Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Meeting with DfE discussing Children Not In School

Notes from the meeting with Department for Education (DfE) regarding Children Not In School Consultation, in Coventry 10th June 2019

Please note: These are MY notes, they are my summaries, ‘take-aways’, understanding, paraphrasing and the general gist of the points made. Though it is in transcript-format, these are notes and are NOT quotes, nor everything that was mentioned.

A summary of the points covered is included at the end.

S – Stephen Bishop, DfE representative hosting the meeting. Mainly works with Independent schools.
A – HEr, against registration
B – HEr, against registration
C – HEr, against registration
D – HE child, against registration
E – HEr, against registration
F – HEr, against registration
G – HEr, against registration
H – For registration: Exwife took son out of school without informing him; did not educate child, and LA claimed to have no power to do anything (child now older). He wants to stop children falling through the net and thinks registration is a good thing.


S – Their aim: to hear from HErs what is problematic with the proposals, not whether we’re for/against them.
In Autumn, the government will be publishing the response document to the consultation.

C – How have you tried to engage children?

S – None. No effort to engage children.

F – In the Department's response to No4 of UNHCR statement it stated that you wanted to engage and involve children, before suggesting that many HE parents would oppose you doing so.
Northern Ireland have produced a booklet for children as part of their current consultation.

[Added Note Afterwards: 
We'd assumed Easy Read meant it was for children - but HedNI's take on this actually says:
"A note on the Easy Read Guidelines: "These are wholly inadequate. It is very important that people with language or literacy issues are able to fully understand the process which they will go through if there are concerns about the education which is being provided. We do not believe that the Easy Read Guidelines will provide that clarity, or empower families to insist on fair and legal treatment."]

C – Wales consultation produced a booklet and meetings specifically for children.
Teens etc are currently focussed on exams, GCSEs, preparing for college, returning to school etc. This is the second year in a row that there has been a consultation at this time of year, which is not considerate to the needs of children.

F – Similarly, it is difficult for parents at this time of year with national exams, so is asking a lot. Last year’s consultation was probably not compliant to Cabinet Office guidance.

S – In summary, we haven’t engaged children, it is bad timing for children and bad timing for parents. [Note – he repeated what we told him, as he wrote it down.]

F – In section 2.5, my concern is DfE only can guarantee promise kept that register is not a licence to HE so how are they going to make sure that is the case. Many HErs scared of scope creep. Secondary legislation doesn’t get treated with the same fine tooth comb, so the department has to guarantee that it doesn’t become a licensing scheme in the future. It should be renamed from “registration” to “notification”.
In Isle of Man, they came to conclusion that a notification scheme adheres better to human rights than registration.
Comparison to cars on road vs on private land; and TV for BBC channels vs other online channels

C – Parents are demoralised, it looks like a done deal, full of emotive and destructive language, thinking “what’s the point?” bothering to complete consultation. The government aren’t listening, and it feels like an attack.

B – What is the aim of the consultation?
To prevent radicalisation? Illegal schools? abuse/neglect? How will a register achieve these aims?

H – Exwife claiming to HE, against his will. She is not providing an education and LA agree, but have no power. He’s here to protect children and parents in his situation.

B – There already are powers.

H – checks should be more stringent.

G – There’s a conflict of interest between LAs and parents if LAs are monitoring parents.
Analogy: Sainsbury’s monitoring local grocery shops.

A – Except Sainsbury’s have experience and are qualified to judge, but LAs don’t have qualifications in education or pedagogy or child development.

C – Many LAs have part time workers, not focussed on HE, spend more time doing truancy, EWO etc.

B – Inconsistent across the country. Conducted a survey across the country and 52% of LAs are “neutral or worse”. Eg they doorstep, or don’t give enough notification. Lots of bad practice across the country.
There needs to be mutual trust and respect between LAs and HErs.

E – New guidelines produced in Ireland, working with HErs and HEDNI. There was more respect, more positive consultation and more understanding of issues.

F – DfE needs to know HErs better.

G – There should be a section in the DfE or a quasi-government group made up of people trained in HE or previous HErs.
An example of bad practice: first letter to new HErs contains the code SAO1, indicating that the LA regard it as the first step in issuing SAO.

C – Need to find common ground. We care very much about education; we spend a lot of time, money and mental load regarding the education of our children.

B – Need to get LAs working in partnership with HErs.
Currently there is discrimination due to name, religion, skin colour etc.

F – The relationship between LAs and parents was bad in the 90s and is getting worse.

B – LAs have no support to offer HErs. What incentive is there for HErs to engage?

S – Go through first proposal – Duty of LA to maintain register.

C – What is the purpose of the register? All kids that were in school are already known as schools must inform the LA when a child is deregistered.
The only new people the register will catch are kids who have never been to school, eg philosophical HErs who typically have planned and thought about HE the most.
DfE wants to hunt us down via Gps, dentists etc through datasharing.

H – how can you guarantee that children won’t be missed?

C – Every case ending in SCR, the child was already on a register.
Instead, you want to snoop on me, breeching my privacy, to find out about my children.

