MEETING WITH LORD SOLEY 30 JANUARY 2018
On 30 January 2018, Lord Soley invited people who had written to him concerning his proposed Home Education Bill to a meeting at Westminster. I was fortunate to be able to attend. The following is not a transcription, but is based on notes I made of points raised by various people. Only Lord Soley’s comments and responses (in italics) are identified by name.
Lord Soley began by stating that he is holding the meeting so we can make our views known to him. People have written to him either in opposition to the bill, or because they have anxiety about it. There is no need to convince him that Home Education is a good thing, as he already believes that. His proposed amendments are not about that, but about making provision for situations where home education is “not working”.
Points raised (by home educators) and discussed:
- Who will take responsibility in the case of a SAO being issued, leading to a suicide or self-harming?
- Local Authority are already letting children down. How would his changes improve that?
- Lord Soley’s proposals would address only the symptom and not the cause. We need to be asking WHY people are removing their children from schools?
- If there was a move to monitor home education, it should be done by an entirely independent body, and not the LA.
- The problem is that home educators have given Lord Soley and our government a “vote of no confidence” because there is no trust in them or LA’s. There is not enough understanding of HE, and they don’t have the ability to judge or assess home education or be helpful. Help looks like school, from their perspective. What is Lord Soley going to do to build trust? Resistance exists because of mistrust, and Home Educators are also mistrusted by LA’s. (Lord Soley asked how many in the room don’t trust LA’s – the majority raised their hands)
- Lord Soley: An independent mechanism for appeal is necessary for families where LA are out of order, and overstepping their remit/prosecuting unjustly.
- LA’s are currently losing tribunals because they don’t want to fund SEN. Legislation makes provision for help and support, but is not being adhered to by LA’s.
- We already have legislation to provide for the various scenarios being used for the purposes of trying to push this bill.
- Entering family homes is a serious breach of civil liberties. (Lord Soley: Rights of parents need to be balanced with awareness of risk to children in some cases)
- Those in power are not really interested in what children have to say, despite their words to the contrary.
- How would support be put in place? How could the Bill provide for support? (Lord Soley: would look to see what guidance could be provided for support – exams, independent body for appeal, etc)
- State does not make a good parent. Parents are being criminalised, the bill would make the haystack bigger – creating a lot of unnecessary work. Cost of visit to home educating families is £900. An example was given of Birmingham offering comprehensive support to home educating families without collecting data, or expecting registration.
- Lord Soley: Concerns about children not ever in school, abuse/neglect is difficult to deal with. “Sad, Bad, sometimes mad” parents, who are very devious about covering up abuse. Used example of trafficking, school picks up problems, and signs of abuse. Children can disappear with trafficking.
- Registration to “ease checking” – need to be very careful about this. Children are registered from birth, can be traced in this way. (Lord Soley: They are not known for school)
- Lord Soley: schools and LA’s can be problematic, failing in key areas, but very difficult to tackle those problems. Brought up cases where people have written to him of their own experiences as HE children – some have had bad experiences. Not everyone makes use of support groups. Need to find a way to help those who are struggling. Another problem is children taken out of school, and put back in again, and sometimes removed again. If you want to protect something, you have a law to do it. If you have a law with support for home education, it would be much harder to get rid of home education. The right legislation protects rights. We need to think it through – don’t react too quickly.
- Talking about support is great, but where will the money for support come from? (Lord Soley: Money issue is crucial, but longer term answer is to get legislation through, and then look at guidance to get some resources to follow it. Referred to other European countries with legislation – needed to correct him as to the situation in Germany etc)
- Money might be spent in a better way if you were to ask home educators what they really need. We already have support through the local groups. Newcomers are welcomed and supported. (Lord Soley: Thinks self-help could work, but groups need to come forward to offer help. Unaware of the networks that exist – some areas better covered than others *Lord Soley is of the the opinion that there are not many groups north of London, or in rural areas – he did not listen to us when we tried to tell him that there are groups all over the UK*)
- Registration should be voluntary for those who want the support. (Lord Soley: some people home educate not because they want to, but problems at school were so severe that they took child out. Quoted someone who said they’d “give it a whirl” as an example of parents being ill-equipped and unaware of their legal duties in respect of home education)
- What is your ultimate goal? (Lord Soley: My ultimate goal is to get a system through where all children have a link with an education authority so we know where a child is and we can have the basic checks) Deregistered children are already known, whether we like it or not.
- What evidence do you have that these “hidden” children are in need? Can you provide evidence that there is a problem that needs to be addressed? Without evidence of problems, how do you propose to enter my home and my child’s “safe place”, particularly where children are already visible. (Lord Soley: There are a number of laws that give the right to enter homes already. He thinks parents can handle a situation of someone coming into the home, can manage children’s anxiety. He thinks it would be worse to take a child to see someone elsewhere. He believes it is just a case of getting LA to do it well)
- Why should we not have the right to refuse? (Lord Soley: It’s about balancing rights, damage done if there are visits, but also damage done if there aren’t any)
- LA’s are already overstepping their remit, already acting beyond their statutory powers, to the extent of intimidating, and prosecuting outside of what the guidelines state. We have no faith that changes to the guidelines will be adhered to. We have no faith that LA will respect the boundaries.
