Wondering How to Respond to the Consultation?

What’s been said?

In response to last year’s EHE consultation, the DfE announced another one at the start of April. Entitled Children Not in School, the new consultation seeks comments on establishing a register for EHE children. With only about three weeks before it closes, it seems that many parents are still unsure how best to respond.

The HE Byte team recognise the difficulties; the government is not asking if it should establish a register, but what factors should be considered when it does so. As a team however, we do see value in as many people as possible submitting a response, and want to encourage you to do so.

Why does it matter?

Given the current political chaos, it’s possible that some are wondering if it’s worth responding at all. Remember though that whilst politicians move in and out of ministerial posts very quickly, civil servants remain at their desks, and it is the latter which have the real influence on policy. Think about it – the initial proposal to establish a register was motivated by Ed Balls, a Labour minister, but this is now being taken forward by Damien Hinds a Conservative one. The 2010 general election did not defeat Graham Badman’s recommendations; it only delayed them!

Our Responding to Consultations page explains that consultations are not a vote on a particular matter, but are (at best) a government exercise in seeking advice from interested parties in order to avoid any pitfalls which may accompany the proposed changes. Given that the DfE have already stated their intention to establish a register, simply saying “I object” will accomplish very little – though if that is what you want to do, we still encourage you to do so.

The alternative is to respond to the consultation in the hope of limiting any damage. This is not easy, because the DfE has created a two-stream on-line response form separating out those who “agree with” the proposals from those who “disagree with” them. As we have said previously, this undermines confidence that responses from both groups will be treated with equal weight.

One possible way of avoiding this would be to write to the DfE rather than using the on-line form. You could explain that whilst you disagree with the proposal, you want to engage constructively with the Department so as to ensure that any future register operates without becoming effectively a licence to home educate. You can use this email address for your submission – we suggest that you attach it as a PDF or Word document.

What can I do?

If you are motivated to respond, only you can decide which of the above routes you will follow. You may find our recently published guide to Responding to the Children not in School Consultation along with a Comparison between questions on the published Consultation Document and On-line Response Form helpful. Below is a summary of key points to consider, depending on the route you choose

For those who decide to simply object to a register, there are four questions which you should consider answering, in addition to the ones requiring your personal details. Answering ‘No’ to Q7, will take you to Q20, “Why do you not support the concept of a duty to each LA to maintain a register?” (Question numbers are for the on-line form.) This is where you can explain your fundamental objections to the proposals. You can then click through to the final page, “Concluding questions.” Q71 asks for comments on the equalities log, UNCRC analysis and family test. We believe it’s important for home educators to respond to this one – see this Byte for more details. Q72 is an open question where you can record any objections you have not included in response to Q20.

For those seeking to limit government overreach, here is a brief summary of some key points identified in our guide:

  • Introduction

Explains in brief why they are seeking to establish a register. A fuller explanation can be found in §4 of the Government’s response to last year’s consultation.

  • Section 1 – LA duty to maintain a register of children not in school (Q7-31)

Explains that the basic principles of a register will be established under primary legislation, with the details added later through secondary legislation. This is a concern because it makes it easier for a future government to change how the law will be applied, and could easily lead to increased intrusion. This section also asks what data should be collected and with whom it should be shared. Major data protection concerns need to be highlighted when responding to these questions.

  • Section 2 – Duty on parents (Q32-42)

The “Technical details” explain that they are trying to decide under what circumstances parents should be required to register a child, and what the sanctions should be if they don’t. The question about which information parents should be required to provide raises similar issues to the one in the previous section. There are some positives here too, such as the statement that the government does not “want to introduce a new criminal offence for parents.”

  • Section 3 – Duty on settings (Q43-53)

This is a contentious section because it lacks clear definitions of where (i.e. in which settings) this new duty would apply. It could therefore include local HE groups which meet as little as once a month, or establishments providing educational visits for HE groups, such as zoos, museums, etc. It also seems to be an unjust proposal, because §4.1 states that no such setting would be required to keep records of any children registered at a school for whom they are making similar provisions. This section clearly relates to the conflation of EHE with unregistered schools and other legal settings such as Jewish yeshivas, and it is therefore questionable if it should be included at all in legislation concerning EHE. It is important for the HE community to engage fully with this section, as without clear and workable definitions this Duty could easily prevent many HE groups from meeting or hinder educational visits from taking place.

  • Section 4 – Duty on local authorities to provide support for home education (Q54-70)

This is a contentious area and one’s response has to be in line with one’s own convictions. The DfE rules out the transfer of funding for a “school place” to parents, but does offer the possibility of funding for national exams, conditional on a child being registered. §5.10 confirms what many people fear, “However, the main incentive for local authorities to operate such a duty seriously would be to ensure that the education provided at home for a child was suitable.” It does raise the possibility of some support, such as exam fees, being provided directly by the DfE rather than through LAs.

  • Concluding questions (Q71-72)

As highlighted above, the three documents referenced in Q71 do raise serious concerns and we encourage all respondents to read them and highlight the weaknesses of these documents.

Finally, remember that once this consultation closes on 24 June, the political debate will not be over. We may have to wait for things to settle down in government, but once there is a new Prime Minister and cabinet, the need to keep bringing your concerns to the attention of your MP will continue. The DfE expects it to be two to three years before any legislation becomes effective. This period will provide further opportunity for truly elective home educators to try and distance themselves from the mud which has been thrown at them!