Schedule 1

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 4th February 2010.

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Home Education: England

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 307, in schedule 1, page 38, line 9, after ‘shall’, insert ‘, for its own internal use’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 210, in schedule 1, page 38, line 9, after ‘a’, insert ‘notification’.

Amendment 254, in schedule 1, page 38, line 10, leave out from first ‘of’ to ‘to’ and insert ‘providing support’.

Amendment 152, in schedule 1, page 38, line 12, at end insert—

‘(1A) The register referred to in subsection (1) shall not be publicly available.’.

Amendment 211, in schedule 1, page 38, line 25, leave out ‘applied to’ and insert ‘provided the required information to notify’.

Amendment 255, in schedule 1, page 38, line 25, leave out ‘applied to’ and insert ‘notified’.

Amendment 256, in schedule 1, page 38, line 25, leave out ‘for the child’s details’ and insert ‘, that the child’s details are’.

Amendment 213, in schedule 1, page 38, line 32, leave out ‘or (7)’.

Amendment 257, in schedule 1, page 38, line 32, leave out from ‘(6)’ to end of line 33.

Amendment 151, in schedule 1, page 38, line 35, at end insert—

‘(2A) A decision under subsection (2) shall be made within 20 working days of the receipt of the application from the parent by the local authority.’.

Amendment 212, in schedule 1, page 38, line 35, at end insert

‘within 10 days of receiving the notification with the required information from the parent.’.

Amendment 258, in schedule 1, page 39, line 2, leave out from ‘(6)’ to end of line 3.

Amendment 259, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 6 and 7.

Amendment 215, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 8 and 9.

Amendment 216, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 15 to 17.

Amendment 261, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 19 to 27.

Amendment 214, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 30 to 34.

Amendment 262, in schedule 1, page 39, leave out lines 35 to 39.

Amendment 263, in schedule 1, page 39, line 40, leave out ‘An application’ and insert ‘ A notification’.

Amendment 264, in schedule 1, page 40, line 4, leave out ‘in connection with an application’ and insert ‘following a notification’.

Amendment 265, in schedule 1, page 40, leave out lines 10 and 11.

Amendment 217, in schedule 1, page 40, leave out lines 14 to 45 and insert—

‘(4) The only information which a parent will be required to give to notify under this Part and to have the child’s name included on the notification register is—

(a) the child’s name;

(b) the child’s date of birth;

(c) the names of the child’s parents;

(d) the names and addresses of those with current parental responsibility;

(e) the child’s last school, if any;

(f) the child’s gender;

(g) the child’s home address and place of education;

(h) the name of the person providing home education;

(i) contact telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, where available, for the parents;

(j) the details of any previous revocation of registration and of any previous school attendance order served.

(5) To meet the criteria required to notify and register, the parent shall not be required to supply any information about the nature of the child’s prospective education.’.

Amendment 266, in schedule 1, page 40, line 15, leave out ‘an application for registration of’ and insert ‘notification of’.

Amendment 70, in schedule 1, page 40, leave out lines 17 to 19.

Amendment 267, in schedule 1, page 40, leave out lines 17 to 28.

Amendment 107, in schedule 1, page 40, line 22, leave out from ‘which’ to ‘any’ in line 23.

Amendment 108, in schedule 1, page 40, line 26, leave out from ‘provide’ to ‘prescribed’ in line 27.

Amendment 153, in schedule 1, page 40, line 28, at end insert—

‘(f) the prescribed information mentioned in paragraph (b) shall not be burdensome and need not require detailed curriculum or teaching plans.’.

Amendment 268, in schedule 1, page 40, leave out lines 29 to 45.

Amendment 269, in schedule 1, page 41, line 2, leave out ‘an application’ and insert ‘a notification’.

Amendment 270, in schedule 1, page 41, line 9, leave out from ‘which’ to ‘on’ in line 10 and insert ‘notification of a child’s details’.

Amendment 218, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 12 to 24 and insert—

‘(4) The registration period ends when—

(a) the parent and child move to live outside the local authority area;

(b) the child is no longer of compulsory school age;

(c) the parent notifies the local authority that the child is no longer being home educated;

(d) the local authority notifies the parent that a school attendance order has been served.’.

Amendment 271, in schedule 1, page 41, line 17, leave out ‘or (c)’.

Amendment 272, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 18 to 24 and insert—

‘(5) If the child ceases to be of compulsory school age, the registration period ends with the date on which the child ceases to be of compulsory school age.’.

Amendment 285, in schedule 1, page 43, line 43, leave out from ‘whom’ to end of line 44 and insert

‘notification has been made under subsection 19B(1)’.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

We now reach probably the most controversial element of the Bill: home education. Schedule 1 implements the Badman report. The report and these provisions have infuriated the parents of 20,000—or is it 50,000 or 70,000, according to the Secretary of State, or 80,000—children in home education. As the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), said on Second Reading:

“I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children’s education. It is a basic right of parents to be able to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, and to educate them at home if they so wish. There may be many reasons why parents take that decision: they might be dissatisfied with local provision; their child might have a specific educational need that they feel can be better supported at home; or they might have philosophical objections to the style of education on offer at the local state schools that are easily accessible.”

He went on to say:

“Ultimately however, this is a basic human right that every parent should have, and I feel the Bill erodes that right, because, as I read it, it allows the state to terminate the right of a family to educate a child at home if the education offered is not deemed suitable according to regulations that the Secretary of State writes.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 456.]

Infuriating the home-education community en masse can only be a sign that the whole issue has been badly and insensitively handled.

As Education Otherwise reported in its written evidence, one local authority told the DCSF:

“The review and its recommendations will be perceived by home educators as a direct and unprecedented attack on the family, striking at the heart of the relationship between parents and their children, and could damage the relationship between Las and home educators where there has previously been good and open dialogue”.

There seems to be confusion at the very heart of the policy. In a letter to the Secretary of State, Graham Badman said:

“In January, you asked me to review the arrangements for home education in England. In particular, you asked me to look at whether there are any barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in effectively carrying out their safeguarding responsibilities in relation to home educated children. You also asked me to investigate suggestions that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse. Finally, you asked me to look at whether local authorities are providing the right support to home educating families.”

There was nothing in the terms of reference about the quality of education. I asked Graham Badman in our evidence session about the primary purpose of the review, and whether it was the issue of safeguarding, with home education as a potential cover for abuse or whether it was a worry about the quality of education being provided. He replied:

“On the basis of the quantum of evidence submitted by local authorities, I think my first concern would be the sufficiency and quality of the education received by a number of students.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 52, Q70.]

That difference is revealing, and it matters because the policy prescription for tackling hidden abuse is very different from that of concerns over the quality of education. By conflating the two, the Government have created an unworkable and deeply unpopular policy  that ends up implicitly accusing tens of thousands of sincere and honest parents of being potential child abusers at the same time as intruding into their approach to education.

If the prime concern is that of safeguarding, the purpose of a register or notification is simply to assist with ruling out parents in the hope of isolating those who might be problematic. If, on the other hand, the issue is education, we must ask ourselves against what standard will home education be measured, given that it will by its very nature be eclectic. It is a road that will lead nowhere. There is no way in which an inspector can judge the quality of such education unless he or she has a set of standards against which he or she is to judge it. Without such standards, the judgment will be sufficiently subjective to have no validity if sanctions are imposed. For someone to draft such standards would either be impossible or would constrain and constrict the very type of education that parents want for their children, hence interfering with the basic and fundamental parental rights.

In the policy statements, the Government stated:

“Our existing guidelines make it clear that a suitable, full time, efficient education cannot be determined by the same methods that apply in schools. Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but this measurement of “contact time” is not relevant to home education where there can be almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal ‘school hours’”.

The guidelines go on to state that the type of educational activity undertaken can be varied and flexible. The policy statement continues:

“Home educating parents are not required to:

teach the National Curriculum provide a broad and balanced education have a timetable have premises equipped to any particular standard set hours during which education will take place have any specific qualifications make detailed plans in advance observe school hours, days or terms give formal lessons mark work done by their child formally assess progress or set development objectives reproduce school type peer group socialisation match school-based, age-specific standards.”

They are not required to do any of those things in the guidance. It begs the question, how can someone go into a home and judge education? It is hard to know what the visitor is meant to assess. The annual cost of between £130 million—

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley 2:30 pm, 4th February 2010

The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about certain aspects of my constituency, but I have been living there for a long time and the children are very dear to my heart. What if an inspector went into a home and discovered that the parent who had decided to home educate spoke no English? What is the hon. Gentleman’s remedy if we are not to have inspectors?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Those issues apply in other parts of the education system. The hon. Lady has been complaining that there are children who are not getting English lessons in the schools that they attend, so I do not think that that is an issue solely related to home education.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

I have never said that children do not get English lessons. They could not possibly join or perform in the school if there were not dedicated groups of reception class teachers teaching them English on arrival. My complaint is that there is no English spoken in the home so they are thrown in at the deep end once they arrive at age four.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I have friends who speak only French in their homes. It is not for me to object to the way those parents bring up their children. We have to be careful what powers we take for ourselves as the state, and this issue treads over the line between the duties that the state has and those that families have for bringing up their own children.

Several hon. Membersrose

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I will give way to the hon. Member for Battersea and then the Minister, and then I will crack on, if I may.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he and his party would be happy if children in this country were educated without any knowledge of English?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

No, I am not. The issues are very difficult and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath said during the debate on Second Reading, things are not satisfactory at the moment, and we will have to look at this issue. But this is not the right approach to tackle such difficult matters. In the words of an old clichĂ(c), it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and it is offending tens of thousands of people. That is the problem. We have to consider this again, more sensitively, to tackle the problems that both hon. Members have highlighted.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on one of the recommendations of the Select Committee? On home education, it believes that the prospect of a child gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills and a breadth of education is right. How does that fit with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on having perhaps only one language in the home, which is not English?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

There are many schools in this country where 8 per cent. of young people are not learning to read. The way the Government are trying to tackle such matters is not right. For one thing, it is costing between £130 million and £567 million a year, which will be completely wasted if their approach is designed to change the way children are home educated.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I wonder, following the Minister’s intervention, whether—from what she said about the system of local authority inspectors looking to see that a suitable education is being provided— any family who cannot demonstrate suitable English skills will automatically be deprived of the right to home educate? That seems to be the logical conclusion of what the Minister suggested. If that is the message she wants to send out to people in such a situation in this country, perhaps she can say it more clearly.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am sure the Minister will respond to that point.

In my judgment, the state will be far better using that money—£560 million a year—to provide assistance, pay exam entry fees, give access to exam centres or help to pay tutors than wasting it on inspecting an eclectic type of education that will ultimately be inconclusive. Local authorities should be focusing their efforts on the one in three schools judged not good enough by Ofsted, the 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds who leave primary school still struggling with the basics; and the 8 per cent. of boys and 4 per cent. of girls who leave primary school completely illiterate.

I want to leave time for others, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, who has worked tirelessly and with great principle in fighting for the rights of home educators. Therefore, I shall not touch on home visits, the rights of local authority officials to meet the children each year—possibly without parents present—and the sinister warning in the schedule of a revocation of registration

“by reason of a failure to co-operate”, which parents fear may include simply refusing a meeting with the child without the parent being present, even though that right is enshrined in proposed new section 19E(4).

My amendment 152 proposes that the register should not be a public document—whether a parent educates their child at home is a private matter and should be left as such, notwithstanding the measures.

Amendment 151 requires a local authority to decide about entering a child on the register expeditiously, stipulating 20 days—the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil states 10 days. Either would be good; we need to ensure that parents are not kept waiting for many weeks before a decision is reached about whether their child is to be included in the register and, therefore, whether they are permitted by the state to continue to home educate.

Amendment 70 takes out the request for the application process to include

“a statement giving prescribed information about the child’s prospective education”.

Amendments 107 and 108 are consequent upon amendment 70.

Amendment 153 states that the information requirement for registration should not be burdensome. The policy statement says that the information about the education need only be about two sides of typewritten A4 paper. However, Mr. Badman, in his evidence, seemed to imply that more than two sides might be needed for secondary-aged children.

Chloe Watson, who is a constituent of mine, represented the Home Educated Youth Council, which consists of young people who are themselves home educated and passionately in favour of home education. She said in her evidence to the Committee:

“So far, there is no evidence from an unbiased body that home education is any worse than school education. It is considered equal or better by all authorities that are not local authorities...I know thousands of” home educated children

“and not one of them has an unsuitable education in my eyes or their eyes.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 74-75, Q112.]

We saw that first hand, from the passion of Chloe, who argued her case eloquently and was clearly well educated.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am pleased that we have now finally moved on to what is an extremely important part of the Bill. The issue has probably generated most correspondence to Committee members and has put constituents in contact with their local Member of Parliament even if their MP were not on the Bill Committee.

I start with some comments about our attitude to the schedule, in order to put our amendments in some sort of context and to prevent our having to repeat some of those points later. I do not question the motivations of the Government in introducing the provisions. We understand why the Government are concerned to ensure that every child is receiving a high-quality education. We take seriously some of the evidence given to the Select Committee, in which some of the shortfalls—for a small number of home educating families—were acknowledged.

