Down the plug’ole (for now)

15 April 2010 by Jennifer

In the first week of April, the section on home-based education from the proposed Children, Schools and Families Bill was ditched in the “wash-up”. This is good news, as far as it goes.

So Schedule 1 is gone… for now.

The fact that it went out in the wash-up rather than being fully debated does rather give it the flavour of “Saved by the bell”. But still, at least it gives unschooling families a little bit of breathing room, in which to do yet more education on the subjects of misleading stereotypes, dubious statistics and the principles of risk management…

The “wash-up” is a phase just before an election, where there’s no time to debate properly the half-finished Bills, and so the Government and Opposition get together in private and agree which bits can just be boshed through quickly. The work of many people had ensured that the Government knew by now this wasn’t one of those bits :-)


Among the Parliamentary people who did most to cause this commonsensical and welcome result were

  • Graham Stuart MP (Conservative)
  • Lord Lucas (Conservative)
  • Michael Gove MP (Conservative)
  • Annette Brooke MP (Lib Dem)
  • Mark Field MP (Conservative)
  • Oliver Letwin MP (Conservative)
  • Charles Walker MP (Conservative)
  • David Drew MP (Labour & Cooperative)
  • Caroline Flint MP (Labour)
  • Kate Hoey MP (Labour)
  • Nick Gibb MP (Conservative)
  • Tim Loughton MP (Conservative)
  • Edward Timpson MP (Conservative)
  • David Laws MP (Lib Dem)
  • Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative)
  • Sandra Gidley MP (Lib Dem)
  • Elfyn Llywd MP (Plaid Cymru)
  • Andrew Turner MP (Conservative).

Edited to add more people who helped (see comments):

  • Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem)
  • Baroness Walmsley (Lib Dem)
  • Baroness Verma (Conservative)
  • Lord Alton (Cross bench).

Thanks all of you. Thanks for listening, and thanks for your imaginative thought about how the proposed law would play out in practice, and thanks for your willingness to question Mr Badman’s dubious stats and not take his conclusions at face value.

Thanks too to anyone else on the Parliamentary side who, unbeknown to me, contributed to this result. (Feel free to add other thanks in the comments. The list above was compiled with help from other home ed parents, but it’s not definitive. But even if we list everyone we know about, there may be people who helped without any of us knowing.)

Thanks to writers and researchers Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison for their highly relevant submission to the Select Committee.

And thanks to everyone from EHE communities who took time to do original research, crunch statistics, write, strategise, have picnics! and ultimately educate our representatives. It’s been a long hard slog to get this far and it’s not over, but hurrah for our tenacious efforts, and for how well we’ve all managed to work together despite our diverse and sometimes contradictory ideas.

Ed Balls: “we’ll be back”

So the dangerous, expensive and distressing consequences of this poorly-thought-through legislation have been staved off for a while. But according to this article in the Times, Ed Balls has already said (to Michael Gove) that Labour will resurrect it if they get back in:

It is our very clear intention to ensure that all the measures you have rejected are included in a new bill in the first session of the new Parliament.

This utter determination not to learn anything from the previous discussions unfortunately gives all unschooling families a compelling reason not to vote Labour (if there weren’t enough already…).

On the other hand, I’m wary of David Cameron too.

Slightly disconcertingly for a lifelong almost-anything-but-the-Tories voter, I’ve actually found myself agreeing with some of what he’s said (e.g. about measuring quality of life alongside GDP). And on gay rights, he’s come a long way from Mrs Thatch (though it might be a while before we hear him say “queer” or “polyamory”, and, inconsistently, he doesn’t support same-sex marriage).

But I also gather he’s super keen on building more prisons and putting people in them (though in practice they might not actually be able to afford it). I think that’s utterly wrong-headed, given how many people currently in prison should really be getting help with mental/emotional illness, and support to function in the outside world. And if he’s got that so wrong, what else has he got planned that I don’t even know about yet?

So whoever forms the next Government, I hope their majority’s going to be thin enough to make them very cautious about introducing any more half-baked schemes.

