[mostly cribbed from Dani Ahrens]
Dear Bishop XXXXX,
I am writing to let you know of serious shortcomings with the Home Education-related aspects of the Children, Schools and Families Bill currently on its way through parliament, and to ask for your support in amending or removing Schedule 1.
The process began with a report commissioned by the DCSF into whether Home Education might be used as a cover for child abuse. The CofE's education division submission to Graham Badman's review concluded: "We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education. Where there are particular concerns about the children who are home-educating, this should be a matter for Children's services." (1) The education division was very concerned about the selective quoting of their submission in the Badman report, which entirely misrepresented their position, (2) and this misrepresentation formed a small part of the CSF select committee's strong criticism of the report's contents and the conduct of those involved in writing it. (3)
The government's Children's Plan says that 'Parents bring up children, not Government', but the bill fundamentally undermines this.
If the proposals in the Bill become law:
• Every year, parents would have to ask permission from the Local Authority to home educate. The Government is calling this a ‘register’, but a more accurate word would be ‘licence’. Local authorities would have the power to refuse ‘registration’ or to remove children from the ‘register’ if their parents do not cooperate with the system. ‘Registration’ would have to be renewed every year.
• Unregistered home educated children would be ordered to attend school
Local authorities would not be allowed to consider whether the education of unregistered children is suitable for their needs. The only consideration would be whether the child was ‘registered’ or not. “In determining for the purposes of subsection (3A)(b) whether it is expedient that a child should attend school, an authority shall disregard any education being provided to the child as a home-educated child”. The proposals are not about making sure children receive an education. Instead, they are about taking control of educational choices away from families and placing it in the hands of the state.
• Parents would be required to supply an advance plan for their children’s education every year in order to remain on the ‘register’. Local authorities would be given the power to decide whether the education provided is suitable, and whether it measures up to the plan. The power to decide what constitutes a suitable education for an individual child would be taken out of the hands of that child’s parents and given to a local council officer,
who may have met the child only once.
• Local authorities would have to reassess home educated children and parents every year. If home educated children, or their parents, do not give consent for a child to be interviewed alone, the local authorities would not have the right to insist. But they would have the right to remove that child’s name from the ‘register’ as a punishment for this refusal to cooperate. Loving parents would be forced to override their children’s wishes in order to protect their freedom to be educated outside the school system. While Ed Balls said in the House of Commons "“The Bill makes it clear that there is no right for a local authority to see the child of a home-educating family on their own, without the parents there,” the bill actually says “A local authority in England may revoke the registration of a child’s details on their 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 [to monitor the home education], or an objection to a meeting [with the child alone] the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to in section 19E(1)”
Clause 26 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill gives this or any future government the power to issue guidance to local authorities about what they may demand of parents as part of this new ‘registration’, monitoring and inspection regime. You are being asked to approve the Bill without having sight of this guidance.
Clause 26 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament before the results of a public consultation on the proposals were released. Over 5000 people responded to the consultation but their views have been completely ignored in the drafting of the Bill. In the House of Commons, Ed Balls said that "a minority of home educators... do not like the provisions in the bill" when in fact a clear majority of the 5,000 consultation responses (over 75% for 8 of the 10 questions) disagreed with the proposals.
Of particular concern, the "Impact Assessment" for the bill completely failed to address the potentially disastrous impact of the new regime on children with special needs and their families. (4)
As the CofE education division concluded, there is no need to change the law regarding home education. Home educated children are at no more risk of abuse than any other group of children. Local authorities already have powers to take action if parents are not educating or caring for their children properly.
Please oppose the bill in the House of Lords, mirroring the strong cross-party opposition in the Commons at the second reading. If it would be helpful, I would be delighted to come and visit you to discuss it further, or to put you in contact with others who can advise you about the bill.
(1) The whole submission is here: http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/church-of-englands-response-to.html
(4) for a home educator's informal assessment of the potential impact on children with special needs, see http://sometimesitspeaceful.blogspot.com/2009/12/csf-bill-equality-impact-assessment.html