Holding the Liberal Democrats to Account

What’s been said?

In a startlingly illiberal move, the Liberal Democrats passed a policy at their Spring 2018 Conference calling for the national curriculum to be imposed on all home educating families, and for compulsory registration and monitoring of all children who are being educated outside a registered school. (Our previous comment.)

You can read the policy in context here (Section 9, page 33).

The following amendment to the draft policy was proposed but defeated (page 12):

Amendment One;
After 9. (line 103) add:
Conference does not support proposals in the paper requiring all home educators to undergo biannual visits by local authority representatives to ensure an appropriate education unless concerns exist and in such cases a meeting in a neutral location or a written report, with an opportunity to respond, must be offered as alternatives.
Conference reaffirms the policy, set out in the 2017 General Election Manifesto Change Britain’s Future, that a slimmed down national curriculum would only be required to be taught in statefunded schools and not in the home, where parents must provide an education suitable to the age, ability, aptitude and to any special educational needs of the child.

Why does it matter?

Section 9 as passed, with its disturbing and inappropriate association of illegal schools and home educators, and its call for the State to monitor parents routinely on the grounds that they must be assumed to be failing in their legal duty to educate until proven innocent, is a strangely and starkly illiberal policy, like a patch on an otherwise seamless and rather beautiful coat. The education policy paper submitted to Conference was otherwise deeply inspiring in its recognition of the stultifying effect of micro-management of citizens by bureaucrats. In true liberal style it called for the abolition of OFSTED and the freeing of children and teachers from the current over-testing and over-regulation so that they can exercise their own judgement and hence teach and learn well.

It has been asserted that, since the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be in government any time soon, this policy change is unimportant. Such a view misses the point that the Liberal Democrats are, by philosophy and history, natural champions of the principle that citizens are innocent until proven guilty and of the citizen’s right to freedom, to a family life and to educate their children in accordance with their consciences. It also seriously underestimates the power of influence. The Liberal Democrats are a litmus test for democracy and de-centralisation. If even they are now proposing something so starkly at odds with human rights in general and the tradition of liberalism in particular, we have a real problem.

What can I do?

You can write to any or all of the following Liberal Democrats listed below to remind them of the party’s traditional role in upholding civil liberties, and to urge them to campaign for a change to Liberal Democrat policy at the autumn conference which would;

  • remove section 9 from the current statement on education
  • insert instead a paragraph addressing bureaucratic mission-creep whilst holding Social Services, schools and OFSTED to account for their duty to prevent off-rolling and to investigate evidence of neglect and abuse where it is found
  • reaffirm the role of parents as the best champions of their own offspring and confirm that there is no need for investigation of parents unless there is evidence of neglect
  • reaffirm that parents are not required to teach the National Curriculum; that their legal responsibility is to provide an education suitable to the age, ability, aptitude and to any special educational needs of the child.
  •  recognise the crucial importance of and respect for parental judgement with regard to the needs of children and for the primary, irreplaceable role of family in education and safeguarding.

Vince Cable MP (Leader); Layla Moran MP (Education Spokesperson); Lord Newby (Leader in the House of Lords); Lord Storey (Lords Spokesperson for Education); Baroness Garden of Frognal (Lords Spokesperson on Higher & Further Education).