What is the 2022 Schools Bill all about, and where are we up to with it?
If you are new to home ed, have never had a child in school, and/or don’t keep up with national politics, you may well be confused as to why all these home educators are making a fuss about a ‘schools’ bill’. Surely, it has nothing to do with us, right? Unfortunately, wrong.
This bill is a proposal for a new law that aims to “raise standards across the country, increasing attendance and improve safeguarding for children wherever they are educated”.
Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash
In practice, this means it will give the education secretary new powers and further regulations over academies, academy trusts, faith schools, grammar schools, private schools, special schools, teachers, parents, pupils and, of course, home educators. As Kenneth Baker, the former Conservative Secretary of State for Education, 1985-89, under Margaret Thatcher said, “it increases the powers of the secretary of state and the DfE in a way unprecedented since 1870”.
There are many aspects that people (including Conservative and cross bench peers) have objected to in the bill, such as:
- Personal and sensitive data will be kept on all children, and can be shared without parental consent or knowledge across all agencies until that child is 80 years of age.
- School governors can be removed and replaced by state appointed ones.
- The Department for Education can set the curriculum, term times, school hours and days for all schools.
- All ‘schools’ (deemed to be a place of learning with five or more pupils, or one child with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)) will have to register with the authorities. This includes private tutors, childminders, after school clubs, some home educators, forest schools, church groups etc.
- OFSTED will be given the power to legally enter and seize any material they wish from a ‘school’, meaning that they would have a legal right to demand entry into people’s personal homes should they so wish.
- All private tutors will have to register their pupils with the LA.
- Tough penalties on parents if their children refuse to go to school regardless of the reason.
…and more. (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/jun/30/government-announces-u-turn-on-schools-bill-after-criticism, https://www.educationotherwise.org/schools-bill-for-school-families/, https://www.autism.org.uk/what-we-do/news/schools-bill)
However, this bill could also introduce very big problems specifically for many home educators, such as:
- The Local Authority will have greater powers to act on assessments as to whether an HEed child is receiving a ‘suitable education’, despite no statutory definition or guidance on what a ‘suitable education’ is – measures that apply for a school setting and curriculum are usually highly inappropriate for a home education setting.
- Withdrawing children from school will he harder as permission will need to be granted by the LA first, regardless of a child’s physical, emotional or educational wellbeing.
- Changes to the school attendance orders (SAO) system will result in children being forced into inappropriate settings by individuals within the LA without any form of oversight. It will also prevent parents from removing children from inappropriate and damaging settings.
- Registration of all children not educated in school.
As Kenneth Baker noted, “It’s a real grab for power by the DfE.”
The bill’s aim may be to “improve the school system”, but it inadvertently changes the relationship between parents and state, with the government’s power superseding the rights of parents when it comes to choosing what is in the best interests of a child in terms of its education and welfare.
The Bill itself is divided into five parts:
2. School and Local Education Funding
3. School Attendance
4. Independent Educational Institutions
5. Miscellaneous and Final Provisions
It is part 3, School Attendance (section 48, page 40) (https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/46433/documents/1770), that is of most relevance to home educators. It is here that a register of children ‘not in school’ is proposed, home educators are ‘permitted’ to ask for support from the LA (although there is no obligation for the LA to grant it), and ‘guidance’ is given to the LA when working with EHE families. The biggest and arguably most controversial aspect of part 3 is the sections on School Attendance Orders (SAO).
The bill has just been through the Report Stage in the House of Lords (18th July 2022 – https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/21bccd91-85c0-483a-9b9d-15f961aa69d7 15:17:43). This is where detailed examination of the bill continues, amendments are proposed and voted on, and any member of the Lords can take part.
After this stage, the Bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments (https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/47514/documents/2173). It then moves on for a third reading (set for the 14th September 2022) where further discussion and amendments take place before the Bill is ready to go on to the House of Commons (https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3156).
