Why we should all be profoundly concerned about the Schools Bill,
featuring Dr Naomi Fisher, Ellie Costello (Square Peg), and Dr James Mannion
NOT FINE IN SCHOOL join with SQUARE PEG to oppose the Schools Bill 2022
We are all agreed that children have the right to an education and to the protection of the State should there be failings in this regard, however this Bill is not the way to deliver on this ambition.
We must pull back from the threshold at which we find ourselves. The Government’s solution to straight-lace an already problematic response to attendance barriers children and their families face, in criminalising parents, does not solve the problems nor remove the causes of the barriers.
Attendance difficulties is the lens through which all challenges faced by local authorities, schools, health and care providers, children and families can be seen. It is the nexus which spotlights gaps in welfare, local services, health and mental healthcare, housing, employment, transport, social care and of course, education.
There is an opportunity to remove Dickensian truancy laws but instead this Bill combines a toxic mix of autonomous rule without regulation nor scrutiny and doubles down to ensure attendance officers’ jobs are more efficient and effective. Children and families are certainly not at the centre.
"Say no to the surveillance State, to ever rising numbers of families investigated by social services and the criminalisation of children, young people and families. Say no to blaming and scapegoating children, young people and families for failings of society and the school system."
The DfE need to address the reasons why children and young people do not feel safe or respected in schools, and do not feel their learning is meaningful or relevant. Equally, if the DfE ensure that schools work to support rather than penalise those children already struggling to attend, to rebuild connections and a sense of belonging, they are likely to see absence fall and attendance rise.
Davies and Lee (2006, p.208) suggest that school absence as self-withdrawal is evidence of a contractual breakdown. The contract being one where the young person attends and complies at school, and in return the school offers ‘a safe environment, meaningful and relevant learning, opportunities for association with friends, and dignified and respectful treatment’ . This contractual breakdown is occurring when young people do not feel safe, protected, respected, or dignified.
In recent years school-based harm has become increasingly apparent through various reports expressing concern about the impact of school-based factors which are detrimental to children’s wellbeing in relation to mental health (Mind, 2021); bullying (Ditch the Label, 2020); sexual assault in schools (Lloyd et al., 2021; Ofsted, 2021); provision and support for long-term physical illnesses (No Isolation, 2021); provision and support for pupils with SEND (House of Commons, Education Committee, 2019); and provision and support for autistic pupils (Totsika et al., 2020; Truman et al., 2021).
"Many of the children and young people who do not attend school regularly have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND); some have moderate or severe mental health problems. There are parents, often of children on the autism spectrum or with anxiety disorders, who, try as they might, simply cannot get their children in to school. They are particularly vulnerable families. Many have received repeated fines and threats of prison."
The Schools Bill proposals continue to enforce the punitive response to school absence viewed as ‘truancy’.
When parents attempt to resolve attendance problems they often fail because existing policies, systems and attitudes are not supporting their efforts. Therefore, it is inappropriate and ineffective to continue to enforce legal expectations which appear to be largely unachievable in the current context. Instead, it would be more appropriate to establish a different response which acknowledges the complexity and heterogeneity of school attendance problems. This approach should recognise that many school attendance problems reflect instances where our current education system is failing to support the needs of individual children. Where this is the case the punitive response to ‘truancy’ is clearly inappropriate.
"It is evident that the punitive approach leads to harm for parents, children and vulnerable families. It also appears to be ineffective in getting reluctant and fearful children back into the classroom. Our main conclusion and recommendation is therefore that the criminal law should not be applied to parents whose children do not attend school regularly. The distinction between a social welfare and a criminal justice approach is important: in the social welfare system the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration, this is not the case in the criminal justice system where the welfare of the child is only one of a number of considerations." (Epstein, Brown & O'Flynn, 2019)
On Monday 20th June 2022 the House of Lords continued their line-by-line examination of the Schools Bill. During this process, Baroness Brinton delivered this powerful speech highlighting many of the barriers and difficulties families experience when seeking help for school attendance problems.
The DfE need to move away from the notion of mainstream schooling as the only acceptable form of education. We need to embrace different forms of learning and accept that children have different needs and abilities requiring differing types of educational setting and approach.