We acknowledge that the Government are under a great deal of pressure on two sides of the argument. On one side, child welfare issues can come into the public domain, and if children are shown not to be educated, there can be a sudden media uproar about Government negligence. On the other side, when Governments try to take action, they often get criticised for over-regulating. The Government’s job is not an easy one. We understand that in some cases—probably a small minority—there may be concerns about the quality of home education and the effectiveness and ability of local authorities to discharge their current responsibilities.

However, we also understand the concerns that have been raised by home educators across the country about the nature of the Government’s proposed solution, which we feel is highly illiberal, for reasons that I will go through in a moment. The solution fails a number of tests that we would set for making legislation in this area.

I would like to pay tribute, without taking up too much of the Committee’s time, to all the home educating groups and individuals who have made representations to us, the Government and the Select Committee, and who, in spite of the fact that sometimes they are not, by their nature, part of big, powerful national umbrella groups, have been forceful in making their case over the last few months. I want to refer to some of the people in my constituency in the Chard Home Education Centre and some individuals, such as Tania Berlow, who gave evidence to the Select Committee, which took a lot of time to consider the Government’s proposals.

Turning to the substance of the proposals, we share the Government’s concerns about the existing legislation in two respects. We welcome the fact that Conservative Front-Benchers have made it clear that existing regulations on home education are not perfect and that their party has an open mind about making sensible improvements where possible. We are concerned about two areas in the existing framework for home education.

First, we think it is reasonable that local authorities have, under current legislation—I am cautious about the words I use, because the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness has some expertise in this area, and he will jump down my throat if I select the wrong words—some responsibilities in ensuring that no young person is badly home educated. If I was a local authority, with  the existing responsibilities under the law, I would be nervous because I would not know many of the children and families who were home educating in my area. Of course, that is the case at present; families can move across local authority areas. I understand why, and I think that many, though not all, home educators also understand why there is some desire for local authorities at least to possess information about who is being home educated. That is directly relevant to the large cluster of amendments that deal with registration and notification.

The second thing on which we agree with the Government is that once local authorities know who is home educating, if they have genuine concerns that the quality of education—I underline education—is poor, and believe that there is no evidence that young people are being educated properly, they need to have sufficient powers to judge whether that is the case and whether action needs to be taken. It would be absurd to give local authorities a responsibility if they had no information and no means of making an informed judgment.

I return to a point made in an earlier debate. Although the vast majority of parents, home educating and non-home educating, are passionate about their children and are responsible—I have no doubt that the vast majority of home educators are deeply committed and are providing an excellent education—there are other people who are home educating for other reasons. Some groups of people do not believe that particular children should be educated beyond a certain age. Evidence was given to the Select Committee about Traveller families who thought girls, for example, should not be educated above key stage 2.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 2:45 pm, 4th February 2010

On the point about Traveller families, one must always ensure that the cause or perceived need for a measure is matched by that measure. What in the Bill will make any difference and ensure that Traveller families, for instance, who may have the view that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, will be picked up and challenged? In the real world, I do not think that the provisions in the Bill will make any difference to those families, while they will inconvenience and intervene in the lives of many others.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

That is a serious issue, and I do not underestimate the risk that this could end up as a system to police those people who are law-abiding, rather than those who are not. Nevertheless, if I were a local authority employee responsible for this, I would want some sort of power and presumption—even if a small minority tried to ignore it—that I was entitled to know. If I had concerns, I would want to be able to take action to find out whether those concerns were substantiated.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

That takes us to the nub of the matter. Since education was made compulsory, the settlement was that parents—not the state—had legal responsibility for the provision of education. They may delegate that responsibility to the state, but that legal responsibility has lain with parents. The role of the state has been only to challenge, where evidence has arisen to suggest that parents were not delivering on their legal duty.

The implication of what the hon. Gentleman says, and certainly what is in the Bill, would make an historic shift from the parent to the state. It would be the state that must be reassured; the state must know, and the  local authority must have its doubts and fears allayed. That takes the primacy of the parents entirely out of the picture. We have a situation in which local authorities, should they have serious evidence that education is not being delivered, can challenge it. All too often, they do not do that, even when they have the evidence. That is more of a problem than the one that this draconian legislation seeks to address.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

There is certainly a huge shift in presumption in the Bill. I will come on to that in a moment; I believe that I will start to converge with the views of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness in some of my criticisms of the Bill. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton when we discussed one of his amendments earlier, it is sadly the case that there is probably a small minority of individuals for whom home education—or the claim of home education—is a negative decision. That may happen when youngsters have been excluded from school, or if parents have had bad experiences. It could be with parents who have mental health problems. It is difficult for social services to intervene and take a youngster away from their parents, as that requires a high threshold. Even in my constituency, I have been deeply worried about the circumstances of some young people. In a society where everybody accepts their responsibilities—as most people do—we would be happy to leave all such matters to individual families. However, I fear that there is a small minority of young people who need the additional protections that the state can sometimes give.

I have stated the two areas where my position converges with the Governments, but we have sincere and deep concerns about the proposals in a far larger number of areas. I raised the first of those during the evidence-taking session with Graham Badman, and this is where I agree with the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. The Bill contains a massive change in the presumption relating to citizens’ freedoms. It is set out in stark terms in the policy statement that the Department provided us with on home education, prior to the evidence-taking session.

In paragraphs 19 onwards, we see clearly—it is especially clear in paragraph 28—that what is at the moment an entitlement by the citizen in a free society to make a decision to home educate, has become an application in the Bill. In the future, instead of having the presumption that we are allowed to home educate, we must apply to the state for that right. That is an extraordinary change that I find deeply objectionable in a free society. We must not underestimate how serious that change in presumption is. It is clear that the application is not simply a process of notification, which is what we are trying to make it through some of the amendments that I will discuss in a moment. It is a fully-fledged process that involves having to supply huge amounts of personal information. On top of that, a person must supply the information contained in paragraphs 30 to 32 of the policy statement.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the presumption is that the child will be registered? That is the starting point.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

No, I do not think that that is the presumption. I had hoped that it was the presumption when the Bill was published. It was not until I read the policy statement  and looked at all the representations from home educators—by golly, there have been a lot—that I understood just why they are so angry. The issue is not only that a huge amount of information must be given. I say to the Minister: look at what is in paragraphs 30, 31 and 32. Those are not things that must be done during the process of home education. That is the statement that must be supplied along with the registration procedure.

First, the statement must set out

“the educational needs of the child, and contain any relevant background information...This may include information about special educational needs, any particular aptitudes the child has”— it goes on and on. The second type of information will be

“the educational philosophy or approach to be adopted. This might cover the degree of formality of education, any specific curricula that will be followed, or qualifications pursued.”

If that is not enough, paragraph 32 states that the third piece of information will be

“outline plans for the forthcoming year”.

That is undoubtedly a process of application to the state for someone to determine whether you or I, Mrs. Anderson, or anyone else is fit to make a judgment even to start the process of home education. It is a massive change in the presumption about the freedom of citizens to home educate.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Paragraph 34 of the policy statement states:

“We envisage plans should cover around 2 sides of typewritten A4 paper as a very rough guide to the extent of detail that should be provided.”

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

That is fine. A plan can be one paragraph, two pages or 500 pages. That does not avoid the fact that if I want to home educate, I must write to the Minister or, in effect, a local government official and supply a very extensive amount of information, some of which is needed and some of which, I suspect, is not. Then I must tell the Minister and the local authority about the educational needs of the child and about my educational philosophy. I must produce “outline plans”.

The point that the Minister is getting wrong is that it does not matter how long the document is. The issue is that it must be approved. It does not matter whether it is a paragraph or 10 paragraphs. What matters is that it is being requested and someone has to filter it. If they are not filtering it, what on earth is the point of asking for all that information? I assumed, when home educators first came to my advice centre, so angry about this, that all they were being asked to do was submit information about their child, their home address and so on. I did not realise that they had to go through an application process to do something that they currently can do as of right. To me as a Liberal, that is deeply objectionable.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

My heart is warmed by hearing a Liberal spokesman speak from liberal principle. I am delighted. It is so rare. None the less, it gives me great pleasure. May I ask the hon. Gentleman about a particular group? Let us take an example—a poorly educated single mother. The international research evidence is that poorly educated parents have a tremendous positive impact as home educators. I suggest that a poorly  educated single mother, visited by the local authority inspector, will find herself particularly challenged to deliver this set of arrangements and, although it will be the weakest and most vulnerable in our society whose children are most likely to be at poor schools, they will then have a local authority inspector from the same establishment that failed them with the school coming in to tell them that they do not pass muster and their child must go back.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am also delighted to hear liberal sentiments from the Conservative party, which has occasionally been inclined to support rather illiberal measures in the Bill and has occasionally needed some encouragement to support our amendments. The hon. Gentleman leaps ahead of me, because I have only just got to the first objection about the application process. There are also the issues about how this will be policed, which is directly relevant to the amendments.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

When the hon. Gentleman said in his preamble—I have learned shorthand—that local authorities need to have sufficient powers to judge whether the quality of home education is adequate, what did he mean?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I meant that if it is obvious to a local authority or if the local authority—I shall come to the issue of oversight in a moment—draws the conclusion, from all the information it has, which might include information from the school that the young person attended, that no home education is going on at all, I would want the local authority to be in a position either to ask for the evidence or to do something about that. Even the existing Act makes it clear that the local authority has some responsibility in that regard.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea 3:00 pm, 4th February 2010

I am thinking of a child who has been home educated for a long time, on whom there is no local authority information. How does the hon. Gentleman propose that the local authority obtain that information, if it does not even know that the child exists?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I had hoped that it was clear from my earlier comments, and I shall make it clearer when we come to the specific amendments, that we believe that it is perfectly reasonable for there to be a notification requirement, so that local authorities are aware of such children. It is also perfectly reasonable for there to be mechanisms by which the local authority is able to form a judgment about whether home education is being received, and if it is clear that it is not or that there are serious concerns, to take action. That is different from what is in the Bill.

The problem with the registration process—it is both registration and an application—is that somebody somewhere has to make a judgment about whether all the submission, which the Minister says is only two pages, conforms to some definition of suitability. When Mr. Badman came to see us, we discussed what suitability means. Given the amount of monitoring that will go on and the accountability, judgements about suitability clearly will have to be made from registration onwards. Yet, what consideration have we had in Committee, or is  there in the Bill, about suitability? In paragraph 43 of the policy statement, Mr. Badman himself states that in the 21st century, with all the employment demands,

“the curriculum must be sufficiently broad and balanced and relevant to enable young people to make suitable choices”.

That is precisely what he said in evidence to us. Yet, we know that providing a broad and balanced curriculum is not part of the current responsibilities of home-educating parents. Paragraph 47 contains a long list of what home educators are not required to do. We then have the supposed reassurance from the Government, in paragraph 48:

“We will soon commission work to establish whether the current interpretation of ‘suitability’ needs to be updated”.

That is completely the wrong way round. To put in all that architecture, including an application process with an educational philosophy and so forth, before we even have a clue what suitability means, seems to put us and local authority officers in a dangerous position. Based on the evidence that Mr. Badman gave to the Committee, there clearly is a big difference between what he thinks is suitable and the existing situation.

My next point is that if I were charged in a local authority with the responsibilities in the Bill, not just for oversight but for judging the applications coming in and the educational philosophies, I would want some advice from my local authority—probably from the Minister—about precisely how to interpret “suitable”. Which educational philosophies in paragraphs 30 to 32 are acceptable? What detail about outline plans should be expected? We know what will happen. Either it will all end in complete uncertainty, with local authorities policing the system in completely incompatible ways in different parts of the country, or, much more likely, certainly if this Government is in power, local authority officers and others will rightly expect to have a large document—and it will get larger—setting out what a legitimate philosophy is and the right kind of information that should be supplied regarding future plans. What is at the moment pretty light touch and terrifically vague regarding suitability will soon become incredibly prescriptive.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of Graham Badman’s recommendations is better training for local authority officers who deal with the home education population? The Government accept that that is absolutely right, and money and training will be made available for officers. They will then have much more understanding of the different philosophies among the home education population, including autonomous learning. It is absolutely right and proper that we do that further research into defining “suitable education”, and that we have some principles that local authority officers can use.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

But surely that argument is the wrong way round. I am pleased that the hon. Lady is saying that she will commission research, and although there will not be time in this Parliament, I hope that there will be plenty of time in future for a meaningful dialogue with home educators. Can it possibly make sense to impose all that architecture—it will be a massive change—without even debating suitability? Even if we did debate suitability, I am not sure whether we would arrive easily at a conclusion about what it means. Suitability of home education in an environment that we are trying to make as flexible as possible is difficult to define.

On registration and ongoing monitoring, we are asking local authorities to do an impossible job. They will do it either in a varied and inconsistent way or they will end up with a sledgehammer that will crack the nut of home education for many people and drive them back to a formalised home education, from which they might be trying to escape in the state sector.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

It is obvious that there is a vast difference between local authority officers in their respective authorities. Some local authorities are supportive and advanced in their ways of working, while others, like one of mine, have refused to give support. The massive cultural difference between officers will be a huge impediment to change home education in the right direction unless the research is done first. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I agree completely with my hon. Friend on those important points.

