COMMONS INQUIRY ON HOME EDUCATION DECIDED ON RADIO 4 PROGRAMME

When we answered the call for evidence on the inquiry on Home Education launched by the Education Committee of the House of Commons, we expected that fair procedures and fair treatment would apply.

That was until, on Tuesday (16 November 2020) the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (at approximately 8:34 am) interviewed the Chair of the Education Committee, the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP. The presenter opened the interview asking “you started an enquiry, haven’t you, into home schooling, so I imagine you do not want to come into any firm conclusions”. However, firm conclusions are exactly what he got from the MP who stated:

“What I think needs to happen is, first of all, there needs to be a national register, there should be data collected by the Department for Education so not only do we know for sure how many children are being home educated, we can look at their attainment and progress.”

“We need accountability, we need transparency, we need the data, we need proper inspection regime.”

“the national Register could not come soon enough.”

“there should be the data, they should be inspected, perhaps they should be linked with a school, my own personal preference is that children do go to school, because it is not just about education but also the support networks, the socialisation they get and all the other benefits.”

“children must be inspected and there must be a register and the Department for Education must gather the data.”

The MP also suggested that they are open to receive further submissions as part of the Commons inquiry, which is somewhat irregular given that it officially closed on 6 November.

We have seen a formal complaint against Mr Halfon (as chair of the Education Committee) filed with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards which says:

It is [… ] vital that the Chair is neutral to the outcome of an inquiry before the evidence is heard. The House of Commons Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament says: Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict
between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.

The Committee’s remit is given as establishing what, not if, further measures and future regulation are needed on home education. The remit is therefore already predicated on a particular outcome over objective analysis of the evidence.

Mr Halfon’s comments clearly indicate support for specific recommendations in advance of the analysis of submissions, receipt of oral evidence and Committee deliberations.

The public can have little confidence or interest in submitting to the Committee when it is clear that the Committee Chair has such a determined view of the outcome of the inquiry. It would normally be expected that the Chair would be neutral on the evidence until the Committee’s deliberations are completed.

On the face of it there is an apparent bias and the MP should excuse himself from further involvement in the inquiry.

Also on Radio 4

Just before the MP’s appearance, Radio 4 interviewed Councillor Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association Resources who provided some inaccurate information. For example, he said “there are no powers for councils to […] check if there are basic safeguarding measures”. This is not true, there is abundant legislation granting local authorities safeguarding powers. There may be an issue with funding to enable them to use those powers, but there is certainly no lack of statutory powers.

Cllr. Watts also said that schools are not obligated to report to the local authority that a child has been taken out of school. This is disingenuous; schools are obliged to remove the child from the admission register (see regulation 8.(1)(d) The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006), and regulation 10 gives powers of inspection of that register by HM Inspector of Schools and the LEAs. Again, the question should be whether such powers are being exercised, rather than anything else.

Take action

If you want to voice your opinion you can write to:

  1. the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
  2. the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
  3. Radio 4 Today

CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER SEEKS EHE REGISTER IN ENGLAND – IS WALES NEXT?

EHE Register – England

The Children’s Commissioner for England says that a compulsory EHE register has been “agreed”, reports The HE Byte.

When in an accountability hearing of the Education Committee at the House of Commons earlier this month MP Jonathan Gullies asked Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, what changes she thought were needed “in the system of home schooling to ensure we can safeguard children and ensure that the parents or carers who are in charge of that child’s learning are acting in an appropriate and responsible way” she re-stated her recommendation to impose a compulsory register of children who are being home schooled” and that the register had been agreed by the Department of Education.

If that happens our children will be one of the few individuals in this country that are forced to be included in a register, such as convicts or ex-sex offenders. In addition, our children’s personal data in such a register would have the risk of being subject to misuse or misappropriation, and this is not just scaremongering. A recent audit by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that the Department of Education failed to comply with data protection laws by mishandling in a staggering fashion the national database containing details of every school child in England. The breaches were such that the ICO made 139 recommendations out of which 32 were marked as urgent. Are we to rely on the State on the handling of our children’s private details?

The question asked by MP Gullies to the Commissioner suggests that there are safeguarding concerns about home educated children that cannot be resolved with the powers present in the existing legislation and that more powers must be given.

It is well known that Social Services already have all statutory powers to protect all children (the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 and Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 being a few examples) so any deficiencies in that regard would be more of a question of if and how such powers are exercised. Unfortunately, the past failures of local authorities to protect children as is required under the legislation have been used to undermine home education and to campaign against the freedom to home educate.

This also shows that there is still a confusion between children’s education and safeguarding of children, and there seems to be a continuous attempt to put both matters in the same bag in the case of HE children.

There is a concern about the language used by the Children’s Commissioner in that she seems to be repeatedly suggesting to both MP’s and the media that HE children are a safeguarding risk while children at school are not, again implying parents are a danger to their children and the State can protect them from their parents.

Home Educating families can respond strongly to the Children’s Commissioner statement by responding to the House of Commons – Call for Evidence on Home Education which we discuss further below.

OTHER NEWS

Abuse of power?

There has been a surge in Local Authorities doorstepping families having harvested children’s birth records and cross referencing with school enrolment to add children educated otherwise than at school to a data base.

We have seen numerous allegations of local authorities suggesting to HE families that there is an obligation to seek the LA’s consent and to register your decision to home educate or that your child is being home educated, that home visits are compulsory as well as the monitoring through periodical educational reports or completion of education plans.

The truth is that there is NO legal obligation to:

  1. obtain anyone’s approval to home educate;
  2. register with the local authority your decision to home educate your child or your child as being home educated;
  3. agree to mandatory visits or interviews;
  4. produce any reports, let alone on a regular basis; or
  5. fill out LA forms regarding your educational provision.

