Sunday, November 17, 2013

Things that don't really add up.

  • The much quoted recommendation 4, from the Education Select Committee inquiry into Support for Home Education:

    "The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual conference for, home education officers, driven by those in the profession themselves, could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally, and in turn might consider issues such as accreditation and improved training for local authority officers." [My emphasis]

  • That infamous note, buried amongst the others in the Notes from the All Party Parliamentary Group Home Education Event, October 22nd 2013:

    "At the end of the meeting Graham Stuart MP offered to assist with the launch of a national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities to network and share models of good practice as recommended by the Education Committee.

    "This was widely welcomed and the next APPG meeting in February will take this forward." [My emphasis]

  • The comment from a home educator who was present at the above meeting:

    "It hasn't been mentioned since until Graham Stuart raised it as topic for next APPG when he closed the last one - there was no opportunity for any discussion." [My emphasis]

  • And finally, the Tweet from Graham Stuart:

    "There's been a bit of speculation lately about the Home Education APPG. The most recent group meeting, and the next one in Feb, will be invitation only. This is to help bring together home education experts from local authorities to set up a group to exchange info and expertise." [My emphasis]

Some of those selected phrases again:

"driven by those in the profession themselves,"

"offered to assist with"

"help bring together"

Are Local Authority officers themselves really driving the formulation of this new professional association? If so, I'm very puzzled as to why they seem to need so much help and assistance in so doing from Graham Stuart and the APPG.

Lisa set out her concerns about the process and organisation of the APPG very well last Wednesday (including a link to this worrying post) and indeed I have wondered about its purpose ever since it was set up.

This is stated as follows:

"To raise awareness of the subject of home education in Parliament and to provide a platform for a full range of views about policy on home education."

And yet in the case of this supposedly industry-driven new professional association:

"there was no opportunity for any discussion."

Even though, according to the notes, there *was* opportunity for it to be..

"widely welcomed."

And now the meetings are no longer open, while this professional association the local authority officers are supposedly driving is being set up. Where was the discussion, incorporating the "full range of views" for this incentive? Why is it suddenly a fait accompli, whether we like it or not? Why does it need to be dragged into existence by Graham Stuart, this new body which could so easily be turned against us?

I really hope I'm wrong, but I keep imagining a certain conversation between Michael Gove and Graham Stuart, in which the latter explains: "We don't need to regulate the home educators: we'll just organise the Local Authorities to do it for us."

It does fly in the face of what we thought we knew of him, but then he is the man who planned to "be upfront and have a high profile, not only within the constituency but nationally". And it could be said that championing the cause of home education has helped him to achieve this. Are his children home educated, if he is such a fan?

And if that imagined conversation does fall wide of the mark, then why else is this national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities being formed? Mr Stuart is not a stupid man. I'm sure he realises what it could do to us in the next parliament, if not this one.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities. What could possibly go wrong?

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education met last month, notes here. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky there are some notes available from these meetings and that they are open for any and all home educators to attend, in stark contrast with some previous conversations between certain home educators and government on the subject. To date they seem to have been discussing access to exams and so on, but the notes from the October 22nd meeting also include this sentence:

"At the end of the meeting Graham Stuart MP offered to assist with the launch of a national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities to network and share models of good practice as recommended by the Education Committee."

I gather that this idea is one that Mr Stuart has been pushing for some time, but I am puzzled about his possible reasons for it. To be seen to be doing *something* in an attempt to head off another Badman-type inquiry after 2015, perhaps? And sharing good practice does sound like a good idea. But would it stop there, realistically? How long before the members of this national body collectively start to identify 'problems' in staying within their legal remit in liaising with us? We already know, from their responses to the various consultations and reviews over the years that many individual officers would seek to extend their legal responsibilities over us if possible.

We also know from the Badman report the extra emphasis given to professional bodies in the collection of evidence and opinions for decision-making. So I'm just wondering why some home educators seem to be attending the APPG meetings but perhaps not arguing against the setting up of such a national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities, which would almost definitely become an effective, professional lobbying group *against* our current freedoms.

I am trying to keep an open mind and can see why the apparently worsening postcode lottery for local authority treatment of home educators might make such a national body look like a good idea. But I am worried about the medium and longer term outcomes from it for us and would love to better understand the thinking behind it.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

My thoughts on home education ID and membership cards

I've been home educating for quite a few years now, and the subject of home education ID cards has come up every now and again. People are attracted to the idea of using them to gain negotiated discounts and entrances and those who distribute them are perhaps attracted by the role of benefactor for whatever reason, or just want to be at the centre of things.

