Civil Servant’s Personal “Bugbear” led to Totalitarian Bill

Submissions to Isle of Man Committee reveal how easily bureaucrats can drive the agenda.

What’s been said?

We recently commented on the Second Reading of the Isle of Man Education Bill, which seeks to transfer responsibility for education from parents to the state. After the Second Reading debate, it was agreed that the whole Bill should be examined by a Committee of the House of Keys charged with reporting back in October.

On 9 July this Committee published a Call for Evidence requesting submissions, thirty-one of which have been published on the website to date. Around a third of these comment in some way on the proposals concerning EHE. Here we highlight some of the key points raised, especially those relevant to protecting educational freedom across the UK.

Seven submissions are from members of the HE community:

In addition, EHE was mentioned in submissions from the Department for Education, Sport and Culture, two Members of the House of Keys and three teachers’ unions:

The well-argued responses from HE families pick up on various aspects of the thinking behind the Bill. Here we find key indicators of the reasoning employed by politicians and children’s professionals to demand the right to monitor EHE children.

A clear example is highlighted in Damon Warr’s second submission, written after reading the DESC one. In their comment on EHE, the Department stated that the changes were being put forward “In order for the Department to be able to carry out its duty ‘to ensure all children of compulsory school age receive a suitable education…'” In response Warr asks, “Why is the DESC alluding to having a duty not written down in legislation?” He then lists several examples of how previous Bills and parliamentary debates have recognised “that the responsibility for the child to be educated rests wholly with the parents, not with the department,” before concluding “The DESC has either conveniently forgotten its own legislation, or sought to mislead the public and Tynwald in terms of what it’s [sic] duties are and where they end.” [Emphasis added in all instances].

Voirrey Baugh, Michelle Lindsay and Maria Ulyatt commissioned Allan Norman to write a submission on their behalf, in order to reveal the weaknesses in the Solicitor General’s rebuttal of the crowd-funded Quinn Legal’s formal Opinion submitted in March 2019.

Norman is both a practising social worker and a legal academic. His experience enabled him to unpick the rebuttal phrase by phrase, demonstrating that it was seemingly written to mislead politicians, whilst being utterly useless in a court room. This submission is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to understand the way language can be used to obscure the truth, and an ideal text for those wishing to study law.

The other submissions from the EHE community contain further well-made points. Discussing them one by one would provide an excellent basis for a series of Zoom seminars! The anonymous submission claims that from the evidence available, the law is working well at present, so changes cannot be justified. Sewell majors on the DESC’s failure to consult properly, and in particular to continue dialogue with the one group which represented many EHE families on the Island.

Llewellyn Jones focusses on Human Rights and previous parliamentary discussions on parental responsibilities. Baugh’s personal submission opens by demonstrating that the proposals “would place the DESC in a position of control over parents,” even though it has “no remit to access and monitor” the learning of children outside state schools.

The Warr family’s initial submission opens with concerns which are not restricted to HE families. The section on “Universal Jurisdiction” is particularly interesting, highlighting that Prof Ronald Barr, Chief Executive Officer at the DESC, told the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee in March 2109 that they had secured the services of “an educational specialist in terms of drafting [the Bill].” (Line 709) The Warrs demonstrate that this “specialist” obviously didn’t understand the implications of the terminology he incorporated into the Bill.

In their section entitled “Totalitarian,” they also point out that Barr recognised in his 2017 evidence to the SAPRC “that this Bill may be going too far.” (Q64 Line 1127ff)

Why does it matter?

First it should be recognised that in most cases, adjustments to the social order are not brought about as a result of state beneficence, but because a small number of individuals advance personal agendas. Two submissions identify Barr as the driving force behind this complete restructuring of education on the Island.

The Warrs also quote (para 20) Barr’s words from a 2014 Evidence Session (Q74 Line 1046ff) in which he describes a long-standing “particular bugbear” that providers of education can operate without being inspected by the Department. (Home education is regarded as “private education” because it is not funded by the state.) Barr continued,

“It is very much my wish, as Chief Executive, that the Department has the authority to inspect and to quality assure that type of provision, and if necessary shut it down if it is not up to the requisite standards.”

The Sewells concur, stating, “The routine monitoring of home educators was first mooted by Prof. Barr in 2014 and has been an on-going campaign by the Department since then.”

It is not uncommon for influential individuals to pursue a personal agenda without fully declaring their motives. In Wales the agenda to introduce draconian registration and monitoring legislation has been persistently driven by Sally Holland, the principality’s Children’s Commissioner. Her English counterpart, Anne Longman has unrelentingly made known her desire for the state to oversee HE, though she has not been a lone voice. From the day Ed Balls asked Graham Badman to carry out a review into EHE, a relay of influential figures have carried that baton including the current Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman and her predecessor Michael Wilshaw.

It should be recognised that none of these people has ever stated why they are personally motivated to bring HE parents under the oversight of the state. Their common concerns are usually focussed around the importance of children’s rights. Holland and Longfield are good examples of this, assisted by their job descriptions which give them the responsibility to protect the “rights” of every child in their respective countries.

This confuses many HE families, who believe that their responsibility to ensure their children receive an education is protected by international human rights. Clearly a different interpretation of these rights is being applied by high level “public servants.”

This alternative approach is what motivated the SNP government in Scotland to propose its Named Person Scheme, which essentially required a state guardian for every child. Thankfully the Supreme Court ruled against its aspirations to behave as “a totalitarian regime.”

It also finds a strong echo in the belief within the DESC that it has a duty to ensure all children receive an education – a view shared by Patrick Roach, the NASUWT’s General Secretary, in their submission (see “Home education”):

It is a core duty of the state to ensure that all children and young people receive their entitlement to education and are kept safe.” [Emphasis added]

Roach also agrees with Minister Allinson, stating that “education should be regarded as a public good and a human right for all children and young people.”

Having already queried whether state controlled education is a public good which citizens cannot refuse, the HE Byte team now suggest that home educators should question if there are two different interpretations of human rights – one which most people assume is how international law should be applied, and another which only the educational élite understand.

What can I do?

Make time to look at the evidence in some of these submissions, noting how those lobbying for change repeatedly cite “the rights of the child” as justification for their proposals. Then ask yourself if these are unintelligent people, or if they have taken on board an alternative understanding which makes sense to them.

Consider Allan Norman’s comment (page three), where he reminds the Manx Government that the purpose of the strongest human rights legislation is:

“to protect the citizen from the State. As such, the strongest rights are what are termed negative rights, the right to be free from interference, rather than positive rights, to demand that the State gives us something.”

Then ask yourself if “the rights of the child” which are being championed across the UK by influential civil servants are negative or positive rights.

Thirdly, recognise that with plans for registration and monitoring in Wales being on hold for now, the frontline is currently on the Isle of Man. If the House of Keys Committee does not deal this Bill a lethal blow in regard to EHE, families there will need support from the wider community to resist its totalitarian proposals. Standing with them will be vital to protect everyone.


Update: 25 Sept. 2020

Eight days after this Byte was published, but more significantly, three days after publication of a “Review of DESC Management & Governance Arrangements” carried out at the request of the First Minister, it was announced that Prof Ronald Barr, Chief Executive Officer at the DESC, had resigned.

The Beamans’ Report was very critical of how the DESC was managing its education responsibilities and therefore left Barr with very little option but to step down.

Given that he was the driving force behind the totalitarian Bill which is the subject of this article, it is to be hoped that the Island’s government will also do the honourable thing and withdraw it.