On May 23rd 2022 peers debated the Schools Bill in the House of Lords. For home educators the focus is on Part 3, the Children Not in School [CNIS] Register. This post unpacks what was said about other elements of Part 3 and also Part 4 of the Bill as sometimes these become confused. The Bill has only just begun going through Parliament. It started in the House of Lords where it will go through a number of stages before starting the same process in the House of Commons. I explain more about this here.
Part 3 of the Bill has two elements. The first is about the Children Not In School [CNIS] Register. It is followed by measures to standardise the system across the country for registered pupils who are persistently absent from school. Meanwhile, Part 4 of the Bill is about increased regulation of those independent education institutions that are currently OUTSIDE the requirement to register as well as greater powers of inspection to determine whether a provider is within scope of registration. Read more about this here.
I make this point since much of the debate at Second Reading seemingly talking about the CNIS Register (eg as regards “attendance measures” or “greater powers of inspection”) may in fact have been more about the later aspects of Part 3 or about Part 4.
The debate began at 3.20 (column reference 667) and went on till 6 pm. (The reference to “columns” because the print version is set with double columns.) The link from the Schools Bill stages page is here. If you are reading Hansard in the browser you need to click on the “next debate” tab and move past the interruption for a Commons urgent question, clicking on “next debate” again where Second Reading resumes at 6.20. The following notes are in order of appearance if you are looking at the transcript or wanting to find the relevant segment on Parliament TV.
You need to look for references to “Part 3” “home schooling” “home schoolers” “home-educating” “home education” “home educators”, also references to seeking reassurance from Minister, meeting with the Minister, hoping the Minister can make clear, or allay concerns.
Members of the House of Lords who find aspects of the Bill problematic seek to highlight this by tabling amendments. Amendments have to be submitted in good time before the debate where they will be discussed with the Minister. We know that Committee (which is the next stage of the Bill) is set for 5 dates in June ie 8, 13, 15, 20, 22. Peers start at the very beginning of the Bill and go through it line by line, therefore we can expect matters relating to the CNIS Register etc to be discussed on the later dates, after debates on Parts 1 and 2.
You can find the amendments as they are tabled here However, this list will keep growing and at a point will be organised or grouped into what is called a marshalled list, the final version of which will be published on the day of the debate. Your go-to page for the marshalled list is the Publications tab on the Schools Bill, although as I say you can get a preview from the as-yet unmarshalled list above.
The wording of amendments in the House of Lords have to follow a formula which is set out here. The main amending techniques are about removing text from the Bill, inserting new text, or substituting what is currently on the Bill for a new clause. Peers can also give notice of intention to oppose the question that a certain clause stand part of the Bill, which translates as they don’t want the clause there at all.
The only amendments which change the Bill immediately are amendments put forward by the Minister which are known as government amendments. This arises when insurmountable problems have been pointed out with the original version of the Bill. As the Bill goes through both the House of Lords and then the Commmons we may see more and more amendments from the Minister. The purpose of all other non-government amendments in the Lords is to enable discussion of problematic areas of the Bill in the hope of influencing the government over a period of time.
For those who like no detail left out, here is a breakdown of the commentary at Second Reading.
- Baroness Chapman, Labour – Welcomes more powers to inspect unregistered independent schools. [ Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat – Pleased the government is tackling unregistered schools. Says “home schooling needs to be regularised“. Particularly hopes that excluded pupils will no longer be sent to unregistered alternative provision which is very common in some areas. [CNIS Register Part 3 + Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- The Bishop of Durham – Knowing where children are matters but collection and use of data needs careful consideration – balance between safeguarding and freedom. Warns that attendance is affected by special educational needs, poverty, and health issues, hence does not want attendance measures to be punitive. [Both aspects of Part 3]
- Lord Shipley, Liberal Democrat – Parts 3 and 4 address child protection and this is about children’s rights. In favour of registration children not in school. Also important for local authorities to provide support to home-educating families. [CNIS register Part 3]
- Baroness Meacher, Crossbencher – Welcomes action on illegal schools “No doubt we have all had a briefing from Taunton Home Education asking us to oppose Parts 3 and 4 … it may be helpful if the Minister can give some assurance to those sorts of educational establishments that this is not what Parts 3 and 4 are about.” Concerns that children with special educational needs will be compelled to attend a school from which they cannot benefit. I hope these fears are misplaced. Families of autistic pupils fearing attendance fines, hoping the Minister can make clear that the families of any child with a special educational need or disability will not be punished under the provisions of Part 3 for non-attendance at a school from which they cannot benefit. Hoping Bill will help young people with ME/CFS . Seeking amendments to allay concerns. Latter clauses in Part 3 re attendance registered pupils + Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Baroness Berridge, Conservative (Recent former House of Lords Minister in the Department for Education) Over-riding message is we need to know where these children are. “Perhaps 20 years ago there was an ideal world of home education, done solely by parents who truly believed in it and did it very well” but times have changed. Thanks Lord Storey for continuing efforts to bring matters to public attention. Sometimes home education is because of unmet special educational needs in school. Some parents will take children out of school because “if you tell the school you are home educating, the hassle from the school goes away.” Children out of school may be vulnerable to exploitation, missing education, exposed to extremist views, or may be at risk of physical or emotional harm from parents. Children out of school may end up in the criminal justice system. [CNIS Register Part 3]