I draw the Committee’s attention to two other deficiencies, both of which the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has mentioned. It is relevant to registration as well as monitoring that a lot of concern has been expressed about the extent to which the new apparatus for the oversight of home education would pursue issues not only of education, but welfare and child protection. It has caused great resentment among the home educating community. It thinks that the Government and the Badman report, intentionally or otherwise, has associated home education with welfare and safeguarding concerns for children. Sometimes, Ministers have said that the intention is not to oversee home education, but in spite of those statements of good intention, we see from the policy statement issued by the Department that that is exactly the intention.

The Government’s view is that the job of the architecture under schedule 1 is not only initial registration and the policing of education, but policing for all home-educating families of welfare issues, whether or not there is cause for concern. That is set out clearly in paragraph 40 of the policy statement. It makes it clear that the responsibility of the regulator will not be to check whether education is suitable, which is difficult enough to define at the moment but at least seems to be a core competence of such regulations, but whether education

“accords with their application for registration; what the child’s wishes and feelings about education are”, and

“whether it is harmful for the welfare of the child to continue with home education”.

We do not agree with the presumption that the state should not only be seeking to satisfy itself that some home education is going on, but essentially whether all home educating families throughout the country should be presumed to need some sort of welfare check. That is something that has driven the Bill, and many of the groups that are passionate about children’s rights outside this place are clear about their motivations in that regard. I respect them. They view it as important that, at the moment, children who do not come into contact with schools and other agencies should have some other oversight. They are concerned about the scope for the abuse of a tiny minority of children, who might be away from schools and other secondaries. I understand that, but I do not believe that it is right for the architecture of the system to presume that there is a need to inspect the welfare of children in every home educating family.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that the sort of people who are most terrified by such an intrusion are those whose children have been bullied? Presumably, any local authority officer who heard of bullying would do everything that they could to prevent it. Given that that fail-safe has already let down such families, what does the hon. Gentleman think is likely to happen to any family worried that their bullied child is again being inspected by a local authority? If they feel that the local authority is failing them again, what are they likely to do?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point to which the Minister rather than I should respond. The point is that, as far as I am aware, we have not established that there is a difference between the vulnerability of the most vulnerable children—not the average child—in home-educating families and in school settings.

The final area in which the Bill is deficient—

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The effect—there has been little comment on it so far, because so much horror has been expressed about the Bill’s general provisions—is that the most traumatised and vulnerable children and their parents, who have been let down so badly by schools, will cut off all links with the local authority in response to the provisions. In order to escape from those who have let them down the most, they will seek to elude and escape the attention of the local authority. They will not seek to use its facilities. The Bill should be responding to an agenda to open up public services and support to home-educated children, particularly the most vulnerable, but its effect on those whom we care about most could be precisely the opposite.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I agree strongly. The hon. Gentleman brings me to my next point, which is the Bill’s lack of support and positive reasons for home-educating parents to engage. I take seriously his concerns that it will drive many home educators away from dealing with local authorities. I did not particularly welcome the evidence that we took from some home educators who said that they would not adhere to the law and the regulations if the Bill were passed, because none of us likes to hear people say that they will break the law. It is a serious concern. If people feel that the laws imposed are unfair, unreasonable and inconsistent with a liberal society, we are driving them not to comply.

What I would have liked to see—in notification procedures, not application procedures—is linked support so that notifying, if it became part of the Government’s policy, would include a series of potential measures, funding support and access to other means of support open to home educators. That might be the type of environment in which a home educator might receive something from the process that was actually of value to them.

That is why we tabled these and other amendments. I will refer briefly to the ones in the present group. If you will excuse me, Mrs. Anderson, I will not comment on those tabled by others, as our time is seriously limited. Amendment 210 would change the process of registration and application to make it a process of notification. In other words, it would require compulsory notification by every home educator, but it would not require them  to submit the same type of information required by the Government’s proposals, which essentially turn notification into a process of application.

If I had thought about it at the time and seen the people from the Chard Home Education Centre early enough, I would have tabled an additional amendment linking notification to the provision of direct support as a consequence of notifying, which might enable access to the support that we have been discussing. That might take the form of vouchers or other entitlements, so that people who notify can see that they are getting support of the type that many home educators do not receive at present.

Amendment 211 would ensure that parents of home-educated children needed to provide only a limited amount of information to the local authority rather than having to go through the complex process of registration and application proposed in the Bill. Amendment 217 sets out what types of information we think would be necessary for a light-touch notification rather than the type of application and registration envisaged in the Bill.

Amendments 213, 215, 216 and 214 are all pretty similar and would strip out the elements of welfare oversight from what should, in our view, be an attempt to oversee the issues of education. Amendment 212, which has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, would give a specific period of time within which to register what, under our model, would be a notification.

I should like to finish by saying while we have the concerns that I have set out, we also take the view that the Committee has had a seriously deficient amount of time to consider such an extensive Bill. We have only one and three quarter hours left to deal with 92 amendments and new clauses, and a very complex debate. I have always hoped that the Government might reconsider this excessive legislation and come back to us with a much more limited scheme of notification, with some incentives to notify, because that is all my party would be able to support.

I have reached the conclusion, along with my colleagues in the Commons and the other place, that by trying to botch together this very bad job on home education, the Government have made it almost impossible for the concerns of people outside this place to be taken into account in a sensible way, particularly as there will not even be a serious Committee stage in another place. Therefore, I say to the Government that it is inevitable that we will have to vote against this aspect of the Bill and throw out all the proposals on home education, and I hope that that is something that the Conservative party will support.

None the less, in a spirit reflecting a residual desire to find some sort of sensible conclusion, I say to the Minister that her only way out of this is to bring back on Report a very modest schedule focusing on this limited issue of notification with which we could deal before this Parliament ends. Unless the Government do that, it is our strong view not only that the provisions to which amendments have been tabled should be deleted, but that the whole of clause 26 and schedule 1—everything related to home education—should be dumped before this Parliament comes to its end.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 3:15 pm, 4th February 2010

I will try to keep my comments brief because I know that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness has done a lot of work in this area and wishes to speak.

When I started to consider this part of the Bill, I wondered why we should not know the position of all our children who, in any other circumstances, would be in our state education system. However, after reading the documentation that was sent to us and listening to the concerns of one of my constituents, I now have some doubts. Gordon Whitehead has brought jobs into Doncaster. He supports learning and opportunities for young people, and wants to offer apprenticeships and opportunities in IT through his company. However, he has huge concerns for his own home-educated children because of what the propositions in the Bill will mean for him and other families who home educate.

I do not want to repeat everything that the hon. Member for Yeovil said, but I have some concerns about a process through which, for understandable reasons, there is a desire to know that if children are not in school, they are being home educated. Needing to know that information has turned this proposal into something that is bureaucratic and overburdening to families and local authorities. Those authorities are not confident that they can carry out the Government’s ask on this matter.

To echo the hon. Gentleman, I have read the statement from the Government about what is not expected of parents who home educate. However, although earlier paragraphs say that parents need to produce only two pages on what they provide, we then find that they will be asked to explain their philosophy as well as other things. I find that very confusing. We are able to read all this documentation and to hear from witnesses, but I wonder how such information will be related to local government officers on the ground.

In submissions provided by parents who home educate, we have found out about—I say straight away that I am sure that this does not represent all local government officers—individuals giving personal rather than objective points of view when they go into the homes of people who home educate. It might not be my personal desire to educate my children a certain way, but I recall one example of a local government officer referring in a report to incense being burned in the home. The family quite rightly questioned the report, saying, “What has that got to do with anything? People use fresheners in their homes all the time.” To be honest, however, there was in that case perhaps implied criticism that the family were rather “brown rice and sandals” and hippy-ish, and the very mention of incense being burned conveyed an approach with which the local government officer did not agree.

The Committee was provided with case studies of child protection, some of which I found rather wanting. There was an example of a woman in Gloucestershire—I think she was a foster mother—who was prosecuted for cruelty to children. If I have understood it correctly, the education services had annual contact to monitor the education at home. Having visited that home on an annual basis, the education service came to the conclusion that things were generally satisfactory and that no child protection concerns were noted, although perhaps that says something about whether the service was looking  correctly. However, I could not see how anything in the Bill’s proposals would have made any difference in that case.

Another example was of a young person who sadly died. The serious case review stated categorically that the mother

“complied with all statutory requirements in relation to children in elective home education. She co-operated with visits from the London Borough of Enfield Education Department” twice in one year. The following year, it was identified that

“The visiting officer had no concerns about the family or their circumstances, and was satisfied”.

What seems to have come out of those various examples linked to child protection is that, even in such circumstances, those on the ground have responded to the Government by saying, “We need something bigger. We need something more overarching to deal with these issues across the piece.”

I am not sure whether the Bill strikes the right balance. Finding a way through this matter is important, as is the language used. We have heard valid points about whether something is seen as a registration or an application.

The law is also called into question. We have received numerous submissions highlighting the role of the local authority in providing those services that it is required to provide, including such things as the national curriculum, child protection and Every Child Matters. However, whether we like it or not, as far as I understand it, the law is different when it comes to provision provided by parents. The locus for the local authority in that case is very different, and I wonder whether—presumably the legal opinion in my hon. Friend the Minister’s Department has given views on this—it might be open to legal challenge by other quarters in relation to the state’s role in providing education, and the ways in which it expects education to be provided when parents choose to do that.

I do not think we will resolve the matter today, but I hope that my hon. Friend will show a willingness to listen—I am sure she will—and engage in trying to find a better way forward. Another approach might be to make an offer that opens up dialogue between those in the community who home educate and local authorities. If there was money available to do that—money seems to be available to train local authority officers to inspect and understand what they need to inspect—it would be better used when linked to some sort of notification system with better co-operation.

During the evidence sessions—I think that Mr. Badman referred to this—we heard positive examples of forums involving home educators that already worked with a local authority. I do not want anyone to misinterpret this, but some of those in the home-educating community might be better gatekeepers for information about possible legitimate concerns.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The right hon. Lady is giving a thoughtful speech. She is sending a much-needed message from this place that the voices of home educators have at least been listened to, because many of them feel that Members are deaf to what they say. Her fellow Labour members of the Select Committee came to precisely the same conclusion about improving the provision—that was Badman’s No. 1 identified need—and then seeing what happens. We should work on a voluntary basis  with families before imposing such draconian legislation. If there was a need, and if there was no other way of tackling it, civil liberties and other issues could be put aside. Initially, however, the offer should be to work with families. I hope that the right hon. Lady’s words will influence the Minister.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government want to take aspects of what Mr. Badman has looked at, and what the Select Committee has said, and try to make them work. My worry for the Government is that, for a number of different reasons, there has been a breakdown in confidence and trust on the issue. I am therefore worried about whether we will be able to bring various parties together to discuss the issue productively. I think that the Government have the best intentions. Part of the challenge, to be fair to them, arises because they are being lobbied by a number of other organisations and individuals to do something about the matter, but this is about getting the balance right. We have heard about taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but there are different ways to resolve the issue and address the problems that have caused concern.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I take the point that the Government are being lobbied—I am sure that that is one of the burdens of office—but the Badman report’s original terms of reference imply that the Government were originally being lobbied to look into safeguarding, rather than the education issues. It now seems that the issue has been turned on its head and that the education issue is the Government’s focus. Who is lobbying the Government from that angle?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer that question. There is an issue about how safeguarding and education have somehow merged into each other. Part of the problem might be that some of the civil servants are trying to find a way to argue the issue out by bringing that into the debate. I do not know the answer.

There must be a way forward that can bring the relevant communities together, whether they are parents, local government or the Department. I hope that we can find a way forward, because I am concerned that we will otherwise end up with something that cannot be delivered on the ground and that will create division when people should be coming together, and I am sure that that is not what this Committee or the House want to achieve.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 3:30 pm, 4th February 2010

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I am glad that we have arrived at clause 26 and schedule 1. We have had three outstanding and thoughtful contributions to the subject so far, and it is a pleasure for me to follow them.

I begin with the positive aspects of the Badman review. It arguably pays more attention to the problems of poor support for home-educating families and the segmented nature of the home-educating population than to registration and monitoring, which have rightly attracted far greater attention and controversy. The major recommendations of the Badman report on support  and access to services for home-educating families include help in finding appropriate examination centres and the provision of free examination entries for home-educated candidates. The Children, Schools and Families Committee received evidence that it cost £1,000 for one family to enter their children for their GCSEs.

Members across the Committee will notice that there are no firm provisions on this matter in the Bill, even though central to it is the proposal of parental guarantees and the idea that parents, as citizens, should be able to demand from the school, the local authority and the state certain rights, standards and access to ensure that their children get a fair deal and a good start in life. It is extraordinary that there are no such provisions in the Bill for home-educating families. If the Bill gave such entitlements, we would find the kind of positive engagement that the right hon. Member for Don Valley spoke about.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

It is clear to me that such requirements are not for this Bill. The Government have accepted the need for the recommended provisions to support home-educating families.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

It is always pleasing to hear a Minister make a promise, albeit with no figures, no timetable and no guarantee. What would be the point of the Bill if Ministers could just do that? Ministers accepted the need to provide a decent education and for local authorities and schools to be accountable to parents prior to the introduction of the Bill. None the less, the Government have introduced it, presumably because they believe that it will help parents to get those things, rather than just for political window dressing.

