Ex-minister says Ofsted should check on home-school parents

Ex-minister says Ofsted should check on home-school parents

Tory Peer, Lord Nash, implores Bridget Phillipson to ensure Labour bring in registration and tighten up inspection and regulation of home educated families when they are in government, claiming four-fifths of parents are incompetent to educate their children.

What’s been said?

An earlier article has already looked in depth at a significant policy speech given by Labour’s Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson at a Centre for Social Justice [CSJ] event on Tues 9 January.

The first contributor to a supplementary Q&A session was Lord Nash, and their exchange inspired a report in The Times the following day under the headline: “Ofsted should check on home-school parents, says ex-minister. Only about 20% of those teaching their children are doing a good job, warns Lord Nash.”

Here is a transcript of what Nash asked, taken from the live video stream:

Thank you for that, and I was delighted to hear what you propose to do about regulating or having a register of home education which I think is very necessary. But I think it’s only really a start. There are a hundred thousand or more pupils in the country who are apparently being educated at home. I’d be personally surprised if more than twenty thousand of them had parents really competent to do so.
It’s essentially an unregulated area. Local authorities have very small powers of inspection unless they are concerned about a serious safeguarding issue. I hear what you say about the relationship between schools and government and parents but, given this is such a difficult area, is this something that you would please when you bring forward legislation on a register also look at tightening up the inspection and regulation regime?

To which Phillipson replied:

I think what I’d say first of all is that it is the right of parents to elect to home educate their children, Many do that incredibly well and take it incredibly seriously. But as you say, it’s too easy for children to fall between the cracks, and because of that lack of oversight that we have, I think this is an important first step.
I think if we can get to the position where councils know where children are, it will then become easier to move as you’ve described to looking at what other interventions might be necessary. I’d be keen to look at the evidence around that and be led by that. I think its incredibly important that we do it in that way,

Why does it matter?

Hyperbole? Conjecture? Prejudice? What description comes to mind as you consider Nash’s rhetoric? Certainly his opening comments include more personal opinion that documented fact. From a former Schools Minister with high level political experience, this is worrying; the standing of a speaker can sometimes cause their statements to be afforded more weight and credibility than the content actually merits.

Something home educating parents could usefully think about is why this particular ‘unregulated area’ should cause politicians so much angst. Phillipson had indeed spoken about the relationship between schools, government and parents, but this is different. Home education is carried out by parents who have not delegated their primary responsibility for their children’s education to the state. They are fulfilling it first hand themselves.

Maybe this is why Nash described the lack of registration – and inspection and regulation, if he got his way – of home educators a ‘difficult area.’ It is an area that finds itself at the place where family and state responsibilities intersect – frontier territory, as it were. Nash is right in one sense. It is a difficult area for state officials precisely because parents have rights as well as responsibilities, though recent years have seen a burgeoning surveillance mentality on the part of the state.

The fact Nash described local authority powers of inspection as ‘very small,’ and pressed for a ‘tightening up of the inspection and regulation regime’ all indicate that he is viewing home education through a school lens. Despite his accumulated experience at the DfE, he has somehow failed to grasp the fact that home educated children are not ‘pupils.’ He seems to find it uncomfortable for there to be a sector potentially undeserving of the same level of oversight as schooled children.

And what of Phillipson’s response? To her credit, she does come back with a firm statement about parents having the right to home educate. She shares Nash’s concerns about ‘missing children’ and endorses the view that councils ought to ‘know where children are.’ But she does not leap straight to the conclusion that all the interventions he suggested are automatically required straight away. They ‘might be necessary.’

Her words sound slightly more measured and less reactionary – get registers in place first, then see what else is needed – though of course she could very well be feigning the softly, softly approach, whilst aiming for the same end point. The overall message behind her speech was certainly one of increasingly state-supervised education. This was confirmed two weeks later, when Labour chose to use an Opposition Day Debate to try and fast-track legislation to introduce LA registers.

There are two things from her speech at the CSJ which Phillipson could be held to account about. The first is her commitment to proceed in an evidence-led way. She concluded her answer by describing this as ‘incredibly important.’

Secondly, at the beginning of her speech she had assured her listeners that she is a politician whose duty it is “to tell truths, not to peddle myths.”

What can I do?

Reminding politicians that in a democracy, state authority has its limits is a necessary task at all times, and particularly so just now. Family has seen many encroachments in recent years, and sensible advocacy for the upholding and protection of parental rights, privacy of the family home etc. are all vital.

In practical terms, speaking to all MPs about the need for evidence-led, fact-based policy and practice in this area continues to be very important. In the subsequent debate already referred to, the Shadow Minister showed a complete lack of understanding of EHE and, as we have already emphasised, Labour MPs need to be pressed that, should they form a government, their senior politicians must engage with real elective home educators before succumbing to the lobbyists.

Anyone who would like to think further about such ‘frontier territory’ issues might find these two articles stimulating:

A short but very thought-provoking one by educational psychologist Naomi Fisher, “If only the problem with school was attendance”, which concludes thus:

“What would it mean if we started with an open mind and said, millions of kids aren’t thriving at school. Maybe the problem isn’t them and their parents. Maybe, just maybe there’s something up with our system? What then?”

And here is a taster from a rather longer mental workout by Dr. David McGrogan, Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School, about the nature of the scorpion state:

“Note carefully what is going on here. Note how the State is conceptualised as national pseudo-parent, with overall responsibility for the health of the nation’s children; note how parents are reconceived as, at best, ‘partners’ in the project of improving children’s health. And note the result: the State’s insinuation into, and subversion of, the most fundamental human relationship of all, that between parent and child. Children are no longer the responsibility of parents or the extended family to bring up; they are rather best conceived as beneficiaries of a benevolent nexus of fiduciaries – State, parent, professional. And of these the State is the most important of all, since it is always there in the background to step in and pick up the slack where parents or professionals fail.” [Emphasis added]

McGrogan’s analysis accurately describes Nash’s approach to EHE parents; they simply cannot be trusted, and this justifies the creation of new legislation granting State officials the powers to inspect and regulate family relationships. The words of this “Conservative,” one-time minister are a reminder to all HE families of the need to stand firm and to protect our freedoms, because if we don’t they will be taken away in the not too distant future!