What’s been said?
Unusually Lord Lucas drip-fed his amendments to Lord Soley’s Bill into the parliamentary system. Comments are available on his first and second sets of amendments. His third collection, identified as (c) on the Bill’s page, may at first sight seem somewhat confusing given that he has so far been the EHE community’s most vocal defender amongst his peers.
These five amendments need to be read carefully and alongside the original Bill. Whilst it may seem that Lucas is seeking to enhance the powers of local authorities, further thought suggests that he is actually seeking to ensure that LAs and schools comply with legislation and guidance already in place. Given that the government have stated repeatedly that there will be no change in EHE law home educating families can learn much from this Bill’s limited progress through the corridors of power.
Why does it matter?
The first proposed insertion widens Soley’s initial clause to include what school proprietors have to tell a LA when parents deregister a child, and the LA’s responsibilities with regard to the information they receive. Importantly Lucas places this before Soley’s paragraphs detailing the duty of LAs to monitor and assess EHE children, thus emphasising that their powers rest upon their duty to fulfil the responsibilities already placed upon them. This reflects his previous description of the Bill as being “set the wrong way round”. One noteworthy addition is the requirement for schools to “include information as to whether the children concerned have Education and Health Care Plans.” If implemented, this could indicate where schools might be coercing parents to off-roll difficult pupils.
The next three amendments work together. Giving a LA the responsibility (as opposed to a right) to inspect any setting where a child is educated may at first seem intrusive. It does however prevent their staff from targeting a particular type of setting. It also places what will be an unmanageable burden on LAs – think of the army of inspectors who would have to visit every castle, park, zoo, climbing wall and the like where HE children receive their education! The sting in this requirement is found in his additional clause to Page 2, line 13, placing a responsibility on councils to tell Ofsted about any unregistered school they discover in the process. If adopted, this would make LAs responsible for reporting illegal schools.
The final amendment in this set proposes replacing Lord Soley’s short but loose definition of home education. Lucas anchors his definition firmly in the 1996 Education Act, reversing Soley’s slant that a parental decision to HE is to choose not to send them to school. This is important because all parents have a prime responsibility to ensure their children are suitably educated, not a responsibility to send them to school. Perhaps Soley and Clare Foges, who has called for parents to be forced to opt out of state education are singing from the same song sheet! In correcting Soley’s flawed definition, Lucas also seeks to enshrine freedom for children to be flexi-schooled.
What can I do?
Once more the EHE community needs to remember that the threat of this Bill is not that it will become law. Just as the Badman Review achieved, the danger is that Soley and his allies are changing the national conversation concerning home education. Having come out of the shadows as far as national and local politicians were concerned, on the whole the HE community retreated from public life again once Ed Balls’ 2010 Children’s Schools and Families Bill had the EHE clauses deleted from it prior to the general election.
Determine now that when Lord Soley’s Bill grinds to a halt – as the government has indicated it will – that you will not retreat from engaging with politicians. Opponents of home education have sought to brand us as abusers and extremists, or dismiss us as middle-class, vocal activists. The best way to overcome their bad-mouthing is to ensure that your MP and local councillors are familiar with home educating families and can observe how well-equipped the majority of their children are for adulthood.