Parents of children in school have far more power and far more ability to receive what they deserve from the state and a far greater record of receiving it than home-educating parents, yet the Bill carries no such guarantees for them. I would be delighted if the Minister told us what guarantees for parents and what figures have been pencilled into the Government plans.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

I am conscious that we will come shortly to another group of proposals that contains a series of new clauses tabled by the hon. Gentleman that deal with the specific recommendations of Graham Badman for each area of support. I am happy to deal with these issues at that stage, which would be the appropriate way to proceed. I will take guidance from you, Mrs. Anderson, but it seems that we are straying into that group of proposals.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Given the time left to the Committee, I think we will struggle to make much progress. With your permission, Mrs. Anderson, I will take this opportunity to discuss the whole Bill, as well as the proposals under consideration, as I hope will other hon. Members. I hope that in the next hour and 28 minutes, the Minister ensures that she tells us what the Government will do.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the provision of this much-needed support. The former Schools Minister wrote letters to our constituents saying that there would be no support for home education and that school was the Government’s preferred option.

Mr. Stuartrose—

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. In view of the shortage of time, I am happy, if it is the will of the Committee, for us to consider with this batch of amendments the subsequent groups of amendments and new clauses relating to schedule 1. Therefore, it will also be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 273, in schedule 1, page 41, line 26, leave out ‘A local authority in England’ and insert

‘Where a local authority in England has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the education provided to a child whose details are entered on their home education register may not be suitable or that it would be harmful for the child’s welfare for the child to continue to be home educated, the authority’.

This amendment would restrict monitoring powers to those cases where local authorities have reasonable grounds for concern, as is the position in New Zealand and Ontario.

Amendment 71, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 28 and 29.

Amendment 110, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 28 to 32.

Amendment 219, in schedule 1, page 41, line 28, leave out from ‘whether’ to end of line 29 and insert

‘a child whose name has been entered on the notification register is receiving suitable home education.’.

Amendment 220, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 30 and 31.

Amendment 109, in schedule 1, page 41, line 30, leave out ‘it’ and insert ‘the education provided to a child’.

Amendment 221, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out line 32.

Amendment 222, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 33 and 34.

Amendment 111, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out lines 35 to 38.

Amendment 274, in schedule 1, page 41, leave out from beginning of line 39 to end of line 9 on page 42.

Amendment 223, in schedule 1, page 41, line 39, leave out ‘shall’ and insert ‘may’.

Amendment 224, in schedule 1, page 41, line 40, leave out from ‘their’ to end of line 5 on page 42 and insert—

‘(a) contacting the parent or educator of the child at least once during each full year of registration;

(b) meeting the parent of the child where this is considered appropriate;

(c) meeting the child where this is considered necessary.’.

Amendment 275, in schedule 1, page 42, line 20, at end insert—

‘(7) Nothing in this section shall limit the powers of a local authority in England under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.’.

New clause 8—Excluded children—

‘The authorities, bodies, proprietors and teachers to which this section applies may not advise a child’s parent to consider home education—

(a) in order to prevent the permanent exclusion of that child; or

(b) as a mechanism to deal with behavioural issues relating to that child.’.

This new Clause gives effect to Recommendation 15 of the Badman Report, which states as follows: ‘That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues.’.

New clause 9—Consultative forums—

‘(1) A local authority in England shall establish a consultative forum for the purpose of securing the views of parents of home-educated children in their area.

(2) After each meeting of a consultative forum, a local authority in England shall—

(a) assess its results, and

(b) publish a summary of them.

(3) If those views demonstrate material parental satisfaction with the provision of support by a local authority to home-educated children in their area, the authority shall prepare and publish a plan (“a response plan”) setting out their proposals for—

(a) responding to that dissatisfaction, and

(b) dealing with any particular issues, about which views were expressed in the consultative forum, that the authority consider need to be dealt with.

(4) Regulations may make provision for—

(a) the establishment of a consultative forum and the procedures to be followed;

(b) how often meetings of a consultative forum should take place;

(c) when and how the views expressed in each meeting of the consultative forum are to be published;

(d) the relationship between the consultative forum and the Children’s Trust in each area.’.

This new Clause gives effect to Recommendation 4 of the Badman Report that states:‘That the local authority should establish a Consultative Forum for home-educating parents to secure their views and representative opinion.’.

New clause 10—Access to public examinations—

‘(1) A local authority in England shall provide—

(a) free access to examination centres for home-educated children;

(b) entry to examinations for all publicly-funded qualifications free of charge to any home-educated child who has sufficiently demonstrated their preparedness;

(c) free entry to examinations for all key stage assessments for home-educated children.

(2) Regulations may make provision about—

(a) the criteria to be taken into account in making a determination about a child’s preparedness for any examination;

(b) the examinations to which this section applies; and

(c) the steps to be taken by an authority to ensure access to an examination centre for a home-educated child.’.

This new Clause gives effect to part of Recommendation 10 of the Badman Report that states: ‘Local authorities must provide support for home educating children and young people to find appropriate examination centres and provide entries free to all home-educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for all DCSF-funded qualifications.’.

New clause 11—Access to specialist music tuition—

‘A local authority in England shall, where specialist music provision is available in the schools in their area to which this section applies, make provision for such tuition to be made available to home-educated children at the same cost as it is to children educated at a school or who are under 19.’.

This new Clause gives effect to part of Recommendation 11 of the Badman Report that states: ‘That in addition to Recommendation 10 above, local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges’ provide access to specialist music tuition on the same cost basis.’.

New clause 12—Access to school facilities—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must issue, and may from time to time revise, guidance (the “guidance”) on extending free access to—

(a) school libraries;

(b) school sports facilities; and

(c) specialist facilities;

to home-educated children.

(2) The guidance may impose requirements on—

(a) local authorities in England;

(b) governing bodies, and proprietors (other than governing bodies), of schools to which this section applies, and

(c) head teachers of schools to which this section applies.’.

This new Clause gives effect to part of Recommendation 11 of the Badman Report that states: ‘That in addition to Recommendation 10 above, local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges .... Extend access to school libraries, sports facilities, school visits, specialist facilities and key stage assessment.’.

Amendment 229, in schedule 1, page 41, line 34, at end insert—

‘(e) what support the child may need in relation to any special educational needs or disabilities.’.

Amendment 230, in schedule 1, page 42, line 5, at end insert—

‘(e) making any provision in relation to any special educational needs the child may have.’.

Amendment 225, in schedule 1, page 42, line 20, at end insert—

‘(7) The Secretary of State shall establish an independent inquiry into the appropriate definition of a suitable home education, which shall consult with all interested parties and report no later than 31 December 2011. Until such time, no local authority may withdraw registration for home education on the basis of—

(a) failure to teach the National Curriculum;

(b) failure to provide a broad and balanced curriculum;

(c) failure to have a timetable;

(d) failure to have premises equipped to any particular standard;

(e) failure to have set hours during which education will take place;

(f) failure to enter the child to achieve any specific qualifications;

(g) failure to make detailed education plans in advance;

(h) failure to observe school hours, days or terms;

(i) failure to give formal lessons;

(j) failure to mark work done by the child;

(k) failure to formally assess progress or set development objectives;

(l) failure to reproduce school type peer group socialisation;

(m) failure to match school-based, age specific standards of education.’.

New clause 5—Independent inquiry into support for home-educating parents and children—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall establish an independent inquiry into providing additional access to a range of support for home-educating parents and children. This report shall be completed by 31 December 2010. Provision will be made to consult with all interested parties.’.

Amendment 276, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out line 21 and insert

‘Removal of a child’s details from the home education register’.

Amendment 277, in schedule 1, page 42, line 22, leave out from ‘may’ to ‘the’ and insert ‘remove a child’s details from’.

Amendment 226, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out lines 24 and 25.

Amendment 278, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out lines 24 to 29.

Amendment 73, in schedule 1, page 42, line 28, leave out from ‘respect’ to end of line 29.

Amendment 296, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out lines 31 to 38.

Amendment 115, in schedule 1, page 42, line 33, after ‘failure’, insert ‘reasonably’.

Amendment 116, in schedule 1, page 42, line 34, leave out from ‘19E’ to ‘the’ in line 35.

Amendment 227, in schedule 1, page 42, line 34, leave out from ‘19E’ to end of line 37.

Amendment 279, in schedule 1, page 42, line 35, after ‘section 19E(4)’, insert

‘(and such objection is unreasonable)’.

Amendment 72, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out line 38.

Amendment 297, in schedule 1, page 42, leave out lines 40 to 43.

Amendment 280, in schedule 1, page 42, line 44, leave out ‘revoke registration of a child’s details on’ and insert ‘remove a child’s details from’.

Amendment 231, in schedule 1, page 42, line 46, at end insert ‘and of their right to appeal’.

Amendment 281, in schedule 1, page 43, leave out lines 1 to 5.

Amendment 282, in schedule 1, page 43, line 7, leave out from ‘with’ to ‘of’ in line 8 and insert ‘the removal, or proposed removal,’.

Amendment 283, in schedule 1, page 43, line 12, leave out ‘(b) to (f)’ and insert ‘(a) to (b)’.

Amendment 284, in schedule 1, page 43, line 13, leave out ‘revoke registration of’ and insert ‘remove’.

Amendment 298, in schedule 1, page 43, leave out lines 15 to 34.

Amendment 228, in schedule 1, page 43, line 34, at end insert—

‘(3) An appeal granted under this section shall be heard within 30 days of the appeal application having been received by the local authority.’.

Amendment 286, in schedule 1, page 43, line 46, leave out ‘refused or revoked’ and insert ‘removed under subsection 19(F)(1)’.

Amendment 299, in schedule 1, page 44, line 9, leave out ‘19G’ and insert ‘19F’.

Amendment 300, in schedule 1, page 44, line 12, leave out ‘19H’ and insert ‘19G’.

Amendment 287, in schedule 1, page 44, line 12, leave out from ‘shall’ to end of line 13 and insert—

‘(a) give due consideration to the best interests of the child (having regard to any guidance from time to time by the Secretary of State).’.

Amendment 114, in schedule 1, page 44, line 13, at end insert—

‘(2) Any guidance issued under subsection (1) in connection with section 19F(2) shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament for 40 days prior to being issued.’.

Amendment 288, in schedule 1, page 44, line 26, leave out ‘or (3)’.

Amendment 289, in schedule 1, page 44, leave out lines 31 to 33.

Amendment 301, in schedule 1, page 45, line 15, leave out ‘either’.

Amendment 290, in schedule 1, page 45, leave out lines 18 to 21.

Amendment 302, in schedule 1, page 45, leave out lines 37 to 44.

Amendment 303, in schedule 1, page 45, line 41, leave out ‘and’.

Amendment 304, in schedule 1, page 45, line 41, at end insert—

‘(ab) that it is in the best interests of the child’.

Amendment 113, in schedule 1, page 45, line 42, leave out ‘expedient’ and insert

‘in the best interests of the child’.

Amendment 117, in schedule 1, page 46, leave out lines 1 to 4.

Amendment 305, in schedule 1, page 46, leave out lines 19 and 20.

Amendment 291, in schedule 1, page 46, line 22, leave out from ‘authority’ to end of line 23.

Amendment 292, in schedule 1, page 46, line 28, leave out ‘under section 19.’.

Amendment 293, in schedule 1, page 46, line 43, leave out ‘under section 19.’.

Amendment 294, in schedule 1, page 47, leave out lines 1 and 2.

Amendment 295, in schedule 1, page 47, line 4, leave out from ‘authority’ to end of line 5.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful for that, Mrs. Anderson. If the Minister can find her place in her papers, she is free to intervene on me at any point to provide the assurances that have been sought by Committee members.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

If the Minister can assure us that she will specify the support, the numbers and the timelines, she may do so in her speech if it would be too lengthy to do so now. However, if she wants to intervene, I am happy to give way.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

I will be happy in my remarks to deal with the new clauses in the second group on the support that Graham Badman suggested home-educating families should have.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful to the Minister, and I look forward to the specific details. I believe that action is urgently needed to clarify the existing responsibilities of local authorities in relation to home-educated children, particularly those with special educational needs, and to improve practice in line with those responsibilities. I am concerned that Badman’s recommendations and the Bill give local authorities more power over home-educating parents with children who have special educational needs, without ensuring that the professionals working with those children have a strong understanding of those needs. We heard about that in the oral evidence-taking sessions, and it is a particularly important point.

I was talking about inspectors, and I will take the opportunity to focus for a moment on that issue. The need for the proper training of inspectors has been raised several times, yet no provision in the Bill will require inspectors to be properly trained to do that job. Will the Government ensure that there is a standard of training of local authority inspectors to which home-educating parents can hold their local authority to account? If people are going to arrive and will have  these powers, given that the state should be the citizen and not the other way round—I know that it can get confused, particularly over the past 12 years—we need to ensure that the home-educating parent can check that inspectors have had the proper training. The proposal would give a massive increase in powers to those inspectors and allow them to impose school attendance orders based on their own judgment, which, as we have heard, may not always be impartial.