Legislate in haste, repent at leisure

However, just when we may have entertained the thought that the Labour Party was a lost cause, at least we get this stonking speech from Fiona MacTaggart MP, in the debate on the Digital Economy Bill.

Unfortunately the Digital Economy Bill did get through the washup. (Nathaniel Tapley with a writer’s perspective on why the D.E. Bill is a Bad Thing. Steve Lawson with a musician’s perspective on why the D.E. Bill is a Bad Thing. More background from Steve L.)

But F McT’s speech isn’t all about that particular Bill, anyway; it’s also about the whole process of Government.

A little extract from the Hansard transcript of it:

If we allow this Bill to go through in this way… we will demonstrate that the public are right to think that we are pretty pointless, and that we do not have the courage of our convictions.

… However important the Bill is, it will be just as easy for a new Government to say, “We will put in place these building blocks” if they are so essential. It is just not acceptable for the Opposition Front Benchers to say, “Whoops! If it doesn’t work, we’ll come back with something a month later.” They are actually saying, “We’re not prepared to do our job.”

I recommend watching the video of this speech. Even though the topic is malfunctioning processes, thus arguably not very cheery, I found it cheering and enlivening to hear sense being spoken about it, and I liked the way Ms MacT made her points. It’s just under 10 minutes long.

Badly prepared laws

That links up with this pointy article from a little while ago, based on Lord Butler’s Better Government Initiative: Ministers passing too many ‘bad’ laws, say ex mandarins. No kidding!

The report says: “There has been too much legislation in recent years, some of it has been unnecessary and too much of it has been badly prepared.”

… a higher proportion of Bills now enter Parliament incomplete, poorly explained, and requiring substantial amendment.” …

The group’s report says … governments have created “perverse incentives” and “unintended consequences of targets and performance indicators”. …

It criticises “excessive bureaucracy in prescribing new systems or procedures” and “a ‘tick-box’ culture in which complying with the rules replaces responsible judgment and individual discretion”.

Recognition of complexity

As Annette Brooke put it, in January’s debate on the Children, Schools & Families Bill:

… I understand home educators’ concerns. It is a complex topic, which needs time. We should deal with it step by step, starting with the important subjects of support and training. We should be wary of a registration scheme, which could represent the most heavy-handed approach and perhaps destroy some imaginative education.


… before rushing into legislating, one needs to work on the culture and training. Indeed, I cannot understand why the support that is to be introduced needs legislation.

Step by step, taking time, recognising a complex subject? That would be good.

This time… we had a lucky escape.

Top of article
Ed Balls: “we’ll be back”
Legislate in haste, repent at leisure
Badly prepared laws
Recognition of complexity

6 thoughts on “Down the plug’ole (for now)”

  1. The wash-up is one of the few counterbalances to the Party Whip system. You have thanked Caroline Flint and I think her Committee speech was not insignificant, but her vote followed the Whip, didn’t it?

    Personally, I’m not convinced DCSF weren’t ready to lose home ed in the wash-up for quite a while, after all they lost quite a bit in the last wash-up.

    The experienced civil servants know how it works.


  2. I think Caroline Flint was very brave to say what she said, and deserves our thanks. I realise she wasn’t brave enough to vote with her convictions, and that is a huge indictment on the party whip system, but I think thanking people for what they did do, rather than berating them for what the didn’t, is the way to keep them on side. I was angry at the time, but if we reward the good behaviour, maybe she’ll go a step further next time. If she’s around next time.

  3. Can we also thank Baroness Verma, Baroness Walmsley and Lord Alton too.

  4. Yes I agree with Jill and what about Lord Lucas, I know some think he has another agenda but I he did do a lot for us. Thanks for this Jennifer, must have taken a lot of work.

  5. We ought not to forget Tim Farron (Lib Dem MP) who also produced a supportive EDM. I appreciate most of us thought it wasn’t as good as Mark Field’s it would be a shame to leave him out.

  6. Thanks for the additional suggestions – have just put in an extra bit to namecheck those people too. (Lord Lucas was in the list already.)

    Ruth, yes I agree that we can thank people for what they contributed even if they didn’t go as far as we might have hoped or wished. There’s probably no-one on the list that we couldn’t criticise for something.

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