Stop the schools bill

I am writing this as I am incensed over the the schools bill that is being brought by the government. The Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says “My mission is clear; I want to make sure every single child across our country has access to an excellent education, supporting them to reach the full height of their potential” – now this sounds great, as usual a politician saying the soundbites that the media and the public want to hear – however, the bill makes grim reading and will change how education in the UK is delivered once and for all, and not for the better. How can children reach their full potential if there is bullying in school, if they are taught to the test and not receiving the lessons to make them passionate and want to learn? I say no to this and to stop the schools bill.

The government are so short-sighted when it comes to their view of what a school should be, and what can be achieved with a different environments – unless of course you can afford to send your child to a fee paying school, then you can do whatever you like and different rules apply. I wonder why that is – could it be that those who make the rules do not want to their children to be educated under them? With this government nothing would surprise me as they are very vocal about the great fee paying sector.

Obviously being a home educating parent I have special interest in the changes that are being made in relation to this – and again this seems to be very anti home education and gives too much power to unqualified and untrained individuals to decide if the education provided at home is ‘suitable’. There has been no consultation with the home education community, and sweeping derogatory comments have been made by those who clearly do not know anything about how hard home educators work and want their children to succeed – and yet they get to make a decision that impacts us all. We have to work together to stop the schools bill.

I, and many others have wrote to our MP’s to pass on our fears about the bill and have had varying replies; from the helpful and agreement that the bill is wrong, to the other end where those who are dismissive and rude. we will fight on and hope that we can get the government to change the bill (or scrap it!) and make education inclusive for everyone.

Whilst there are many serious problems with the bill, there are four issues that I feel are particularly important:

1. GDPR and specifically section 436F: “A local authority in England may provide information from their register under section 436B which relates to a child to a prescribed person if the authority consider it appropriate to do so for the purposes of promoting or safeguarding the education, safety or welfare of— (a) the child, or (b) any other person under the age of 18.”

Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and Health services are already breaking the 2018 GDPR regulations around sharing personal and sensitive information between themselves without any reason other than that the child is home educated – we have  personally experienced this. 

Section 436F gives the LEA the right to disclose any information that it wishes, based on its own judgement, without necessarily having reasonable cause to do so. It could, for example, decide to share data about all home educated children to a commercial entity that sells educational materials – simply because the LEA likes that particular learning resource. Essentially, the bill gives carte blanche to any agency involved in children’s welfare to do whatever they want with children’s information.

2. The bill will enable education staff to visit children and families in their own home, and increase threats of school attendance orders (SAO) if the parent disagrees. 

Whilst my child was at school I was confident that (in theory) should there be any issues, I would be able to follow a clear complaints policy. Home educators have no such protection when an LEA expresses (often unfounded) concerns – there is no clear, publicly accessible complaints policy or independent arbitration. Furthermore, many LEA staff responsible for home education have no formal qualifications or expertise in education. As an example, a recent job advert for home education officers in Derby listed an NVQ as the required level of education. These low requirements lead to situations where the decision of unqualified LEA staff takes priority over often highly qualified parents. Regarding home visits, a social worker must have parental permission or a court order to enter a home. Does the government believe that unqualified LEA staff should have greater powers than social workers?

The government’s bill will allow LEAs to demand examples of children’s work. I am not opposed to this if the work will be looked at by qualified staff, is assessed objectively, and checks are minimal in both frequency and subject coverage (e.g. only maths and literacy). A home educator has the luxury of following the best learning practices for their child (1:1, not 1:30) which may not involve traditional recording of results – this does not mean that learning is not happening or that progress is not assessed. 

3. Children missing an education

The government’s narrative equates home education to children missing an education, with the suggestion that parents are not qualified to teach, and that only qualified teachers can deliver an effective education. However, the government holds the private school system in such high regard, and private schools do not require their teaching staff to hold a teaching qualification – the requirement is subject passion, work experience in the area or a first degree in a topic. Many parents are experts in a field, have multiple degrees and are passionate about learning (i.e. more highly qualified than private school teachers), but the government is keen to channel public opinion towards a belief that home education is always inferior to mainstream schooling. In reality, home education is simply a legal alternative, which is often more effective – particularly given the very serious issues that exist in mainstream schools.

4. Assistance with exam fees / centre accessibility

Currently, home educators are required to fund all of the resources, excursions, tutors and exams that their children wish to take. For GCSE exams, there are high and inconsistent costs across the country, limited access to centres willing to take private candidates and little help when exams are cancelled (as in 2020). 

The Education Select Committee recently upheld a recommendation from 2012 that state exams for home educated children should be paid for by the state. However, according to the report: when asked how the Department could justify this unequal access to exams, Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System. said that in choosing EHE, “parents take on the responsibility for educating their children”. This discriminatory approach is a clear example of the government undermining home education – and implying that it should only be an option for the most wealthy.

In conclusion, the government has a single vision to keep people in their place in this country, and does not want to embrace the free thinking, hard working and knowledge thirsty children who are home educated. According to the chair of the Education Select Committee (Robert Halford MP): “schools should focus on preparing pupils for work – not acquisition of knowledge”. This dismal opinion accurately summarises the government’s uninspiring plans for education in this country, and why many of us choose to home educate.

Please read the schools bill and make sure that as many people as possible are aware of what is being proposed by this government.