That's all well and good if everyone participating is happy, but could they be seen as a step along the route of mandatory home education ID? The gradualist approach of government takes what people have accepted as normal, then makes it official, then makes it compulsory. So you can start with some home educators joining a voluntary ID card scheme of their own making, and end up with this as a form of registration/regulation, with home ed ID cards being government-issued and dependent on certain hoops being jumped, and these then being raised ever higher, of course.

My children have benefitted from free home education, in pretty much every respect. It has cost us very little in either money or compliance, and it has still been possible, and enjoyable, and fruitful. It has been full-time, efficient and suitable to their ages, aptitudes and abilities etc as a more schooled education could never have been. We have deliberately avoided any kind of fund-raising and the compliance that comes with this, and have kept official intervention in our lives to an absolute minimum. I want my grandchildren - and all our children and grandchildren - to enjoy the same freedom, if they want it.

But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and part of this is to watch yourself, and be aware of how much free grain you might be eating, and whether the fence posts are quietly, slowly going in behind as you munch.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Elizabeth Truss is not our enemy.

On Monday of this week, the DfE produced some new guidance on school attendance, which effectively outlawed the growing practice of flexi-schooling. Elizabeth Truss has been named as the minister responsible for the decision, which has reminded me of a post I meant to write back in October 2012, when she gave oral evidence to the Education Committee's inquiry into Support for Home Education.

I'm sorry for any distress and potential upheaval caused to flexischoolers by the above guidance, but flexischooling is NOT home education. It is permission requested by parents and granted by school heads at their own discretion (until now) for authorised study time off-site. The school retains full government funding for the child's full-time education for which it is, in any case, answerable to the government.

When Elizabeth Truss spoke to the Education Committee, she showed an excellent understanding of what is meant by full-time home education in comparison, I thought. Certainly better than anyone on the committee and most of the other evidence-providers. Here are some short clips of her evidence, with the words she said in them pasted below:

video

(Alex Carmichael: How do you actually track success and how do you actually ensure that there is some sort of challenge in there, particularly if you don't actually know who these people are?

Elizabeth Truss: Let's be clear. We're talking here about purely educational issues. So it's 'Is the child receiving a suitable education?'

Alex Carmichael: But we don't know if the child is. We don't know, you know, where these children are. How do we know that they're being suitably educated?

Elizabeth Truss: Well, the point is, it's the parent that has legal responsibility to make sure that child has a suitable education. So it's their legal responsibility and if they're not fulfilling that - if it comes to the notice of the local authority, then the local authority have a duty to follow that up. But it is the parent's responsibility and I think we've got to be careful about legislating from Westminster to try and interfere with that current position because the more duties we end up putting on local authorities to register, you then take the responsibility away from the parents and I'm very clear that when parents make the decision to home educate for, in many cases very good reasons - whether that's reasons specific to the way they want to educate their child or whether it's issues at school - they have taken that responsibility on and it's the parent that is accountable rather than the local authority.)

I think it's important for home educators to understand the importance of what this government minister is now on record as having said. When we try to share the funding of our children's home education with local authorities and/or schools, we are also asking for the responsibility to be shared. And currently what protects us from undue local authority intrusion into our educational provision is the fact that we, the parents, are legally accountable for it. The local authority is not.

I feel I can't overstate the value of Elizabeth Truss's keen grasp of this position and the fact that in this, she is very much our ally - not our enemy.

video

("Because what we're saying here is, parents who have taken the responsibility to educate their children at home, that's their responsibility. It's not the local authority's responsibility. And local authority clearly have a responsibility to establish and identify children in the area that are of school age that aren't registered pupils at school and are not receiving a suitable education and if they hear of, or indeed identify where that's not the case, then they have a duty to follow that up. Well I think we're... in the question between, sort of, freedom and sort of tracking, keeping up with people, I think we're roughly in the right position and I don't think, um, given that there isn't any evidence that home education produces worse outcomes than other forms of education, I don't see a substantial reason at this stage, to change that.")

video

("I think that the balance at the moment is, roughly speaking, around the right place. So I think that we give home educators considerable freedom. We also give them responsibility to provide a suitable education for their children. We don't ask them to register. We don't have undue interference, which I wouldn't be in favour of, but at the same time we understand that it's a profound decision to educate your child at home and when a parent makes that decision they do have to take financial responsibility for that. I'm aware, the Secretary of State, when he came into office was pretty clear was pretty clear on the funding issue, given the general financial constraints the government face and in particular the Department for Education faces.")

