Steve Beegoo, Christian Concern’s Head of Education, comments on the progression of the Schools Bill.
The Schools Bill represents some of the biggest potential changes to education law ever in this country. It was hurriedly introduced by the government last month, as part of a flurry of recent policy announcements. It is being considered by the House of Lords and is currently at the committee stage. Many are identifying it as a ‘sweeping power grab’, endangering freedoms of parents and centralising authority in the Department for Education.
Huge distress to the proposals is being expressed by the home education community, especially regarding a mandatory register of all their children and homes. We’ve previously mentioned the problems with how the bill would give power to an unaccountable Ofsted, but also of concern are plans to introduce mandatory registers for home educators. An attitude akin to demonising Christians and other parents who exercise their right to educate their children at home, away from an often unsafe local school, seems to have shaped these proposals.
The essential mantra regarding safety is, ‘There is no required list so we cannot monitor and regulate these unsafe homes’. Even though DFE guidance on elective home education itself states, “There is no proven correlation between home education and safeguarding risk”, the speech introducing the legislation had said unhelpfully that a register was needed in part, “to provide accurate data to help identify children who are not receiving a safe…education.”
As is often the case, the government uses arguments of ‘safety’ to justify its proposals. Parents may well justifiably judge that the local school environment is actually harming their children. Our recent cases of Izzy Montague, Kristie Higgs, The Rowes and Keith Waters demonstrate why this might be.
Children are not always ‘safer in school’, as frequent reports have demonstrated. Caring parents, seeking to safeguard their children from aggressive LGBT promotion, peer-on-peer sexual abuse, or who have children who are not served well by the education system would become susceptible to having data recorded about them against their will, and officials interviewing them in their homes. Law abiding citizens having data kept and passed on from one authority to another, and even directly to the secretary of state for education.
Penalties for parents deemed to be non-compliant range from £2,500 fine or up to 51 months’ imprisonment or both, should a local authority official not be agreeable to the form of education delivered at home and insist on the child being sent to a school of the authorities’ choice.
The educational progress of the vast majority of home educated children is greater than that of their peers in schools, but the choice to do so would be restricted by the proposals. Equally, a parent’s right to educate at home, free from government interference, has been a fallback position for all parents when significant issues arise in their schools. Such issues may require removal from school. For reasons of conscience or their safety, those primarily charged by God for their sons’ and daughters’ wellbeing, should remain free to do so without fear.
Some politicians have begun to address the many issues contained in the Schools Bill. On day four of the committee stage, the Bishop of St Albans recognised that, “this register could be the thin end of a slippery wedge resulting in Ofsted in the home: parents being mandated to teach specific things in a specific way, or being directed by law to send their children to school to receive a particular type of education.” There have been 308 potential amendments put forward since its introduction; amendments of varying quality and potential impact on a number of education related areas. Christians, whether home educators or not, are rightly concerned and should be raising these issues with those in power who represent them.
Once the Lords have completed the committee stage, it enters the report stage this autumn and then is submitted to the House of Commons. Along with other concerning aspects of the bill related to religious education, multi-academy trusts and Ofsted powers, constituents will need to make their voice heard so Parliament does not pass dangerous laws later this year.
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