What assessment has the Minister made of the increase in the number of inspectors that will be required? This morning, I heard from two large counties, which expect to go from having one person who currently works in that area to needing 10 or more. Where will those people come from? Will they be provided by April next year? Will they have the astonishing array of talents and skills that they need? They will need to be trained up to ensure that they can look out for the welfare of the children in the home. They must be able to understand the variety of approaches that home-educating parents use to educate their children and provide them with autonomous education.

The Children, Schools and Families Committee heard from senior academics about just how long it can take to learn and understand the processes and procedures that are involved in those approaches. Inspectors must also be able to support children with special educational needs. If they make judgments, we hope that they will not do so on the basis of prejudice or any snobbery towards someone—perhaps a parent—who was not that well educated, but on a proper, sound and fair basis. They get to sit in judgment and, if the Bill goes through, decide whether to remove the right of the parent to home-educate. We need answers on that.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the local authority officers who will go into people’s homes? If they do not have the proper training, expertise and experience in dealing with that situation—probably one of most delicate situations that could be faced when dealing with a child’s education and welfare, as the Bill suggests—they might fall back on some sort of framework or mechanism devised by the local authority to meet the requirements of the monitoring process. That ends up looking something like the common assessment framework, which in itself becomes a tick-box exercise, rather than a proper analysis of that child’s home education.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which I hope resonates with hon. Members across the Committee. We know that existing inspectors vary enormously in their understanding and approach. Some, I must say, are excellent and one cannot find a home educator in the country who would not speak highly of them. However, those dedicated professionals are among those with the greatest doubts about the Bill.

There will be a huge increase in inspectors. As my hon. Friend said, if we already have unsuitable inspectors, how much more likely are we to have them if we increase their numbers pretty much overnight, before sending them out to make extremely sensitive judgments? On that issue alone, consideration of the reality of the inspectors’ role and the skill set that they will need should give the Minister pause before unleashing a new group of inspectors freshly out on the streets in April.

Of course, within a further three months—by July 2011—assessments will have been made and parents will have had to register; I think that parents have three months in which to register and send in to these people for evaluation the philosophy and all the other requirements laid out by the hon. Member for Yeovil. So I ask the Minister not only what reassurances can she give us about the training of inspectors, but what evaluation process will be used ensure that the inspectors themselves are kept up to standard.

Of course, we heard earlier in our proceedings my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton ask, “Who guards the guardians?” He regretted the fact that he did not know the Latin for that phrase. I then asked the Minister for Schools and Learners the question in Latin, which was:

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 26 January 2010; c. 193.]

I thought that my asking the question in Latin was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but the Minister did not know what I meant. Of course, many home-educated children who autonomously pursue Latin would have known. That is a critical question.

It seems to me that the Bill is predicated on thinking the worst of parents; it is all about the worst parents doing the worst job, and what we can do about that. That is what the Bill is based on, while it is assumed that local authority inspectors are marvellous. The only thing that I have ever heard the Minister for Schools and Learners say about local authority inspectors is that they will be marvellous: “Oh no, we understand the importance of training, and they will be trained up to the highest standard—oh, it’s going to be marvellous.”

The Government view all parents as suspicious and possible failures, but they view local authorities as paradigms of excellence. Surely, we should be considering how the average home-educating family will be treated by this process and what the average local authority inspector will be like. If we understand those things, we will start to have a more practical approach to these issues.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech. He will be aware that Chloe Watson, who gave evidence to our Committee, studied Latin at home. Indeed, not only did she get a GCSE in Latin, but she is now a tutor in Latin. However, my intervention is really about the revised impact assessment, which estimates that all home-educated children will receive one eight-hour visit at the end of the year and that half of home-educating families will receive an additional eight-hour visit. It is upon that assumption that the £500 million cost is based. Therefore, does my hon. Friend think that those eight hours, which are meant to include planning, preparation, travel and writing up of reports, will be all the time that these inspectors spend when they do their monitoring?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

That is a fair question, given the assessment that the inspectors have to make, because it is suddenly up to them—however poorly or excellently trained they are—to make that judgment, and as my hon. Friend suggests, they have to do so even if they have been off work sick for a while, so doubtless those hours will be crunched up.

At the moment, local authorities hire in a great number of the people who support home education. If inspectors have to go into homes and spend that amount of time, local authorities may need more of those people. Whatever the arrangement, with eight-hour visits and 50 per cent. of families receiving an additional eight-hour visit, I suggest that that is hardly a light-touch approach.

On the subject of quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, I would like to share with the Committee the story of Ian Knight. I do not know whether the Committee is aware of Ian Knight. Sadly, Ian Knight was grooming young girls on internet chatrooms by posing as a man decades younger than his real age of 50. Apparently, he used the innocuous moniker of “Reg” when he preyed on girls as young as 13, using instant messaging to contact them. All his messages had a sexual theme. He systematically asked the children questions about their age, sexual experiences and so on, while engaging—I hate to share this with the Committee—in sexual activity in front of a live webcam. However, the interesting thing about Mr. Ian Knight is that he was an Ofsted inspector. [Interruption.] The last thing that I would suggest is that all Ofsted inspectors are to be viewed suspiciously, but then again I do not want all parents to be viewed suspiciously.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen 3:45 pm, 4th February 2010

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are running very short of time? I urge him not to stray too far from the subject in hand.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Thank you, Mrs. Anderson.

This goes to the nub of a lot of fears. People from local authorities, perhaps poorly trained, will have this role. Ofsted inspectors are subject to far more rigorous scrutiny than, according to what we have so far heard from the Minister, local authority inspectors will be. People representing the state will arrive at home-educating parents’ doors and say that they want to come in and insist on co-operation from the family; otherwise, they can remove the licence to educate.

The East Riding Mailhas a story this week telling the tale of the

“Pupil sex shame of teaching assistant” at a Bridlington school. He took over from another teacher who had been struck off because of inappropriate contact with a pupil. The point I am trying to make, Mrs. Anderson, is that professionals who work in this area may themselves have issues. What horrifies many parents is that people carrying badges saying that they represent the local authority have, under the Bill, the right to insist on co-operation from families. We should think carefully before we assume the worst of parents and always assume the best of local authority inspectors. We should not stigmatise either group. It is regrettable that home educators have been stigmatised by Ministers, including Baroness Morgan, in public utterances.

The Government need to answer questions about the suitability of education. Local authorities will have to make judgments about the suitability of education provided, as the hon. Member for Yeovil mentioned. The Government commissioned research from York Consulting and published “The Prevalence of Home Education in England—a feasibility study” in February 2007, which made three recommendations. The first was:

“Action should be taken to more effectively define what constitutes an efficient and suitable education for the purposes of LA monitoring.”

That was exactly three years ago. Has the Department done any such work? It appears it has not. Instead, it is leaving the work to later this year, after the Bill has become an Act. Perhaps the Minister will tell us about that.

A key question we need to ask about the direction of travel is whether the Minister intends to extend the licensing principle further. It has always been the statutory duty of parents to educate their children, yet now they are to be licensed to do it. They have to apply for permission to do what was their legal duty. Some deprived areas of London have life-expectancy rates of five or more years lower than those of better-off parts. People are dying because their parents did not teach them to eat properly from an early age. Surely, a re-elected Labour Government should identify obese parents and make them apply to a compulsory register with proof of eating plans, annual inspections—or more if thought necessary by the inspector—and withdrawal of the right to feed their children at home if they lose their registration. After all, Minister, if one life is saved, that would be appropriate. This is as fundamental: the right and duty to ensure the education of one’s children is as fundamental as eating to a family. I suggest the Minister draws back from such a thing.

I wonder whether the Minister read the article by Jonathan Sacks in The Times,in which he compared the French and the English systems of rights. I mentioned it to the Minister earlier. He wrote:

The French approach was to see rights as an ideal description of humanity that it is the task of politics to enforce. Politics is about the transformation of society by the force of law. English liberty sets limits to the State. French liberty is imposed by the State. That is the difference.”

This is yet another example of this Government deciding to impose their standards on families rather than restrict the powers of the state to intervene.

The inspection system, as the Minister should know, is not neutral—it will have an effect on families. We heard from Autism in Mind, for instance, about the impact on children with autism when a stranger such as an inspector comes into the house. I hope that we will hear from the Minister why the equalities assessment that accompanied the Bill did not touch on that in any way. As Carole Rutherford, the co-founder of AIM, put it:

“Children with autism find change very difficult and often hold fixed and rigid views about people and the places where they are used to coming into contact with that person. If a child is used to seeing a professional/teacher therapist in school then bringing that person into their home places that person out of context in their minds, and they can find it very difficult to interact with that person even though they are well used to doing so in school.”

That is someone the child knows, but someone the child does not know coming into the home will have a strong impact, and that is not even mentioned in the consultation process.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley spoke about putting the cart before the horse. I go back to what “suitable” looks like, because the policy statement says:

“We intend to commission work to examine whether we can develop a set of principles describing good quality learning in home education”.

“Whether we can develop”? Surely we as legislators need to know the answer to that question before we legislate. We are giving blanket powers to local authorities  to intervene and disrupt settled home education arrangements on the basis of an undefined offence. We might as well pass a law allowing the police to arrest people for an offence yet to be defined. Why not legislate so that courts can send someone to prison for two years for unsuitable behaviour in a public place, definition of “unsuitable” to follow—but do not worry, we plan to commission work to find out whether we can come up with a set of principles to describe it.

Would we pass such a law? Would we allow such a power to be left to guidance and ministerial whim? I hope we would not, and neither should we allow this proposed law to pass. It will allow some jumped-up, half-trained, school-fixated bureaucrat—in some cases—to take away from families their right to determine the education of their children on the basis of a report whose outcome was described by the Church of England education division as predetermined.

The whole process has been flawed, starting with a consultation that ignored Cabinet Office guidelines, to which the Department is a signatory. The Minister frowns as if to suggest that that was not the case. The criteria and code of practice on consultation, to which the Department is a signatory, states:

“Formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome.”

As we know, the response from the Government did not come out until the day before Second Reading, so the people who took part felt that they were not influencing the legislation. And we know, once a Bill has been drafted and enters this place, how reluctant the Government are to give way, sometimes even on new clauses or amendments with which they agree. Therefore, what we had in the consultation was a complete failure to ensure that proper guidance was followed and that people had the ability to influence and change the process.

Home educators are overwhelmingly opposed to the proposals in schedule 1. The Department, when it did consult, found that it was rejected by 4,497 to 230. Ministers can gloss over that, but it is a fact. We can argue about nuances in the report of the Labour-dominated Select Committee, but, as I said, it rejected the central tenet of the Bill: that registration and monitoring should be compulsory. It stated:

“In view of the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration, we suggest that registration should be voluntary.”

Yet the Minister has made out on several occasions that the Select Committee report was favourable to the Government’s position. It was anything but.

There is widespread public concern about schedule 1, and, as colleagues have said, I imagine that most Members of Parliament have been inundated by correspondence from home educators. A record number of petitions—244 from across the country and from all parties’ seats—have been submitted to the House in opposition to the measures. We have, as the right hon. Member for Don Valley said, a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The numbers that were used by Badman and now underlie the impact assessment are deeply flawed. Every effort by home educators and me to get clarification from the Department has failed to deal with the central issues, even though I am grateful for its responses. The impact assessment is based on the figure that 20 per cent. of home-educated children are not receiving a suitable education. Yet, that is not what Graham Badman’s inquiry found. It found that the  numbers were a fraction of that. Will the Minister address why, with children for whom the local authority did not know whether their education was suitable, it was automatically assumed to be unsuitable? Regarding benefits, the Government then assumed a large percentage of the 20 per cent.—itself a false figure—would, by being monitored and possibly sent back to school, immediately move back to the national average of outcomes and get five good GCSEs.

The numbers of people not in employment, education or training were equally flawed. When queried by home educators, local authorities that were part of the Badman response said that they could not rely on the data. Yet, we have heard in Committee again and again that there is a high number of NEETs. We do not know that—we have no firm number to give us any idea what the truth is.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Chloe Watson, who is highly educated and capable, is technically regarded as a NEET, because of the strange way in which some of the measurements are taken.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Yes, and there are many other cases. It would be welcome if the Minister were to confirm that the NEET numbers are not robust, cannot be relied on and are not an excuse for legislation that further invades the right of families to home educate.

It is important to remember the context. We talk about difficulties with home education, but, in 2009, 19 per cent. of school pupils did not achieve a single GCSE at the end of key stage 4. In 2007-08, 35 per cent. of all pupils at the end of key stage 4 did not achieve five good GCSEs or their equivalent, and over 52 per cent. of all school pupils failed to achieve five good GCSEs including English and mathematics. Therefore, we are not talking about a perfect system in schools. Yet the impact assessment assumes that any child who is picked up and driven back to school will automatically achieve the average outcome.

Given, as we have heard in evidence, that the number of children who are home educated and who have special needs is higher in proportion than that of the average population—they may be autistic—the likelihood of their achieving the national average outcome is extremely unlikely.

