The Bill has received its First Reading but the Second Reading has been delayed
What’s been said?
On Tuesday 28 January the Education Bill 2020 received its First Reading in the Isle of Man Parliament, Tynwald. This Bill is promoted by Minister Graham Cregeen, MHK [Member of the House of Keys], on behalf of the Department of Education, Sport and Culture [DESC].
Clauses 79 and 80 make provision about home education, as set out in Division 7 (page 56) and defined thus: “In this Act ‘home education’ means education provided to a child in accordance with a decision by the child’s parent to arrange for the child to be educated otherwise than at a school or college.”
In order to demonstrate the breadth of measures being put forward for approval, we detail the whole of Clause 80 (Departmental assessment) below:
- The Department must assess the educational development of children in the Island receiving home education.
- The Department may provide advice and information on request to a parent of a child receiving home education.
- The Department may make arrangements to allow children receiving home education to have access to school or college facilities or services to the extent the Department thinks appropriate.
- The Department must consult the head teacher of any school or college when making arrangements in respect of it under subsection (3).
- The Department must maintain a register of children in respect of whom the Department is notified under section 66 that the child is being home educated.
- The Department must carry out assessments from time to time of the educational development of each child receiving home education
- A parent of a child receiving home education must comply with any request by the Department to provide information for the purposes of an assessment.
- The Department must make regulations about assessments under subsection (6); and the regulations may, in particular, make provision about, –
- the criteria to be followed; and
- the procedures to be followed.
Tynwald procedure – approval required
The Bill was due to receive its Second Reading on 4 February, but this has been delayed without explanation – although the Department is preoccupied with a protracted industrial dispute with teaching unions. When this stage does take place, the whole Bill will be put to the vote and it may be approved, rejected or sent for further consideration by a committee. [A more detailed explanation of Tynwald’s legislative procedure may be read here, in section ii), Business of the Branch.]
Conscious of the implications for home educators elsewhere, the HE Byte team have been monitoring this situation since 2018. Previous Bytes can be searched here.
Why does it matter?
As we commented on 8 Feb last year, “All IoM legislation is cleared by the UK authorities before gaining Royal Assent. The IoM has previously led the way with new law and could be the first British jurisdiction to succeed in fundamentally changing EHE law, so this matters to all British home educators.”
The Isle of Man is the back door by which home education monitoring could gain Royal Assent. Other jurisdictions could fall like dominoes once that happens.
In April we noted the “growing mindset amongst politicians and civil servants in the British Isles that the state has a prior right to prescribe certain aspects of the education which a child receives.” Generally, this is justified through ‘safeguarding’ concerns rather than educational considerations. In the Isle of Man however, the emphasis is on the Department’s right to ‘know’ and ‘control’ – resulting nonetheless in an similar erosion of parental responsibility. Historically, the prime protectors and educators of children are their parents. States are now arguing that no parent can be trusted, so they need to supervise every child. Human Rights laws are in theory a defence against such government intrusion.
Although Quinn Legal’s Opinion had majored on potential human rights violation in its evaluation of the draft Bill, sadly we had to report on Nov 18 that “few of those in positions of influence and responsibility are prepared to engage with the complexities of home education and human rights laws.”
Present developments therefore are just the next instalment in this long-running saga.
Established Manx law recognises that home education is a human right and has equal status to being educated at school. By seeking to overturn this, the Minister is ignoring the fact that his Department has never actually had to use its powers to send a home educated child to school because it appeared that the child’s education was unsuitable. Without evidence, research or argument, the Minister wants to control, regulate and assess home educating families – with powers to send parents to prison if a child refuses to be assessed.
For changes to home education law to be legal under the IoM Human Rights Act, Quinn Legal state that the Department would have to be presented with factual evidence that there is a new problem, be shown that other less intrusive solutions have already been tried and failed and be sure that the laws do not encroach on families when there is no evidence of a problem. The Minister’s entirely hypothetical proposals go against the presumption of innocence which the law requires.
Quinn Legal therefore conclude that a parent could take the Department to court, since using these proposals in their present form against a parent would be an ‘unlawful act’. When courts are asked to judge cases where home educating parents have been subject to needless intrusion by an authority, they normally find against the authority.
Tynwald’s Social Affairs Policy Review Committee concluded however that the law should be changed, without passing comment on Quinn Legal’s Opinion and without any supporting evidence for their view. They did, correctly, state (page §46, p14) that Branches should “assess the risk carefully in order to satisfy themselves that any intrusion into family life is necessary and proportionate.”
It should also be noted that some parents home educate children who have already been failed by the school system. In such instances, the Minister’s proposals to assess children and use the law to force some of them to school would be entirely counter-productive.
What can I do?
If you are home educating on the IoM, urge your MHK to read Quinn Legal’s Opinion and engage seriously with its content.
If you live elsewhere, recognise the significance of developments in the IoM for the direction of travel across these islands.
Keep your eye on this situation, aware of its potential to set a precedent for other authorities who would love to find justification to monitor HE.