Home Ed on the LibDem Fringe

What’s been said?

Recently we reminded our readers that the Political Conference season would soon be here, and made a passing reference to the new policy on EHE which the Liberal Democrats adopted at their Spring Conference. We also mentioned the suggestion by Layla Moran MP, their education spokesperson, that it may be possible to reverse the change at the next conference.

The documentation for their Autumn Conference is now available. The Agenda makes no reference to HE, but Moran is scheduled to give the first major speech on the opening morning, Saturday 15th September. Whilst no debate on education is scheduled, there is always a possibility that an emergency motion could be put forward.

There is a very clear mention of HE in the Conference Directory. On page 27 a fringe meeting organised by the Liberal Democrat Education Association and the Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats is advertised, with the title, “Home Schooling: a consultative workshop with speakers”. It reads, “Party policy should support all children to receive the best start in life. Join Prof. John Howson, Prof. Daniel Monk, Cllr Ruth Nethsingha and an Education Otherwise representative to explore this complex, multi-dimensional subject and help establish its policy implications.”

Why does it matter?

In the first instance, anyone with a knowledge of the undermining of home education over the last decade will recognise the name of Daniel Monk. He collaborated with Graham Badman in the run-up to his 2009 review, and more recently advised Lord Soley about his Bill. He has strong links with the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals, which has been seeking change the law on HE by working with Soley.

Less familiar to the wider HE community are the names of John Howson, a LibDem Oxfordshire County Councillor, and Ruth (Lucy) Nethsingha, a member of Cambridge Council.

Howson is a former chief adviser to the government, and according to his own blog, an authority on the labour market for teachers. Located in Oxford, he is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. Amongst his blog archives is a post from June 2014 entitled, Re-writing the rule book on education. Written a day after the then Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that independent schools would have in future to promote David Cameron’s British values, Howson warned that this was a significant move away from the long established principle “that the State didn’t interfere in the freedom of an individual to educate their children as they saw fit within the law. ” He continued by asking, “And what about the home schoolers, are they now also to be monitored for British values, and parents told they cannot continue if Ofsted doesn’t think they are British enough?” Less than four years later, that is precisely one of the changes proposed in the Draft EHE Guidelines! Howson described such an approach as totalitarian, which is in sharp contrast to his party’s illiberal policy on EHE adopted in February. The latter was drafted by the Liberal Democrat Education Association and interestingly, Howson is a member of its Executive Committee.

Research has provided little information about Cllr. Nethsingha’s background. She is currently a member of the LibDem group which forms part of the Local Government Association. In that capacity she holds the lead in the Children & Young People’s portfolio, so she clearly has an interest in education.

This who’s who would not be complete without asking why the Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats have taken an interest in sponsoring this workshop. Perhaps a clue is that their website’s only news report so far this year is “Home Education and Unregistered School [sic] – the new party policy, in full“. When Mike Wood (HE-UK) published his notes on a meeting he attended in March, amongst those present he listed “A rep from the Humanists who have been lobbying the Lib Dems on the subject of illegal schools and HE rights.” Is it possible that Monk is their nominated speaker?

What can I do?

As the summer draws to a close, this is a reminder that home educators need to hit the ground running.

Nationally, we need to be engaging with MPs, demonstrating to them the positive outcomes for the vast majority of HE young people. If you have a LibDem MP, remind them again of the need to revoke the new policy. If you live in the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency, you will know that Layla Moran is your MP.

Remember too that it is important to engage with LibDem Councillors, especially if John Howson or Ruth Nethsingha represent your ward in Oxfordshire or Cambridge. Councillors from other places will also be attending their Party Conferences, so it is important that they are briefed up front about the vital need to protect existing parental responsibilities against the steady march of educational totalitarianism.

If you are a member of any political party and are attending their conference, make sure you are well prepared to discuss HE with those you meet. If you are at the LibDem conference, please make attending the HE fringe workshop a high priority. If you do, and would like to write a Byte reporting on it, please let us know.

Finally, if you are a member of the HSLD – or any other humanist or secularist organisation – ask them what on earth they are doing undermining your freedom to choose how to educate your children. They may tell you that it’s important to protect children from religious indoctrination by their parents. Should they do so, remind them that in order to achieve that objective they will of necessity take away your and your children’s basic human rights to a family life without interference from the state.