It could not be more clear. As parents, we have full responsibility, set out in Section 7, for our children's education. If we do not wish to delegate this responsibility to the local authority and/or a school, then we MUST take full financial responsibility for it ourselves.

I speak as a single parent on minimum income, who has fully home educated three children to adulthood and is still home educating a further two. It can be done: I am doing it, and I have done it. Furthermore, I would recommend it to anyone.

If you want to watch the above evidence hearing in full, you can do so here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

"The Government wants to change the law so that all children have to go to school" - Consult deadline today!

It's not as dramatic as it seems, from the quote in the title. At least I hope not. The excerpt is from the children's version of a consultation about changing the Education Act in a part that relates to school attendance for travelling families (Section 444(6)) with a view to repealing it.

Nothing to do with Elective Home Education you might say, but the terminology and spirit of the documents is absolutely anti-home learning and pro-school. As any parent knows, children learn all the time, in all situations and often the most natural situation for a child's education is the most effective for that child. Education is not all paperwork, it's also computer work, craft work, industry, satisfying curiosity, finding questions and answers in a multitude of places.

We are all unique in our interests and learning styles, BUT we live under a government which has an economy to drive, and the education industry is very much a part of that. My fear, borne out by documents like this, is that the economy's needs risk over-riding whatever might be best for people including their freedom to decide what might be best for themselves.

My adult children have no qualifications and yet all do earn as much money as they want and need to earn. Instead of restricting their academic studies to those set out by someone else on a curriculum or syllabus, they have used their time instead to keep following their interests freely and hone their potentially commercial skills, which has enabled them to enter the workplace free of debt and contract, so they could partake on their own terms. I imagine this outcome is just as easily available to traveller families, if not moreso, and it is a option to be valued, not dismissed because it doesn't fit with wider international social and economic plans for us.

Section 444(6) of the Education Act 1996 says...

444 Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.

(6) If it is proved that the child has no fixed abode, subsection (4) shall not apply, but the parent shall be acquitted if he proves— (a) that he is engaged in a trade or business of such a nature as to require him to travel from place to place, (b) that the child has attended at a school as a registered pupil as regularly as the nature of that trade or business permits, and (c) if the child has attained the age of six, that he has made at least 200 attendances during the period of 12 months ending with the date on which the proceedings were instituted.

Some home educators I know are in touch with travelling families and have asked for their views on this. Their response has included concerns about the break up of families when men are travelling for work and children have to attend the same school consistently, and also about the lack of legitimate places for travellers to stay without being moved on for long enough to ensure the required school attendance.

In 2001 a Gypsy took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights for preventing her from stationing caravans on her land, a breach of her right to private life. The judgement included the following legal requirement:

..the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority means that some special consideration should be given to their needs and their different lifestyle.

- and the proposal to enforce full school attendance would breach this special consideration legal requirement.

I have also read the adults' version of the consultation and the wording is nearly as bad as the children's one:

Evidence tells us that regular, consistent attendance at school is associated with good achievement. To ensure that each child has the opportunity to achieve their best the Government is determined to improve school attendance for all children. We know that significant absence from school reduces the opportunity for children to fulfil their potential.

- and I want to challenge this notion that achieving one's best and fulfilling one's potential always necessitates qualifications, compliance and even excessive affluence. In whose interests is it all, really? High attendance might produce better qualifications, but might its dogged pursuance be at the expense of an entrepreneurial, innovative - but essential - element of society?

Other home educators speak of traveller friends being effectively prevented from home educating by prejudiced official interventions in their family lives (however well-meaning these might be) and feeling forced to register their children at school purely to relieve some of this pressure, even when their preference is to home educate and they are perfectly well able to do so.

Is this consultation evidence of a further move to phase out Nomadic living in England as it has been in the Nordic countries and elsewhere? Are settled, housed communities really so threatened by the mere existence of travelling people? I am currently reading a book about, amongst other things, the early coexistence of both nomadic and early farming communities and the problems and benefits both might have experienced as a result - are we still grappling with the same kind of dynamics as our forebears from 3,000 years ago and more?

If we are not careful, we risk Elective Home Education becoming a preserve of the elite, of which only "green light families" can avail themselves. This would be a wrong turn, in my view. Instead, we should embrace freedom and differences, and continue to let Traveller families dip in and out of schools at will, trusting them as much as any other parent to cause [their children] to receive efficient full-time education suitable — (a) to their age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs they may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

As my response to the consultation, I will be emailing a shortened version of this to the government. After all, if they don't trust Traveller parents, who will be next?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mission creep warning! CME guidance consultation - closes this Friday 15 February 2013 at 5pm

CME (Children Missing Education) is central government's statutory guidance to local authorities on how to interpret section 436A of the Education Act. A new version has recently been drafted and this is open for public consultation requesting an email response before this Friday 15 February 2013 at 5pm.

