Eerily Quiet on the HE Front

What’s been said?

There has been little to report on the HE front of late, given the Christmas recess and parliamentary attention being focused on more demanding constitutional matters.

One written question on a familiar theme was submitted by Thelma Walker (Lab. Colne Valley) on 19 December 2018: “To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when his Department plans to publish the results of the consultation on draft guidance for elective home education; and how many submissions were received for that consultation.”

Anne Milton responded on behalf of the DfE on 7 January 2019: “The government response document resulted from the consultation on elective home education, which ended on 2 July 2018. This document along with the finalised guidance documents will be published soon. The number of responses received to the consultation were as follows: Online 2987, Email 274, Hard Copy 180.”

A very different question was posed by Sir John Hayes (Con. South Holland and The Deepings) on 4 January 2019 “To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of refunding the tax contribution made to the education budget by parents who educate their children at home.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Elizabeth Truss responded as follows on 11 January 2019: “The obligation to pay taxes is a general one. In general, tax receipts go into the ‘Consolidated Fund’ and taxes are not earmarked to any particular purpose. I do appreciate that not all taxpayers make direct use of every service provided by the government, and that parents who choose to educate their children at home are one example of this. However, a similar argument for a tax refund could be made by anyone who does not use a publicly provided service, or some aspect of that service, including those who are not parents. Primary and secondary education is primarily funded through general taxation, irrespective of usage, and not through charging users.”

Why does it matter?

Although many of us may have fantasised about the advent of a tax refund for that educational provision of which we are not availing ourselves, Elizabeth Truss’ answer to John Hayes’ question came as no real surprise. Tax receipts go into the “Consolidated Fund” and that is that. Swings and roundabouts for us all, in one way or another.

As a member of the Education Select Committee, Thelma Walker put forward several written questions about different aspects of educational policy during 2018, on funding and provision for special needs as well as home education. She is obviously following the outcome of the DfE’s Consultation and Call for Evidence with some interest.

Anne Milton’s answer provided little extra information in addition to what the HE community already knows, merely a change of phraseology from “as soon as possible” to “soon”.

(However, if Martin George’s 3 Jan Tes article sub-titled “Key services such as funding schools set to continue but some DfE initiatives could be delayed or stopped” proves to be more than speculation, then we may also see a redefinition of the word “soon”.)

The key point for the HE community from Milton’s answer is her indication that whenever the DfE’s response to the consultation is published, it will be accompanied by “the finalised guidance documents.” [Emphasis added] This is the clearest indication so far that the government does not intend further discussion of any changes to EHE Guidance before they publish them.

What can I do?

Keep up the good work, with one eye on incoming news. Maintain links with your local home ed community. If it transpires once the new Guidance is published that the EHE community has not been heard, we shall all need to increase our engagement with MPs and LAs once again.

If your local MP happened to be a member of the Education Select Committee, you might be able to connect with an existing interest area for them and establish dialogue with them on two fronts.