If you have been the subject of any of these misstatements you might want to complain to your local authority and the The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman. If you think that there has been a data breach you can file a complaint with the ICO. Also inform your Welsh assembly member / MP that your family has been given wrong information or is being unduly harrassed (if that was the case).

We have also heard of schools not de-registering children despite it being notified that the children in question were being home educated. Some schools have demanded written explanations or meetings with parents with the head master and the LA to discuss why they want to home educate and how they are planning to do it and refused to de-register the child until that had been dealt with, all of which would be unlawful. The principle set out by the law is that the school must de-register the child if it has received “written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school” (see regulations 8.(1)(d) in both The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010). You can find further guidance on de-registration here.

Unfortunately, guidance on home education provided by some local authorities misrepresents the law.

In Wales, for example, Cardiff Council’s guidance appears to suggest that meetings are compulsory, but need not be at home. The guidance goes as far as requiring annual review meetings “with a range of professionals”. However, there is no law entitling the Council to demand these meetings or requiring individuals to oblige. It is a basic legal principle of a democratic society that the State can only do what is permitted to do by law and that individuals may only be compelled to do what is prescribed by law. Case law suggests that local authorities can make informal enquiries only. So, it is not clear how these review meetings could be deemed an informal enquiry and as such may be unlawful.

Caerphilly County Borough Council says that education at home should offer a broad and balanced curriculum, English, mathematics and information and communications technology (ICT) and opportunities for physical, social, spiritual and cultural development. Whilst this might be the Council’s desire, it is somewhat misleading as all the law requires is that the education is suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs the child may have (section 7, Education Act 1996).

Maybe you would like to check that your LA’s EHE policy or guidance is correct and not misleading.

Wales consultation on the data sharing regulations

We have received a response to our letter to the Education Minister concerning the results of the consultation on the data sharing regulations, but this time not from the minister herself, but from Ms Wendy Thomas newly appointed Elective Home Education Senior Policy Manager it appears and a new position that has been made by the Welsh Government.

We are surprised to have received a response from a Home Education officer as we were led to believe that the consultation related to “all compulsory school age children regardless of where they receive their education” as it was confirmed to us by the First Minister on 14 April 2020 (the First Minister’s letter being in response to the concerns we raised on the consultation process itself). Or is it conceivable that the Welsh Government’s real intention was to create an involuntary register of home educated children?

In her letter Ms Thomas said: “currently, we remain unable to publish an analysis of the consultation responses. However, we will do this as soon as resources become available.”

Finally, and worringly, Ms Thomas’ letter is labelled “Final Response”; we hope that this is not a suggestion that this is the end of this matter.

EnglandInquiry on home education

Please remember to respond to the House of Commons inquiry on home education by 6 November 2020. It is good to know that you do not need to answer all questions and The HE Byte has issued four posts with very useful suggestions and many Home Education websites and Facebook groups are a good source of information from which you might want to gather for your response.

This gives us another opportunity to inform the Committee on all the advantages and benefits to children and families who choose to educate their children otherwise than at school and why school was or is not in the best interest of their child.

It is crucial that we protect our right to educate our children otherwise than at school and protect our families’ right to privacy and without intrusion and monitoring by the State. It is highly likely that if the law changes in England then the same would follow in Wales.

Please share this post with as many people as possible.

Thank you

Protecting Home Education Wales

Disclaimer: The content of this website does not constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be used as such. A suitably qualified lawyer should always be consulted when any legal advice is required.

We accept no liability for any loss from the use of this website or the content of any of its pages.

We are not responsible for the content of any other website.

WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON

Children’s Commissioner – Wales

The Children’s Commissioner will review the Welsh Government’s decision to put the HE guidance and database proposals on hold (you may already be aware of this as it was broadcasted on the BBC). The HE Byte’s recent column has an excellent summary on this.

We would kindly suggest that Home Educating families have a good think about whether the CC is working for and protecting your children’s rights (including the right to be home educated) and if you disagree then write to the CC. If you would like some help or guidance in this matter then please do not hesitate to contact us.

Any concerns or comments may be raised directly with the Children’s Commissioner’s here.

New inquiry – England

Westminster has launched a new inquiry on Home Education and we strongly recommend that you read The HE Byte’s article issued yesterday. The inquiry relates to:

1. the duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education;
2. whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;
3. the benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face;
4. the quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education;
5. whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’;
6. the role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;
7. what improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012;
8. the impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and
9. what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts.

Whilst the inquiry relates to England only, any measures taken by Number 10 or Westminster can have repercussions in Wales, so it would be great if you could express your views. Any submissions would have to be made by 6 November 2020 here.

Results of Database Consultation – Wales

We have written to Education Minister Kirsty William requesting an update on the publication of the results of the database consultation. We hope to receive her reply soon and will update this site accordingly.

New public consultation (likely)

In response to our letter earlier this month concerning the Welsh Government’s plans to “explore possible policy options for meeting the needs of home educated children”, Kirsty Williams, Minister of Education, has confirmed that any new or revised proposals by the next Government will be subject to a public consultation and that the Government “will, continue to take into account any potential human rights issues in relation to any proposals”. Please see her letter here.

She also said that the Government will publish the results of the consultation on the local authority education databases as soon as they are able.

This is a welcome response from the Minister.

Update on the Minister’s statement

Following the Minister for Education’s statement on 22 June, where, among other things, she announced that “Government officials will explore possible policy options for meeting the needs of home educated children” we have written to the Minister asking her to confirm that any new (or revised) policy on home education will be Human Rights compliant and that the same should be put to consultation (so as to ensure it complies with the Human Rights Act, 1998).

We have also asked the Minister to publish the results of the consultation on the database regulations.

We will let you know once we have received a response from the Minister.

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