This section of the law was allegedly not intended to 'catch' or check up on home educating families and the first version made this explicit:

[Clip = 66 seconds long]
video
["The two sets of guidance were originally conceived to do two different things. I was involved with discussions when the first draft of that was made, of the Children Missing Education guidance, and the civil servants who we were dealing with assured us that this was not something which was being designed to entrap home educators. They assured us that the whole point of that exercise - giving the statutory guidance on section 436A - was to find children who had completely slipped through the net who were not receiving any education at all. It was not designed to target home educators in any way. And the first version of it actually said explicitly that this guidance does not apply to children who are educated at home." - Jane Lowe, giving oral evidence to The Commons Education Select Committee's inquiry into EHE support on Wednesday 5 September 2012]

Later versions were to lose this statement in an ongoing process of mission creep, although I think they did keep the link to the all-important 2007 EHEGLA, thereby rendering their non-statutory status de facto statutory. This new draft appears to have lost that link, which I think is worrying and in need of our urgent response.

In my view it's important for home educators to regularly check the CME guidance and respond to consultations when it changes because the guidance is often misused by local authority officers in their approach to home educators, so we need its wording to be very clear and unambiguous, especially considering Ofsted's role in inspecting local authorities' compliance with it. (See Fiona's response for more on this.)

The new draft guidance seems blissfully short and simple compared to recent versions, but I think it contains many problems, as follows:

  1. From the Introduction - overview: "The purpose of the section 436A duty is to ensure that local authorities can identify and return to full-time education those children who are missing education (or those at risk of becoming CME)." I can find no reference in section 436A which speaks of "at risk of becoming" and think this should be removed to prevent further mission creep.
  2. "The duty relates to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school admission register and not receiving a suitable education otherwise than at school, for example, at home." There is no such thing as 'compulsory school age', only 'compulsory full-time education age' and the guidance should use the legally accurate term throughout, instead of the false one.
  3. "Issuing School Attendance Orders (SAOs) to parents who the local authority believes are not securing a suitable education for their child" is the end of a process at every step of which the best interest of the child should be prioritised. If the authority believes a parent is not securing a suitable education for their child, government guidelines advise informal enquiry first.
  4. This guidance should reference and link to the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities for instructions in their approach towards home educating families.
  5. "Safeguarding duties, for example, visiting a family if they have concerns about a child’s welfare and poor school attendance and, if appropriate, making an application to the family court." This sentence implies a proactive stance which I believe is an incorrect interpretation of the cited section 47 of the Children Act 1989. My concern is that any proactive conflation of Education with Welfare may lead to home educating families being automatically treated with suspicion when there are no indications that their children are at risk of being harmed or neglected and their privacy and wellbeing suffering unnecessary damage from any such suspicion.
  6. "Children at particular risk of missing education" This whole section needs to be removed in my opinion as it contains items of prejudice and refers to the issue of risk itself, which is not mentioned in the section 436A of the Education Act. I think it should be the purpose of this guidance to interpret the law as it stands, not to facilitate mission creep.
  7. "Families moving between local authority areas can sometimes lead to a child becoming ‘lost’ in the system and consequently missing education. Where a child has moved, local authorities should check with other authorities – either regionally or nationally – to ascertain where a child has moved to and ensure that they are attending education or being home educated." I can see nothing in section 436A of the Education Act which calls for families' movements to be tracked around the country in this unnecessary way. Section 7 of the Education Act already sets out parental responsibility for the full-time education of children and local authorities should only address evident current failings in this. Tracking movement of families would go beyond this legal requirement and infringe on civil liberties.
  8. "Local authorities should regularly raise awareness of their procedures with local schools, partners and agencies working with children and families, for example, GPs and other health professionals, police, emergency services, children’s homes, Youth Offending Teams." I would like to take this opportunity to express a warning about the unintended consequences which may arise from too much connection between issues of health, education and welfare. This is the increased, so-called 'service-resistance' of families seeking to preserve the peace and freedom required for their wellbeing.
  9. I think this guidance should somewhere restate the original intention that section 436A and associated guidance should not be used to check or monitor Elective Home Education, because Section 7 of the Education Act and the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities already adequately cover this area.