- Professionals are not listening. Parents who do need help, and do ask for help, are not being heard – get a lot of unasked- for interference. As long as we have that human element that abuses the system, the abuse goes both ways. You’re worried about parents abusing, but we’re seeing and experiencing abuse at the hands of these so-called professionals (Lord Soley: Do you think an independent appeal system against that kind of thing would help?) Response: Would support an appeal system that parents don’t have to pay for. They need to have recourse, someone who speaks up for them. Patronising society that assumes parents know nothing, and experts know everything. That has to be addressed.
- Children who have been deregistered – there already exists a route by which LA can follow up. If you’re concerned about those who are not registered, are you also going to concern yourself with under 5’s and children during school holidays?
- “Bad, sad, mad parents” (Lord Soley’s words) – do you have statistics, or figures to back this up? I assume they would not register, and if they did, they would find a way to cover up abuse, as in cases of domestic violence.
- Where parents are home educating because they don’t feel they have a choice, this has to be addressed. We cannot ignore this. The problems with the education system have to be tackled. The system is letting people down. (Lord Soley: an appeal mechanism would help with this).
- If children’s needs were being met, parents would not be taking their children out of school.
- The law says parents have a duty to home educate – not right or responsibility, but a DUTY. Parents make that decision because the system is not working for them. Children are removed by parents to save them, because no-one else is listening. Parents are the only ones prepared to put themselves between their children and the damage.
- If we put our children in the system, and the system damages them, fails them, makes them unemployable, who sits with the consequences? The parent. The system only takes responsibility up to a certain point, and then throws the problem back at the family. We have to encourage parental responsibility, regardless of whether children are in school or home educating. Parents need to be more engaged, more responsibility encouraged.
- Lord Soley: Do you think there should be a need to see that a child can be numerate or literate? I believe you have to trust parents to know what their child is capable of, their strengths and weaknesses. It’s in my interests as a parent to ensure my child can read and write and hold down a job.
- I find it interesting that you ask about numeracy and literacy. The education system failed my children in that regard! What measure would be applied? What measure would you use to assess whether an education is suitable or not? (Lord Soley mentions radicalisation, which does not really relate to question)
- Funding – it’s not fair that funding might not be available for those that really need it, because it’s going where it isn’t needed.
- This proposal is happening in a vacuum. We need more debate on education system issues, the education system is falling apart – that is very much part of the wider picture and shouldn’t be ignored.
- Children in schools are being trained for jobs that won’t exist, yet you’re concerned with what we teach our children.
- Some LA’s do point people in the direction of local support and help, because they recognise how we can help.
- Expectations in respect of literacy and numeracy – research shows that it doesn’t benefit children to be subjected to formal schooling/supervised instruction too early. Can be harmful to children’s academic success. Home education works best for children who don’t learn best in formal environment. Requiring supervised instruction means you remove the child’s right to learn in a way they want to.
- Lord Soley is asked about his own personal experience of home education. Given his history, bills he’s attempted to advance, he doesn’t have our trust, as his agenda seems to be to reduce the rights of citizens. Home Education saves the taxpayer £45K-£50K per year.
- Lord Soley is “lumping” everyone together, and not recognising the different groups and issues within the label of HE. They can’t be subject to a “one size fits all” approach.
- Lord Soley has not presented any statistical evidence to back up his bill.
- What level of compromise are home educators prepared to accept to protect a small minority?
- There is not enough evidence or reason to overturn the presumption of innocence.
Personal observations: The general feeling from those I spoke to was that Lord Soley was not really listening to our concerns, and that the meeting was simply to “tick a box” for consultation. There were certain points that he seemed fixated on, even when attendees made valid arguments against them. He tried to make out that such a bill is inevitable, and it would be in our interests to accept it and help shape it (he wants to work with a single representative body – something most of the home educated community are opposed to). While he recognises that problems within the education system/schools have contributed hugely to the increase in home education, he is not prepared to address that at all. He is not interested in hearing about the abuses children have suffered within the education system, and that families continue to experience at the hands of overstepping LEA’s. Despite all the letters and conversations he’s had regarding the problem of misguided, ignorant, and abusive LA’s, he seems convinced that his bill would fix this. Essentially, from my perspective, a bill like this would simply replace one type of abuse for another, but would make it harder for parents to protect their children. There would be no guarantee that services would be fairly offered across all LA’s in the UK. In addition, Lord Soley was unable to promise that families would benefit in anyway from this bill, in respect of financial support, and other services. Home educators are already offering a great deal of support and help to each other. Lord Soley is saying that if the bill is passed, it might be possible to make a case for support from the government, but there are no guarantees, so it is doubted that he will be winning anyone over with this argument.