What’s been said?
“Written” questions are questions from MPs or Peers asking a government department for statements on various matters. The last year has seen a steady flow of these on the topic of home education. We have commented previously that whilst there have been plenty of pointless questions to the DfE about HE, the answer supplied by a minister occasionally sheds helpful light on the Department’s current thinking. An answer provided by Anne Milton on 29 January seems to be one of the most informative yet.
On 23 January, Julie Cooper (Lab Burnley) asked what steps the Education Secretary “is taking to ensure that children in home education placements have a high standard of education and care.” This came to our attention 28 January when the DfE indicated that it would not be possible to answer this question within the required time period. We were unsure if this question even pertained to EHE, as the use of the word “placements” is rarely connected with electively home educated children.
The confusion was dispelled the following day, when the DfE’s full answer was appended to the relevant webpage. The first two paragraphs are typical political restatements of known facts – “the government supports the right of parents to educate their children;” “local authorities are responsible for identifying any children who are not receiving a suitable education;” and “we want to make sure that every child receives a good education.” Concern is also expressed about “the increasing numbers of children who are being removed from school to be educated at home.” The answer further implied that the consultation was carried out specifically in response to this increase, continuing:
“The finalised versions of this guidance will be published shortly. At the same time, a call for evidence on the issues of registration and monitoring of children educated at home, and support for home educating families, was held, and a government response document setting out proposed next steps will also be published soon.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
The DfE have been using the words like “soon” and “shortly” for some time now with reference to the publication of their response to the consultation. They have also indicated that the new guidance would be published without further discussion with the HE community. The new information in this recent answer is that the government’s proposals for “registration and monitoring of children educated at home,” as well as for “support for home educating families” will be published separately from the new guidance.
Whilst we have no idea at this stage what their proposals will be, it is now clear that registration and monitoring will not be included in the new guidance. This does not signal the end of the battle to maintain parental responsibility for education, and we have no idea what the new guidance will imply, but it does mean that Lord Soley has not persuaded ministers to rush into registering and monitoring HE children.
We have not been told how the proposals concerning registration, monitoring and support will be processed once they are published. There may be a further consultation, there may be offers to meet some or all interested parties, or (as some may hope) forward progress may just get lost in budget cuts and everything else that distracts governments.
What can I do?
Firstly, take heart. At The HE Byte we see this as a moment of brightness in what has been an intense fifteen months for EHE families. There has not been much good news coming our way recently, but the separation of the new guidance from proposals for a registration scheme and all that that would imply, is encouraging. It indicates that this is not an axe waiting to fall the moment new guidance is published. It may also indicate that the DfE has heard the concerns of HE families about the way last year’s consultation was handled. It may mean that the many hours spent by those who found the time and energy to respond in full to the Call for Evidence were not wasted. If these things are so, then well done!
Secondly, we encourage you not to think that this is a campaign won – it is not! The separating out of registration from new guidance is a significant step, but it is not the end of the hostile environment towards home education (as today’s statement from the Children’s Commissioner for England illustrates). We have seen recently how those behind Soley’s efforts are still trying to gain leverage from his now lifeless Bill. It took them several years to regroup after the failure of Badman – they won’t give up very easily this time around.
If you value parental freedom, especially in education, keep watching political developments with regard to HE, keep in touch with your MP and local councillors, and stand ready to respond to every available opportunity to engage with the DfE over their proposals for registration and monitoring of children educated by their parents, whatever they might be.