    Local authorities can make inquiries of such families only where it appears a child may not be in receipt of an efficient full-time education as set out in Section & and the EHEGLA Guidance. Further checking and monitoring of home educating families may be damaging to their wellbeing and their children's interest in learning. The wording "where it appears" bears no relation to the term parents who the local authority believes are not securing a suitable education for their child. The former having specific legal meaning and the latter being quite arbitrary and therefore open to misinterpretation.

    I would like this guidance to state that when a parent states the child is home educated, the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities should be followed. I do not think the proactive seeking out of such families for checking or monitoring purposes is an accurate interpretation of section 436A of the Education Act.

The above nine points will form the main part of my email response to the consultation.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paranoid traffic lights

It has come to my attention that, according to a well-known fellow home educator, we are all categorised as follows:

  • "Pleasantly mad but thinking and competent;
  • The Real Loonies aka two short planks;
  • The God squad (very strict religious and we barely ever talk to them or hear of them);
  • Fluffy (very autonomous but a little vague);
  • Yes sir no sir (UK homeschoolers and their ilk who do everything they are told by the LA and live in a bubble);
  • The pioneers (people like xxxxx [name deleted] who were doing it ages ago);
  • The last lot (xxxx, xxxxx, [more names deleted] etc who were us 10 years ago); and..."

This would all be quite amusing and easily dismissed as the private ravings of one who even deemed herself and friends to be "Pleasantly mad but thinking and competent," [Really? Perhaps not so very competent, to risk the leaking of this! And I'm straining to apply the word 'pleasant' to some of the above categories and descriptions..] if it didn't come from a person who represents home educators in meetings with officials and politicians on a local and national level.

AND if it wasn't for the final category:

  • "The paranoid pack."

This also listed names (3) which I've redacted in the interests of protecting people's feelings and would not have even been posting this now, if it wasn't for another piece of worrying news that has reached my ears today.

A different member of the "Pleasantly mad but thinking and competent" group has been doing some further categorising, and is quoted as having recently advised a local authority to:

"Leave 'green' light families like mine alone and you'd have more time."

Well, I have some categorising of my own to do now. The people who campaign for and about home education seem to me to fall into one of two different camps:

The first camp, beset with rampant conflicts of interest, whose members seem to be mainly seeking to further their own position and selling everyone else down the river in the process (duly invoiced, of course).

And the second, which includes everyone else. Including - and especially welcomed - the 'paranoid', without whom we'd be in a far worse situation than we are now.

Is it 'paranoid' to worry about a Local Authority applying a traffic light system in its approach to home educators? Would the 'paranoid pack' always land in the red light? Might someone displaying delusions of grandeur end up there too, or instead?

Let's face it. By the time any such system has been fed through the bureaucratic mincer and come out of the other side, any of us could. For any similarly ridiculous or arbitrary reason. Even those who think of themselves as fully bomb-proof. I'm sure I don't need to start quoting Niemöller.

And that's why I hate splitting ("Splitters!") and the negotiating away of our freedoms by people who are supposed to be on our side.

I really wish they would be more careful.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Welsh consultation closes *tomorrow*

I'm writing my response now, even though I don't live in Wales. People from elsewhere are still invited to respond.

I've already apparently had some email correspondence 'retained as part of the consultation process' back in September when I emailed Leighton Andrews in support of the 'Not back to school' picnic held outside the Senedd then.

The response to my email came from the 'Pupil Wellbeing Branch' of the Welsh Government, and said:

The consultation provides the opportunity for all stakeholders, including home educators, local authorities and those who are home educated to comment on and inform further policy development of the proposals.

We will retain your letter/email correspondence as part of the consultation process. Should you wish to respond directly to the proposals set out in the consultation document you can do so at:

http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/education/registeringandmonitoring/?lang=en

In response to that, I said:

If my comments are being noted as part of the consultation process, please also note my unease about the term 'stakeholder' being used to describe the position of local authorities in children's lives. I don't understand why a local authority would consider it held a stake in a child's life.

Also 'pupil wellbeing' relates, surely, to school children only? Home educated children are not pupils and their parents are responsible for their wellbeing, as well as for their education.

And actually, I'm half-tempted to let that stand as my response to the whole thing, because it just about covers it all. But I received no response to that one, so can't be sure those particular comments have been retained as part of the consultation process.

Here goes then, the thing itself.

It begins with a foreword from the Welsh Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, in which he asserts:

These proposals are aimed at ensuring that those children who are home educated receive a suitable education.

Interesting on two counts. Firstly, what I've seen of the proposals, they'll do a better job of preventing that suitable education than they will of ensuring it. And secondly, Section 7 of the UK Education Act, to which I think Wales is still answerable, makes it clear that the ensuring duty belongs to parents, not governments. This is the point on which the whole debate hinges.

