MP makes known that they are working towards putting forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill to establish “the register” of children not in school.
What’s been said?
Many will be aware that the Commons Education Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into “Persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils.” In January we encouraged readers whose children had experienced problems with attending school to respond. The window for written submissions has now closed, but on Tuesday 7 March, the Committee held its first Oral Evidence session. The witnesses invited to this session were:
- Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England;
- Rob Williams, Senior Policy Adviser, National Association of Head Teachers;
- Lucy Nethsingha, Deputy Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People’s Board;
- Alice Wilcock, Head of Education, Centre for Social Justice.
Overall there was a fresh willingness to acknowledge that there are an increasing number of issues in schools which contribute significantly to pupil absences, but there will no doubt be comment elsewhere on these. The two hour session can be watched in full on ParliamentTV, or the transcript is also available.
There were several references to home education during the discussion, but one in particular is very significant. [The recording of this section starts here.]
When Committee member Flick Drummond MP (Con. Meon Valley) was invited to question the witnesses, she began:
“I want to talk about the role of local authorities and the role of schools. In the submission it says that the local authorities do not have the full purse [sic: powers] to fulfil the duty to ensure that every child is receiving a suitable full-time education and children can slip through the net. I am a passionate believer of the register, so I am working with Alice [Wilcock] to put a ten-minute rule Bill through on that one, so we have that going and we will keep pushing that.” [Emphasis added]
Whilst the casual reader may wonder which ‘register’ she believes in, Lucy Nethsingha was in no doubt:
“It is good to hear about the register and the ten-minute rule Bill. That will be extremely welcome. It is something that local authorities and the LGA have been very clear that we feel is important, and it was disappointing to see it disappear, and it will be a big relief if it comes back. Thank you for that.”
Rob Williams was also very positive in his opening comment:
“On the register, we would be supportive of that. That is something we have been publicly pushing for some time. It is an incredibly important piece of work, so it is good to hear around that.”
Whilst she passed no direct comment on the register, Alice Wilcock of the CSJ should be a name that readers recognise. She is the author of the rather rushed, misleading and consequently inaccurate report published last November. This resulted in her featuring in an equally unbalanced Newsnight segment. Amongst her report’s recommendations were these:
- To improve oversight of home education, local authorities need to be given additional powers:
- These powers should include more frequent visits and powers to see the child in person.
- To ensure every home educated child is receiving a quality education that helps prepare them for their future, we should introduce light-touch national quality assurance and clear statutory guidance:
- Each home educated child should complete a light-touch assessment in English and Maths to check they are working at the level of their peers.
- The guidance on home education should also be clarified to strengthen the minimum benchmarks of what constitutes a suitable education, ensuring every child receives an education that enables them to function in society as an independent adult.
Why does it matter?
Prior to and following last December’s confirmation that the Schools Bill had been abandoned, there was an increase in activity from the anti-HE lobby. Whilst it is clear that the present Government has many matters to deal with which affect far more people than those in our diverse HE communities, the opponents of parental responsibility for children’s education are desperate to do all they can to prevent their years of efforts being wasted.
Those who seek to impose registration and monitoring perceive the current Conservative Party as weak on civil liberties and willing to embrace a policy which was both birthed and nurtured by Labour. It is increasingly clear that they are also too impatient to wait for a Labour election victory before achieving the next step towards their objectives – all children educated according to the State’s diktat.
Previously it was unclear how legislative time might be found to bring Parts 3 and 4 of the Schools Bill back to Parliament. Now it seems that Drummond has taken on the responsibility of introducing a ‘quick-fire’ Private Members’ Bill into the Commons. Parliament’s website describes Ten Minute Rule Bills as allowing:
“a backbench MP to make his or her case for a new Bill in a speech lasting up to ten minutes. An opposing speech may also be made before the House decides whether or not the Bill should be introduced. If the MP is successful the Bill is taken to have had its first reading.”
The relevant MPs’ Guide to Procedure adds:
“Ten-Minute Rule Bills are unlikely to become law, but are a way of drawing attention to an issue that requires a change in the law and speaking about it in the Chamber.”
The Electoral Reform Society has a informative guide (including a video) confirming that these Bills do sometimes progress beyond their brief introduction, though only a very few actually make it into law. In the last seventy-eight years, just sixty have received Royal Assent.
As with regular Private Members’ Bills, these Bills are only successful if the Government of the day does not oppose them. Therefore the big question seems to be whether Drummond’s Bill will be assisted by the Government, or whether they will obstruct it. Given Gillian Keegan’s comments when she told the same Committee, “We do definitely remain committed to legislating for children not on the school register…” it appears that this Bill could quite easily be waved through.
What can I do?
First, recognise that until the Bill is tabled, there is no point in asking your MP to oppose it – they are very unlikely to even know that it is planned. (Some MPs indicated that they were not interested in the Schools Bill until it passed into the Commons – which thankfully it never did.) There is also little to be gained at this stage by trying to attract MPs’ attention through petitions or ‘copy and paste’ letters written by others – the latter usually produce very little benefit.
We recently encouraged readers see the upcoming Petitions Committee debate as an “Opportunity to accentuate the positives”. We continue to encourage you to arrange a meeting with your MP to “share with them the benefits home education has afforded your family,” and so on. We repeat this here, because in the end home educators must be more than constituents who are persistent emailers: we need to become people MPs know well enough to respect us for our dedication to our children and our hard work that they may grow up as responsible adults. (See the “What can I do?” section in our previous Byte).
If you thought it was all over when the Schools Bill was scrapped, you now know nothing could be further from the truth!