This post explores the difference between a government being “committed” to something and actually being in a position to make it happen.
The Schools Bill arrived on May 11th 2022. 7 weeks later the government promised to take away a substantial part of the Bill related to multi-academy trusts for further review. By the time of the parliamentary recess in July the Prime Minister had resigned, meaning that a new Prime Minister would appoint their own new Cabinet with different MPs taking charge of various departments.
There was talk of the Schools Bill being cut back by abandoning the multi-academy clauses since the remainder of the Bill contained provisions which were said to be a priority such as greater oversight of school attendance, and measures to tighten rules for unregistered and illegal schools as well as the children not in school register. This would of course have required the Schools Bill to continue in some shape or form.
Meanwhile, during the Summer recess the Department for Education launched a voluntary data collection in respect of home educated children and children missing education, with local authorities asked to report on 3 census dates throughout the year. It might seem an odd time to instigate a backup system that wouldn’t require any new laws, but in the event it proved useful for ministers to be able to mention that action was being taken despite inaction on the Schools Bill which was stuck in the House of Lords and not being allocated a date for Third Reading.
In December 2022 the Schools Bill was finally dropped. We learned this during a Committee session with Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan. The screening of the session was available 2 days before the transcript and instant reaction in the media tended to focus on reporting priority areas where the government proclaimed it was “committed”.
However, once we were able to study the transcript it was clear that the Secretary of State was keen to stress what the Department can achieve WITHOUT the need for a new law. This explains why Chair Robin Walker asked about a “legislative vehicle” for compulsory registration, and why Gillian Keegan said she could not commit to dates or times.
May 11th 2022 Schools Bill First Reading in parliament. See all my blog posts on the Schools Bill here The Bill began in the House of Lords. At the time Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and Nadhim Zahawi was Secretary of State for Education. Baroness Barran was – and remains – the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Education in the House of Lords.
June 30th 2022 Baroness Barran letter to peers committing to remove clauses 1 to 18 and the first two schedules of the bill, following concerns raised by members across the House. These clauses and schedules covered the regulation of academies and government powers to intervene in their operation.
July 5th Rishi Sunak resigned as Chancellor. Replaced by Nadhim Zahawi leaving vacancy at Education.
July 5th Michelle Donelan promoted to Secretary of State for Education replacing Nadhim Zahawi.
July 7th Michelle Donelan resigned.
July 7th Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned
July 7th James Cleverly appointed new Secretary of State for Education
July 12th First day Report stage Schools Bill. Government temporarily removed first 18 clauses of the Schools Bill as previewed on June 30th. Peers expressed frustration and annoyance at not being given a chance to scrutinise the academy clauses again before they went to the Commons. https://edyourself.wordpress.com/2022/07/13/schools-bill-what-the-heck-happened-in-the-lords-last-night/
July 18th Last day of Report stage. Substantial improvements made to the compulsory registration clauses in Part 3 of the Bill https://edyourself.wordpress.com/2022/07/20/schools-bill-what-does-means-mean-plus-forum-panel-new-guidance/. Projected date for Third Reading – the last stage for the Bill in the Lords – September 14th.
August 2022 1.0 Baseline version EHE/CME data collection created, requesting local authorities to upload information to the Department for Education three times per year on census date numbers and characteristics of home educated children including sex, ethnicity, school year group, those with EHCPs, Child in Need or Child Protection Plans, plus given reason for starting home education. Similar details also requested three times per year for census date numbers and characteristics of children missing education. Census dates October 6th, January 19th, May 18th.
September 5th Boris Johnson replaced as Prime Minister by Liz Truss
September 6th Kit Malthouse appointed new Secretary of State for Education by Liz Truss.
September 7th The Schools Bill pages edited on GOV.UK to remove any date for Third Reading.
October 6th 1st census date EHE/CME collection https://www.gov.uk/guidance/elective-home-education-and-children-missing-education-submit-your-data
October 25th Liz Truss replaced as Prime Minister by Rishi Sunak
October 25th Gillian Keegan appointed new Secretary of State for Education by Rishi Sunak.
