What’s been said?
Writing on the OnTheWight website Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, has urged parents to participate in the government’s EHE consultation. After meeting a group of parents, he said he is supportive of parents who wish to educate their own children, adding, “councils already have the powers they need to act in the rare cases where children are not being well educated at home”. He continued, “However, the consultation is a useful way for parents on the Island to have their say and I hope they do so”.
Whilst it is always difficult to know when politicians are speaking from the heart or sticking to script, Seely’s statement suggests in places that he does recognise the good work done by many parents. However, it has to be asked whether he has looked at the consultation from the perspective of a busy EHE family.
Why does it matter?
Nearly four weeks after the Call for Evidence was launched, the team at The HE Byte are still finding it difficult to gets to grips with the multiple issues raised. We are increasingly convinced that given the quantity and complexity of the material (almost twenty-five thousand words across the three documents), most conscientious EHE parents will find it very difficult to provide the full response they would like to make by the deadline.
There are some very important legal issues raised, particularly in the draft guidance. These include an increased emphasis on the right of LAs to intervene without cause in private families on the grounds of safeguarding children, and the implications of an imposed curriculum under the guise of the requirement that children be taught Fundamental British Values. The team are far from legal experts and we commend Mari Greenfield for crowd-funding the costs of a legal opinion from an eminent QC on the legality of the proposed Guidelines. We are very hopeful that this will make an important contribution to the response from the EHE community.
That said, the rest of us should not rely on the efforts of a few. We all need to be doing what we can. At the time of the Badman Review there were several responses which helped to swing political opinion behind EHE. These included a Mass Lobby of Parliament, multiple formal Petitions to Parliament and various written pieces, including Right to Reply put together by the Badman Review Action Group. What was important in all these is that individuals did what they could and what they felt comfortable with.
What can I do?
The pressing need at the moment is make clear to the government and politicians in general that many parents have serious concerns about the content of the guidelines. It also seems they do not appreciate that EHE parents will not find it easy to respond as they would wish in the limited time available, and at a time of year when some will be preparing older children for exams. Professionals can make their responses during working hours; parents have to do theirs in their “spare” time.
It would be easy to be cynical and think that the complexity, the time frame or the response window’s overlap with the ICS green paper were intentional, in order to deter EHE parents from participating. However, it is very likely that ministers and civil servants just did not think through the implications of the size of task they have asked families to undertake.
The draft guidelines make clear that the government is seeking to change the interpretation of existing laws in order to restrict educational freedom. Now therefore is a very good time to follow the example of parents on the Isle of Wight. We encourage groups of EHE families in a constituency to arrange a meeting with their MP before the summer recess. Besides this being an opportunity for politicians to meet local, truly elective home educators, it will also allow you to make known your concerns about the issues raised in the Call for Evidence. Doing so now will be much better than leaving it until the autumn.