Plans for a Register Take a Step Nearer

Plans for a Register Take a Step Nearer

Government minister says the Department for Education “have responded” to the Children Not in School consultation, but nothing has been published.

Update: On 4 January 22, Baroness Barran wrote to Lord Soley to clarify her answer cited in this Byte [PDF]. In the letter the Minister stated: “I would like to confirm that we have not yet published the government response to the the [sic] Children Not in School consultation, but we have processed all responses and hope to publish our response in early 2022.” This confirms that progress has been made towards responding to the consultation, but that the response is not as imminent as the Baroness suggested in her oral answer.

What’s been said?

The first indication that the long-awaited Government response to the Children not in School consultation (April 2019) is close to being published appeared in an answer from Baroness Barran to a question from Lord Soley during a House of Lords debate on Alternative Education [AE] on Wednesday 15 December.

Lord Storey had begun the exchange by asking for a government assessment of the numbers in AE. Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Baroness Barran responded. After a further exchange between Storey and Barran about progression funding for those leaving Alternative Provision, Lord Soley spoke next, with a rather sarcastic enquiry [Emphasis added in all quotations]:

“My Lords, can the Minister tell us where we are up to on the register? She will remember, I think, that some two years ago the Bill on home education passed through this House with support from all sides. I have had letters from Ministers since then saying that it is going to proceed, but it never actually does. It might be a good idea if they at least told me what is happening; it would be quite nice if they told the rest of the House as well. So, can we have an answer to that question: what is happening to the register?

Barran responded:

“The noble Lord will be aware that we consulted on the register, and he will no doubt be delighted to know that we have responded to that consultation. From the local authority perspective, the consultation showed a clear call for a register, which we support. There was concern expressed by parent groups who educate their children at home. We absolutely understand that many parents go above and beyond to do that, but the safety of children and the fact that we know where they are is all-important.”

After other aspects of AE had been discussed, The Lord Bishop of St Albans returned to the subject of ‘home schooling,’ saying:

“…I have been very struck by the number of people I have met in the last year or two who have decided to take their children out of mainstream schooling to educate them at home—often, from what I hear, with spectacular academic results. But what assessment has been made about the trends of whether this is increasing, and what assessment has been made about the reasons why people are doing this? We need to listen to what is happening at a grass-roots level to understand this phenomenon.”

In her response, Barran re-emphasised the need for a register, and the Government’s desire for hard data to enable them to ‘track trends’. Towards the end of her reply, she also highlighted yet another possible cause for parents opting for home education.

“The right reverend Prelate asks about the trends. One of the reasons we plan to introduce a register of home-educated children is exactly that: it is very difficult to track those trends today. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about the increase in the number of children who are electively home educated during the pandemic, but we do not have hard data on that, and we need to. As the right reverend Prelate knows, there are many reasons why parents choose to take their children out of school. Some children will benefit – that there are parents who are concerned that their children will end up in alternative provision and want to avoid that, and therefore choose to educate them at home.”

Why does it matter?

The Government should have published its response to the CNiS consultation in the autumn of 2019, but did not do so. They then failed to publish it before the start of the disruption caused by the response to Covid-19. Last year and this they have repeatedly stated that they would issue their response “by the end of the year,” but that target has slipped back many times.

During an Accountability Hearing before the Education Committee on 3 November, in response to a question from Nicola Richards (Q1086 ), the new Education Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, stated:

“We are absolutely committed to the register. We will set out further details on our response to the children not in school consultation, which we intend to publish by the end of the year. This is really important.”

Given the increasing pressure the DfE are under regarding large numbers of children ‘not in school,’ neither Barran’s nor Zahawi’s words should come as a surprise.

The more significant thing of course will be the content of the response, and what it reveals about their plans for a register.

It is probable that the Under Secretary of State got ahead of herself in her choice of words, because the DfE’s response to the consultation had not been actually published at the time. Until such time, the response is still “outstanding.” Her words may indicate that the response has been signed off by Ministers, even though it has not yet appeared in the public sphere. This Byte will be updated with the relevant information when available. We shall then have to consider the proposals carefully before commenting further.

What can I do?

Read the parliamentary exchange, and watch out for the publication of the Government response.

Remember there will be a need for many searching questions and careful scrutiny of any Government proposals before a register can become a reality. Once the content of the response is known, HE parents could begin work on preparing these with a view to approaching their MPs.

In the meantime, after a long and exhausting year on the HE political front, some words from Anna Dusseau in this Schoolsweek article may help us maintain perspective:

“any debate must start from the premise that families long predate our 150-year-old compulsory education and 28-year-old inspectorate.”

Finally, as the Byte about the above article urged readers at the time:

“… don’t let the tide of anti-HE propaganda undermine your trust in our own natural ability as a parent. You are an expert when it comes to knowing your own children best – and beyond that, you have their interests at heart more than any professional will ever do.”