Robert Halfon’s Letter: an Exercise in Orwellian Political Doublespeak

Education Committee Chair must think home educated children and their parents cannot read between the lines.

What’s been said?

Robert Halfon MP Chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee, not content with telling Radio 4 Today Programme listeners that he is in favour of registration and monitoring of all EHE children, has likewise promoted his philosophy in a letter to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson.

In a typical piece of twenty-first century Orwellian political doublespeak, Mr Halfon opined:

“I do not wish to pre-empt any of our final conclusions at this stage… The Committee’s view is that a statutory register serving to more consistently identify children outside of school is absolutely necessary.”

Parsing the letter lays bare his vision for home education:

“… a register on its own would not achieve much… Without this data, gaps in our understanding of the attainment and outcomes for the full range of children educated at home remain… good outcomes for home-educated children… advice, support and guidance they needed to make a truly informed decision… It would need adequate resourcing and a clear purpose, along with sensitive and consistentfocus on the wellbeing of children…”

Why does it matter?

This translates into a simple four piece “Plan, Do, Check, Act” health and safety management process comprising:

  • Permission to home educate;
  • A register of all home educated children;
  • Statutory wellbeing outcomes;
  • Audit and control.

We all know the arguments against registration, control and a suitable education. What is less frequently discussed is the notion that the state wants a stake in what we actually teach our children and, in turn, their ‘wellbeing’ as a consequence of that teaching.

In Scotland, however, home educators do know about ‘wellbeing’ due to their infamous Named Person Scheme which would have allowed every child’s ‘wellbeing’ to be monitored and which was famously struck down in 2016 by the Supreme Court.

Immediately after that ruling, lawyer and social worker Allan Norman considered its implications in a piece entitled, “The ‘Named Persons’ Scheme – When Protecting Wellbeing Is Totalitarian.”

“But the question was – and I argue the question still remains – whether it is possible to construct a universal scheme that monitors the wellbeing of all children, irrespective of any indicators of harm. In particular, how can such a scheme operate within the law on information-sharing? All information-sharing is data-processing, which is subject to national and EU law.”

For a further explanation of why the state cannot monitor every child’s ‘wellbeing’, watch winning QC, Aiden O’Neill, explain it further at a NO2NP Event, in March the following year. [The most relevant section starts from 13 minutes – video below.]

A key moment in the Education Committee’s Oral Evidence session was the suggestion from the LGA that home educated children need “PHSE [sic] support and the wider knowledge of the society they are growing up in. Potentially there is a question about defining that more closely.” For PSHE read Equality Act, and the wish of the state that every child is educated in accordance with it.

Last week saw a fascinating spat between the Head of Eton and a teacher, whom he sacked for giving a lecture which (allegedly) breached the Equality Act. Importantly, it appears the teacher was sacked because he refused to take down his Youtube video expressing his clearly counter-cultural point of view.

There is a political agenda which goes beyond merely setting up a home education register and checking that every child has a “suitable education.” That agenda is starting to present itself as a wish that every child’s wellbeing is monitored and that they are taught the same ideological values of the state as schooled children.

Halfon and his Committee appear unwilling to consider political, pedagogic, ideological, ethical and legal arguments against the regulation and control of home education. However, they are wading in the same legal quagmire about children’s wellbeing and ideology that engulfed the Scottish Government, and this is a situation which is igniting a slow fuse, potentially leading to a judicial review.

What can I do?

If Chairman Halfon can pre-empt his own inquiry by writing to the Minister for Education, then so can the rest of us. Past experience suggests that whilst civil servants cannot read, they can count. If several thousand home educators write to the Minister via their MP, which is the best way of ensuring he sees it, we can make a numerical point that cannot be discounted!

Consider making one or more of the following arguments in your letter, using your own words of course:

  • Halfon’s comments, on the radio and in his letter, undermine the validity of the Education Committee’s Inquiry;
  • The continued conflation of elective home education with the failures of the school system to provide suitable education for increasing numbers of children is unhelpful to both groups of children;
  • A register of children who are truly missing an education is very different to one which includes children who are receiving a suitable education outside school – Local Authorities have a proven history of being unable to distinguish between the two;
  • Local Authorities are already able to access information on children who have been removed from school rolls without good explanation. They should make it their priority to address the problems in schools before pursuing parents who are doing their best for their children outside a system which is failing.