F – There was one case came to light last year in Wales where a child was hidden and abused (not Dylan Seabridge). The father was in a second relationship and appeared to manipulate/control the girl's mother. Such people are unlikely to register. During the investigation, an older daughter, by his first wife said he had also abused her. At the time she had been at school.
Back to LAs, what happens when staff changes? If there’s a bad relationship between LAs and HErs, then a register won’t solve anything.
G – Parents could stop going to dentists and doctors.

B – Some LAs are outright lying; they breech data protection; they refer to SS and threaten to take people to court. LA practices should be consistent across the country and the people need to be trained.

A – Who can LAs be reported to?
There is bad practice locally, eg a letter sent to an HEr at their old address, but they were doorstepped at new address. If the LA had the new address, why couldn’t the letter be sent there?

G – Will you invite examples of good/bad LA practice and letters?

S – Yes, copies of letters can be emailed in, but they are not in the scope of this consultation.
This is about “registration and support” only, not monitoring

S - Move on to discussion about Settings

C – Who is maintaining the register? HErs go to lots of places and setting for education. One person reported they go to over 15 different settings each week. It will be lots of work to maintain and keep up to date; unmanageable, onerous and annoying.

S – Is a museum trip an educational setting?

HErs – Yes

S – We need to define a “setting”

D – I don’t like what you’re saying in the consultation

C – D is working hard to complete the online consultation.
A general point – there is a negative impact of the consultation and media campaign on HE kids. The kids hear, read, watch etc others’ opinions.

G – One reason why number of HErs has increased is because of off-rolling. Need to look at schools and Ofsted, rather than HErs

C – Children are interrogated at the check-out or by a person in the street. It can impact the child so they may not want to leave home.

G – There should be a separate consultation just for children.

F – I have a big concern regarding data protection issues. The information needs to be as little as possible, and should not be shared. The DfE should do a proforma format.

S – Now discuss the Parent’s Perspective.

F – Section 3.4 says an SAO will be issued if child not registered. If it is a welfare concern, then the LA should start care proceedings. LAs don’t understand the difference between education and welfare concerns. In both Khyra I and Dylan S cases, they were both already known to SS. It was welfare concerns, not education concerns.

H – In my case, there is no sharing of info. The EHEO didn’t know about SS involvement until I intervened. SS are overstretched and underfunded, so unless they reach a threshold of ‘badness’ then nothing gets done.

G – In Glos, SS raised welfare concerns to retaliate against parents who made complaints. There is an assumption that you can trust bureaucrats not to abuse their powers, but that’s not true.

C – Education and Welfare are separate, but the DfE do conflate them in the guidance, so it is not surprising LAs get confused.
I gain nothing by registering, only inviting arbitrary interference.
If there’s a sanction for non-registration, once the LA becomes aware of a child, then the LA already has the info about that child!

S – Another logical fallacy?

C – Yes. Sanctions gain nothing, and being on a register is punishment enough.

H – Surely it’s there to protect children?

F – Unless it is spelled out to LAs that this is registration, not monitoring, we’re in trouble. LAs are watching their own backs, so veer on monitoring.

C – It will impact children. Those who HE will become defensive and suspicious. Those who don’t actually HE won’t care.
LAs should always start with informal enquiries. Some LAs will assume a register is a green light to go straight to s437/SAO.

H – Children can still fall through the net

L – How will a register make any difference?

H – It won’t. My LA says it can’t do anything because it hasn’t met the threshold, but they agree the education is not suitable, and they have no powers.

S – Can’t believe an LA says that. The law hasn’t changed and should be sufficient to intervene.
Move onto discussion about settings.
We need to define settings.

B – Who are you targetting?

S – The Evangelical Alliance has listed their concerns on their website.

B – There definitely needs to be clarification. There are many types of settings: local groups eg for 2 hrs/wke; tutor groups set up for specific subjects, sports groups etc

A – Lots of groups may close because they are run by HEing parents, and they don’t want to maintain a register.

C – Group organisers are terrified of Ofsted, having to become a data controller, having to register with ICO, etc. It will cause HE as we know it to collapse.

G – If an educational setting I take my son to is poor, I will fail as a parent due to the existing law.

B – Encourage schools to flexi-school for specific subjects eg maths or science, and everyone will be happy.

C – Many things can be resolved by talking if there is mutual respect and communication.
Why would a parent pay if there’s an educational concern somewhere?
Don’t sanction settings for not keeping a register. How do you stop a setting from saying “no children during school hours”?

F – If a museum runs a “school session” for HErs, does this need to be registered and reported?

S – No, this is not the intention of this. “Setting” needs to be defined.

C – What if LAs think everything is a setting? They will use their own opinions and can define terms differently.

G – Example of Ofsted person not caring about a safeguarding concern at a school, but was more concerned about a child who was recently removed from school, as school was the best place (ie ignoring concerns).
By causing settings to register, you only catch parents who facilitate a wide education, rather than those who keep children at home.

