New Clause 2 — Admissions policy of independent schools opting for Academy status

Part of Planning (Grade 1 Agricultural Land Protection) – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 11th May 2011.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee 3:30 pm, 11th May 2011

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Where the institution feels that it best serves its mission to improve education by becoming a comprehensive, it would be free to do so. If I have read it correctly, which I hope that I have, the proposal does not insist that schools should retain their existing selection or non-selection criteria, so the tone of what the hon. Gentleman has said is perhaps unfair.

My new clause 22 would impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities on how they handle families who seek to home educate their children ahead of changes in the regulations. However, my new clause has been overtaken by events. The Government have let me know today that they have decided not to go ahead with those regulations, which would have changed the rules on what happens when a parent deregisters their child from a school in order to home educate.

The Badman review, which many hon. Members will remember, under the previous Government recommended a 20-day period in which a child’s name should remain on a school’s register, so that if the parents had been pushed into home education because of failures on the part of the school or local authority to meet the needs of their child, they would not automatically lose a place at school, but would have time to think through the implications of home education.

That recommendation by the Badman inquiry was accepted by the then Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. I always thought that that was right, because it seemed to place no restrictions on the rights of parents and families, but seemed to restrict the rights of schools and local authorities, which, according to Badman, if I recollect correctly, were in some cases using home education to push away children whose needs they were failing to meet, finding it easier to push that responsibility on to parents who did not really wish to pursue it.

On the face of it, that recommendation seemed reasonable, which I am sure is why the Government came forward with proposals to implement it, having seen that both Badman and the Select Committee supported it. However, it was not recognised that the Government’s formal consultation on the Badman recommendations had shown that, far from being uncontroversial, the proposal had attracted opposition from 75% of those who responded, with only 13% agreeing. Why would that be the case? Why would families be concerned about having the power to return their children to school within 20 days, with no restriction whatever on their freedoms and no delay forced on the start of their home education? The answer lies in the behaviour of local authorities.

Many home educators expressed alarm and horror at the proposal when it came out recently—those home educators were not formally consulted by the Government, because the proposal was supposedly uncontroversial—because, they said, it would lead to bullying and intimidation of parents who had decided to home educate. Those home educators said that the proposal would serve as another excuse for local authorities to misinform parents and tell them that the local authority would decide on the quality of the education provided by parents and that it should sit in judgment on whether they were fit and proper people to educate their children. That would be an entire reversal of the long-standing legal settlement in this country, which says that it is the parents’ duty to educate their child. Most parents choose to delegate that to the state, through state schools, and some to private schools, with a small number choosing to carry it out themselves. It is a fundamental basis of education in this country that the parent remains the No. 1 decider of how their child is educated.

In case that response was just overly paranoid home educators who felt that properly caring local authorities would be asking them impertinent questions or who had misread or misunderstood what they were doing or saying, I can share with the House the fruits of my labour last night, which I spent on the internet looking at various local authority websites. A colleague texted me at 6 o’clock to say that we were going to be let go unusually early, and that a night of fun and frolics could lie ahead. I had to say, “No, my fun will involve looking at local authority websites.” Tameside metropolitan borough council’s elective home education guidelines say:

“It is up to parents to show the local education authority that they have a programme of work in place that is helping their child to develop according to his/her age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs he/she may have.”

But it is not up to parents to justify that to the local authority; all too often, it is the local authority that has let down that family and those children through its failure to provide proper education. The local authority should be the servant of the family; the family should not have to answer to the needs of the local authority.