He goes on to state a second inaccuracy:

I believe the legislation surrounding elective home education has shortcomings because there is currently no legal requirement on the parent to tell a local authority (LA) that their child is receiving education at home. In the absence of this requirement, it is very difficult for LAs to carry out their duties to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education.

Local authorities have no such duty, so it doesn't matter whether it's difficult or not for them to carry it out. They shouldn't be doing it.

The proposals set out in this consultation document seek to introduce a structured approach as to how LAs and home educating parents engage with each other so as to ensure children educated at home receive a suitable education.

No need for them to engage with each other. The duty belongs to parents, not local authorities. The English Minister, Elizabeth Truss, understands this (about which, possibly more in future posts here). Why can't the Welsh one? It's an unusual legal position nowadays, but not a particularly complicated one.

I propose putting in place a statutory duty on parents to register with the local LA that their child is receiving home education.

.... with the local authority having the power to refuse this registration, making it a de facto licence to home educate. Which gives all the decision-making power over children's education to officials, on a quickly sliding scale between here and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. It usurps the healthy, natural parenting role and we reject it.

I believe that key to the success of these proposals will be to use existing powers to develop statutory guidance which sets out best practice for LAs when working with home educating families and encourages LAs and home educating parents to work together in the best educational interests of the learner.

I believe this will be legally challengeable by Welsh parents, because the existing powers set out in statute (unless that's to be changed also, which will cause interesting repercussions in the cases of school children receiving inadequate education!) do not allow for it.

Onto the 'background'.

2. Section 436A of the Education Act 19962 places a duty on LAs which consists of two parts. The first part requires a LA to identify (so far as it is possible to do so) all learners of compulsory school age in their area who are not on a school roll. The second part requires a LA to establish if such learners are receiving a suitable education.

Here's Section 436A:

436A Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

(1)A local education authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but— (a)are not registered pupils at a school, and (b)are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.

But the early versions of the Children Missing Education statutory guidance pertaining to this Section (until their sneaky amendment in the same month the Badman Review was launched) excluded home educated children from its remit.

We still have the shadow of this in the thankfully unrevised Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities, at the bottom of section 2.6:

The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.

I would like to see this clarity rightfully reinserted into the CME guidance, as was promised to us (see Jane Lowe, four video clips down in that post) in 2007, because its absence is causing no end of trouble for parents going about their lawful Section 7 duty.

Anyway, that's England. Back to the consultation:

3. The Welsh Government underpinned the section 436A duty with statutory guidance for LAs to help prevent children and young people from missing education.

Here it is, with a page on elective home education (74), including:

7.27 Parents do not need to seek permission from the LEA to begin home education, but must notify the governing body of the school; usually through the head teacher to ensure that their child’s name is removed from the school admissions register. However, if a child has never attended school, no permission or notification is required.

Back to the consultation:

Under the current system when a concern over the suitability of home education provision is raised, LAs can find it difficult to gather the evidence needed to verify the accuracy of the concern.

At least this admits that a concern must first be raised. I think this is a weak argument though, because it's a relatively simple process for Local Authorities to ask parents "We've heard concerns that your children might not be receiving a suitable education. Could you provide us with sufficient information to allay those concerns please?" (After which the parent might make enquiries as to which specific concerns had been raised) and for them to follow due process in issuing a School Attendance Order if the concerns were not sufficiently allayed by the information received.

As a result of this, the Welsh Government proposes the introduction of a registration system for home educated children.

I fail to see how this will help a local authority to simply ask for information to allay any concerns received. If we take it at face value, it doesn't make sense.

5. This consultation therefore focuses on statutory proposals to ensure that children who are home educated receive a suitable education.

It's not the government's legal responsibility to ensure this. It's the parent's. Even Section 437A does not change this.

Then we move onto 'The Issues'.

9. LAs are finding it difficult to identify and track, in a timely and efficient way, all the children in their area who are being home educated.

Sympathies, but I can't see why they feel the need to do this.

The main reason is that there is currently no legal requirement on parents to let the LA know that they are home educating. As a consequence, LAs are finding it difficult to fulfil their section 436A duty.

No. This is spurious. The duty only requires them "to establish ***(so far as it is possible to do so)*** the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but.." etc. As such, it looks like an excuse for universal, intrusive, unnecessary tracking, monitoring and databasing, which will actually impede parents in their Section 7 duty to provide a suitable education.