E – HE is relational and networking is important.

F – Registering only HErs is discriminatory.
This section is a response to rhetoric, whipped up by people who have an agenda against Jewish yeshivas and Muslim unregistered schools ande have involved EHE in their campaigns.
Legislation about illegal schools need to be separate to legislation about HE. Don’t conflate them.
A – Made a point about 18hours dancing/wk (for illustration, ignoring that it is after school hours). My girls would have to be put on a register, but not their schooled friends.

C – You are giving illegal schools a loophole, as they can move their hours to “after school” so they won’t need to register.

S – Move on to duty of LAs to provide support

B – Hampshire is a good example as they fund exams – Faregos

C – Mutual trust so HErs can be known to the LA, without being known.

G – Support needs to be more than just exams. Eg resources if something is a genuine need, ed textbooks, tutoring, internet…

S – a personal budget?

E – But what is the catch? Any offer of support needs to be optional.

C – It needs to be optional.
It comes across that LAs are nice because they want to trap you. Need to move to a situation where LAs are nice because they want to be helpful.
LAs need training, so they are not coercive.
DfE needs to get LAs to work with HErs and have a liaison department

G – Building trust is gradual

C – There needs to be an ombudsman/adjudicator, so parents can report an LA that oversteps their remit.

B – There needs to be a complaints procedure.

F – People complain they don't know about the outcomes for EHE children, but if DfE pays for exams, then they could collect information about the results.

B – Anne Longfield quoted wrong numbers when she talked about exams and the number of children taking GCSEs. At one centre alone, there was more HErs taking exams than she quoted for the whole country.

F – The Family Test, UNHCR statement and Equalities Log are poorly written. There is no discussion about the benefits of HE children outside of a school setting. The Equalities Log is prejudiced against some HErs.

S – Run out of time

F – How full are the other meetings?

S – No numbers to hand, but no session exceeds 20 people.

Summary of points made:

  • Consultation bad practice
    • Lack of engagement with children, and coinciding with exam season
    • Full of emotive/destructive language
    • Reads as if a “done deal” so puts HErs off responding
  • DfE needs to guarantee the register doesn’t become a licence to HE
  • DfE needs to emphasise it’s registration not monitoring
  • Conflict of interest between LAs and parents if LAs are monitoring parents
  • LAs inconsistent across the country
    • Some good examples
      • collaborating with HErs
      • Mutual trust
      • Exam support/funding
    • Some have very bad practice
      • Doorstepping
      • Lying
      • Threatening with SS/Court
      • LAs don’t understand difference between Education and Welfare concerns
    • LAs need to work with HErs
    • LAs need training about HE from DfE
      • DfE needs to work with HErs to know them better.
  • What is purpose of register? What will it achieve? What do HErs gain from it?
  • Huge Data Protection/Data sharing/Privacy concerns
  • Need for Ombudsman/Adjudicator that LAs can be reported to
  • Needs to be a complaints procedure
  • Need to define an educational “setting”
  • No sanctions for not registering
  • Registering will negatively impact children and groups
  • DfE should encourage schools to flexi-school
  • Registering only HErs is discriminatory
  • Support offered – a person budget,
    • needs to be without strings or a catch
    • needs to be optional
  • Family Test, UNHCR Statement and Equalities Log are poorly written


  1. Thank you for writing this up. Was there any indication these meetings were going to happen as part of the consultation or was it a surprise to be invited for replying to the consultation early on? Just it's the first I've heard of any meetings. It sounds like EHE concerns were heard which is good. I think it is about time the DfE listened to and met home educators. Best wishes, Rachel

    1. Getting the invite 2 weeks ago was a surprise, but if I think back to April when I completed the consultation, you have the option of giving your email address (which I did) and I *think* it said that you may be contacted for further clarification, or something like that. But actually getting the invite was a surprise, not least because there was only a couple of weeks' notice.

      At the meeting we asked how many invitations were sent out, and around 300 were sent, but it was implied that they were sent to the first 300 respondees, so anybody who wanted to take some time to think about their answers, would not have been invited.

      There was a second meeting in Sheffield on Tuesday, to which people were invited, and the third (and final) meeting is in London this coming Friday. However, due to so few people being invited, and of those invited even fewer were able to attend at such short notice, the meetings so far have had a very low turn out. I'm guessing the London meeting is the one to which 20 people are expected, which means there are currently approx 50 places available. I know some people who would like to attend have emailed Stephen Bishop at the DfE, asking if there is any space left.

  2. I told a white lie - I didn't have 2 weeks notice, I had 20 whole days! Such a difference!!!

    I posted about it on my FB page (you may need to C&P into the address bar): https://www.facebook.com/MusingsMiddleagedMum/posts/1161578184026192?__tn__=-R

  3. Thanks, we have physics iGCSE on Friday, (tomorrow) or I might have emailed too. However, it seems that your meeting covered the kind of points I would want to make. Having consultations over exam season is really annoying. It's so helpful to read about it on your blog especially for any of us who don't use Facebook, thank you.