The hon. Member for Keighley, who is no longer in her place, said that in certain parts of this country, we must be careful about where children are attending at a given time. However, schedule 1 will do nothing to bring to light children below the radar or taken out of school for forced marriage or other purposes. There is no obligation on parents to register their children—as before, it will be for local authorities to find them and catch up with mobile families. That is what makes the policy so problematic. Some of the people in the home-educating community about whom many local authorities doubt and worry have specific qualities. The legislation will not allow local authorities to pick up on them, and therefore will not make any difference.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley said that this is an opportunity to try to improve things in terms of notification and support. It is important to remember what Beth Reid of the National Autistic Society told the Committee:

“Currently, it looks like a very one-sided system. Without that support, the proposals will not make a difference to children with special educational needs.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 68, Q104.]

Schedule 1 has no guarantee of support to home-educating families, no provision for ending the postcode lottery of support from local authorities and no voice for consultative forums as recommended by the Badman report.

Schedule 1 is a solution without a proven problem. It will take the institutional bias against home education and give it statutory backing. Home educators should not have to sacrifice their liberties simply to make life easier for local authorities; government should work for us, not the other way round. Elsewhere in the Bill, there are pages dedicated to guarantees for parents of children educated at school, yet there are no such guarantees for home-educating parents. All the power is given to local authorities. This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The hon. Member for Yeovil talked about putting the cart before the horse and he is dead right on that.

Paragraph 12 of the Department’s policy statement says:

“The regulations and guidance on registration and monitoring...will recognise that the interests of the child are of paramount importance.”

And yet, nowhere does that appear in schedule 1. We have Ministers saying that the system will be light-touch, but when we look at it, we find that it is anything but. We have Ministers saying that the interests of the child should be paramount, but when we look at the legislation, we find that the interests of the child are not mentioned.

I will now move on to the amendments. Amendments 254, 255, 256, 263, 264, 266, 269, 270 and 285 reflect a desire to shift from registration to notification for the purposes of support. This should be a voluntary notification system. The Government have again and again stressed the importance of knowing where children are and of local authorities knowing those who are not in school. The hon. Member for Yeovil has used that as a reason why he and his party support the illiberal measure of compulsory notification. I put it to him, as I have before—I hope that he may yet change his mind—that compulsory notification, albeit with no penalty, is unlikely to provide a full picture.

As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, we will see many parents deliberately hiding themselves from the local authority. For local authority purposes, I believe that it is good for them to ascertain to the best of their ability, without imposing on parents, all the children in their areas who are not at school. If they interrogated child benefit, NHS and other records, they would find a far higher percentage of the children in their areas than they ever would hope to achieve through registration, even if it was nominally compulsory.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 4:00 pm, 4th February 2010

That is the point on which we disagree. The Children, Schools and Families Committee’s review of elective home education came up with a voluntary scheme, which I suspect was something of a compromise among its members. It also concluded at paragraph 62 of its report that it considers it:

“unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated”

I assume that he signed up to that part of the report, so is he really confident that the mechanisms that he is suggesting can deliver that outcome efficiently and economically?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

We have a system, which he highlighted the costs of, proposed in the Bill. If the Secretary of State is right about the number of home-educated children he mentioned on Second Reading—70,000—the costs of the monitoring and licensing system will be around £500 million over the next 10 years. The child benefit records already exist; the claimant rate for child benefit is astonishingly high. If that database was interrogated, along with others, the cost would be a fraction of the cost of setting up a registration system. Therefore, unless the hon. Gentleman has reason to believe that that is not true, I do not understand why he would think that setting up yet another database was a better and more economical way of finding out what we both desire local authorities to know.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am not sure whether the evidence that the Select Committee received justifies the view that it is possible to prepare confidently an estimate of those young people in home education by working back from the indicators that he has mentioned. The cost he cites is the cost of this hugely bureaucratic mechanism for oversight which he knows we strongly oppose.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

That is a fair point. When the Select Committee heard from our clerks that the Government had intimated that they did not think existing databases could be used I wondered why that could possibly be. Why could we not use existing data? If we need to give local authorities the right to access that data, we could do so simply and easily in this Bill. I cannot see any blockage to using existing information. This Bill is far more invasive than simply looking at existing figures. The hon. Gentleman knows that as from last September we have ContactPoint, which provides a list of all children in the area.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting issues. He knows that both our parties are committed to abolishing ContactPoint, so there is a limit to the extent to which we can fall back on that solution. He has raised an interesting point. I hope that the Minister will take that on directly.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

We are opposed to ContactPoint precisely because, like the Bill, it is universal rather than something that targets limited resources on those with greatest need. The compulsory notification system proposed by the h M for Yeovil would force parents to notify the state of how they were educating their children only if they were home educating. Although I am sure that there are other ways of notifying the state, I am not aware that parents who send their children to independent schools have to fill out a form and register the fact that they are doing so.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that even if we could get all the information from the other data sources, we would merely establish the total number of children not at school? We would not establish which children were being home educated. We would be including in that children who have gone missing, children  who have totally disappeared—a whole host of children. That is why we feel that the notification scheme must have a firm basis.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

That is a fair point. The Select Committee said that there should be visibility. If it interrogates existing databases, it will have that. It can then go out and try to ascertain within the powers that it currently has what the situation of those children is. The big point that people have made is that we need to narrow it down. We need to find the children below the radar. If all the children below the radar are identified it will be possible for the local authority to make inquiries. I do not know whether parents who send their children to independent schools have to register in some way. That itself is an interesting question. Parents who educate at home would have to go through registration, even under the Liberal Democrats’ proposal, and yet those at independent schools do not.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that there is an inconsistency in that he wants to send inspectors to every single family where there is a child who is not at a main school?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I think we all agreed that it would be best if local authorities had that data and could then make judgments on how to act on that. It would be a different Bill from this that looked at what they did. This takes me on to another interesting aspect of this whole notification argument. The serious case review information with which we have been provided, and the information that the hon. Lady and I get on the Select Committee, show that the most vulnerable children in this country are not of school age. They are under five. That is one of the most peculiar things about this. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who is an expert on these matters, knows full well, children under five are subject to the greatest level of abuse and are the most vulnerable to abuse. Are the Government coming forward with any form of registration system for them? No they are not. They are doing it for school age children, who would be in school for only 9 or 10 per cent. of the year—that is the average amount of time that a child in a maintained school spends at school. We are setting up this vast panoply of registration just in case there might be a problem, even though we know from international research, from New Zealand and around the world, that home-educated children do not have those problems.

New Zealand has a very similar jurisdiction to ours, and it introduced a system very similar to the one proposed by the Minister. What has it done with it? Last year it decided to stop operating it because it was a waste of time and money. It found that incidents of poor education were sufficiently small—just around 5 per cent.; so much less than the educational failure found in its own school system—that it could not justify the monitoring and inspection regime for a system that produced much better outcomes and a far lower level of failure than state schools. Of course, we call home education a system, but it is not—it is diverse and varied. New Zealand decided that, if it was to take an additional sum of money to improve education, it was best spent on an area where there were known problems—failing schools would spring to mind immediately—rather  than on pursuing the families of home-educated children, with 95 per cent. of whom the local authorities could see no problems.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley gave a very thoughtful speech. The question that I am sure she would be asking the Minister is why are we doing this if those who have done it elsewhere have found it to be a waste of time and found that there were no problems with home education. Do we have any special reasons? I am sure that she could be convinced to bring in this kind of draconian system, as indeed could I, if we saw that there was a serious problem that needed to be tackled. No such serious problem has been established. The Badman report came up with the pre-determined outcome, as the Church of England put it.

I will talk a little more about the international context, because the Minister may have seen the memorandum from Kelly L. Green, a parent from British Columbia who home educates. My heart sank when I first read it, which must show a certain errant prejudice on my part, but I read her submission and found it to be excellent. Canada has large heavily populated jurisdictions with excellent regulatory models including the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

In the United States, 10 states make no legislative demands of home educators—none. They include the heavily populated states of Texas, Illinois and Michigan. Some 14 states require notification only of intent to educate at home. They include California, Wisconsin and Delaware, so at least they are with the Liberal Democrats. Some 20 states have moderate regulation, meaning that parents may be asked to submit materials in a portfolio, test scores or evaluation. Only six states have what is considered to be heavy regulation. Even the heavily regulated states make no demands on home-educating families who home educate akin to those proposed in schedule 1. Kelly L. Green says:

“To the best of my knowledge, no state demands home visits, and no state requests to interview home-educated children.”

The vast laboratory of the United States, where there are far more home-educated children than in any other part of the world and they must know the subject better than anyone else, has no state demands for home visits and no state requests to interview home-educated children. Yet here we are with the Government pressing ahead with something that has no base.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

I wonder, while we are touring around the world, whether we might just go back to New Zealand, where I understand that parents must receive approval for home-based schooling from its Ministry of Education. It is a complicated registration process and they are given an annual grant to help with the cost of learning materials. I understand that in Ireland and France there is a registration scheme. Some countries are highly regulated and in the US, Pennsylvania has a highly regulated scheme in place for those families who wish to home educate. We need to have some balance when we look at what happens around the world.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 4:15 pm, 4th February 2010

I was seeking to provide that balance, because in Badman’s report he mentions New Zealand a great deal and did not mention that it had just given up the very proposal for monitoring and registration that he was suggesting.

Greater regulation of home education does not produce better results. A peer-reviewed academic article on that topic in “Academic Leadership”, called “State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores” and dated 11 August 2009, made the following observation:

“The authors of this study find no evidence from their analysis that supports the claim that states should exercise more regulation of homeschool families and students in order to assure better academic success”.

They looked at all the different states—they had all the laboratories, as states in the United States are often referred to—and compared outcomes to find out whether they were better in more heavily regulated states. What a fantastic opportunity to do that in respect of so many different jurisdictions and approaches. That article found no link at all between the level of regulation and the outcomes. So we are talking about bringing in legislation that could cost £500 million, even though the only evidence that we have from international studies suggests that it will bring no educational benefits at all. That is not reassuring when we are considering giving this measure the okay.

The article continues:

“On the contrary, the findings of this study are consistent with other research findings that homeschool students perform well academically—typically above national averages on standardized achievement tests and at least on par with others on college-admissions tests — and do so regardless of whether they live in a state that applies low, moderate, or high governmental regulation of homeschooling.

I have mentioned previously another particularly interesting bit of research that I ask Government members of the Committee to think on. It states:

“Research conducted on home-based education indicates that, unlike traditionally schooled students, home-educated students whose parents have less formal education achieve similar academic results to those whose parents have more academic credentials.”

In other words, home education levels the playing field between the more educated and the less educated parent.

A 1999 study by Dr. Lawrence Rudner, vice-president of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which is the testing company that runs the GMAT test in the United States—the primary test used there—observed:

“Home schooling’s one-on-one tutorial method seemed to equalize the influence of parents’ educational background on their children’s academic performance. Home educated students’ test scores remained between the 80th and 90th percentiles, whether their mothers had a college degree or did not finish high school.”

I would have hoped that hon. Members throughout the House would be excited at that prospect. Home education could have a transformational effect on the chance of children from the poorest homes getting a good education—if the parents had the commitment and the desire to do it—even if their parents did not have a good education themselves. He continued:

“Students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentage points higher than public school students from families of comparable educational backgrounds.”

In other words, although that cannot be guaranteed for all by any means, not least because of the economic realities, parents who are not well educated and who live in a deprived community and are prepared to show such commitment will none the less make a huge difference to the outcomes for their children, who are of course most likely to fail at school.

We should support home education rather than using measures that suggest that the only way we are going to improve it is by forcing children back to school.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

The hon. Gentleman is quoting some research, but it is clear that there is a lack of good research in this area about home education versus schooling. From the analysis done of the limited research that is available, the problem seems to be that often the groups of parents who nominate their children to be put into such studies have some of the brightest children, and they are self-selecting, so those studies do not give a full, accurate picture of home education across the piece. Does he accept that?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Any academic exercise—I want to be rude and say, “unless it was dreamed up by the DCSF”—would seek to ensure that it took out all those biases: that is what academics do. However, former local authority officers who are asked to come to a predetermined outcome do not get rid of the biases. When they contact local authorities and get 74 of the 152 respond, it seems that they do not ask themselves the question that the Minister asked me. The Minister’s impact assessment is based on the responses of the 74 self-selecting local authorities that replied to Graham Badman’s request. Why would a local authority choose to reply? Perhaps because it is a local authority that has a problem with home education. Perhaps because it is a local authority that has not got it right and does not understand the existing legislative guidelines, and has therefore decided to fill in the forms and send them back. Where is that self-selecting bias represented in any of the Government’s views? It is absolutely absent.

The Minister sits there, dismissing serious academic research from all over the world—as did Graham Badman, because it did not fit with the outcomes that he had predetermined for him by the Department, and that he duly delivered. Yet his own efforts at gathering data were subject to no such rigorous academic scrutiny and, in fact, every time anyone has questioned them, they have been shown to be false. When the Minister gets a chance to respond—when I sit down—I am particularly looking forward to hearing her defence of the numbers, such as the 20 per cent. of young people not getting a suitable education.

