Amendment 114A

Part of Schools Bill [HL] - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 22 June 2022.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:00, 22 June 2022

My Lords, Amendment 114A is the first appearance of an amendment that deals with longer time limits. Such amendments seem to be scattered through a number of groups. I will try not to repeat myself, or indeed focus on them at this moment because there are many more of them in later groups.

The principle I am working to is that the time limits being set should work for a reasonably together, reasonably collaborative parent. We have to allow for the fact that children go on holidays and that out of term time, it may be hard to get hold of them. We should look at longer limits than are set out in the Bill, and at the concept of “school days”—the parental equivalent of working days—as the form these limits should take.

I am interested to know where my noble friend finds herself on this and all the other amendments on time limits. I am aiming to help the Government produce a system that works fairly. If we have a system that trips parents easily into school attendance orders, then we need to allow parents time to react first. I particularly think that we need to give parents time to get it wrong first. I know how often I managed to get things wrong. Reading through my amendments in putting together these groups, I can see that my drafting has not exactly been perfect. We ought to have human time limits. They should not be overlong, but they ought to allow for the real lives of the home educators involved. After all, local authorities are not known as the fastest people in the world when it comes to responding to inquiries. There ought to be some equality of allowance.

In this group, Amendment 122C questions whether, in this section of the Bill, the Government intend to catch hired home tutors—people picking up an individual from a tutor supplier and saying, “We’d love you to come in a couple of days a week to support us in home education”. Would they be caught by Amendment 122C? Where is the boundary between organised provision of education and a parent asking an individual to come in and help?

Amendment 126A asks that we look at the benefit of registering tutors, in much the same style as we have done with parking operators. The Government are expanding the number of tutors and their use in the schooling system, but we do not have a system that in any way is protective of the public. There is no useful form of registration for tutors. To my mind, this is a subject to which the Government should be bending a thought. The best I can hope for from my noble friend is, “Yes, we’re thinking of looking at it”, but I do think that they should be.

I have read through Amendment 128A before. This does need to be said somewhere, and I suspect it is in the guidance my noble friend has been talking about. The basis on which local authorities are supposed to be interacting with home education need to be made clear to them.

All the other amendments in this group—apart from Amendment 140B, which is just an example of an appeal—consider ways in which the support the Government mention in the Bill but do not, as far as I can see in the impact assessment, provide any money for, might be provided. They look at things that good local authorities already do. Amendment 173 suggests that this support should be in place before we pitch into activating the registration system.

The point was made when considering the last group that home educators are actually saving the state a lot of money. My noble friend said we should not start giving money to home educators, and that this was a decision they had made. Yes, but we should give money to local authorities so that their support for home educators is properly funded. In previous iterations, I have suggested that half the money the Government save should go to local authorities—with no undue ring-fencing—the intention being that it is a fund to provide for their support of home educators, to be used in a way that works best locally. That is not in the impact assessment at the moment, and I very much hope that the Government will have a figure in front of us before the Bill leaves this House. I beg to move.