Schools

Home education register plan ‘blocked’ from King’s Speech

Top DfE boss suggests long-promised plans for register of children not in school were put forward to become law in the next year

Top DfE boss suggests long-promised plans for register of children not in school were put forward to become law in the next year

Susan Acland-Hood

Long-promised plans for a register of children not in school were submitted for inclusion in the King’s Speech but blocked by Downing Street, a senior Department for Education official has suggested.

The policy was supposed to be enacted by the schools bill brought forward last year by Boris Johnson’s government. The bill itself was scrapped last autumn, but ministers insisted they remained committed to introducing a register when Parliamentary time allowed.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan and DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood were quizzed today on why they did not submit the bill for consideration in the speech delivered at the state opening of Parliament, which sets out the government’s priority for the forthcoming year.

But in response, Acland-Hood told the education committee that “what’s in the King’s Speech is not the same as what we tried to get into the King’s Speech”.

Policy had cross-party support

It comes amid soaring absence and home education rates in the wake of the pandemic, and despite the fact ministers have made boosting attendance one of their top priorities.

Helen Hayes MP, the shadow children’s minister, said it was “shocking that Rishi Sunak appears to have blocked a register of children not in school from the King’s Speech, despite cross-party support and a request from the DfE.

“Last year more than one in five children were persistently absent from school. Some will have not returned to school since the pandemic, but the government has consistently failed to prioritise getting them back to school.

“Every day of learning matters for our children and young people, to set them up to achieve and thrive.”

She said if the government did not act, the next Labour government “will legislate to identify children out of school and ensure families and schools get the support needed to guarantee an excellent education for every child”.

Backbench MP takes matters into her own hands

The government also missed an opportunity to enact the legislation by supporting a private members’ bill put forward earlier this year by Conservative backbencher and education committee member Flick Drummond.

Asked why the bill did not receive government support, Keegan said her “understanding was that it was a procedural matter”.

“There wasn’t long enough, actually, for the bill to go through. That was the understanding I have.

“But we are fully supportive of the desire to do it and we are very much looking forward to getting this done. But of course we just need to make sure there’s enough time in the Parliamentary timetable.”

Drummond revealed she will make another attempt to bring in the legislation as a “presentation bill” next week, and Keegan if she would have government support.

“We will absolutely be supporting…we’ve been supporting it all along but we need to make sure we’ve got that approach that can be successful,” she replied.

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, said an officially maintained register “will safeguard children. Without it, there is a danger of children becoming lost outside the system and children at risk being missed.

“It was disappointing that no provision was made for introducing this register in the King’s Speech after it had formed part of the government’s abandoned education white paper. We would urge ministers to think again and prioritise this in the new year.”

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