Kit Malthouse’s only ministerial comment on elective home education explains why it is perceived as a problem by those who manage the state’s education machine.
What’s been said?
It has been a most frustrating summer for home educating families in England. In mid-July the Schools Bill ground to a halt before it could complete its course through the House of Lords. Normal political service was then suspended, not just for the summer recess but for a protracted Conservative leadership election. Sadly, just as politicians looked as though they were going back to work, the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II was announced. The period of national mourning brought politics to a grinding halt once more.
Reports of the demise of the Schools Bill began to circulate during that period, though the suggestion that an announcement would be made “the following day,” was naïve at best. Political processes were suspended again for the Party Conference season, but the shock-waves from the so-called mini-budget caused the Conservative Party to tear itself to pieces. Despite this, unconfirmed reports that the Bill was dead continued to circulate, and schools as well as home educators eagerly awaited the final blow from the then Minister of Education, Kit Malthouse.
The axe seemed as though it might finally fall late on 18 October, when the Times published its front page lead for the following morning, which included the phrase, “Truss is set to abandon Johnson’s schools bill.” Inside the paper under the headline, “Liz Truss to retreat on Boris Johnson’s school plans and strike curbs,” Political Editor Steven Swinford was even more assertive. The article declared, “The Times has been told that the government will abandon the schools bill tomorrow.” But tomorrow never came. Instead, it was the Prime Minister who had to accept the inevitable and resign. Before then the Jewish News had contacted Downing Street for confirmation, and had instead been told, “the Education Secretary would be speaking further in due course.” Malthouse was not due to speak in the House until the following Monday.
By the time Malthouse rose to answer Education Questions in the Commons, the 1922 Committee had organised an uncharacteristically speedy coronation. It was therefore left to Labour MP Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South), to declare that “the Schools Bill has been ripped up.” Later, Valerie Vaz (Lab. Walsall South), was more direct, asking, “Why has the Secretary of State dropped the Schools Bill?” Aware that the majority of his Party’s MPs were in a Committee Room celebrating their new leader, Malthouse did his best to be non-committal in response:
“As the right hon. Member will know, the legislative timetable is under review – or it was, under the previous Prime Minister. We wait for the opinion of the new Prime Minister as to his priorities in the months to come. We will have to wait and see what he has to say.”
So in the end Team Truss failed to switch off life support for the Bill due to all the political shenanigans.
Shortly after Vaz’s enquiry, Malthouse was asked a question about home education by one of his Conservative colleagues. Since 2018, Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) has been regularly asking questions about Traveller children and HE. Readers will find this Adjournment debate exchange between Selous and Malthouse (then the Minister for Housing) concerning. In his latest question Selous returned to the same theme:
“Children from all over the country, quite a few of whom are in my constituency, are being home educated by parents, who unfortunately, cannot themselves read or write. What are we going to do to ensure we value the education and life chances of every single child, and do not leave home educated children behind?”
Though he made no direct reference to the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller community [GRT], there can be little doubt they were the main focus of his question. Malthouse knew exactly which communities Selous had in mind:
“It is absolutely the right of parents to decide to educate their children at home should they so wish, but as a society we have a duty to make sure they get exactly the kind of education that everybody else is getting. My hon. Friend has championed the issue in many other forums, particularly as it affects his constituency, and I would be happy to hear his ideas on how we may go further.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
The title of this Byte has been taken from the phrase highlighted above. It is important that EHE families take the time to digest its full implications. Whilst Malthouse was unable to despatch the Bill to the bin, he was afforded an opportunity to shed light on why the DfE believes it is justified to impose registration, monitoring and assessment on every family which elects to decline the state’s offer to educate their children on their behalf.
For “as a society” read, “the state,” but do ask yourself where “the duty” cited by Malthouse has come from. If the state has a ‘duty’, it must be based on at least one piece of legislation; such things cannot be invented out of thin air! It is important to understand why intelligent politicians, no matter what one thinks of their policies, believe they are duty-bound to impose the same standardised education on every child in the country. That is certainly the clear implication of Malthouse’s answer.
