Isle of Man Education Bill – Important Update

What’s been said?

We recently focussed on the new Isle of Man Education Bill, which is intended to go before the island’s parliament in April. The Department of Education, Sport and Culture [DESC] is currently consulting on various aspects of the Bill, including the sections which apply to home education. Consultation responses have to be submitted by 20th March. There are just two questions concerning HE, and the second of these in particular is causing much concern. We list below several recent occasions when EHE has been discussed, highlighting a key point from each.

First, a brief word of explanation about the Manx Parliament. It consists of two chambers: the directly elected House of Keys (lower house) and the indirectly chosen Legislative Council (upper house). The two sit together as Tynwald to debate policy and financial issues. Two candidates are elected from twelve constituencies, serving as Members of the House of Keys [MHKs]. The majority of MHKs are politically independent, so there is no official “Opposition.”

19 Feb. Written Question: Daphne Caine MHK asked the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture, Graham Cregeen MHK, for the numbers of HE children about whom his Department had taken legal action in the last ten years, because they were not in receipt of a suitable education. He said there were “less than five” instances prior to 2017, and none since.

26 Feb. Questions Hansard p11/Audio: Cregeen was asked by Rob Callister MHK if his Department had taken any action to ensure the current consultation is “fair and impartial with regard to home educators?” Callister pointed out that both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ options prevented HE families from expressing their objection to the section concerned. The Minister stated that the presence of a “comment box” below the question provided sufficient opportunity for respondents to express their views, thereby ensuring the impartiality of the consultation. This did not satisfy Callister, and his concerns were backed up by Caine. Two MHKs, Alexander Allinson and Lawrie Hooper, sought to support Cregeen’s view. Caine and Callister pressed further points, which the Minister sought to deflect with references to Longfield’s recent report and “invisible” children.

3 Mar. Manx Radio: Hosted by Dollin Mercer, the first hour, Perspective, was essentially a discussion between Hooper, Ann Corlett MHK (both representing the DESC), Caine and Julie Edge MHK. Part way through the second hour (Mannin Line – 26 min), HE was raised by a caller who asked the politicians to answer one simple question, “Would you be prepared to send HE parents to prison for six months over a disagreement with the Department?” Hooper demanded to know where this was stated, demonstrating that he did not understand the implications of the Bill he was promoting.

To clarify – Part 3 addresses Compulsory Education. Division 7 of this addresses Home Education specifically, and §77 & 78 make no mention of such a penalty. However, the existing requirement for HE parents to notify the Department is retained under Division 2 – Parental Responsibility (§64). Division 3 concerns children who are registered at a school, but fail to attend. Division 4 is about School Attendance Orders and §70.1 refers back specifically to §65, which deals with children not registered in a school, including EHE. Follow the wording down to §74.1 where it is stated, “It is an offence for a parent of a child to fail to comply with a school attendance order. Maximum penalty (summary) 6 months’ custody or a level 5 fine.” Why did the representative of the DESC not know this?

8 Mar. Social Affairs Policy Review Committee audio: Just two of the three Committee members were present; Chair, David Cretney MLC [Member of the Legislative Council] and Martyn Perkins MHK. Representing the Department were Minister Cregeen and CEO, Professor Ronald Barr. The session lasted over an hour, with a 14 min. discussion about EHE starting at 33 min. approx. Cregeen was first to respond to the opening question and made an immediate reference to HE. Barr then spoke about headteachers. Perkins said his postbag was full of mail from HE’rs, and raised the problematic Q21. Cregeen again said that the comment box could be used for other views, before helpfully adding, “Also they can write to the Department and put it down as part of the consultation.”

Perkins questioned whether the DESC was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and therefore wasting resources. The Minister appealed once again to children being “invisible” and to children’s rights. It was then put to him that the proposed course of action would make the Department liable for the education received by EHE children, a legal point which he seemed unable to appreciate. He argued they were only asking for an indication of the intended course of education, but §78.1 states the Department “must assess the educational development of children,” whilst §78.5-8 list what the assessments may involve, including interviewing the child.

Why does it matter?

When we first reported the dangers of this Bill we highlighted that it would set a legal precedent for new EHE legislation throughout Great Britain if it passed without significant amendments. All home educators should therefore be concerned about it because, despite the Minister’s protests to the contrary, it does open the way for a change from notification to registration & monitoring of all HE children on the island.

What can I do?

First, given that there is only a week left to respond to the consultation, if you have not responded already, ask yourself if you have the time and energy to do so. Helpfully, the Minister has said that writing to the Department is as acceptable as completing the on-line form. Contact details for the DESC are on our Isle of Man Education Bill 2019 page. There is also an outline of key points concerning EHE on the same page.

It has been impossible to comment here on every aspect of the items reported above, so try to make time to access one or more of them. It’s encouraging that some MHKs have been expressing concerns about the HE aspects of the Bill. If you are an IoM resident and they represent you, do thank them.

When similar proposals were put forward previously, Education Otherwise obtained an expert legal opinion which contributed to them being dropped. Some HE parents are hoping to do the same again and are presently crowdfunding resources for a legal opinion on the relevant clauses. We have been assured that once this has been submitted to the Government, the full document will be made available to the EHE community. If you are able, please consider contributing to this initiative.