A Bill passing through the House Of Lords wants to give local authorities greater powers to monitor home schooled children in order to prevent instances of neglect and abuse. The proposals raise serious concerns about further state intervention at a time when social work malpractice and resource drained child protection departments are at an all time high.
The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill, sponsored by Labour peer Lord Soley, outlines a duty on parents to register their children if they elect to home school them, and local authority powers to monitor, vet and assess home schooled children:
Duty of local authorities to monitor children receiving elective home
(1) The Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 436A (duty to make arrangements to identify children not
receiving education), insert—
“436BDuty of local authorities to monitor children receiving elective home
(1) Local authorities have a duty to monitor the educational, physical and
emotional development of children receiving elective home education
in their area.
(2) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must register the
child as such with their local authority.
(3) Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective
home education in their area (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”).
(4) The assessment set out in subsection (3) must monitor the—
(b) physical; and
(c) emotional development of each child.
(5) The assessment may include—
(a) a visit to the child’s home;
(b) an interview with the child;
(c) seeing the child’s work; and
(d) an interview with the child’s parent.
(6) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must provide
information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when
(7) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory
(a) the arrangements for parents to register a child with their local
authority under subsection (2); and
(b) the methodology of the assessment.
(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is
subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of
(9) In this section “elective home education” refers to education given to a
child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them
outside the school system.”
In an interview published today, on Politics Home, Lord Soley explains why he has chosen to offer the proposals in his Bill. Soley tells Politics Home that the measures are designed to protect children who have been expelled from conventional schooling for under achievement or difficult behaviour, those not receiving adequate education from their parents at home, and children who have been removed from mainstream education in order to be radicalised, trafficked or abused.
If that is really what Soley wishes to achieve, he won’t with this Bill. Asking social workers to take on what is essentially a teaching role in order to assess educational attainment of home schooled children will create more misery and confusion. The task requires social workers to also carry teaching diplomas, and the extra training that social workers will inevitably have to undertake will cost the government a fortune.
And it won’t be money well spent. If Lord Soley hopes to create a new ground upon which child protective services can enter homes, essentially with the purpose of vetting families – because that is really what this Bill is about – he will be opening up a can of worms.
The current tug of war between social workers who are increasingly calling on the government to stop taking children into care, and the Department for Education’s aggressive drive to rev up adoptions through private agency models waiting to make massive profits off the backs of vulnerable children (and offering these children nothing in return), makes this Bill both naive and dangerous.
We already have systems in place to ensure that vulnerable children are identified, but they are not working as they should because social work training and the culture inside the social care system is not efficient enough. It is also riddled with unethical behaviour and malpractice. This Bill would not make identifying abuse more efficient, it would simply offer more opportunities for miscarriages of justice whilst councils continue to rely on adoption incentives to bolster their budgets.
Lord Soley does not have an extensive background in child welfare. Most of his experience centers around government body reforms, with the exception of his involvement in the Draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill (Joint Committee), in 2005, as Chair for the Committee. And though we are sure he means well, and genuinely wishes to protect the rights of every child in the UK, measures to protect those rights must always be viewed within the current state of affairs inside the child welfare sector. That is often a large and complex task, which requires a nuanced understanding of the many different factors at play, at any given time.
As a Private Members’ Bill, these proposals are unlikely to be implemented and ratified into law. But it serves as an important reminder that anyone who wishes to improve child protection and secure the rights of every child can only do so with a complete understanding of the system itself.