A new Schools Bill introduced in UK Parliament last month would award the Department for Education (DfE) nearly unfettered authority over homeschools.
The bill, which has passed its second reading in the House of Lords and is currently in committee, contains several measures. Some of those measures include consolidating schools under government-regulated “trusts”, where all schools will be subject to the same standards and funding.
But other measures include the creation of Children Not In School (CNIS) registers for children not in government-run schools. Parents of homeschooled children will be required to provide their children’s information for the register, along with curricular details for approval.
The DfE is concerned that “there is a risk for a number of . . . children that their education is simply unsuitable, because their parents are not able to educate them effectively at home, or the children are not being educated at all.”
That determination appears to be entirely at the state’s discretion; and, if the state finds the home education unsuitable, authorities could compel the child to attend a public school where the learning material is decided by the government.
In order to assess whether academy schools and parents are providing a suitable education, authorities will be permitted to conduct searches of property and electronic devices to ensure the school isn’t operating “illegally”, without the government’s knowledge.
“Subject to the passage of the bill, inspectors will gain a new power to ‘search’ for evidence of suspected criminal activity in relation to the rare cases of illegally operating schools, removing another loophole where evidence could be hidden in locked cabinets or password protected computers, out of inspectors’ legal reach.”
So, if authorities suspect that a child is being homeschooled without the parents registering, “these measures will permit inspectors to act in a more intrusive fashion”, and “make it easier for inspectors to enter a setting and allow a more thorough inspection to take place.”
The bill clarifies that “rather than being permitted to ‘inspect and take copies of’ documents found inspectors will be able to ‘search’ for evidence and ‘seize’ (take-away) what is found.”
In effect, “It will no longer be possible to avoid detection of this by, for example, locking documents in cupboards or not responding to inspector’s requests for entry to the building."
Another measure proposed in the bill would crack down on “unsuitable” teachers who are deemed guilty of “misconduct” and ensures that “unsuitable teachers are prohibited from the profession, regardless of whether they were currently teaching at the time of their misconduct.”
The bill does not define misconduct or unsuitability. While it recognizes the need for a “fair and equitable process for teachers,” that too is not defined or explained:
“It is vital therefore to keep the teacher misconduct arrangements under review, and continually look to improve the policies, processes and procedures that make up these arrangements.”