Questions, questions, questions

What’s been said?

Written questions are a feature of parliamentary life in both Commons and Lords. They “allow Members of Parliament to ask government ministers for information on the work, policy and activities of government departments.” Investigating written questions on the topic of home education reveals a steady flow over the year from members of both Houses. At the time of writing, answers have been supplied to the following questions since the summer recess:

On 23rd July Dr Paul Williams (Lab. Stockton South) asked the Secretary of State for Education, “what information his Department holds on trends in the number of people being home-schooled in Stockton South constituency.”

On 7th September, Jim Cunningham (Lab. Coventry South) wanted to know “how many children are home-schooled in (a) Coventry South constituency, (b) Coventry, (c) the West Midlands and (d) England.”

On 6th September Lord Baker of Dorking (Con.) asked, “how many GCSE entries were made for students who were home educated in the 2017–18 academic year?” and followed up with a second question about how many home school inspections were made in the 2017–18 academic year.

The following day Lord Storey (Lib. Dem.) submitted the question, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many children in England were home educated in each of the years (1) 2013–14, (2) 2014–15, (3) 2015–16, and (4) 2016–17.”

Answers to the above were supplied on behalf of the DfE by either Anne Milton or Lord Agnew of Oulton, and are published on line with the question. Apart from one predictable reference to consultation feedback still being under analysis, notable features common to several answers were as follows:

  • the data requested was neither collected nor held centrally;
  • an acknowledgement that though LAs may collect such data, it would be incomplete because “there is no obligation upon parents to register children as being educated at home”.
  • a restatement of what powers LAs do and do not have with regard to specifics such as inspection or verifying that a suitable education is taking place.

Why does it matter?

Although Members cannot fail to be aware by now that HE is a live issue, thanks to constituents, media coverage or petitions to the House, the pointless or uninformed nature of some of their questions indicate that there are many aspects of educational law they really do not understand. (Maybe they would benefit from familiarising themselves with the excellent Briefing Paper on Home Education in England, available in the HoC Library.) Neither it seems do they appreciate the rationale behind HE, and they struggle to get a handle on a way of life which differs in such a major way to the prevailing mindset which equates education with school.

Note too the regularity with which these written questions keep coming.

Some questions however, particularly those originating with the Lords, could be classified as “leading” or even as indirect lobbying intended to keep up pressure on the government to take more decisive action about the perceived “problem of home educators”.

Government responses thus far have been relatively non-commital, sticking with the status quo for the time being and giving little extra insight into their intentions for the future.

What can I do?

If you wish to be notified of future written questions about HE, you can register here to receive email alerts.

If a written question is posed by your own MP or by one of the Lords whom you have previously lobbied, use this as an opportunity to speak to them further on the matter of HE.

Remember too the point made in an earlier Byte about careful consideration of what could be the most helpful question to ask in a given situation.

Consider keeping a running list of thoughts and issues related to HE as they come to mind, so that when an opportunity does arise to speak to anyone, you are well prepared ahead of the moment.