Friday, 15 January 2010

Amendments to the Children, Schools and Families Bill

As far as I can gather, those home educators opposed to the above piece of legislation have two hopes; two possible courses of events which they believe might prevent the provisions relating to home education ever reaching the Statute Book.

The first of these possibilities is that the bill will simply run out of time. That is to say that things will drag on until the election in May and that the Government will be forced to abandon some of the legislation which was announced in the Queen's speech in November. It is possible that this will happen, but rather unlikely. For one thing, this bill is about education and so very popular with many people, including the electorate. It was designed to be that way. All the talk of increased power for parents and the licensing of teachers has gone down very well with a lot of parents. Educational standards are still plummeting and somebody must be to blame. Hey, it must be the schools and teachers! Hurray, the Government is going to give more power to us to call schools to account. I simply cannot see this bill being abandoned and it is currently moving very quickly through the system.

The other hope is that some amendments will be made to the clauses which specifically relate to home education. There is another problem here. This is a very long bill and most of the amendments concern all sorts of other things that have nothing at all to do with home education. Since the Government will be in a hurry during the run up to the election, they are liable to grow increasingly impatient with delays. The Equalities Bill, currently with the Lords, had over two hundred amendments scheduled. Discussion of all these was allocated just one day. I doubt if the amendments relating to home education will even be discussed in the end. It is true that some MPs are determined to draw attention to the new regulations, but they may not get a chance. It is entirely possible that the Government will impose a guillotine on the business. This means that there will be a certain fixed time for the amendments and then the talking ends and the bill goes to the Lords. If the House have not reached the amendments relating to home education by that time; that's just too bad.

It is true that it then needs to clear the Lords, but with the quickening pace over the next few months, that will perhaps not delay it for long. All the MPs who are ringing their hands and telling home educators that they share their pain at these iniquitous proposals know all this very well. They know that the Tory whips are already getting together with the Labour whips and working out a deal about what will go through in the wash up and what will not. People like Barry Sheerman will emerge looking like heroic strugglers for the rights of home educators, a man who did his best but was ultimately defeated by the faceless men in grey suits who did a deal behind his back. I'm sure that he'll still pick up a few votes as a result, as well as gaining a reputation as the champion of civil rights.

My own feeling is that this bill will almost certainly go through and that home educating parents should be aiming at a rather different target. The Children, Schools and Families Bill is essentially an enabling act. It is a bare framework which says very roughly what will be happening. It does not say in any detail how these things will happen. These details will be fleshed out later in a series of Statutory Instruments. In other words, a statement of educational provision is mentioned in the bill, but nobody has the least idea of what is meant by this. Most of the provisions are similarly vague. Here is where there is scope for parents to work together with local authorities to thrash out a deal which both sides could live with. Before the DCSF starts handing out Statutory Instruments to define this aspect or that, perhaps such things as what constitutes a "suitable education", they will consult with the local authorities. If the local authorities then announced that they had reached an amicable agreement with home educators as to what both sides could live with, then the Government of the day would be delighted; it would mean one less area of conflict.

I am no longer a home educator, but if I were I should be thinking very seriously about starting a dialogue with local authorities now and working alongside them to present a programme to central government which all parties agreed on. If this is not done, then the local authorities and the DCSF will simply sit down together and work out what is best for home educated children and parents will have no say in it at all.


  1. What would happen if the bill were still in the Lords when the election is called? Would it still go through wash-up?

  2. Yes, Anonymous.

    More importantly, are the MPs really ringing their hands, or are they wringing them?

  3. Adds another dimension to the expression 'with bells on'.

  4. What a mercy that I am not the only pedant here!

  5. Mmm...I wonder why my own conservative MP (and all the others I know of locally) have been strenuously asserting that there is NO TIME for this bill to be passed, under any circumstances.

    Now, I know MP's are happy to lie to consituents, but why lie about something that is likely to be proved wrong immediately before a general election.

