Registration issue and bad blood
The DCSF Select Committee in its report on Home Education recommended that any registration system for home educating families should be light touch. In view of the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration, it suggested that registration should be voluntary. It added that Local authorities should publicize the benefits of registration, including the resources that will be available to registered families. The Committee felt that the success of a system of voluntary registration (combined with improved information sharing) should be reviewed after two years. If it is found not to have met expectations—in terms of assisting local authorities in identifying and working with the families of children who are being home educated and those of children not otherwise at school— the Committee believed that a system of compulsory registration would need to be introduced.
The Government, however, is not prepared to give ground on this issue. Ministers say that current arrangements already amount to a voluntary registration and monitoring system. Furthermore, the Government cannot understand the logic of making it voluntary for two years given the benefits it says it offers to home educated children. And it feels that it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated or are otherwise not in school. The Government’s view, and it has no intention of backing down, is that ‘As local authorities have a duty to identify all children in their area not receiving a suitable education, this duty currently obliges them to seek information from home educating families to ensure that they are providing a suitable education for their children. Where families do not cooperate local authorities waste time and resources establishing whether the standard of education is adequate, and this reduces their capacity to identify children in genuine need of assistance.’
The Government believes that the arrangements it is putting in place ‘ respect the family’s right to privacy, they are light touch, and they are necessary.’ The Government and Home Educators are at loggerheads. Home Educators say that the current system is fine and laws already exist to ensure that local authorities can safeguard children’s interests. They also feel that so-called consultation was a figleaf-the Government had already made up its mind before the consultation process even began and the charge is that the Badman review had a set of conclusions prepared in advance, then set out to find selected evidence to back those conclusions.
The Government seems to be attempting to be conciliatory, but Home Educators are not convinced, remaining angry and skeptical. For instance, the Government set out in more details its proposals for the annual local authority meeting with parents in the Committee stage of the Bill. For the vast majority of families an informal meeting with the parents and the child, once a year to discuss the progress the child has made and any additional support that might be needed is all that will be required, that is according to the Government. It says that the statutory guidance will make it clear that the focus of this annual meeting will be on support and encouragement. And the implication is that it will not be adversarial. The Government has promised that it will take into account the views of the Committee when drafting statutory guidance, and indeed that it will consult ‘widely’. Home Educators point to lots of previous ‘consultation’ but claim too that their views have been almost entirely ignored. There remains little common ground, it seems, between Home Educators and the Government.
Its hard not to escape the conclusion though that the Government has been heavy handed on the issue of Home Education conflating too many different issues to reach the wrong conclusion It has ignored its most basic mantra-policy must be informed by evidence, and has been insensitive to the views and respresenatations of key stakeholders.