The Lords that have provoked the most discussion from home educators during the Report Stage (https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/21bccd91-85c0-483a-9b9d-15f961aa69d7 ) have been: Lord Wei (15:35 : 38)) who currently home educates his own children; Lord Soley (15:54 : 52), who is very pro HE register and pro LA assessment, but is not opposed to home ed as such; and Lord Lucas (16:03 : 51), a self-proclaimed liberal Conservative, believing in “freedom” including that of school curriculums and education, “and family”.
Since this bill was announced, a number of home-ed action groups have sprung into being to help coordinate campaigns resulting in many home education groups talking to MPs and members of the House of Lords (https://www.educationotherwise.org/education-otherwise-response-to-barness-barran/), an HE exhibition in the Houses of Parliament (https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/home-education-art-exhibition-houses-of-parliament), online petitions (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/617340, https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-schools-bill-so-that-home-education-may-continue) and *everyone* writing to their MP.
Although not home ed (but often not unrelated), Not Fine In School (https://notfineinschool.co.uk/the-schools-bill-2022-1) and Square Peg (https://www.teamsquarepeg.org) have also be working on a very powerful campaign to fight the SAO aspects of the bill, as have the National Autistic Society (https://www.autism.org.uk/what-we-do/news/schools-bill).
Next big date coming up:
14th September 2022 – Third sitting in the House of Lords
- The original full draft bill: https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/46433/documents/1770
- Full draft bill after the Report Stage with amendments: https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/47514/documents/2173
- Government-written vague summary of bill: Everything you need to know about the Schools Bill –https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2022/05/12/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-schools-bill/
- Government take on children not in school: Children not in school fact sheet – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1077818/Children_not_in_School_-_Schools_Bill_Factsheet.pdf
For more helpful information on home education and the Schools’ Bill:
- The Proposed Schools Bill – Punishing parents for the inability of schools to facilitate a suitable education for all children: https://www.powerwood.org.uk/2022/06/17/the-proposed-schools-bill-punishing-parents-for-the-inability-of-schools-to-facilitate-a-suitable-education-for-all-children/
- The Schools Bill: An attack on home-schooling that hurts children the most, by Eloise Rickman: https://goodlawproject.org/news/schools-bill-attack-home-schooling/
- The Dangers of the Schools Bill: https://www.connectandrespect.co.uk/post/the-dangers-of-the-schools-bill?fbclid=IwAR1EFzwboDYM9V0b0ecadXSxVB8o28TRzewiOAXTn1LNJO2fIOqd-bxEDRo&fs=e&s=cl
- The Beastly Bill, by Ross Mountney: https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/2022/07/01/the-beastly-bill/
Regular updates on the bill:
- How the schools’ bill is proceeding through parliament: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3156
- HE-Byte: https://he-byte.uk/schools-bill-2022-england/?fbclid=IwAR1tYTEoKgiz0AfC3vzdPhYOpRr96LREmbfgtTqihoJonYWJHBYt7WM9xXM&fs=e&s=cl
- Ed Yourself: https://edyourself.org/news/index.php#NSbill2
General articles on the bill:
- Campaigners warn against ‘dangerous’ register of children not in school – schoolsweek.co.uk/campaigners-warn-against-dangerous-register-of-children-not-in-school/
- Schools Bill: DfE scraps academy power measures after backlash: https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/schools-bill-dfe-scraps-academy-power-measures-after-backlash?fbclid=IwAR0uV9ntNsdaEwqM4tri1TtSYErUiiMhijarcvedI4kAuoAGVUoFU589yc0&fs=e&s=cl
- Schools Bill: Everything you need to know – https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/schools-bill-everything-you-need-know
- Schools bill: Ex-ministers line up to criticise DfE ‘power grab’ – https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-bill-ex-ministers-line-up-to-criticise-dfe-power-grab/
Rethinking education: Why we should all be profoundly concerned about the Schools Bill (skip first 7 mins, but really worth a listen) – https://soundcloud.com/rethinking-ed-podcast/re38-schools-bill?fbclid=IwAR0xDtp3T2HSzvYnY6rqzfyUpAiSp7LKInW6LtrPb9IThIXb6QCKJglXHas