Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

Those trusting folk who were foolish enough to rely upon Conservative and Liberal Democrat promises for help in opposing the passage of the new Children, Schools and Families Bill might perhaps have received a nasty shock yesterday. The chamber was all but deserted during the Second Reading of the bill. Presumably all those MPs who swore solemnly to uphold the rights of home educating parents had remembered that they had other, more urgent, business to attend to that day; like getting ready for a general election in four months.

Personally, I have nothing at all against the new legislation, but I always thought that from a tactical viewpoint it was a great mistake to put everything into a "No Surrender" policy which left no room for manoeuvre. If only home educators and the organisations which represent them had shown a willingness to negotiate, a bit of give and take, then the provisions made in Schedule 1 of this bill could probably have been altered a little. As it is, they will get the whole package of measures as designed by Ed Balls and his civil servants.

Things are now moving along with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, those who hoped to stop this piece of legislation having massively underestimated this Government's ability to ram through laws that they want, disregarding any opposition. The new Equality Bill, for example, had no fewer than two hundred amendments scheduled for debate. The Government allowed just one day for this. As we approach the general election, plans are already being made between the two main parties for what is known as "Wash up Week". This means that the Government and the opposition engage in a lot of horse trading to establish which bits of the Government agenda will get through parliament before the election is called. The Tories will certainly wish to block some of the intended legislation, perhaps that relating to banks. The price for this will be allowing other bills, such as the Children, Schools and Families Bill to pass in their entirety. This decision has probably been taken already, which would explain why Tory MPs didn't think it worth sticking around for the Second Reading yesterday.

When all's said and done, the new bill is likely to be pretty popular with ordinary people, including MPs. It offers more power to parents, brings in the Rose primary curriculum and offers one-to-one tuition for failing pupils. The licensing system for teachers is likely to be viewed favourably as well. Most people will think that if teachers need to be checked regularly to see if they are up to the job, then why not parents who are also acting as teachers?

As I say, this does not bother me much. I find it slightly irritating though that those campaigning for this bill to be stopped should not have realised what was going to happen. Do they really know nothing about guillotines on debates? Did they not know that the proximity to a general election would make it more likely that this bill would be passed rather then less likely? Did it not occur to anybody that if home educators were prepared to compromise, then they might have salvaged something from all this? Were they really so innocent as to take what a load of Tory MPs were telling them at face value? I do not know the answers to any of these questions, but I have not the least doubt that the Children, Schools and Families Bill will be passed before the beginning of May.


  1. Well I'm not sure what happened there! For the record, I have *not* just re-iterated what Simon said!

  2. Before I was interrupted by my own apparent inability to copy and paste my carefully crafted response, what I intended to point out was this.

    Around 200 MPs voted against the Bill, which received a second reading by a relatively narrow majority, so it seems more were interested in opposing it than appeared from attendance in the chamber.

    Many of the MPs who swore to oppose the Bill actually spoke against it, some of them quite eloquently.

    Your perceptions of the expectations and strategies adopted by home-educating parents that you are either a bit out of touch, Simon, or that you are setting up a straw man. The proposals in Clause 26 are clearly designed as an attempt to work around the objections raised by home educators, and the whole Bill might look very different when it's finished with.

  3. All the proposals in the bill are very vague and will need to be firmed up by Statutory Instruments in the future. The two things that were left out of the bill, entry to homes without warrant and right to interview children alone, were non starters anyway from a legal viewpoint.
    The standard home educating position has been and still is, "Leave us alone, we don't weant any change in the law and jsut want things to continue in the same way". Since that is not going to happen, I think it would have been better to thrash out a framework for inspections and monitoring that both sides would be reasonably happy with. In the event, it is unilaterally decided. Do not be deceived by the 200 MPs voting against this bill. Their votes wil not in any case matter when the final decisions are made during wash up week. The whips will be out and they will do as they are told! In the meantime, they are courting anybody's vote they can. gestures of this sort play well to the gallery and they can at least claim to have done their best when the bill goes through at the end of April.

  4. "The whips will be out and they will do as they are told!"

    Yes, but what will they be told to do? A good deal of government legislation falls by the wayside or is amended beyond recognition before it sees the light of day. Obviously a government with an overall majority stands a good chance of getting legislation through, but there's not going to be much point in that if it's unworkable and is going to end up in the government getting egg on its face. It looks to me as if Labour are playing for votes, but at the same time preparing for defeat: they wouldn't want to have to deal with the aftermath of some of the proposals such as the home school agreements. Or perhaps they don't know that they won't want to. Nothing would surprise me.

  5. I have no doubt that this bill will be pushed through there are no surprises here.

    Of course the chamber was largely empty - that's nothing new in the commons.

    As for a "No Surrender" policy, that's been the government's position and I've seen that from discussions with my own (loyal Labour) MP who believes there is no room for manoeuvre as the legislation already has a "light touch".