I hope that the Minister will also help us with the contradictions that seem to be so frequent. We were told that the regime would be light touch, but then we read about it and it is the opposite. We heard that the whole purpose, from the Government’s point of view, was to give more help to home-educating parents, yet Ministers have successively said that there is no money to support home education—the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), when he was Minister with responsibility for schools, wrote saying that to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. A few weeks ago, when looking on the DCSF website, we found the programme that allows children to have a home computer—I forget its name—in the small print at the bottom of the page, and it said specifically, “but not if you are home-educated”. No access to IT then. The website said that on the very day the Minister told us how the Government wanted to change things.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

That point presents an interesting issue. The reason why the home access scheme is not being made available to families who home educate is because  we do not know who those families are. We have no accurate register to look to. Some families have put themselves forward and notified their local authority, but there is no accurate record. That is the problem, and the nub of the issue. We do not have an accurate record of families who are home educating.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. As I have decided to broaden the debate to cover all the amendments to schedule 1, the hon. Gentleman may wish to refer to his later amendments, and hon. Members who have already spoken may wish to speak again, briefly. However, we want to allow time for the Minister to respond, so I urge hon. Members to be as brief as possible.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Thank you, Mrs. Anderson.

The Minister’s intervention was extraordinary. Time and again we get the circular argument that we need registration before we can provide support. We have 20,000 home-educated children who are known to be registered with their local authority. Has that led to any provision for them? It has not. That is extraordinary. People have registered even when there is nothing in it for them, but why, when something comes along that they could be given, do the Government put in the small print at the bottom of the website, “But not for you, I’m afraid, even if you are registered”? Why should those people have any trust or belief?

It gets worse. On 12 November, in a written answer, the Minister said:

“So far as local authority support for the education of home educated pupils is concerned, we plan to strengthen the school census guidance for the January 2010 return to ensure that all local authorities are aware that they can already include in the Alternative Provision Return for Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) home educated pupils whom they support financially and who have a statement, or have significant special educational needs that have not been formally recognised through a statement”— they can already include that—

“and pupils whom they fund to attend college for post-14 qualifications including GCSEs and Diplomas. These pupils will then count as a unit for DSG purposes.”.—[Official Report, 12 November 2009; Vol. 499, c. 988W.]

The Minister said on 12 November that in January local authorities would be urged to register home-educated children known to them, for whom they were providing support, so that funding could be provided. However, DCSF guidance notes for alternative provision, dated 28 January 2010—a few days ago—state:

“Pupils taught at home only includes those pupils who are receiving LA funding (i.e. this excludes those educated at home by parental choice)”.

We have complete doublespeak. The Minister tells us that local authorities can register, but then, in the guidance given in January—precisely when the Minister said—there are explicit instructions that authorities cannot register someone who is home educated.

A helpful table on page 17 of the guidance sets out the criteria for inclusion in the census return. It says:

“Pupil whose parents have elected to educate at home (EHE)”.

Under “Include?” is a helpful answer for anyone filling it in:

“Include? No. Category: Not applicable”.

That is where home-educated children find themselves now. As Fiona Nicholson, a trustee of Education Otherwise, said,

“The Department will only consider refunding home educated children who are already funded by the local authority”— it is a Catch-22

“yet the guidance notes specifically instruct local authorities not to include home educated children in any funding applications.”

Authorities can only fund those whom they are funding, but they cannot add anyone who comes to them for funding. Perhaps the Minister can spell out why that is not an extraordinary set of contradictions.

I am aware of your strictures, Mrs. Anderson. The first set of amendments would make the shift from registration to notification. In the second group, which is now grouped with the first, amendment 273 suggests that, as in New Zealand and Ontario, visits should take place only where there are reasonable grounds for concern about home-educated children. Having heard the debate this afternoon, I hope that all Committee members will see that that is entirely reasonable. Home visits should not take place if there are no grounds for concern. I hope that we will have the chance to push the amendment to a vote.

On the new clauses, I have tried—

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. May I ask you to repeat for the benefit of the Chair and the Committee which clause or amendment you wanted to press to a vote?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Amendment 273 in the second group.

The new clauses would put into law Graham Badman’s positive recommendations, which, despite all the talk and policy guidance, are not to be found in the legislation. I hope that Members will consider supporting the new clauses.

In the final group of amendments, amendments 115 and 279 would do essentially the same thing. They suggest that refusal to co-operate—assuming, of course, that the Government press ahead with the measures—should be grounds for refusal of continued registration only if the refusal to co-operate is unreasonable. As it stands, the local authority does not even need to show that a parent is being unreasonable. I hope that Ministers will see fit to include my amendments, as our direction of travel is the same, but my amendments ameliorate some possibly draconian impacts. Amendments 287, 303 and 304 are an attempt to ensure that the Bill will do what Ministers say it is supposed to do, which is to put the interests of the child first. I would like to push amendment 287 to a vote, if I may.

Finally, the current bias against home education in schedule 1, which deals with school attendance order proceedings, must be removed. It is absurd that our law says that if someone home educates without being registered, the quality of the education, the needs of the child and so on are to be disregarded. If a parent tried to challenge that and went to court, the court would be told that it must disregard the quality of the education and the interests of the child, because the law says so. I therefore hope that the Committee can support the amendments if, as I fear, the Bill is to continue on its merry way out of Committee. Having spoken for long enough, I will sit down.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I will be relatively brief, covering the rest of the amendments. Our starting point must be a recognition of the diversity of the home education community. The biggest category seems to be parents who are so committed that they devote themselves to home educating their children. I have only admiration for that, because it means that at least one parent does not take the opportunity to work and instead supports and provides hour after hour of education, in whatever form it takes. That is an enormous commitment, and it makes me understand how angry those parents feel about what is a real attack on them.

A second category is parents who withdraw their children from school because the school is not serving them well, and often that is when the child or young person has special educational needs that the school just cannot meet. I have also come across many instances where that has been done, possibly for those with special educational needs, because of bullying. I presume that there is a category of children about whom we know little. The Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families discovered that some local authorities have been colluding to keep down the exclusion figures, and that ought to be tackled firmly. It is absolutely clear that that complex situation has been dealt with in a rushed and flawed process, which can only lead to bad legislation in its current form.

With regard to the quality of education that might be provided, I would like to submit some DCSF evidence to the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. The extension of the “effective provision of pre-school education” study has shown that children with parents who have lesser qualifications and who spend large amounts of quality time with them will perform better that children with parents who have higher qualifications but do not. That is interesting, and in some ways it supports what he has said. The research was carried out by the Institute of Education, based at the university of London.

The provision is such a pig’s ear that the best thing would probably be to vote against it, but we have tried to be constructive and have set out a series of amendments that hang together to scrap the idea of a registration process. I had originally thought that a simple registration process would work, but as soon as we look at the Government’s suggestions, we see that there seems to be no such thing as a simple registration process. We therefore propose a notification scheme. That must, of course, be backed up by other measures in time, but immediately it could be backed up with the supportive measures. Supportive measures should be in the Bill and there should be a guarantee.

We have tabled two amendments pertaining to special educational needs in particular. Although there is support as far as children’s statements are concerned, there are many concerns about parents withdrawing their children from school because they are not getting the extra support that they need there, probably because they are not statemented. If we were assured today that that support would be offered as soon as possible, we would feel much better about the situation.

To give a fair summary, the rest of our amendments try to reduce the prescriptiveness of the Government’s approach throughout. In amendment 225 and new clause 5, we suggest that we should start again with a proper, independent inquiry that people trust so that we can  define what we mean by “efficient and suitable” and, equally, establish fully all the support that is needed. We need to do that properly with a full, independent inquiry, and that must be done before we establish the sort of registration scheme that the Government propose.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:30 pm, 4th February 2010

Was the Badman review not meant to be a full, independent inquiry? It was certainly an independent review.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I covered that earlier when I said that the process was rushed, as everyone would agree, so I do not think that it could be counted as a proper inquiry. The fact that the Badman review did not include examples of good practice for home education shows that it was not balanced. That was totally lacking in the report. We are looking for an independent inquiry.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

It is worth putting on the record that not one of the people on the Badman review had expertise in home education. It was quite extraordinary. One member of the expert panel described the whole process as the most slapdash in which he had been involved in 30 years of academic life.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I go back to where I started: we should not have legislation based on that process. It can only end up as bad legislation of which no Government would be proud.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

As we have broadened the debate to all the amendments to schedule 1, do you want to make a further contribution, Mr. Gibb?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

In response to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, I wish to say that Badman contains references to good practice throughout the country where local authorities work alongside home-educating families. I refer the Committee to page 16, which sets out good examples. The debate has been wide-ranging and, clearly, the number of amendments that have been tabled and grouped means that my response will be lengthy. However, I shall try to get through all the issues that have been raised.

On behalf of the Government, I totally refute the idea that we believe that home-educating families are not doing a good job in the majority of cases. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton drew attention to three tasks given to Graham Badman, but the fourth task was to look at whether any changes were needed in the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education to meet the needs and support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners to ensure that all children achieve the “Every Child Matters” outcomes. That was clearly put to Graham Badman as one of the issues he needed to address in his report.

Local authorities have lobbied hard on the education point. On several occasions, they have told the Department that they do not have the powers they need to make sure that children in their localities are receiving an education. As for the needs and best interests of a child not being set out in the Bill, that is because local authorities have a general duty under section 175 of the Education Act 2002, which provides that they must carry out all functions conferred on them in their education capacity

“with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”

Having set out the role of a local authority and what it has to do, at the heart of the Bill is ensuring that the interests and needs of children are met, and the basis of our proposals on the registration and monitoring of home education are no different from the basis of other clauses that we have been considering during the past few weeks. Parents have a primary duty to ensure that their child receives a suitable education, and home education is a perfectly valid option. The state is already required to intervene on the child’s behalf when parents fail to fulfil their duty to the child, but the state cannot fulfil its responsibilities towards the child if it does not know that the child is being home educated, and has no means of establishing whether the child is receiving any education, let alone a suitable one. That is the key point that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness fails to grasp.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I refer to annexe A of the Badman report. First, the fourth bullet point is not mentioned in Graham Badman’s letter to the Secretary of State. Secondly, it does not mention standards of education. It refers to achieving the “Every Child Matters” outcomes, which is more towards the safeguarding side of the issue rather than the quality of education. It seems to be something that Badman introduced as the review was being conducted rather than what was asked of him by the Government.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

At this late hour in our proceedings, I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and set out matters clearly. I understand that Graham Badman was tasked with looking at home education and what could be done to support local authorities and home-educating families to do their job better.

Over the past year, we have heard repeatedly that the proposals are a massive state intrusion into family life, but the reality is quite different. I do not accept the opening comments of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. We presume that parents opting to home educate are acting in the best interests of their child, which is why there is a presumption they will be registered. I also do not accept that we are maligning families by asking them to go through the process of being registered on the presumption that that will happen.

Registration will be a simple, once-a-year process. The education plan, of which there has been much discussion this afternoon, will be simple and able to accommodate all educational approaches. Monitoring will be light touch and will involve one meeting a year. There will be informal discussions with an emphasis on the work that has taken place over the year, plans for the year ahead and any additional support the local authority can give. Children will not be tested or forced to meet alone with a local authority officer.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness seemed to imply that the consultation was completely meaningless. After that consultation process, the Government thought again about the Badman recommendation that the child be seen alone by a local authority officer. We have removed that provision from the legislation. The officer can ask to see the child, but there is no requirement on the parent or child.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

But if they do not co-operate with that visit, which is specifically set out, they can have their licence from the state revoked. Surely, that is disingenuous.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

The hon. Gentleman fails to grasp the fact that the issue is about moving home education to a new way of working in a spirit of collaboration and co-operation with local authorities. I am not for one moment pretending that everything has been perfect in the past. Clearly, it has not been. In the vast majority of his recommendations, Graham Badman sets out the need for more support for home-educating families and a change in how local authorities work with such families. I see that as a positive way forward that is in the spirit of collaboration and co-operation, rather than the adversarial way in which the hon. Gentleman seems to think the registration and monitoring process should be conducted.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

It is not me who thinks that, but the huge majority of home-educating families. Thousands of them replied to the consultation, even though extraordinarily and against the Cabinet guidelines to which the Department is a signatory, the Department did not ensure that everyone who had already registered with a local authority was told about it. The guidelines specifically state that the people who will be most directly affected must be told. The Department did not do that, but thousands of people replied, and 95 per cent. of them said, “No way.” It is those people who think the proposal will destroy positive relationships, and there is evidence from North Yorkshire and elsewhere that parents who previously co-operated with local authorities are no longer doing so. That is not my assertion—it is the reality on the ground, and it is time the Minister woke up.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

One of the key problems is that we do not know all the families that are home educating. It is difficult to alert home-educating families to a consultation if we do not know who they are. I am very conscious of the time and feel that we need to move on, but I want to put this clearly on the record: we cannot take it as read that all home-educated children are receiving the education to which they are entitled, when some remain unknown to the local authority. Far from intruding into family life, it would be a failure on the part of the state not to take the action we are proposing. Local authorities must be able to act against parents who wilfully fail to educate their children.

