Children, Schools and Families Bill
Parent and pupil guarantees
We welcome the requirement that the Secretary of State set out specific entitlements which pupils and parents are entitled to expect from their school. However, we have some concerns about the details of the plans. We recommend that the Secretary of State ensures that the entitlements fully reflect the relevant international human rights standards concerning the child's right to education and the rights of parents in relation to their children's education. We also suggest an expanded list of people to consult when drawing up the entitlements. In our view Article 6 of the ECHR may well apply to certain types of entitlement. We therefore have concerns that there will not be access to an independent and impartial court or tribunal of full jurisdiction.
Mandatory sex and relationships education
We welcome the proposal for mandatory sex and relationships education, with a parental right to opt out the child if the child is under the age of 15. However, we recommend the parental right of withdrawal should be limited by reference not to a child's age, but to the concept of "Gillick competence". We call for more research on the respective proportion of boys and girls who are withdrawn from sex and relationships education in order that a proper equality impact assessment can be carried out.
We are pleased that the Government has accepted that the teaching of sex and relationships in faith schools must present material that is accurate and balanced, must reflect a variety of views, must not present that faith's views as the only valid views, and must promote equality and diversity. However, we are concerned about the principle that PSHE be taught in a way that is appropriate to the religious and cultural backgrounds of the pupils. This may lead to teaching which is incompatible with the rights of certain children to respect for their private and family life and not to be discriminated against in their enjoyment of that right and their right to education on grounds of sexual orientation, birth or other status.
The Bill makes provision for the Secretary of State to introduce a licensing scheme for teachers. The Government does not consider that the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions is engaged because it does not consider that a licence, or the right to practise as a teacher, will be a "possession". We do not agree with this view. The Government argues that, even if teachers' right to practise their profession does amount to a "possession", the interference would be justifiable as a proportionate measure with the legitimate aim of improving the quality of teaching. In principle this may be true. However, there is too little detail on the face of the Bill for us to be able to assess the merits of this argument. We recommend that more detail of the proposed licensing scheme be put on the face of the Bill. We also recommend that the Bill be amended to provide a right of appeal to a genuinely independent appellate body.
Reporting of family court proceedings
We are concerned about the proposals to enable wider reporting of family court proceedings. We recommend that the Bill be amended to include an express restriction on the publication of information where such publication would not be in the best interests of the child.
Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
We publish without comment two human rights memoranda that we have received from the Government concerning its amendments to the Bill relating to MPs' expenses and reform of the voting system.