- Baroness Morris, Labour – Welcomes register of children not educated in school “and the extension on inspection” which I think relates to regulating independent institutions. Pays tribute to Lord Soley and his Private Member’s Bill from a few years ago. [CNIS Register Part 3 + Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Baroness Watkins, Crossbencher – Welcomes action to strengthen attendance of registered pupils [ie latter clauses of Part 3, after the children not in school proposals]
- Lord Baker, Conservative – Widely quoted as saying Bill as a whole is “a real grab for power by the Department for Education” [in respect of increasing centralised control of schools] Happy about “the bit on the registration of home educators.” Pays tribute to Lord Soley. Then starts talking about quadratic equations and time for relaxation and sport, which may be confusing the CNIS Register in Part 3 with proposals for regulating independent educational institutions in Part 4 or alternatively may be remembering what was in Lord Soley’s Bill, or neither of the above, in any event it is quite confusing. [Both aspects of Part 3 + Part 4 ?]
- Lord Knight, Labour – Happy with the measures around strengthening attendance of registered pupils, and greater regulation of independent educational institutions, and “the home-school register“. Pays tribute to Lord Soley. [Both aspects of Part 3 + Part 4]
- Baroness Garden, Liberal Democrat – Concern that the Bill does not do enough for children with special educational needs. Councils need greater powers to shut down illegal schools + we need better checks on unregistered schools. Must ensure that children not on a school roll are not lost to the system. “We would like any adult in charge of a child to have a DBS check” [I assume this means teachers in unregulated provision and private tutors but some have interpreted it as DBS checks for home educating parents] “We cannot give in to some of the more robust tactics of passionate home schoolers, who may be paragons of virtue themselves, but who cannot guarantee that all those who claim to be home schooling share their high standards of education and loving care.” [CNIS Register Part 3 + Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Lord Blackwell, Conservative – Has grandchildren who are home educated. Supports the introduction of a simple register for home education, but seems to have unwarranted fears that the Bill contains proposals for schools to have to give consent for a pupil to be removed which is NOWHERE in the Schools Bill [Read more about current deregistration laws here Concerns that the Bill as currently worded will give local authorities powers to ask a great many questions of home educating parents and to issue school attendance orders if they disagree with parents’ answers. “I suggest that the Government need to review these provisions in the Bill carefully to ensure they do not go too far in giving local authorities excessive power to impose conformity on the freedom that is there for those who want to challenge conformity.” [CNIS Register Part 3]
- Baroness McIntosh, Labour – Has an autistic child. Cites briefing from Ambitious about Autism (formerly the National Autistic Society) about autistic children struggling with school, disagrees with harsher penalties for non-attendance ie when it is treated as truancy, “further penalise families who already struggle to get support“ [Latter clauses in Part 3 re attendance registered pupils]
- Baroness Jones, Green Party – Grandchildren have been successfully home educated. Home education provides individualised education. Schools have failed. What is the rationale for greater intrusion? “The Bill goes so much further, seeking to treat home education as a problem that needs bringing under control rather than as an asset that should be nurtured and protected. The Government do not trust parents. That is the message that is coming over … This approach to families crosses a line in the involvement of the state in family life” [CNIS Register, Part 3]
- Lord Sandhurst, Conservative – Concerns about children with unmet mental health needs being penalised for not attending school. Plea for mental health support teams to be expanded. [Latter clauses in Part 3 re attendance registered pupils]
- Lord Mendelsohn, Labour – Pleased to see proposals for register of children not in school and new regulations for unregulated settings or unregistered independent educational establishments. Particular focus on institutions and settings currently not required to register or able to operate outside the law. “We have to deal with one of the realities: the organised denial of the rights of children by groups and institutions, whether from closed or other communities, is the challenge the Government have to meet here.” [Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Baroness Bakewell, Labour – Humanists welcome measures on unregistered and illegal schools. [Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Lord Lexden, Conservative – Welcomes measures to bring more institutions within scope of registration and inspection as independent schools. [Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Baroness Fox (Non-affiliated) – Libertarian objections to CNIS Register and to harsher penalties for non-attendance of registered pupils. Says home educating families are horrified by proposals for registration. Asks will this open the door to greater intrusion and prescription as to what is taught, in the name of safeguarding. [Both elements of Part 3]
