Minister Responds to Written Questions on Settings

What’s been said?

Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough) submitted three Written Questions in the House of Commons on 4 June, all provoked by a lack of clarity about the meaning of the word “settings” in the context of the Children Not in School consultation which closes on 24 June.

The first question sought clarification about whether “(a) weekday evenings, (b) Saturdays and (c) Sundays are classified as normal school hours for the purposes of the Government’s consultation entitled Children not in school: proposed legislation, launched on 2 April 2019.”

The second, framed within the same context, asked the Secretary of State for Education whether morning prayer meetings, afternoon bible studies and evening youth group meetings are included in the scope of education settings.

The third will probably be of most interest to HE parents, as it sought to establish whether museums, art galleries, sports clubs, National Trust and English Heritage properties, leisure centres and Parliament are educational settings in the context of the consultation.

On 12 June DfE Minister Anne Milton supplied an identical holding answer for all three questions, indicating that it would not be possible to answer these within the usual time period.

A full answer was then published the following day:

“The purpose of the proposed register is to enable local authorities to track the main daytime weekday educational settings for children in scope, and to take action if it appears that a suitable education is not being received in usual school hours. This purpose would not be served by bringing into coverage the register [sic] activities carried on in places or at times not relevant to determining suitability, or by including places which are simply hosting educational visits rather than providing tuition and it is not our intention to do so.

Issues such as the definition of usual school hours, and what is a relevant setting for the purposes of providing local authorities with information about children on the proposed register of children not in school, will be considered based on responses received to the consultation, which closes on 24 June. Implementation issues such as these are an important part of the consultation, information for which is available here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/children-not-in-school.”

Why does it matter?

This information has clear relevance to the consultation and any responses still being prepared. The third of the four duties proposed therein reads, “creation of a duty on proprietors of certain education settings to respond to enquiries from local authorities”. This has already occasioned much discussion and anxiety within the HE community about what might be deemed to constitute a “setting”.

Milton’s answer relates to sections 4.1 – 4.6 of the Consultation document, and questions 19-24 in the same.

The prompt provision of this additional information is timely, given the short period remaining for submission of responses.

The answer confirms when settings could be potentially under surveillance. The intention is to establish whether “a suitable education is not being received in usual school hours.” [Emphasis added].

Milton’s answer also clears up some of the uncertainty by confirming that “activities carried on in places or at times not relevant to determining suitability” and “places which are simply hosting educational visits rather than providing tuition” are outside the bounds of what is being considered. However, what the Department means by the word “tuition” has now become of great importance.

Many will be concerned by the use of the word “track” in the opening sentence. “The purpose of the proposed register is to enable local authorities to track the main daytime weekday educational settings for children in scope,” [Emphasis added] indicating that once details were supplied, further investigation would almost certainly follow. This highlights that, in the minds of the bureaucrats, a “register” is about far more than just “needing to have every child’s name on a list.”

Milton’s second paragraph reminds us that nothing will be finally decided until the DfE have “processed” the responses to the consultation, and therefore her earlier comments are simply a signpost indicating the intended direction of travel.

What can I do?

Those who have not yet responded to the consultation may find it helpful to refer to Milton’s answer in their submission.

It is important to press for a clear definition of “educational settings” to avoid future confusion.

As in so many LAs, it appears that DfE staff simply don’t understand how real, elective home education functions – it seems they are still tied to their “desks in a classroom” mentality. According to these notes of a recent consultation regional meeting, when Stephen Bishop of the DfE asked, “Is a museum trip an educational setting?” the home educators present responded with a collective “Yes.”

Perhaps the most important question of all, is whether or not a local HE group meeting once a week in a hired hall will be excluded from the definition of a “education setting”. The government needs to be unambiguously clear about whether they intend such groups to be included or not. If Edward Leigh is your is your MP, perhaps you could ask him to submit a follow-up question to that effect.