Meanwhile Back in Westminster – Albeit Briefly

Make the upcoming election about more than Brexit

What’s been said?

For understandable reasons the British home educating community has had its attention focussed on the Welsh proposals in recent weeks. We should all be encouraged that a meaningful legal opinion was submitted before the deadline by Protecting Home Education Wales, that the e-petition Withdraw the proposed home education guidance passed the threshold where it should be seriously considered for a full debate, and that at least one Welsh Assembly member has agreed with our collective concern that the “Draft Statutory Guidance on Home Education is ‘unlawful'”.

It is important now that those who live in Wales follow up these initiatives by contacting their local Assembly Member and press home the points made by other home educators through their submissions.

Despite all this effort we should not forget that in other parts of these islands attempts to transfer parental responsibility to the state are ongoing. In the Isle of Man the government failed to introduce its new Education Bill in the Chief Minister’s State of the Nation Address on 15 October. However, the threat remains to imprison HE parents who don’t comply with the Department’s draconian measures, and there is a need for us all to be alert to the danger such a precedent would set.

It appears that politicians in Westminster have been preoccupied recently by their own confusion over Brexit, and now by a general election. The lack of headlines hostile to EHE makes it easy to assume that it has been forgotten in the mêlée. However, in the two and a half weeks since the Queen’s Speech, three MP’s and two Lords raised their concerns about HE.

David Drew (Lab/Co-op, Stroud), who frequently refers to HE, raised children’s mental health and off-rolling during the debate on “the Address” before adding,

“A lot of it has to do with parents who do not believe that their children can get special needs provision in the normal system, but it is also about the way parents can take their children out of school into so-called home education. There is nothing wrong with home education in theory, but they are not then educating their children, who are being taken out of school more as companions than in the context of a parent-child relationship.”

Two days later in a debate on Public Services, Angela Rayner (Lab, Ashton-under-Lyne), Shadow Secretary of State for Education, complained that the outcome of the consultation on new legislation concerning HE was “nowhere to be seen” in the Queen’s Speech. She was shortly followed by Emma Hardy (Lab, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle), who has in the past shown a real concern for the welfare of children rather than a ideological one. In a paragraph highlighting a list of scandals which “keep coming over and again,” she concluded with,

“There has been a 27% increase in the number of people being home educated, indicating the lack of faith that many parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities feel in the current schools system – and so much more.”

In the Lords there have been two written questions about HE. The first was from Lord Storey (LibDem), who is no stranger to the HE community. He asked “what changes they will make in response to the report by Ofsted Exploring moving to home education in secondary school.” The same day, cross-bench peer Lord Taylor of Warwick, who has no track record regarding EHE, asked the DfE “what plans, if any, they have to roll out a home-schooling program with regular checks and tests.” These questions were answered rather vaguely by Lord Agnew of Oulton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education. In both cases he relied upon the outcome of the Children Not in School Consultation, though he did not indicate when the response will be published, nor when a Bill might be published to introduce registration.

Why does it matter?

The most important point to take to heart from these exchanges is that whilst it appears that politicians and journalists are almost completely distracted by Brexit wranglings, not all have forgotten home education. It continues to be described in one way or another as a problem rather than a cause for celebration.

Whilst discussion about education in Westminster is focused on England, readers should remember that MPs and peers represent citizens of all four regions. No matter where you live (apart from Crown Dependencies such as the Isle of Man), you have a right to make your concerns known to your MP. Therefore, please don’t see references to EHE in the UK Parliament as relating only to England; they very easily affect what is being proposed elsewhere, as illustrated by the Welsh proposals.

What can I do?

Don’t be tempted to take your eye off the HE ball in the run-up to the election.

Everyone over 18 in the UK now has the opportunity to vote for someone to represent them at Westminster. Most people may not rank educational freedom as a high priority compared to today’s political hot potato, but given the threat to the right to a family life and to a child’s right to privacy, it is a very important matter.

Make every opportunity to speak to the candidates in your constituency and ask them for their views on HE. Challenge them to think again if they say they are in favour of registration or monitoring, or even that they believe every child should be in school.

It would be good if all successful candidates had heard from several of their constituents that their children’s freedom to be educated according to their parents wishes is more important to them than whether or not the UK leaves the EU. It really is the more far-reaching issue.