As we are sure you are aware, the Children, Schools and Families Bill received its first reading in the Commons last week. The Bill contains several of the most disturbing elements of the Badman Review recommendations.
We were dismayed to find that even before the results of the recent public consultation have been published, the government proposes to implement a licensing system for home education. More than 5000 people responded to the consultation. Among them were many home educating families, concerned at this rush to legislation that redefines the legal position of something so central to their lives.
The Bill proposes that any home educated child who is not ‘registered’ with the local authority will be the subject of a School Attendance Order, should they be discovered. In such a situation, the Bill states that “an authority shall disregard any education being provided to the child as a home- educated child.”
Though the government has clearly decided to back away from the idea of creating a new criminal offence of failing to register, it is attempting to create a compulsory system by threatening to force home educated children into school if their parents do not comply.
Similarly, the Bill states that there will be no automatic right of entry to homes or to see children alone. However, the proposed new Section 19F(1)(e) would give local authorities the right to remove a child’s name from the home education register if it appears to them that:
“by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them under section 19E, or an objection to a meeting as mentioned in section 19E(4), the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to in section 19E(1)”
Our interpretation of this is that the system of monitoring will be determined by the local authority, and any objections raised by a home educating family could easily lead to their child’s removal from the register and a consequent School Attendance Order.
These sections in particular, especially combined with the proposed new section 19C (which allows for the issuing of regulations on various key aspects of the registration system) would have the effect of locking home educating families into a monitoring system, which can be amended without Parliamentary scrutiny by any future government.
We feel that our family’s decision to follow an alternative educational path has been defined from the outset of this process as a problem for the government to solve. This was clear to us from the moment the Terms of Reference for Graham Badman’s Review were published in January this year.
In spite of thousands of critical responses from home educating families both to the initial Review and the public consultation, this premise does not appear to have changed.
To us, this premise is mystifying. Our children’s education has, so far, been made up of largely unplanned, self-directed learning. As parents, we have seen this working. The children are curious, enthusiastic, engaged learners. They are learning to plan for themselves and to set their own goals. They are learning about the world and their place in it. They are happy.
We cannot see any benefit to them in an ever-escalating process of government intervention in their lives. After witnessing what has happened in state schools over the last twenty years, we cannot help but feel that any system of monitoring imposed on home educating families, no matter how “light touch” the government may claim it to be, will follow this same path of ever more control.
Please do all you can to represent our concerns in Parliament, including by voting for any amendments to the Bill which seek to delete Clauses 26 and 27 and Schedule 1.
Dani Ahrens and Allie Rogers