Parents’ rights to choose how their child is educated could be handed over to faceless officials
By Wendy Charles Warner, Chair of Education Otherwise
Parents could lose their rights over their children’s education, if the new Schools Bill is passed.
The Bill proposes to turn Britain, and particularly England, from being one of the world’s freest places to home educate to one of the most restrictive.
This frightening government power grab would hand control of all education provision to the Department for Education (DfE) and local authorities – with no exceptions.
At the time of printing, the Bill was due to be sent from the Lords to the Commons. Those of us who have scrutinised the Bill believe that it is not fit for purpose. Even former education ministers have baulked at its draconian first section, which would allow the DfE complete control over how schools are run, teachers employed and children taught. Happily ministers’ objections led to Section 1 being withdrawn for review.
Nonetheless, the rest of the Bill should ring alarm bells for anyone who thinks parents might know what is best for their child. Government and local authority officials will be empowered to inspect living-room home education ‘settings’, close private schools, enforce school attendance for a given child with no redress, prevent new religious schools from opening, relocating or expanding, ban tutors from teaching – even online – and force parents to supply any information or surrender any materials.
Ten major concerns
Under the remaining parts of the Bill:
- Ofsted can seize anything from anyone it thinks might be running a school. It will be a criminal offence not to comply.
- The Bill introduces a register of children not in school. This erodes the rights of home educating families and also of schoolchildren.
- If your child has any off-site (ie music) lessons, you will even have to register time off school for medical appointments with your local authority.
- You will have a duty to give your local authority any information that it demands, even about your religion, your diet, or private medical information. This is a real threat to privacy when we know that local authorities frequently share information in breach of data rules.
- If you use out of school classes, the provider will be under a duty to provide your child’s details to the local authority.
- If providers do not supply the information, or make a clerical error, they can face fines and loss of their business.
- Any ‘setting’ providing education for a special needs child – or for five plus children – will have to register as a school, face Ofsted inspection and provide your information to the local authority. No exceptions are made for relatives, childminders, tutors, after school clubs, forest schools or large home-educating families.
- Children in the UK are among the unhappiest in Europe and mental health in schools is a real problem. The Bill takes away your right to remove your child from a school without local authority monitoring, even if that authority has failed your child.
- If your child has special needs and you are served with a School Attendance Order (SAO), the Bill prevents you from ever having it removed, even if you move from the area.
- The Bill gives the DfE the right to close down independent schools. Those schools will need to apply for DfE approval if they change even very basic details.
The Minister for the School System, Baroness Barran, has repeatedly assured MPs and the House of Lords that none of these concerns are valid because the DfE intends to draw up regulations preventing them from occurring. So we are supposed to be reassured that a government department vaguely intends to clarify its own badly written legislation.
We are told that the Bill will safeguard children, yet the DfE has never produced evidence to back this up. Baroness Barran assured the House of Lords that valuable support will be given to families, but the Bill states that “the support to be provided is whatever the local authority thinks fit.” It is highly unlikely that cashstrapped councils will have the funds to offer support, so this claim is a fairy tale.
This Bill gives unprecedented power to faceless officials to decide what is best for children, undermining the primacy of parents. It has no limits as to the information that can be demanded of parents. It puts them at risk of fines of £2,500 or imprisonment for up to 51 weeks for failure to do exactly what the local authority demands of them, no matter how unreasonable.
This shoddy and hastily produced Bill must be withdrawn completely. Families deserve better.