11. In order for LAs to fulfil their section 436A duty the Welsh Government believes that LAs need to know in a timely way which children in their area are being home educated. The Government believes that putting a duty on parents of home educated children to register with the LA will assist the LAs. A locally managed, formal register of home educated children will enable each LA to make more accurate assessments of the number of home educated children in their area.

And if - as is also proposed - the LAs have the power to refuse registration (which must be applied for annually, as in the Badman Recommendations) then they get to decide who home educates and how they will do so. In complete breach of Section 7 of the Education Act.

13. Identifying instances where a child is not receiving a suitable education can be extremely complex as by necessity the education system operates under a very broad definition of the term ‘suitability’. Case law has broadly described suitable education as one that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so’.

This is an automatic function of natural parenting which, the law allows, only needs to be checked and assessed by the state if concerns are expressed that the automatic function appears to be failing. Operating in an environment of blanket mistrust of all families benefits nobody, except those industries who would seek to profit from it.

16. It is anticipated that the following issues will be consulted upon in the separate consultation on suitability of education. • Is the education suited to age, ability, aptitude, personality and interests of the learner? • Does the education provide a balanced range of learning experiences, so that no one aspect of learning is emphasised to the exclusion of others? • Does the education develop the personal, social and emotional skills of the learner and prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood? • Does the education ensure the development of basic skills including language, literacy and numeracy?

And will these new stringent requirements also be placed on schools, with such close checks and assessments being made? Will schools be refused their licence to operate if they are found to be lacking in any of these newly invented objectives? Will the parents of school children be prosecuted for not meeting their Section 7 duties if the school they delegate them to can be shown to have failed them, in whole or in part? I suspect not. Only home educating parents (in Wales), not schools, will be kept to such tight, restrictive, prescribed criteria.

Onto the proposals.

22. The purpose of the register would be to ensure that all children of compulsory school age who are being home educated are known to the LA in which the child lives.

This can only be true if the LAs have no power to refuse registration, and here we have the power of refusal:

26. The LA would only be able to refuse a new application or revoke an existing registration in a very limited set of circumstances: • if the parent fails to satisfy the LA that they are fulfilling their duty under section 7 of the Education Act 1996 • if the LA becomes aware of new or existing welfare or safeguarding issues that affect the suitability and effectiveness of the education provided • if the parent fails to cooperate with monitoring and/or reasonable requests to monitor.

Conditional registration = licencing:

27. An application to register would trigger a requirement on both the parent and the LA to meet with each other, and with the child and home educator if different to the parent. The meeting should take place...

[This section goes on to state requirements for a whole raft of unnecessary and intrusive information about the child.]

And then a set of Badmanesque monitoring requirements.

OK, where are the consultation questions? Here, in a Word doc. Here's my reply:

Registering and monitoring home-based education Consultation response form

Please tick the box that best describes you as a respondent

□ Home educated ☑ Home educating child/young person parent

□ Local authority □ Organisation representing home educating families

□ Other organisation □ Other (please specify in with responsibility for box below) children (please specify in box below)

Please specify:

About this consultation

The purpose of this consultation is to seek the views on the Welsh Government’s proposals for the introduction of a compulsory registration and monitoring system for home educated children. This document asks questions relating to specific aspects of the proposals.

Question 1 – Do you agree that a register should be kept and that it should be a requirement to register if a parent elects to home educate?

Disagree

Comments:

I think this would breach Section 7 of the Education Act, because it impinges on the parents duty to ensure the provision and transfers it to the local authority.

Question 2 – Do you agree that if a parent fails to register or provides inadequate or false information then the child being home educated should be required to attend school?

Disagree

Comments:

Of course not. Only a judge should have the power to enforce school attendance as a result of a School Attendance Order. This system works perfectly well and does not need to be changed.

Question 3 – Do you agree that home educating parents should engage with their local authority to enable them to assess the suitability of their home education provision?

Disagree

Comments:

It's not the local authority's job to ensure suitability of provision, only to seek to allay any specific concerns about provision that may have been expressed to it. In this way, neither the parent nor the local authority struggles to meet its duty.

Question 4 – Do you agree that the initial meeting between the local authority and home educating parent and child should take place in the main location where the education is being provided?

Disagree

Comments:

There shouldn't be an initial meeting between local authority and home educating parent unless social services have demanded this on specific welfare grounds. Otherwise the family's privacy is unnecessarily breached.

Question 5 – How often should the annual monitoring meetings with both the home educator and the home educated child take place at the main location of education?

Never

Comments:

”How often should the *annual* monitoring meetings take place?” Seriously?