Parents who are struggling to give their children the education they want for them need to be much better supported—I think we all agree on that point—without the fear that their child will automatically be sent back to school if that is not the best place for them. I think we can all agree on that as well. We want to support home-educating families and ensure that they can provide the education their children need. Let us be clear about why the proposals are important.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Will the Minister answer the specific point about the January census. I cannot claim to be an expert, but why does it appear that local authorities cannot register a home-educated child and have the money that the Minister says she is so desperate to get to help them?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools) 4:45 pm, 4th February 2010

I am happy to come to that point in a moment, but I want first to talk about the available financial support.

We are taking action because unless we do so, we will not know how many children are home educated, which cannot be right. I think the hon. Member for Yeovil agrees. He made it clear, as did the Select Committee, that it cannot be right for local authorities not to know which children in their area are being home educated. Without the provision, some children will not receive the education they need because the local authority cannot intervene. That cannot be right, and the hon. Member for Yeovil recognised that.

Our proposals are not about state control of home education. They are about acting when a child’s rights are not being met by their parents. The proposals are moderate and proportionate, and they will keep England among the most liberal countries in the world for home education.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

By the same token, on the criteria set out by the Minister, why have the Government singularly failed to introduce a scheme of compulsory registration of private fosterers?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

By the same token, on exactly the same criteria that the Minister set out, why after many opportunities have the Government singularly refused to institute a scheme of compulsory registration of private fostering arrangements for exactly the same safeguarding reasons that she is setting out for home education?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

I will be frank with the Committee. I do not know the answer, so I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

In response to the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness on the need to support home-educating families, new clause 8 is intended to give effect to the Badman report’s recommendation 15, which states that

“the DCSF should take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues”.

Clearly, schools and local authorities should not advise parents to consider home education to avoid permanent exclusion or to deal with behavioural issues. We have strengthened the “Guide to the Law for School Governors” to emphasise that that is both unethical and against the law, and we have undertaken to strengthen the DCSF exclusions guidance on the issue when it is next revised.

New clause 9 addresses recommendation 4 of the Badman report, which was to put local authority consultative forums on a statutory footing, and to control closely how they are constituted and operate. That is to give home-educating families a voice.

Children’s trusts are a series of partnership arrangements whereby a local authority and its partners co-operate to improve the well-being of children. Consultation with home educators is consistent with our commitment to making regulations for children’s trust boards to consult widely with partners. We will include a requirement in our statutory guidance on home education to require local authorities to set up a consultative forum to review local authority arrangements.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

This is an important point. The Bill could inflict further damage by destroying existing forums. Children’s trusts are not working effectively throughout the country—that was certainly the evidence that we heard in the Select Committee—so why not set up a consultative forum specifically for home-educating parents?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Home-educating families said that they did not feel they had a voice into the local authority. That is why Graham Badman made that recommendation.

New clause 10 would give effect to recommendation 10 of the Badman report covering support for home-educated children and young people to find appropriate examination centres and to provide entry free to all home-educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness, through routine monitoring, for all DCSF-funded qualifications. We accept that local authorities have a role in supporting home-educated children and young people to identify examination centres, and that they should provide funding. We support that.

New clause 11 would give effect to recommendation 11 of the Badman report about working in collaboration with colleges and schools to extend access to a range of services and facilities, such as music tuition, on the same cost basis as for students in maintained schools. In our response, the Government agreed that home educators should have access to specialist music tuition, and commented that that would require careful and sensitive brokering by local authorities, which would need to work closely with their schools and other service providers to deliver what was needed.

New clause 12 is intended to give effect to recommendation 11 of the Badman report, which recommends that local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges, extend access to a range of services and facilities, including school libraries, sports facilities and specialist facilities. The Government response detailed specific steps, including new funding, for implementing the Badman recommendations, and implementation is under way.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Will the Minister confirm, therefore, that she will extend and make available the opportunities of flexi schooling, which is important to some parents?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

In the recommendation, Graham Badman referred to flexi schooling, and to the role that it could play for some home-educating families. The Department is keen to explore flexi schooling, and to consider how it can best be used to support families who choose to home educate for part of the time but would like to be able to access flexi schooling when appropriate.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Three years ago, the York Consulting study recommended that flexi schooling had to be considered. There were only three recommendations. Why did not the Department act then, and why is it making vague promises now?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

I want to come on to the York Consulting study in a moment, but I first want to deal with the issue of training for inspectors, and its funding. I believe that  the impact assessment shows that money has been set aside already for the training of inspectors, which will, of course, take place before implementation.

I also want to refer to special educational needs, because many members of the Committee are interested in support for home-educating families with a child who has special educational needs. The Government have undertaken to send further guidance to local authorities, setting out their responsibilities towards children with SEN statements and emphasising that they should be working in partnership with home-educating parents. We will ensure that our guidance for local authorities makes it clear that home-educated children with SEN can be included in the alternative provision return for funding purposes, if the local authority is providing significant support towards the child’s education, irrespective of whether the child is statemented. I hope that that is helpful.

Home educators have not suggested to the Government that there are deficiencies in those aspects of Graham Badman’s recommendations on support. They are concerned about consistency in local implementation, which is why we seek, through our guidance, to ensure that there is a level playing field around the country.

I think that I have addressed the point about the consultation. I feel that all responses to the consultation were considered.

The first group of amendments is very much about the registration system that will be established. The main amendments in the group are about having a notification system rather than a registration system, removing the grounds on which registration could be refused, removing the requirement on a parent to have to lodge an educational statement, and making registration continuous rather than annual, by removing the cross-references to the revocation section. There is also the issue of keeping the register private, on which I think we started the debate—that seems many hours ago now.

I think that this is the third time that I have said that the presumption is that any child whose parent applies for registration will be registered. Refusal of an application must be for the limited reasons set out in the Bill. Grounds for refusal must be substantial, and parents will have the right to an independent appeal against any decision not to register. A local authority has the power to refuse to register a child when the authority has decided that home education will be harmful to the child’s welfare.

It is right to give local authorities the discretion to refuse to register when an application is devoid of key information about a child, such as where they live, or when the parent has previously been refused registration or registration has been revoked. A notification scheme would not allow any of that to happen, and would therefore be unacceptable. In all cases, but particularly when refusal is contemplated, we want to encourage local authorities to make full and comprehensive inquiries, which we would not want to cut short.

We think that the regulations and guidance, which will be produced through wide consultation with home educators, will set out the correct balance between making timely decisions and ensuring that they have been carefully thought through. They must be reasonable and not arbitrary.

Paragraph 27 of the policy statement makes it clear that refusal is likely to be considered only when a child protection plan indicates home education is inappropriate or when a section 47 Children Act inquiry is under way. We expect there to be few such cases.

The other amendments in the first group address issues relating to the manner in which the application is made, including the educational statement setting out the approach to be taken in the year ahead, and access to, and the purpose of, the education. We set out in our policy statement the approach we would take through regulations and guidance. Those will be produced in consultation with home-educating families and other interested parties.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

In the Minister’s own words, how will she know who those home educating families are?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

At the moment, the problem is that there are only various groups that we know of, of which Education Otherwise is a vocal example. Once we have the register up and running, we will be able to consult more widely. In the first instance, that has to be with the people we know of. That is the only logical approach.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley commented on local authority capacity and the ability of council officers to understand and engage with home-educating families. I listened carefully to her concerns. We want to move away from instances such as the example of a report including the fact that incense was burned in the house as if that was indicative of something being not quite right. We want local authority officials and officers to concentrate on working co-operatively with families and to provide the support they need. They should consider what is in the best interests of the child for the year ahead and look at the education that will be provided.

These reforms will have minimal impact on home educators, who, in the main, are doing a good job and co-operating with local authorities. Parents will continue to be able to follow the wide range of educational approaches they currently use, including autonomous learning. We have made it clear that home-educated children will not have to follow the national curriculum or take SATs and other public examinations. We had a short debate on Tuesday about how the PSHE provisions will not apply to home-educated children, who will not have to observe school hours, days or holidays.

We are allowing parents to undertake to provide a statement of prospective education to their local authority. They will be given time to prepare one. When a parent has removed their child from school at short notice, it is right that they are given time to develop their educational approach. That extra time will give them the opportunity to discuss the approach with the local authority. That contrasts with many other countries where parents need prior approval of their education plans to home educate.

The first group of amendments seeks to remove the requirement for an educational statement. That is consistent with the aim of hon. Members to replace our scheme with a notification scheme that does not require a parent to do anything other than to notify the local authority that they will home educate. As I have indicated, we do not think that is enough.

We do not want the educational statement to be a significant burden. We had an interesting discussion earlier about the information that will be required. In the public evidence session, Sir Paul Ennals said that a two-page statement

“as part of a simple registration process, is not an onerous burden”.——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 63, Q90.]

The effect of the amendments on the duration of registration would be to make registration continuous once notification had been received. It would not be dependent on annual renewal. We do not think that is the correct way forward.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 19 January).

The Chairman put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Question put, (single Question on successive provisions of the Bill), That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill; that clauses 27 to 40 stand part of the Bill; that schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill; that clause 41 stand part of the Bill; and that schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 7.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

We now come to clause 42, which I put for separate decision in accordance with Standing Order No. 83D(5).

Question put, That clause 42 stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 42 disagreed to.

Question put (single Question on successive provisions of the Bill), That clauses 43 to 45 stand part of the Bill; that schedule 4 and schedule 5 be the Fourth and Fifth schedules to the Bill; and that clauses 46 to 50 stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 7.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 43 to 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clauses 46 to 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered,

That certain written evidence already reported to the House be appended to the proceedings of the Committee.—(Mr. Coaker.)

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. I thank you, Mr. Amess and Mr. Betts for chairing the Committee. I also thank the Clerks and all those who have made our proceedings possible, including the Hansard writers and the police.

I thank all members of the Committee. I am grateful for all the contributions made by Labour Members. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East, made a fantastic contribution—[Interruption.] I am seriously grateful to her for being here.

I thank the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and his colleagues, and the hon. Member for Yeovil, for the way in which they have put their points and the good debates that we have had. I also thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

This has been a good Committee. Serious issues have been discussed and the atmosphere has been very good. I thank my officials for the advice that they have given me and the other Ministers.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. I add my thanks to you for your careful and very patient chairing of these sittings, and to Mr. Amess and Mr. Betts for their contribution to chairing the Committee. I thank the Ministers for their courteous approach to the debates, which have been very full.

It has been encouraging that Government Back Benchers have contributed in an independent way to the proceedings of the Committee. This is the first Committee of which I have been a member in which that independent viewpoint has been expressed, which is encouraging. I do not think that that was any sign of dissent among Labour MPs; it was a good, healthy contribution to a debate, and ultimately it did not lead to any rebellions in the voting.

I thank the hon. Members for Yeovil and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole for their contributions to the debates and for voting with us on many occasions. It is good to work with colleagues in other parties.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for co-leading for the Opposition on the Bill. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich and for Beverley and Holderness and our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster. I am grateful in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness for the passionate way in which he made the case for home educators.

These have been very interesting, if short, Committee proceedings. I hope that we can return on Report to many of the issues that we were not able to cover under the remaining clauses.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. It would be discourteous of me not to take this opportunity to thank you and your co-Chairmen, Mr. Amess and Mr. Betts, for your chairmanship of the Committee over the past few weeks. I also thank the Clerk and the other officials of the House who have supported our activities, including the Hansard writers, who have tried to make better sense of our comments than they sometimes sound when we make our speeches—as I have just ably demonstrated. Thanks also to the departmental officials, who have been so involved in the Bill and who occasionally struggle to keep Ministers on course while offering them appropriate support.

It has been a good Bill—

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful for that correction—I do not want my comment to be used against me. We have had a good debate, with contributions from Back Benchers as well as from the party spokespeople. We have heard a little less from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice  than all of us wanted, and I suspect a little more from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East than Ministers sometimes wanted. We feel that his comments struck the right balance. He has probably ensured that he will not be invited to sit on a Public Bill Committee for a sustained period of time, but he has done enough with his loyalty while voting not to upset the usual channels to the extent that they will put him on all future Committees.

I also thank both Ministers for the way they have conducted themselves during the debate and for their patience while responding to a large number of interventions. That has been helpful and continues the tradition of their predecessors, including the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who was always co-operative. I have also enjoyed participating with Conservative colleagues. We have had shared positions in parts of the debate and I have enjoyed the comments about synthetic phonics and the opportunity to explore some of the slightly dottier policies that have emerged from the Conservatives over the past few weeks.

Committee stage has been a useful process, although it is a pity that we have not had time to give full scrutiny to the Bill’s measures. No doubt, we will return to those on Report in a couple of weeks.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. On behalf of those of us on the Back Benches, I thank you and your co-Chairmen for your excellent chairmanship and your good spirit. We have enjoyed participating. It is a truly dreadful Bill, but it has been a great debate. I thank the Ministers for their consideration and effort in responding, sometimes with the help of officials, to queries that have not always been made in the Committee Room. As a Back Bencher, I am grateful for that effort. I am also grateful to them for ensuring that we got to the home education parts of the Bill. I also thank my colleagues for making it so clear that, all the way to the wash-up, the Conservatives will ensure that this Bill will never become law.

Bill, as amended, reported (Standing Order No. 83D(6)).

Committee rose.