Schools Bill

In December 2022 the Department for Education confirmed that the Schools Bill was not going ahead. Secretary of State Gillian Keegan told the Education Committee that registration was still a priority area but said she could not commit to dates or times “because there is a process that has to be gone through”. Read the transcript here via this page.

Meanwhile in Autumn 2022 the government began to ask local authorities for “termly aggregate data returns on EHE children and CME on a voluntary basis.” Read more here

The government originally published the Schools Bill in May 2022. The Bill put forward sweeping changes to the way schools in England were to be run. Part 3 of the Bill contained proposals for the compulsory registration of children not in school – which the government called the CNIS Register.

If parents failed to register, the government wanted to use the school attendance order process ie parents would receive a preliminary notice.

The law on school attendance orders would have been changed. The current section 437 – 443 of the Education Act 1996 (for England) would have been replaced (for England) by new subsections 436B – 436Q directly after s.436A Children Missing Education. Now that the Schools Bill is not going ahead, the government has lost the means of making these changes.

As part of the new law there was also to be new statutory guidance for local authorities. Of course now there is not going to be any new law, there will not be any new guidance on the new law either.

Registration and monitoring was suggested in 2018 with a call for evidence but in April 2019 the government changed tack and since that point it has NOT been about home education registration and monitoring but instead about establishing a register of children not in school. The pre-2019 monitoring proposals DID NOT APPEAR in the Schools Bill.

Government amendments in July 2022 were a big improvement on the original Bill. A great deal more detail was put on the face of the Bill making it more transparent and less able to be changed later.

Schools Bill dropped [13.12.22]
Parents Duties after the Bill was amended in the Lords. [3.8.22]
Means by which child is educated plus plans for forum and new guidance. [20.7.22]
Big day in Lords when amendments were passed 18.7.22
What the heck happened in Lords last night 13.7.22
Amendments to register will make it less bad 11.7.22
First details of amendments to register 7.7.22
Finishing in Lords and going to Commons 30.6.22
Further discussion registration in Lords committee 25.6.22
Registration discussed in Lords committee/ 22.6.22
How do amendments work? 9.6.22
Early discussion registration in Lords 2.6.22
Registration concerns raised in Lords 23.5.22
New system proposed for school attendance orders 19.5.22
First post about the register 18.5.22

How A Bill Becomes Law

A law is a Bill until it receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament. During what is called “Passage of a Bill” there are specific opportunities for members of the House of Commons and House of Lords to debate the proposals and to ask questions of the Minister responsible for seeing the Bill through, possibly with a view to pushing the government to make changes. Click here for a useful link explaining parliamentary words and expressions and here for an overview of the bill process including explanation of ‘Henry VIII’ powers.

There are two main types of parliamentary scrutiny before a Bill becomes an Act. One type of scrutiny is called a “Reading” where there is a chance for any MP (or member of the House of Lords) to comment on whichever bit of the Bill they find questionable (they may have to get their name on a list in advance to be called to speak) The other is called “Committee”.

In the House of Commons the Bill Committee means that a selected group of MPs have the specific task of going through the Bill line by line. Typically this Committee may meet several times a week and you can watch on Parliament TV and subsequently read a transcript of the proceedings.

In the House of Lords Committee tends to be “Committee of the Whole House” which means that scrutiny is not hived off to a small Committee Room with selected members of the House, rather any member of the House of Lords can speak to the part of the Bill under scrutiny at the time, with the proviso as above that they will have to get their name on a list in advance to be called to speak.

Bills have to go through both Houses of Parliament before they can become law, but they can start in either House. It is to a large extent a timetabling issue to spread out the workload so everything is not happening at the same time with no space on the parliamentary calendar. NB if people are conditioned to expect a Bill to have to go through the Commons first, they might be quite alarmed when they see it is due to be debated in the Lords already, wrongly assuming that this means it is near the end of the process. The Schools Bill is one of the Bills which started in the Lords ie it would have to go through all the stages of Readings and Committees in the House of Lords before reaching the House of Commons.

A Bill typically takes around a year to finish going through Parliament. Since the first covid lockdown in 2020 we have got used to certain types of public health law being put in place at lightning speed but this is a wholly exceptional way to make laws and is only permitted in very specific circumstances. We also saw the cap on personal contributions to Adult Social Care being brought into law virtually instantaneously. Again this was exceptional and only possible because the measure were on the statute books already but had never been brought into force.