Take a moment to think through what this means. It means that no child should receive a personalised education, and thus the principle of an education suited to a child’s “age, ability and aptitude” becomes standardised to accommodate the ‘universal child’, not the individual.
The context of Selous’s question however raises another important concern. A judicial ruling which is frequently cited is Regina v Secretary of State for Education ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass: 12 Apr 1985. In his ruling Mr. Justice Woolf held that:
“education is ‘suitable’ if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.”
Whilst the ruling concerned a school from the Orthodox Jewish community, it also pertains to the education provided to children from other cultural communities, including the GRT ones.
However, the National Curriculum, which is increasingly viewed as the standard for a suitable education, makes no provision for the skills and values embedded in communities which maintain a traditional lifestyle apart from the bulk of society. Thus it cannot in any way be said to primarily equip children from those communities for life within them. Nor does it treat children from across society as individuals with varying interests and skills, but squeezes them into a one size-fits-all education.
The freedom for children to be educated in the way their parents, and any community they belong to, consider best for them is at risk from the thinking behind Parts 3 & 4 of the Schools Bill. Even when this current Bill is pronounced dead, the mindset which created it will live on. In the wake of the Times raising hopes that Truss would indeed “stop the Schools Bill,” Schools Week reported “DfE scrambles to save key policies as schools bill faces axe.” Amongst the policies which officials hope to reintroduce at the earliest possible opportunity – May next year being the favourite – is “the establishment of a register of children not in school.”
There are two returning education ministers in Sunak’s team, besides Baroness Barran who retains her role. Nick Gibb is the longest serving DfE minister of the last decade – over the same period there have been ten Secretaries of State for Education. Gibb was previously in post from May 2015 through to September last year. During that period there was a rise in hostility towards EHE families within the DfE. This included three consultations which fed into the CNiS proposals, besides the significant shift in emphasis in the 2019 EHE Guidance.
Home educators should also be concerned to see the return of Robert Halfon as a DfE minister. In the five year gap between appointments he has served as Chair of the Education Committee. More recently he has championed the cause of registration of HE children along with monitoring and assessing their progress. Even if his brief is not home education per se, being a minister will afford him significant influence in the formation of any Bill which is put forward as a replacement for the current one.
What can I do?
Attempts to discredit home educating families and erode their civil liberty to determine the type of education their children will receive have been on going for over a decade. If the cause were justifiable, there would be no need to resort to scaremongering. Yet dirt has been consistently thrown at HE parents. Resistance has been successful so far because of the fickleness of the political process, as well as the tenacity of HE parents. However, the ground is shrinking fast beneath our feet, because we have failed to appreciate the agenda being pursued by those who want to take away parental responsibility.
Remember, this agenda will live on even when the Schools Bill is forgotten. Do ask yourself therefore why it is that politicians believe that all children should receive exactly the same education?
Here are some previous posts which we hope may encourage you to see the wider intentions behind the prevailing political thinking in regard to home education.
- Department for Education Seeks to Oversee what You Teach Your Children!
- All Children Must Receive a Formal Education
- Important but Apparently Forgotten Historic Ministerial Letters
Finally, from a time before this website existed, read or listen to this 2010 speech by Baroness Deech (starts at 8:55pm near the bottom of the page). Why did her astute legal understanding convince her that:
“It is the duty of home-educating parents to secure for their children the education pledged in international treaties; the parents do not have stand-alone rights to determine that education in any way that they wish without state regulation.” [Emphasis added]
Unless home educators are able to argue effectively against such convictions, we will find ourselves with no ground left to stand on. When that day comes, our children and grandchildren will be forced into state-ordained educational straightjackets regardless of their individual needs, abilities and aptitude and the culture of the communities of which they are members.