Saturday, April 28, 2018

First Impressions of the Committee Stage of Lord Soley's Bill. 27th April 2018

Lord Soley's Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill went through Committee Stage in the House of Lords yesterday.  The proceedings as they are recorded in Hansard are here. They may also be viewed on Parliamentary TV here:

It's a complicated business working out who said what in relation to which bit. It seems you to have to read the Bill as it was originally introduced alongside the list of amendments and then need to remember which amendments were passed, but in the end, it is likely to be academic as Lord Agnew, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the DfE had this to say (key messages in bold):

"We are interested in it [the Bill] and welcome the debate it has engendered in this House and elsewhere, but the position remains that the Government are not formally supporting it. I made a commitment to consult on drafts of revised departmental guidance, ​and that consultation started on 10 April. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the guidance looks at specific issues such as the role of safeguarding by local authorities and whether that extends to this area.

The consultation is open until 2 July and we hope for responses from a wide spectrum of families, local authorities and others. This will give us a much firmer basis for considering whether any changes are needed. In the meantime, I shall listen to today’s proceedings with interest and note the point
. It is of course open to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, not to progress his Bill further until the Government’s consultation has concluded."

The following are some of the key messages that we imagine that Lord Agnew will have heard:

On exclusions and off-rolling:

From Lord Lucas:

There seems to be evidence that some schools are making it a practice to tip children into home education.​ That is not, in itself, a wrong thing. In the circumstances of an individual child, family and school, home education may be the best alternative. Some children who have been suffering in school will flourish in home education. You just do not know, without going into the details, whether this is malpractice or good practice. In too many places in this country, the alternative to home education is exclusion, and the pathway from exclusion is into desolation. We ought to provide, but do not, a strong system of alternative education for children who are persistently excluded.

Lord Adonis replied:

Does the noble Lord think that, rather than parents being obliged to home educate their children because of the danger of exclusion, a better solution would be to be much more restrictive about exclusions in the first place and not to allow them except in extremis? In that way, we would not have this huge extension of home education that is taking place at the moment, which is a covert form of excluding pupils from school.

Lord Adonis clearly sees the need to take action on the above and proposed meetings with Lords and Academies in order to try to sort the issue of exclusion by making it less easy to do.


On Suitability of Educational Provision:

Lord Adonis recognised the difficulty of being prescriptive about the suitability of educational provison:

He said:

"it is quite difficult for the state to start making judgments about the philosophical preferences of parents when it comes to home education. The point I seek to make to the Committee is that while there are some forms of home education of which I personally strongly disapprove, I do not believe that is the big social issue facing the country. The major issue is home education that means no education, not home education that means better education. It is about getting at the fundamental problem of home education that means no education and throwing children on to the scrapheap that we have to deal with."

Lord Lucas explains why assessment is such a problem:

"There is not any sensible way to assess this in a light-touch way by some sort of standard assessment. Assessments are designed to evaluate what is happening in school, where there are a lot of children and statistics are in your favour; the oddities even out and you get some sort of pattern emerging that tells you how the school is doing as a whole. Even then, there are problems, as we have with Progress 8 at the moment, where the system means that the outliers have far too much influence on the average. If you draw Progress 8 out as a bell graph, however, you can see where the weight of a school is and can make a reasonable judgment on the quality of education being provided there. You cannot do that when looking at an individual child, not simply and not just by putting them through a SATs test. You need far more information. If a parent gets to a point where they are arguing with a local authority about a school attendance order and getting the independent advice needed to establish where their child is and what they have achieved, that could cost a couple of thousand quid. This is an immense resource to apply just to check where a child is. It is entirely pointless and destructive to emphasise assessment carried out by those sorts of means. "

Lord Addington also stressed the problems of anyone assessing for ability and aptitude, particularly in relation to special needs.

Lord Lucas said that the "supervised instruction" should not be included in the Bill because it is not how many HE children learn.


On how funding could be managed:

Lord Lucas:

"I urge the Government to consider the idea that a budget should be given to local authorities to provide educational assistance to home-educated children. The Government are saving so much by these children coming out of school: £5,000 per year per child. The Government should not pocket the whole of that. There is no reason to. The Government should recognise that they have a continuing duty actively to support these children.

Having that fund and local authorities having that duty would produce a supportive attitude and a real reason for parents to engage with the local authority. It means that, rather than being hidden from sight, the vast majority of these children will be seen because they will be engaging in an activity sponsored by the local authority. They will be seen by independent professionals in doing that. There will be very good visibility and the whole problem of how we know that these children are being properly educated becomes easy to solve. It is solved as a side effect of educating them. That surely must be the best way to approach this. Supportive means actively supporting their education, not just directing what it should be.

There is a wide range of good practice out there that we could borrow from and, with good funding, produce something that results in a very large proportion of home-educating parents actively wishing to register. Most of them are not state phobic. Most of them just think the state has done a very bad job for them, and they do not trust some of the individuals involved. If we get to a position where the state is providing a range of helpful services, and there is a decent budget behind that, we would solve most of the problems covered in the Bill."

Baroness Morgan did her best to put the kibosh on that idea however.


On an HE Register: 

Most Lords think the idea of a register a good one though Lucas recognises that:

"We should not just pick on home education—or, rather, those parents who choose to declare themselves at home educators—because the people who will register are probably not the ones who are causing us trouble. The ones who might cause us trouble are the ones who are not registered, or the ones that schools have chosen to abandon and their parents are really not capable of picking up. I do not think registration just for home education answers the case. I hope the Minister, in all that he is thinking through, when he comes to registration will look at the wider question of how local authorities are supposed to have proper information on which children they are supposed to be paying attention to."

UPDATE:  On the matter of registration, just before 11.45 in the Committee Stage of his Bill, Lord Soley said:

"I am of the view that it would be better if we had a system where, when a child becomes of school age, they have to be registered at a school of some type.... It is a matter for thought and discussion in government as to whether we consider that further down the line. It is part of the discussion with government."

Given that Lord Soley claims this is part of a discussion with government, it seems worth the effort to try to work out what he actually means here. What would registering every school age child at school actually involve?

Would every family have to register themselves and if so, how would this be policed to make sure everyone had done it?

Given the difficulty of policing a parental registration scheme, the plan to register all children must presumably therefore involve local authorities finding the location of every child in the land in a massive data sharing exercise, presumably cross referencing health and benefits records, and the LA then placing each child on a register of a school.

However this way of going about things would almost inevitably result in a muddle of epic proportions as all those parents who didn't want their child registered at their local primary for one reason or another would have to deregister in a flurry.

However it was implemented, such a scheme would result in schooling being the norm, and, assuming that home education remained a legal option, would make home education the anomaly.  This, on the face of it, would subvert the essence of parental responsibilities encapsulated in s7 Education Act 1996 and make the state the de facto parent, since the state would be determining where a child will be educated without the input of the family. The spirit of the state taking over parental responsibilities would continue apace.


On Radicalisation and Illegal Schools:

There was a general consensus that the Bill could not cope with dealing with these matters but that they did need to be dealt with by government.


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