    I know from personal experience that hardened politicians regard reasonable people as a pushover and laugh at them behind their backs. The statistical argument had to be made but there was never any hope of winning the argument on those grounds. University debating societies - where many MPs cut their teeth - always teach their members to make up numbers and use them so long as they are vaguely plausible. They aren't "numbers" people and don't really care about other people's opinions, whether they are right or not.

    The only hope that home educators have is to be less reasonable and more unpredictable. Scream "child abuse" at their Labour MPs in a very public way; hammer them on the failure of the school system if you hope to win over the wider public. Give them a face-saving way out if you like - tell MPs that DCSF are misleading them.
    Point out that it was Balls legislation that resulted in OFSTED snooping on two decent honest policewomen in order to stop their mutual childcare arrangement.

    Otherwise, and particularly if your MP continues to support the bill, ensure that they suffer as much damage as possible. You may fail but at election time revenge can be sweet - if short lived.

    Just don't rely on anything better from anyone else though; we're talking about democracy here, with lots of keen but otherwise useless and incompetent people that want to run your life.

    Thatcher's crowd were no different to this lot.
    Power corrupts etc.

  6. "The only hope that home educators have is to be less reasonable and more unpredictable."

    I don't lol very often, but, lol.

  7. Sometimes, Simon, I wonder if you live on another planet. Today is one of those days. On my planet, there was a different second reading where virtually every MP who spoke (regardless of party, and of course discounting the two DCSF ministers) raised serious concerns about the home-ed provisions in the bill. Indeed, for what is (to the most people) a small and insignificant part of the overall bill, that issue took up a hugely disproportionate amount of the debate.

    For the first couple of hours of the debate, the house was busy. Later there were less members present. This is normal. I suspect it coincides with happy hour at the already subsidised bar.

    Whether you're right or not about the bill itself passing before this appalling government finally get thrown out, I strongly suspect Schedule 1 will be significantly amended, largely due to people who have been campaigning for this. I assume they're not the same people as all the "theys" in your last paragraph who sound both unfamiliar and deluded, since "stopping the bill" has never been an option. (Although that fact didn't stop the Lib Dems from proposing a silly time-wasting amendment to do just that last night).

  8. It went as I expected- some MPs (even perhaps many) did rally to the HE side, but we are in that stage of the game in politics where the opposition will oppose anything on principle. With a big Labour majority it will go through especially with a guillotine. It may get twiddled with, but I can't see registration and monitoring failing unless Brown calls a snap election....

  9. Well CiaranG, in my world too nearly all those who spoke opposed the bill. Since it is a Government bill, there is little point in anybody but Ed Balls saying much about it. With the majoity which this administration enjoys, they can get anything through the house. All that the opposition can do is make brave speeches. As I say, it will probably be rushed thorugh on the nod during wash up week. I doubt any amendments will get in, but we shall see.

  10. Let me see......oh yes several people spent many many hours briefing conservative and lib dems, the result of which helped the decision made to whip both parties' MPs to vote against the bill, which they did yesterday. Labour were whipped to support it, so they did.

    The MPs who spoke were remarkably knowledgable. It was a joy to hear.

    We always expected it would pass second reading, we were very pleased to see by how little it passed.

    The committee stage has been truncated by a government hell bent on putting this bill through without due process. Therefore the opportunity for ammendments, which is actually in reality the Bill Committee stage, is reduced. However the ammendments are already written. There are two major sets I am familiar with.

    Then we have the report and third reading and then the Lords have to pass it through the same stages......we already have some lords (some very, very influential) of all parties on our side.

    The Lords can delay this bill beyond the election and therefore kill it.

    Oh, and for your information - I understand the CSF bill will not get through wash up, front bench opposition is too opposed and a Labour MP I spoke to before Christmas said there are more important bills for the government to look at for wash up.

    I think you may have to sack your fortune teller yet Simon.

  11. Ciaran - the Lib Dems proposal allowed more debate
    Julie - there is a guillotine on the committee stage but they cannot impose one in the Lords to my understanding.

  12. Alison said,

    'there is a guillotine on the committee stage but they cannot impose one in the Lords to my understanding.'

    No, but they can use the Parliament Act and have done so quite willingly in the past.

    Mrs Anon

  13. Do you mean the Parliament Act 1949? If so, I'm not sure they have time to use this before the election.

    The Parliament Act 1911 specifies that, "If a public bill (other than a money bill or a bill
    extending the maximum duration of a parliament) was passed by the Commons in three
    successive sessions, with at least two years between the first Commons second reading and
    the Commons third reading in the third session, it could be presented for Royal Assent by the

    The Parliament Act 1949 amended the 1911 Act reducing the time periods specified in the
    execution of the procedure: replacing references to “three sessions” with “two sessions”, and to
    “two years” with “one year”.

    As far as I can see they have only used this provision 7 times, unless there have been more recent developments?