muslim) children or to pass on their parents’ (Jewish) culture to their sons and daughters. Whilst it is impossible to know if the sexual abuse of young people is as high in such settings as it is in state funded schools one can perhaps understand why EHE may have been of tangential interest to an Inquiry charged with investigating “where institutions have failed to protect children in their care.”
The transcript of one witness statement, however, demonstrates that its interest goes well beyond such incidental concerns, as it discusses the DfE’s desire to both monitor the quality of HE and oversee “the content of teaching.”
EHE is referred to twice in the report. PDF version. The second reference (page 78, §21) reads:
“Ofsted has found limits in what local authorities can do – for example, at present, local authorities have very limited powers to monitor home education (many of the children at these settings say that this is part of their home education, or parents identify it as such), and are often reluctant to intervene in the absence of a concern of abuse of a specific child.”
Amanda Spielman’s evidence to the Inquiry is cited in the footnotes to the above paragraph, as it is in the other section concerned with HE (page 5, §9.5). Here the report states:
“According to the Department for Education and Ofsted, as well as local authorities, a significant group of parents choose this option [HE] in order to be able to provide a curriculum congruent with their religious beliefs and values.”
The footnote for this section links to oral evidence sessions by both Spielman and Ms Kate Dixon, the “Director of Schools, Department of Education.” The official transcript of Dixon’s evidence is available here. Due to the length and unfamiliar formatting, we have prepared an easier to read and highlighted text of her full evidence.
Dixon appeared before the Inquiry on 13 August 2020, but her evidence has only come to light with the report’s publication. Whilst it is helpful to read her comments in full, here are some key points from Dixon’s testimony concerning the DfE’s intentions for home educated children. [Emphasis added in all instances.]
Page 121, line 13:
“We have one outstanding response to the most recent consultation on the “children not in school” register, and we moved away from a register for home-educated children to a register for children not in school because of some of the issues around people not necessarily all falling into home education, but not falling into school, for some of the reasons around safeguarding and education across these different settings.
“We have committed, again, to legislating, you need to legislate for the register to be created. We have committed to that, and I think the reason I mention these three things together and they’re relevant to this inquiry around, you know, the discussion about out-of-school settings…”
Page 124, line 6:
“At the moment, though, without the register and without asking parents to report where their children are being educated, or if they’re not at school, then we haven’t taken a step even towards that. Now, that has been fraught with contention for more than ten years about whether we are invading people’s privacy, but I think, at this point, there is a direction of travel both in the government, in stakeholders and amongst the public that this is more acceptable, that finding out — at least knowing where children are is a step that we could take. It is still contentious –“
Page 124, line 25:
“our original consultation proposed looking at the content of teaching and whether that met certain standards. We have chosen to do just the first part of it, the creation of the register, partly in response to that feedback. This is a difficult issue in which to step into, and taking the first step, from a safeguarding point of view, felt important to us, so that’s what we have progressed…”
Page 129, line 18:
“We first consulted on the three things, but, given the responses that we got back and the contentious history that stepping into this space has, we decided to take it in parts and go with the creation of the register, which was the most palatable and we thought would take us at least on the journey, and not look at the monitoring and the content of the education through proposals to legislate.”
Page 130, line 9:
“we produced quite a detailed piece of guidance about the steps that they can take, so those two things combined, we will see how far that takes us and how well it goes down or how difficult it is, and consider the other two parts of the consultation further into the future.”
Why does it matter?
What some home educators have long suspected to be the case is now clearly stated in writing in an official record.
Kate Dixon’s evidence to the Inquiry illuminates the narrative which has been driving the agenda within the DfE and Parliament for the last decade – and it is to do with far more than simply knowing which children are not being educated in school. According to the DfE’s Director of School Quality and Safeguarding, whilst they have encountered difficulty and met with resistance from home educators to proposals to assess “the content of the education,” these things remain on the Department’s agenda.
One wonders, therefore, if Robert Halfon’s Education Committee had been privy to the DfE plans all along. In August we observed, “Halfon portrayed himself as being reasonable in demanding only yearly assessments by comparison with Anne Longfield’s stated desire for termly visits.” Perhaps so, but the demand to know – i.e. control – what every child is being taught, seems to be the ultimate objective of the last decade of negative press in regard to home education.
In June 2019 we reported on Lord Agnew’s response to the publication of the Timpson Review into school exclusions. In his reply to a question from Lord Judge, after referring to the changes in relationship and sex education legislation, the then Minister continued:
“That will help to reinforce the values that children should learn. Equally, we are trying to tackle that with the work we are now doing on the consultation on home education and children who are not in school. All these things conflate and our job is to try to bring together a package of initiatives that will improve the outcomes for these very vulnerable children.” [Emphasis added]
In the light of Dixon’s evidence to IICSA, it seems that we should have heard the alarm call in his comment about reinforcing the values that children should learn. In December last year Agnew’s successor, Baroness Berridge, wrote in response to Lord Storey that LAs are responsible for taking action when it appears that EHE is unsuitable, “This will include assessing if the provision conflicts with ‘Fundamental British Values’ as defined in Government guidance.”
This statement confirmed the fears of Liberal Democrat Councillor and educational academic Prof. John Howson from as far back as 2014. On hearing that then Education Secretary Michael Gove had told independent schools they would have to teach British Values, Howson explained how this changed the established principle “that the State didn’t interfere in the freedom of an individual to educate their children as they saw fit within the law.” He continued, “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?”
When the new guidance was published in 2019, we warned that this was a step in this very direction and Ms Dixon has now confirmed that parental values are of very little concern to the DfE. This has been further emphasised by the publication of the Department’s response to the Education Committee’s recent Report on home education on 4 November. Paragraph 7 (page 2) reads:
“Paragraph 9.4 of the Department’s Elective Home Education guidance for local authorities already details eight components (including the point made above in paragraph 6) that local authorities should consider when determining whether a child is receiving a suitable education. This includes: enabling the child to participate fully in life in the UK; education not conflicting with Fundamental British Values; and isolation from a child’s peers indicating possible unsuitability, to name but a few.” [Emphasis added.]
What can I do?
Firstly, recognise that calls for a register have always been intended to go much further than simply knowing where children are. This is about using safeguarding concerns to prohibit parents from teaching their own sons and daughters “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” (ECHR Article 2, Protocol 1)
Secondly, appreciate that there is a clear indication in Dixon’s testimony identifying the only way this power grab by the state can be resisted. We have already cited her comment, “Now, that has been fraught with contention for more than ten years about whether we are invading people’s privacy,” but she then went on to note that doing so is now becoming more acceptable to government, stakeholders and the general public.
It is of great concern therefore that many home educators are ignorant of the agenda behind the current narrative, and don’t see the dangers of a registration scheme in regard to the loss of parental responsibility.
Thirdly, take time to read the relevant sections of Dixon’s evidence. Consider whether it would benefit your children if your responsibility to determine the education they receive were to be constrained by the need to satisfy LAs that you are teaching in accord with the prevailing political winds, not just of today but in the future.
Human rights are theoretically in place to ensure that citizens are treated with respect by governments. It is time to think seriously about how determined you are to protect your own and your children’s privacy from state overreach. This should be a prime concern of every parent and grandparent, not just home-educating ones.
“The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.”