The Schools Bill proposals will effectively make elective home education more difficult for families. This means where families have turned to home education as a solution to attendance difficulties, children who have already struggled to thrive in school environments, and those who have been failed by systems which should have supported them, are more likely to be forced back into those same one-size-fits-all environments and systems that have caused them harm and distress. Children and their families need more choice and flexibility, not less.
The Schools Bill aims to hinder families who home educate. The political discourse paints home education as a safeguarding threat (with no evidence).
The political discourse insists that all children need to be in schools to learn (the evidence says differently).
This video offers another perspective.
Concerns about the DATA Collection aspects of the bill
PDA Society statement on the SEND Review Green Paper (also discusses the Schools Bill)
The Proposed Schools Bill – Punishing parents for the inability of schools to facilitate a suitable education for all children
The Beastly Bill - "I’ve written to my MP. I don’t usually like to get involved with politics but the proposals in the School’s Bill are so horrendous I guess any voice will help."
Schools Bill: Ex-ministers line up to criticise DfE power grab. Draft law would make Nadhim Zahawi 'the chief education officer' for thousands of schools, peers warn by Freddie Whittaker in Schools Week
Schools Bill: Why everyone should be concerned, particularly home educating families
Cross-party coalition of peers cuts Zahawi’s chaotic Schools Bill down to size - writing in Conservative Home
Schools Bill U-turn is another fine mess written by Geoff Barton, general secretary
What does the Schools Bill mean for autistic children and their families?
State’s school power grab is a stake to the heart of family life - writing in The Conservative Woman
Home schooling and the thought police - writing in The Conservative Woman
Education: The Schools Bill makes radical changes by Howard Dellar
The Schools Bill: Children not in school register - July 2022
We’ve heard schools bill fears, but our end goal is unchanged, published in Schools Week
Lord Blunkett: Learning the lessons of the past to reform education published on The House (Politics Home)
Home Education | But don't you worry about socialisation? Written by a home educating, Educational Psychologist, in response to the Bill
Home education has been a basic freedom for most of English history. Why is this Government placing it under threat? - writing in Conservative Home
While the schools bill crashes, it’s our schools that burn - published in Schools Week
The government's school attendance proposals are bad news for kids - and parents: instead of addressing the SEND support famine desperate parents are faced with, the Department for Educations's answer is to coerce and bully them - The Independent
Campaigners warn against 'dangerous' register of children not in school: Move to amend schools bill to collect data on pupils' protected characteristics also questioned - writing in Schools Week
Government proposes children’s databases that would result in extensive data sharing and invasive questions about family life - published by Naomi Korn Associates
Schools Bill’s troubled passage through Parliament should give education sector pause for thought - published by Prospect
We must not sleepwalk into ditching the national curriculum - published by Schools Week
What's wrong with the Schools Bill?
What criteria will be used by Local Authorities to decide if a child is receiving suitable education?
What will be the qualifications and training of Local Authority employees that make the above decisions?
How will the Government ensure consistency and accountability of the above Local Authority decisions?
What happens if a Local Authority deems a child’s education otherwise to be unsuitable but a ‘school attendance order’ places the child, other children, or school staff at risk of mental or physical harm?
What happens if a child attends a school following a ‘school attendance order’ but then is excluded from that school?
How will the Government hold Local Authorities accountable for their decisions regarding ‘school attendance orders’, and how will the Government ensure any decisions are beneficial and not detrimental to a child’s education, development, and wellbeing?
Are Local Authorities allowed to give ‘school attendance orders’ for schools where attending pupils, parents, staff, or Ofsted (following full inspections or interim visits) have raised concerns relating to:
How much money will it cost to fully establish, implement, and review school attendance orders, and does the Government not consider it more appropriate to spend those funds equipping schools, and external agencies that support schools, to meet children’s diverse educational needs?
What is a parent expected to do if their child physically refuses to leave the house?
Keeping in mind the words ‘teach’ or ‘teaching’ are only written 12 times in the entire document, whereas ‘budget’ is written 58 times and ‘penalty’ 37 times, what are the values and ethos that has driven the Schools Bill?
Hannah Morris, Educational Psychologist