Back in 2010, not long after the last election, I went to a children’s rights conference. One of the speakers from the House of Lords – who was in favour of sex education in schools being made compulsory – said that every time they tried to get this introduced they always knew it would be hugely controversial and it would most likely fail because backbench MPs would argue vociferously against it.
I thought there were some useful parallels with home education, and indeed two of the most controversial elements of the Children and Families Act that year had been sex education and home education.
Government Guidelines on Home Education were published in 2007. By 2009 the Government was looking to scrap the Guidelines. This attempt failed, and the Guidelines are still here.
We are now in the immediate run-up to the next general election which will take place on May 7th 2015. Parliament will shut down at the end of March.
Home educators recently reported that a civil servant at the Department for Education said the current Government keeps a low profile with regard to home education, it’s a sensitive subject, and when home education is raised the Department receives thousands of freedom of information requests and emails, adding “home educators are a well-organised lobby group.”
The same civil servant also said last month that the Department is not particularly active and home education only takes up around 5% of his time. His comment on the fact that government guidelines dating from the past administration are still current was that this “tells its own tale”. I took this to mean that on the one hand there isn’t an overwhelming push for change and in addition, there are strong voices who would be opposed to change.
I went to a big regional conference on Children Missing Education Conference last July. One of the delegates asked hopefully what could be done about tightening up home education regulation. The Chair David Moore – a former Ofsted inspector – said that Ofsted had tried a few years ago but found the Government just wasn’t interested, whoever you tried to talk to, home educators had got there first. He said there was zero political will for change from this Government or any future Government.
Home educators do have effective and knowledgeable champions in parliament such as Graham Stuart MP and Lord Lucas. Which is absolutely invaluable. But that’s not all. Home educators across the country are also talking to their constituency MPs. There are 650 constituency MPs, most of whom are backbenchers. The backbenches are the seats where an MP sits if they aren’t a minister or a spokesperson (front bench) for their political party.
Any decision about home education regulation is always going to depend greatly on the attitude of backbench MPs. If backbench MPs don’t react in a timely way, conceivably something could get pushed through. But where backbench MPs are primed, this is much less likely to happen. This is what we found during the Badman era, which will be the subject of another blog post soon.