Soley Bill – Committee Stage and Further Amendments

What’s been said?

The significant news is that the Committee Stage of Lord Soley’s Bill will take place on Friday 27 April. Judging by the progress of other PMBs in the Lords, it appears to be keeping pace with the ballot results.

Since we last reported on amendments to the Bill, Lord Soley has added some of his own and Lord Lucas has tabled two further sets. Soley has kept his promise made during the Second Reading, by tabling amendments to remove the phrase “physical and emotional” from the Bill. He has also decided to replace the word “monitor” with “assess”. He may have been advised that monitoring something requires constant attention, whilst assessing can be done periodically. If accepted, these would change the emphasis of the Bill, requiring LAs “to assess the educational development of children receiving elective home education.”

Lord Lucas’ fourth amendment and his fifth set may be intended to frustrate the Bill rather than improve it, a tactic which Lord Addington recently said he was prepared to use to stop the Bill. Both suggest changes to the original Clause 1 section 6, which as first drafted requires parents to provide relevant information to their LA when requested. The more recent version prescribes how LAs would fulfil their duties under the Bill’s provisions and includes “in accordance with the parents’ wishes to the extent to which this is feasible and desirable.” A second change proposes defining full time “elective home education” in 1§9 more precisely.

Why does this matter?

It is generally agreed that the government is consistently signalling that this Bill will not become law, but Lord Agnew recently stated that they would watch its progress in Committee with interest. This means that the more peers who speak in support of the Bill, the more likely the government’s thinking is to change. Equally, if only one or two peers express reservations about it, then it could be assumed that there is little support for maintaining parental educational freedom. Remember that since the Badman Review, this debate has always been about changing the public’s impression of EHE.

Politicians are simply members of the public who have been elevated into influential positions. They therefore need to be informed about the benefits of HE, rather than panicked by rumours of its dangers. If you value your freedom as a member of the home educating community to teach your children in a way which suits them as individuals, now is a good time to educate people about home education, to quote Lilian Hardy.

What can I do?

Take this opportunity to write to members of the House of Lords asking them to oppose Lord Soley’s Bill, but do choose carefully who to contact. Unlike MP’s, Peers do not have a constituency, but many have specific interests. This page lists active members of the House of Lords. It can be filtered first by Policy interest, then the two most relevant options are Education and Communities & families. Before writing to any Peer, it is advisable to research what they have already said. Follow the link to a member’s profile page and click on the “Recent Activity” tab. There you will find links to their spoken material by date, their voting record and their latest written questions. You may also wish to contact Peers who have expressed concern about connected issues. For instance, Lord Polak recently criticised Ofsted’s approach to “unregistered” religious schools, in a debate which frequently mentioned EHE.

We have emphasised elsewhere the importance of the HE community stressing the positives of our choices and not making personal attacks on those who are seeking to restrict them. If you have not seen this 2007 article by Simone de Hoogh, you may find it informative and inspiring. It was first published in the Mensa Research Journal, with the title Home Education: A successful educational experiment?

Finally, do not be afraid to quote Lord Soley’s supporters who have pointed out shortfalls in the Bill. During the Second Reading, for example, Baroness Morris of Yardley accepted “In truth, though, while the state is very good at inspecting within a very regulated framework, it is less good at exercising judgement and discretion where people are not absolutely following that framework and regulation but are nevertheless doing a decent job.”

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