The Commissioner of Education is Responsible for Keeping the Child Safe

What’s been said?

On Tuesday 1 May, the Education Committee heard further evidence in its Alternative Provision inquiry. You can watch the session (2 hours 10 minutes) or access the minutes as a web page or a PDF. There were many references to home education, mainly in connection with off-rolling by schools and we hope to consider some of these in other articles.

During the second part of the session the MPs questioned Nick Gibb MP, Minister for School Standards, Department for Education. He made clear that the government is conducting the consultation on EHE so that it “can find out the facts of what is happening with home education.”(Q454) This highlights the importance of all concerned HE parents finding the time to make an informed response to this Call for Evidence.

Several remarks were made during the discussion about Alternative Provision [AP] actually suiting some young people better than their experience of mainstream, due to the “increasing straitjacket around expectations in terms of outcomes”. No one commented though on the similarities between AP and EHE.

At one point Thelma Walker MP expressed concern to Nick Gibb (Q526) about the safeguarding of young people who for example might be spending one day in unregistered AP and the rest of their week in school. His answer is revealing, “The commissioner of that provision for that child has a duty to make sure that the children will be safe in that environment and that the quality of provision is of a suitable standard. The commissioner of the provision, the person that pays for that provision, has to take responsibility for ensuring that it is of the right quality.”

Why does it matter?

Those who have read the EHE Call for Evidence and associated draft Guidelines, should have noticed that the government is now saying that LAs have a responsibility to monitor the quality of HE not through their education remit, but through their duties to safeguard every child in their area. There seems to be some sleight of hand here and this does need challenging. In this respect, even though he was speaking about responsibilities within the school system, Nick Gibb vocalised a principle which is the opposite of what is said in 7§1 of the draft Guidelines for LAs. There the government argues, “In effect therefore the general duties of local authorities in relation to safeguarding are the same for all children however they are educated.”

Section 3§2 of the same document correctly states, “This means that the responsibility for children’s education rests with their parents.” This is true for all children, not just EHE ones. Importantly, when a child is being electively educated at home by their parents, it is their parents and not the local authority which has commissioned the educational provision. It is therefore the parents and not the LA who, according to Gibb, have a duty to keep their children safe. To emphasise the point, both sets of proposed Guidelines make clear that when parents elect to HE a child they take on the full financial responsibility for their education. Therefore, as the minister stated, “the person that pays for that provision, has to take responsibility for ensuring that it is of the right quality.”

What can I do?

We recently encouraged parents to arrange meetings with their MP. Keep points like this in mind for such occasions; they can be useful in highlighting that there is something not quite right with the DfE’s reasoning. Make a note of them so that when you respond to the Call for Evidence, you can quote them in appropriate places.

You can also discuss them with other parents in your local HE groups, and with non-HE friends and family. We would of course be very happy for you to share any of our articles you find helpful with others via social media, email or by linking to them from your own blog or website.