October 26th Nick Gibb and Robert Halfon (then Chair of the Education Committee) appointed as ministers, Department for Education
November 4th First return date for EHE/CME census https://www.gov.uk/guidance/elective-home-education-and-children-missing-education-submit-your-data
November 16th Robin Walker (former Schools Minister) selected as Chair of the Education Committee to replace Robert Halfon
November 17th Parliamentary Question Laurence Robertson about children with special needs not attending school
November 22nd Robertson PQ answered with reference to EHE/CME data collection “Between 6 October and 4 November 2022, the department requested that local authorities aggregate data on electively home educated children and children missing education. This is to improve our understanding of these cohorts, including the number of these children who are on Education, Health and Care plans or who require special educational needs (SEN) support. This data is currently being analysed and will be published in due course.”
November 24th Parliamentary Questions Lord Storey PQ1 number of children who did not return to full time education following the COVID-19 pandemic; PQ2 number of children from deprived backgrounds home educated; PQ3 safeguarding in home education; PQ4 number home educated children, number taught in unregistered provision, number “missing from schools rolls and unaccounted for”
November 29th Parliamentary Question Robin Walker numbers of children out of school for a year or more due to unmet needs
November 30th Flick Drummond Question to Prime Minister [Q 902534 column 899] “Will my right hon. Friend bring forward the register of home-schooled children so that they are identified and we can ensure that their needs are looked after and they are not falling through the net?” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “We support the right of parents to home-educate their children and we know that many do well. However, that is not the case for all, which is why local authorities must seek to identify those children missing education. We have published guidance on the arrangements that they should be following and, indeed, ensured that they have oversight of elective home education.”
December 2nd Education Committee posts about upcoming session with Secretary of State Gillian Keegan the following Wednesday, noting “The Committee may also raise the issue of poor school attendance rates around the country following the pandemic, and query the future of the Schools Bill.”
December 6th Lord Storey PQs answered: “There is no statutory requirement for local authorities or the department to hold information on home educated children, children taught in unregistered provision, or children missing from school rolls, though such data may be held by local authorities. Local authorities have a duty under Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to identify children of compulsory school age in their area who are not registered at a school, and are not receiving suitable education otherwise. Information held on children who did not return to full-time education following the COVID-19 pandemic is not held by the department. Between 6 October and 4 November 2022, the department requested local authorities aggregate data on elective home education and children missing education to improve understanding of these cohorts. This data is being analysed and will be published in due course.”
December 6th Robin Walker PQ answered “Local Authorities hold the duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to identify children of compulsory school age in their area who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise. Between 6 October and 4 November this year, the Department requested Local Authorities aggregate data on Elective Home Education and Children Missing Education to improve its understanding of these cohorts. This data is currently being analysed and will be published in due course”
December 7th Gillian Keegan questioned by Education Committee (now chaired by Robin Walker) confirmed that the Schools Bill would not go ahead.
December 9th Education Committee transcript published. Gillian Keegan “I can confirm that the Schools Bill will not progress in the third session. There have been a lot of things that we have had to focus on, and the need to provide economic stability and tackle the cost of living means that the parliamentary time has definitely been reprioritised on that. We all know that we had to do that because of the pandemic aftershocks but also the war in Ukraine, and we needed to support families.” Gillian Keegan “A lot of the Schools White Paper is being implemented and did not require legislation in many cases … we will be prioritising some aspects of the Bill as well to see what we can do …particularly in a couple of areas around legislating for children not in school and a register …” Robin Walker “It would be welcome to understand what legislative vehicle might be able to deliver that …”  Gillian Keegan “we can go quite a long way to achieving our aims to push this through non‑legislative steps …to improve the funding for special educational needs and high needs”  Flick Drummond “can I pin you down to a time scale on this register?” Gillian Keegan “we are continuing to support local authorities with their non-statutory registers of children who are not in school … I cannot commit to dates or times because there is a process that has to be gone through and I do not have full control of it”