Sneak thief government steals parental responsibility for education from behind our backs

By Neil T

It was only because of a casual remark to a home educator in England by a local education authority official that the existence of a Statutory Instrument (SI) taking from parents their right to immediate deregistration from school for the purposes of education otherwise than at school, came to the notice of home educators at all.  Six years ago home educators fought the government to a standstill over their repeatedly declared intention to introduce a delay into deregistration in the 2006 revision of the SI.  We succeeded in preventing this, the relevant wording remaining unchanged from the previous 1995 SI, but this did not stop them lying about the law and claiming a delay in the accompanying guidance, but no doubt the fact that any such delay contradicts the principle of parental responsibility enshrined in the primary legislation, and would therefore be open to legal challenge prevented them from putting it into the SI.

The stated reason for the delay in 2006 was as ludicrous as this year’s totally different excuse.  It was that the Local Authority (LA) needed to know the education status of the child without delay, and therefore the 10 day period previously given to schools in which to notify the LA was shortened to zero.  This notification must happen no later than the act of deregistration itself, which legally happens from the moment proper notification in writing is delivered to the school administration.  The reason stated for the delay was to allow time for a snail mail letter from the school to be delivered to the LA!  Never mind that all schools had telephones, internet, and were in the process of being equipped with secure intranet connecting them to the LA. Clearly this was a joke excuse.

This year’s joke excuse for the same urgent measure has understandably not resurrected the snail mail excuse, that really was past its sell by date before the attempt to sell it.  No, this year’s excuse for delaying deregistration is to hold a school place open as a cooling off period for those parents who might deregister in haste and repent at leisure having lost the school place.  Specifically it is stated as a counter measure to the delinquency of those schools who find they can improve their ratings with OfSTED by putting pressure on the parents of their truanting and underperforming or disruptive pupils to ‘home educate’.  I really do feel we should be entitled to the conscienceless action of some schools not being used as an excuse to literally take liberties from us by way of remedy for a problem of their own making.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that all that would be necessary to ensure that a school place is held open for 20 days, is to adopt a policy requiring the place to be held open for 20 days! In fact some LAs have already done so. Witholding deregistration is completely unnecessary as a way to meet the stated goal, no less than it was when the excuse was some mythical delay in notifying the LA.

So having now established that delaying deregistration has a persistent history involving the familiar ‘problem – reaction -solution’ tactic in which the ‘solution’ precedes the problem invented for it to ‘solve’ by way of the reaction it provokes, what could be the real reason for this unseemly hurry to introduce this delay? What necessitates the government breaching its own rules on consultation of affected groups, and being careful not to notify home educators of this fundamental change affecting them?

What principle is at stake if the parent ceases to be in control, ie. owning the responsibility for ensuring suitable education, as s7 of the 1996 Education Act places on all parents?  The principle at stake is clearly one of undermining parental responsibility by taking it off the parent, and giving instead a concession that they may withdraw their child from the school immediately just the same, to commence home education.  Nick Gibb claims in his letter that it is not the government’s intention to interfere with our right to home educate our children withdrawn immediately from school, and can state this because this SI has on the face of it no such practical negative consequence.

He states:

I would like to reassure you that it is absolutely not our intention that this change should affect the rights of parents to home educate their children with immediate effect if they wish to do so. Similarly, it is not our intention that this change should be used to put pressure on parents to return their child to school. We will make this clear in supporting guidance to schools and local authorities.

But this is not so as I will demonstrate.

If the principle of delaying deregistration can be established, and it really doesn’t matter whether it is for a couple of days supposedly for snail mail letters to slime trail their way into offices, or for 20 days supposedly to permit a school place to be kept open that nothing is preventing being kept open anyway, then potentially, in accordance with the inevitable mission creep which always follows, the length of the delay and the excuse for it may be changed at any point, as it already has before it even becomes law!  Potentially a future SI sneaked past home educators without notifying them of its existence may do anything the government of the day pleases (just as this one is).  It could decide that the child may be home educated by the parent, but there will be no deregistration from the school at all, and the school will monitor and test the home education.  Once deregistration is thus prevented, the pressure to register those children never registered at a school and home educated from the outset, will be increased, by such increasing isolation and the inexorable march of propaganda, clamouring for oversight of such potentially ‘hidden and abused’ children.  It is happening already, so this is a safe projection into the future to make.

The above reassurance offered by guidance to schools and LAs is something home educators already know from bitter experience, the worth of.  We’ve been here before, and the speed with which such assurances can be erased from rapid revisions of such documents, and the abuses they supposedly intended to prevent then held up as best practice, has to be experienced to be believed.  And since it has been, we’re not buying any further such reassurances.

Bite me once shame on you,

Bite me twice shame on me.

See Truancy Patrols Two on the AHEd wiki.

Nick Gibb goes on to state:

We believe that this and the other proposed changes to the Pupil Registration Regulations will benefit parents and schools, which is why we want the changes to come into effect for the start of the new school year in September 2011. It is for this reason that the consultation on the changes was targeted at key representative bodies, and unfortunately it was not possible to include individual schools, local authorities or home educators in the time available.

Home educators may dispute the existence of “key representative bodies”, but this would really be to let government off on a technicality, since it and its civil service knows full well that any of the number of home education organisations already well known to it would network all other home educators participating in the networks within a day, just as the chance remark of someone’s LA officer has done.  It is inescapable that there was a deliberate intention to mushroom farm home educators by keeping us in the dark as a conscious decision, and Nick Gibb more or less admits as much in his letter.  His words are inescapably disingenuous in their sleight of hand attempt to try to make out that the only option available for government would have been to try to reach us all individually.  What do home educators have to do to become ‘stakeholders’ in our own lives, Mr Gibb, and how many orgs and individuals have already done so?

Where is our contract with government that you impose loss and threat on us without reference to us?  All I see are the actions of a despotism.  You have gone much further than failing to obtain the consent of the governed by this shameless action you never intended us to discover, and indeed failed to discover in time to make representations to the relevant committees.  This also is history repeating itself, since in 2006 we were ignorant of the procedures of SIs, and so asked for this information, but it was not forthcoming, and the committee deadlines passed without our knowledge of them.

Take this SI off the table, or risk losing for ever the long suffering engagement of this constituency with government of any colour, the last lot having already well and truly blown it.  We will not be misruled like this.


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