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Government commits to updated guidance on home education in light of concerns over unregistered religious schools

Lord Soley, who introduced the home education bill, is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group

The Department for Education (DfE) will consult on new guidance around home education, it has been announced in Parliament. According to Education Minister Lord Agnew, the new guidance will aim to make clearer to councils what powers they currently have to check up on home education, as well as advise parents on their rights and responsibilities. It will, in part, seek to address the increasingly blurred line between home education and attendance at illegal, unregistered schools.

Humanists UK has been calling for reform in this area for some time, having driven the campaign to put an end to unregistered faith schools, such as the Charedi settings in Hackney and madrassas in Birmingham. Today it has welcomed the news, though reiterated that new legislation – not just new guidance – is needed if the problems related to home-schooling and unregistered schools are to be solved.

Lord Agnew’s comments came on Friday during the second reading of a Private Member’s Bill on regulating home education, introduced by All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group member Lord Soley. Emphasising that his Bill sought to strike a balance between the rights of parents and children needed to be struck, Lord Soley stated that some form of home education regulation was necessary because ‘unless we know what happens to children who are taken out of school and disappear or who are not registered for school, we are not doing our duty towards the rights of the child.’

Unsurprisingly, therefore, a number of peers contributing to the debate drew attention to unregistered schools, and to the obstacle that the lack of home-schooling regulation presents to tackling the problem. Both Conservative peer Lord Baker and independent peer Baroness Cadenvish echoed the comments of former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw in stating that ‘there is a clear link between the growth of unregistered schools and the steep rise in the number of children recorded as being home educated in England’. Labour peer Baroness Morgan noted that the ‘murky area of unregistered schools’ was being exacerbated by ‘significant weaknesses in current legislation’, a point raised repeatedly by Humanists UK in the past.

The fact that many illegal settings are religious in character was also a point emphasised by peers. Crossbencher Baroness Deech expressed concern about the welfare and rights of children attending ‘orthodox religious’ illegal schools, while Labour’s Education Spokesperson Lord Watson joined Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman in calling for ‘new powers to protect children who are forced to study religious writings full-time in unregistered faith schools.’

Lord Soley’s Bill will now be debated by a committee of the whole House next year. Details of the Government’s consultation on revised home education guidance will be announced in due course.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘A review of the situation around home-schooling is long overdue, not least given the link to unregistered schools mentioned by peers from all parties on Friday. It simply cannot be right for the authorities to know nothing about the education of tens of thousands of children in England, and to have almost no means to check up on them either. The Government is right to be revisiting this.

‘However, it has become clear that new legislation is needed to tackle this problem effectively, so the Government must go beyond merely updating guidance. Both Ofsted and local authorities have been clear that they don’t currently have the power to identify or close down the many unregistered schools they know are operating, so we will be urging the Government to take heed of those concerns and introduce the provisions necessary to protect the rights and wellbeing of children.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the full debate on Lord Soley’s Bill here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2017-11-24/debates/141D7347-083E-4EAF-9927-AD5283998B76/HomeEducation(DutyOfLocalAuthorities)Bill(HL)

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Ofsted calls for home education regulation to tackle illegal schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/11/06/ofsted-calls-for-home-schooling-regulation-to-tackle-illegal-religious-schools/

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘LGA calls for greater powers to tackle illegal religious schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/19/local-government-association-calls-for-greater-powers-to-tackle-illegal-religious-schools/

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘Children in illegal religious schools being failed, warns Humanists UK’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/03/27/children-in-illegal-religious-schools-being-failed-says-bha/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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