What’s been said?
BBC News at Six on 26 February 2018 broadcast an interview with Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, in which she called yet again for more power for Ofsted to deal with illegal schools. It follows her criticism of the Department for Education (DfE) in a Sunday Times article just a day earlier. It is part of an ongoing battle between Ofsted and the DfE, in which the latter repeatedly state that adequate powers already exist and are vested in Local Authorities. They further point to Ofsted’s success in dealing with unregistered schools.
Why does it matter?
This argument is significant to the home ed community for various reasons. The most important is that illegal and unregistered schools are being wilfully conflated with EHE in the battle to force registration and inspection of all home educators. Footage aired by the BBC purports to show a child in an ultra-orthodox Jewish school in Essex being struck. The synagogue concerned said that it is not running an illegal school, simply providing a home education facility. The rules on definition of a school are clear – any organisation teaching five or more children for 18 hours or more each week must register as a school. An accompanying article on the BBC website claims to have evidence of the synagogue operating beyond the 18 hour limit. Yet again, the line between home ed and unregistered schooling is blurred.
The point repeatedly made by the DfE is that Ofsted has all the powers necessary to act, because inspectors can provide the local authority with the evidence they have collected. If this footage is accurate, it provides reason for action by the local authority on safeguarding grounds. The same is true of dirty, squalid conditions and extremist literature being made available to children. The charge that nothing can be done is simply wrong. It is reasonable to assume that Spielman has another agenda running here. It’s also reasonable to question whether that agenda is control of every child in the country.
There’s a further reason for concern. Just before the broadcast, Humanists UK tweeted: “Tonight! Tune in to BBC News at 6pm on BBC One to watch our exposé on illegal religious schools. Illegal schools fail children more acutely than any other area of the education system – our work to highlight their experiences is crucial to securing change.” Lord Soley, who is currently attempting to get his home education Bill through Parliament, is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Humanists UK claim to be spearheading the campaign of which the BBC report is an outcome. Given their activism, Lord Soley should declare an interest.
What can I do?
Be aware of these actions and argue the distinctiveness of home education at every possible opportunity. Visit your MP and make the point that as a home educator, you are simply exercising your responsibility and right as a parent. Tell your MP of the powers that already exist and why Ofsted and councils must work together to deal with evidenced abuse and neglect, rather than casting suspicion on everyone who doesn’t embrace state education.