English Consultation not Forgotten

Labour’s House of Lords Education Spokesperson presses for a response to last year’s Children Not in School consultation.

What’s been said?

A Written Question recently submitted by Lord Watson of Invergowrie should not be overlooked by elective home educators. It’s a timely reminder of the need to continue monitoring the political landscape in England.

In his role as Shadow Education Spokesperson, this Labour Life Peer is an inveterate questioner of the Department of Education. On 16 July 2020, he submitted the following:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to publish a response to the consultation on children not in school, which closed on 24 June 2019.”

Baroness Berridge answered thus on 29 July:

“In the spring of 2019, a consultation was held on proposals for: a mandatory register of children not attending state or registered independent schools to help local authorities carry out their responsibilities in relation to children not in school; a duty on parents to register their child with the local authority if not registered at specified types of school; a duty on proprietors of certain education settings to respond to enquiries from local authorities; and a duty on local authorities to provide support to parents who educate children at home.

Almost 5,000 responses were received to the consultation which closed in June 2019 and they have now been considered.

The government is committed to publishing the response to the Children Not in School [CNiS] consultation. We anticipate the formal publication of the government response will come in autumn.”

Why does it matter?

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the CNiS consultation took place (April-June 2019), so  a quick refresher on some of the key issues may be useful.

When we commented in April last year on the DfE’s publication of its revised guidance on EHE in England, we noted that at the same time it had launched a consultation about introducing a registration scheme for “children not in school”.

This was not about whether a EHE registration scheme should exist per se, but about how one with broader parameters should operate. The focus had shifted to how LAs could know the whereabouts of every child “not in school,” with the new wording reflecting the rationale that the state has the lead responsibility to safeguard every child. To do this, it believes it must hold details of where children are being educated and who is educating them.

Knowing this could not be achieved without new legislation, the CNiS consultation was a step in that direction. We noted that Damien Hinds, the then Education Minister, had spoken of using “children not in school” rather then “home education” as a catch-all term at his Accountability Hearing with the Common Education Committee in June 2019.

A further consultation, “Regulating Independent Educational Institutions Consultation,” was launched in February this year – now suspended until further notice due to Covid-19. Recognising that registering home educated children would not address wider issues concerning yeshivas or establishments run by religious minorities, this one was an attempt to tighten up school registration requirements, probably in response to persistent lobbying about unregistered schools.

Though on a parallel track rather than directly EHE-related, it does highlight the persistence of a hostile environment towards parental freedom of choice in education in the Department, as we said at the time.

So, what can we draw from Invergowrie’s recent Written Question and Berridge’s answer?

The pressure for registration of children not in school may have been sidelined by Covid 19 preoccupations, but it has not been forgotten. It is still there.

Berridge’s response majors on the government’s desire to help local authorities carry out their responsibilities in relation to children not in school by imposing duties both on parents and proprietors of unregistered settings – see how the two consultations tie up there? Only briefly does she mention a duty on local authorities to provide support to parents who educate children at home, with no indication of whether the realities of this might be genuinely helpful or intrusive.

Factually, one can glean that the impressive number of responses have now been considered, and that we should stand by for the formal publication of the government response “in autumn.” But of course, as with all current parliamentary business, that all depends on other more pressing matters.

What can I do?

Continue to enjoy living and learning alongside your children, but don’t let complacency creep in. Remain vigilant. The Government’s stated desire to know where all children are and who is responsible for them will only increase if pandemic anxiety or positive experiences of “home schooling” cause more parents to withdraw their children from school.

As well as keeping your eye on current developments, make sure you know where you stand as a home educating parent, particularly if you think your LA may be overstepping the mark in any regard. The Ed Yourself site has useful information about the law.