Launch of the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals Part 2
Next up was Stephen Bishop, the civil servant from the Department for Education who has day to day responsibility for elective home education which take up around 5% of his time. The department welcomes the setting up of a national body which is recognised to be easier to deal with, although they would not be closing their door to regional forums and individuals.
SB said that the role of DfE in elective home education is an odd one. The Department is not particularly active. There are government guidelines dating from the past administration which are still current, which SB commented “tells its own tale.”
When the Department gets complaints about home education it may take them up with local authorities on a case by case basis. SB has been to 2 regional forum meetings. The Department has sought to inform itself of the concerns of local authority officers on the ground. Discussions with other bodies he says the audience will know about from Freedom of Information requests.
Nothing is going to happen in the remaining 4 weeks of this parliament, no new guidelines or legislation. SB said in a way this was a pity because the legislation wasn’t designed for home education, there are simply bits here and there.
When one of the Committee members drew attention to the fact that the NSPCC speaker hadn’t arrived and said he was sorry, Graham Stuart said well HE wasn’t upset about the NSPCC not being there at all.
GS opened the throttle with a more impromptu style of delivery than his initial 5 minute slot, declaring that too many local authorities adopt a negative approach when there was no statutory duty to monitor and the LA was not obliged or permitted to intervene or sit in judgement unless “it appears…” Education of the child is the duty of the parent. LA language frightens families. If a child has had a hard time at school or there are unmet special needs, families have been let down, it’s hardly surprising that they might be hostile, and LA officers are caught in the middle between schools and parents.
GS asked local authorities to stay clear on what the law actually is. The authority is the servant of the family (which Daniel Monk subsequently paraphrased as “slave”) and the state is there to support families in doing their duty. GS praised Hampshire for paying for exams, and said he hoped the association and home educators could come together to get more resources for families. Offer something people want and then they will talk to you, but don’t misrepresent your powers and duties. There’s no need for a massive regulatory machine which could only be delivered at huge cost, any money there is should be spent on services. GS is hoping a cross-party approach can be built because the end result is helping the child.
Questions from the Floor
Questions were taken in groups of 3 (ish)
- What were weaknesses of the Badman Report
- What about safeguarding? Says Graham Stuart made massive assumptions. How do we know “if it appears” if we don’t know anything. Where is the voice of the child?
- Fiona (directed to Stephen Bishop) how to find out lead person in particular area at DfE. Could we ask you who the person is and would you be allowed to answer or is it policy to keep it concealed?
First Answers from Panel
GS says Badman got child protection and safeguarding wrong and it fell to bits in front of the Select Committee. Badman misrepresented data and recommended a vast regulatory system costing an absolute fortune which would be wholly counter productive. Instead, he said local authorities could offer positive support. He referred to Alison Sauer’s point at the Select Committee concerning the high proportion of ultra vires website statements, and asked why not have a common approach, because the law is the law. He went on to say that someone can argue that the state knows best but that isn’t the law. There is no more right in law to insist on inspecting families than police have for going into everyone’s house on a poor estate and making them show their registration number on the television to prove it isn’t stolen.
DM said Badman didnt take account of the full range and complexity of education, eg civic education. He would also have liked to see more on the reasons why parents opt to home educate, and says it would throw light on to failing schools. He said he supported registration “but the devil is in the detail”.
DM said suspicions and fears about home education socialisation are not founded. He made reference to an ideal world where everyone gets on and voluntarism works, but we all know the real world…
DM to GS: you talk about parents’ rights but over the road at the supreme court the child’s rights trump the parents’ rights, and judges repeatedly use the European Convention on Human Rights as the basis of their decision; it is helpful for jurisprudence to balance rights. We can’t get away from the tension and it is also a political and politicised debate. The role of the local authority he suggests is to serve the child.
GS: child’s rights are protected by parents, not by the state. That’s what it means to live in a free society.
DM: stolen televisions is the wrong analogy and he is not comfortable with it. He doesn’t think cases are clear cut, adding that “no statutory duty for routine monitoring” implies some monitoring is acceptable or expected, just not “routine”.
DM: if local authorities DO misrepresent powers on website – which he doesn’t accept – then why no Judicial Review?
GS: JR is too expensive. They come to me and I go to the Department and to Ministers and sort it out.
Stephen Bishop tells us that won’t be saying anything about Badman. What he will say is that there is a huge range of views amongst local authorities about powers, interpretation of the law and duties, also relationships with parents. He doesn’t seen local authorities as out to “get” home educators. He has to remind them of the law sometimes. SB went on to say that the discussion in the room showed the difficulties and defects in respect of clarity and said it would require new legislation for the child’s position to be clear; there were legitimate concerns regarding the interests of the child not being expressed in law.
Fiona question to SB: who is responsible for which area in DfE? SB’s answer: he wishes he knew! Fiona is welcome to direct queries to him and he will try and find out right person. Change to GOV.UK “hasn’t helped”.