- Baroness Brinton, Liberal Democrat – Pays tribute to Lord Storey for campaigning on register of children not in school. “There is a place for such a register, but the nature and tone of this part of the Bill is based on penalties and problems and ignores the excellent standards and commitments that many home educators have.” Re latter clauses in Part 3, expresses concerns about enforcing attendance of registered pupils when a child has special educational needs eg autism, and particularly where the child has medical conditions and school is unsafe. Says difficult pupils are off-rolled. [Both elements of Part 3 + Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
- Baroness Bennett, Green Party – Wants the Minister to listen to Square Peg and Not Fine in School and says attendance and attainment cannot be at the expense of a child’s mental health and emotional well-being. [Latter clauses Part 3 re attendance registered pupils]
- Lord Lucas, Conservative – In many cases, the resort to home education is due to a failure of the state — school, the local authority or support services. Why are local authorities not aware of children in their area attending independent schools? What about having a register of providers. Concern that the Bill gives a lot of powers to local authorities and makes home educators vulnerable to bad local authorities. Gloucestershire, Sandwell, and Lancashire praised as looking after their home education communities, people who know the law and understand how to use it and the wide extent of their existing powers. But other local authorities are repressive and oppositional. Registration should not be commenced until funding for support is in place. Proposed penalties for parents not complying are too punitive and time limits are far too short. Mandatory information should be restricted otherwise eg sensitive personal information could be disclosed to an abusive absent parent. [CNIS Register Part 3]
- Lord Nash, Conservative (Recent former House of Lords Minister in the Department for Education) – Welcomes elective home education register. Numbers rising. Pays tribute to Lord Storey and Lord Soley for campaigning on this. Powerful and articulate members of the home education lobby may be perfectly capable of educating their own children but the bigger picture is that up to 70,000 children may not be receiving a suitable education at home. Good home educators have nothing to fear. Children’s rights trump parents’ rights. Many parents elect to home educate when their child is being excluded from school as they have justifiable concerns about the low quality of alternative provision on offer. [CNIS Register Part 3]
- Lord Watson, Labour – Welcomes CNIS Register. Pays tribute to Lord Storey and Lord Soley for campaigning on this. Home schooling can be done well by capable parents but not all children out of school are in this position. Some ideological parents were in the Public Gallery today. Says currently no records are kept of numbers of home educated children “Thus, children not in school can be entirely invisible to the authorities. That must end; the rights of the child are more important than the rights of the parent.” [CNIS Register Part 3]
- Lord Addington, Liberal Democrat – Welcomes increased regulation of religious institutions which currently do not have to register. Supports home schooling register because of child’s right to education. However, sometimes school is not the right place for the child especially where school cannot meet the child’s special educational needs, and that child should not be forced out of home education back into school by someone who doesn’t understand SEND. [Both elements of Part 3]
- Baroness Barran, Conservative Minister responsible for taking the Bill through the House of Lords – Putting special educational needs and disability at the heart of government strategy. Looking at alternative provision as part of SEND Review, consultation going on at present. Acknowledges concerns around greater sanctions for non-attendance but says it is all about “support first.” No intention of punitive attendance regime for children with long term health conditions. [Latter clauses Part 3 re attendance registered pupils]
Regarding the CNIS register “the Government respect the right of all families to home-educate, where it is done in the best interests of the child. We want parents and local authorities to be supported in ensuring that that education is suitable. The move to require local authority registration is not intended to undermine privacy, nor will it interfere with a parent’s right to educate their child in a way and with the methods that they think are best. Notification to the local authority that a child is receiving home education will help it to plan and target resources at children who are truly missing education. It will help local authorities to plan their resources for complying with their duties under existing guidance and the new duty to provide support where it is requested. It will also support them in identifying children who would otherwise be considered as children missing education, who could be at a safeguarding risk due to not receiving a suitable education, or indeed any education at all, and at risk of harm. The consultation response did not feature any proposals for additional powers for local authorities, such as to explicitly monitor education or enforce entry into the home. Our view remains that local authorities’ existing powers are sufficient to determine whether the provision offered is suitable. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, invited me to talk to home-educating parents, and I would be happy to hear their concerns.” [CNIS Register Part 3]
“Turning to the regulatory regime for independent educational institutions, the regulatory regime that we are proposing is tailored to settings that are intended to provide the whole or the majority of a student’s education. Our view is that it would not be proportionate to apply this regime to part-time or supplementary educational settings. We are going to launch a call for evidence regarding part-time settings shortly.” [Part 4 regulating independent institutions]
“Many noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Altrincham and Lord Sandhurst, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Watkins, talked about children’s mental health. I am hoping we will have a chance to talk about this more in Committee.”
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