    Personally, I know little about parliamentary process, so I have no more idea about what is likely to happen than the average home educator, but it does seem odd that we are being told 'there's no way this bill will get passed in time'. Odd. I'm not asking you, by the way, just musing.)

    Also, where on earth do you get the idea that Barry Sheerman is viewed as some sort of hero struggling for HE'ers? Everyone I know is quite aware he couldn't give two hoots about us and that he made his prejudices very clear in the Select Committee hearings by the manner in which he dealt with various witnesses.

    Are you getting Sheerman and Stuart mixed up? There's certainly a lot of hero worship going on there.

    Mrs Anon

  6. "Mmm...I wonder why my own conservative MP (and all the others I know of locally) have been strenuously asserting that there is NO TIME for this bill to be passed, under any circumstances."

    Wearing my deeply cynical hat because well...they are politicos, what other hat is there to wear ?

    If it does get passed in time despite all those strenuous denials, see below for one possibility.

    Say there is no time for a bill to go through. Look like you are superficially supporting various special interest groups, but use the "no time" shield as a mode of not actually doing anything concrete to support them, but maybe picking up a few votes all the same, or at least not losing any.

    Watch it go through.

    Wait till the sh*t hits the fan about something you'd really like the gen pub to be distracted away from in the early days of when you are in power and the honeymoon is over.

    Set off leaks and agitations over the compulsory sex ed part of said "no time" bill.

    Get required distraction.

    Blame previous government for rushing though ill thought out legislation in a power hungry mad dash before they lost the election, point to where your party had said at the time that there was not enough time to pass it... by which of course you meant ---> "not enough time to pass it through with proper debate and careful consideration !!!!", gloss over your lack of real opposition to the bill.

    Refocus all negative attention on the opposition, putting them back on the defensive, so your lot can catch their breath and do damage control on the issue that you've managed to bury under a flurry of outraged parents who have been whipped a storm by the gutter press, utterly convinced that their pre-schoolers will be shown gay porn at nursery as a compulsory sex ed lesson.

    Wait till the synthetic "gay porn for toddlers @ skool!!" hoohar has died down, move on having done absolutely nothing about the content of the bill other than waft lots of lip service at it.

    In my defense, I may have lived too long under Berlusconi for my own good. Probably the Uk hasn't quite descended to that level of cynical stratigic planning yet, but there could well be a couple of grains of truth in my hyperbole.

  7. No I'm not getting Sheerman and Stuart mixed up, Mrs. Anon! Barry Sheerman was getting good press for supposedly standing up to Balls on the home education front. See;

    A lot of people thought that he was standing up for the rights of home educators and ticking Ed Balls off. As for the motives for Tory MPs to lie, I think it's very simple. They can promise various groups now that they are fully on their side and will fight to the death for them. This makes everybody keen on them personally. If despite their promises, legislation is passed, they can say that they did their best and the leaderships of both parties made deals. It will still give them a good image and make it more likley that people will vote for them.

  8. Sarah,

    You're not a Tory MP by any chance, are you? :-)


    Yes, I read that article. However, no one I know (real life HE'ers) or anyone on the email list I'm active on has thought of Sheerman in that way - a hero. No one wants to 'delay' registration which is about the only thing he's offering. They don't want it at all.

    He was particularly patronising, even rude, to the others at the table with you when you were a witness at the SC, yet smarmy and chummy with the 'professionals' who were later witnesses. That told us all we needed to know about his real opinions of HE'ers. I don't think anyone is/was fooled by him.

    Mrs Anon

  9. Was he rude to those sitting next to me at the select committee? I would say that he was brusque with Fiona when she refused to say whether or not she was in favour of registration, but that was all. I was talking about Barry Sheerman in general terms, many newspaper readers have the impression that he rejected a large chunk of the Badman Report. So, by the way, did many those on the lists such as HE-UK and EO. There was great enthusiasm when the select committee's report came out.

  10. Anonymous said...

    You're not a Tory MP by any chance, are you? :-)


    LOL, me and Portillo, we're like that (waggles crossed fingers)