Question 6 – Do you agree that registration should be denied or revoked in the limited set of circumstances set out in the consultation document?

Disagree

Comments:

There should be no registration and therefore no power to revoke or allow it.

Question 7 – Do you agree the amount of time taken between receipt of application to register and notification of registration outcome should be no more than 12 weeks?

Disagree

Comments:

There should be no registration, and therefore no application or notification.

Question 8 – We have asked a number of specific questions. If you have any related issues which we have not specifically addressed, please use this space to report them:

Comments:

This space is too small. Please see my blog post: http://sometimesitspeaceful.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-welsh-consultation-closes-tomorrow.html for my further comments on your proposals.

------------------------

And here's Maire's excellent response also.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

So what *do* we want?

Part five in my series about last week's oral evidence hearing for the Commons Education Committee's inquiry into home education support.

This was, as others have said, the perfect opportunity to ask the House of Commons Select Committee on Education for whatever we'd like by way of support. As Graham Stuart said (in another glorious shot of the top of his head!) ...

 [Clip = 19 seconds]
 
video

["We on this committee, I think, admire independence of spirit and it's our job to question government, so it's a pleasure to have you with us. You heard the last session. Any immediate reflections on that? Bearing in mind what we do, which is make recommendations to government?"]  

And what came from that repeatedly from both expert panels was one single undeniable request from home educators to government and local authorities:

 [Clip = 88 seconds]

 
video

["It's been 24 years that I've been seeing the same problems happening over and over again in local authorities. And I'm convinced that a lot of it is because of the involvement of.. Behaviour and Attendance, Education Welfare.. whatever you choose to call it. That department. Attendance Improvements, it is in some places. And I cannot see why it is a routine procedure that (let's call them Education Welfare Officers because I think we all understand that term). Why should an EWO be the first person to contact a family who decides that they're going to withdraw a child from school? Immediately, it puts it in the problem category and to my mind, if there were somebody located in the library service, say, who was the person to whom the local authority gave the notification that a child had been withdrawn from school it would locate it in information rather than problems. I'm convinced that's where a lot of this trouble comes from, because EWOs are working all their working lives with people who have difficulties, in one way or another, with the school system. So it's going to be their mindset. So if that is something that could be considered as a policy.."]

Yes. Why does it always have to be that department? Good question.

 [Clip = 13 seconds]
 
video

["But what does cause the problems is who's going in first and this idea that you've got Education Welfare Officers as opposed to somebody neutral - that's the problem."]

That is the problem. After all...
  
 [Clip = 19 seconds]

 
video

["If there's a known problem with a child who is being withdrawn from school, you've already got agencies involved. So where is the need to assume that every home educator, every parent who withdraws a child from school, is potentially a risk to their child?"]  

It's endemic. (The assumption, not the risk.) And very damaging to normal, healthy family life.

   [Clip = 24 seconds]
 
video

["A lot more people would be far more inclined to engage with it, whereas.. how are we ever going to break down this culture, which has been touched upon by a couple of members of the committee, where... People shouldn't have to feel that they're automatically under suspicion of doing something dreadful to their children! So if it were neutral, people would engage with it."]

 This is the exact point. It's tantamount to a compulsory register for home cooking, just in case children somewhere, anywhere, aren't being fed properly. Because...   

[Clip = 25 seconds]
 
video

["We live in a country where the basic principle is that you're assumed innocent until you're proven guilty. And the fact that local authorities go in, sometimes, with 'You've got to prove to us that you're not breaking the law,' is entirely the wrong approach."]  

Yes, it is entirely the wrong approach. (It's the approach currently being proposed on a major scale by central government in Wales, which - if enacted - will be a disaster for education there.)

 If local authorities must do something, connected to home education, in exchange for that part of our Council Taxes  - which most of us have no choice about paying, incidentally - then let them provide us with information only, of good quality, as Shena suggests: 

  [Clip = 28 seconds]
 
video

["Well I would suggest that if the local authority has appropriate, legally accurate guidelines on their website and the members of staff, with whom the parents may or may not come into contact, are also prepared to give accurate guidance then I would tend to agree with Jane. The actual reason for deciding to home educate... because another way of looking at it is to say that the primary duty of education is that of the parent."]

That. Not this...  

[Clip = 31 seconds]
 
video

["... and the whole question of their policy came up. We discovered that they'd based their policy on a document which was a very early first draft, which came up at the top of the list. If you Google 'home education guidelines', this comes up. And it never saw the light of day. It's got no resemblance to the document that actually we have today. So there is a basic problem with access to information."]

Correct information. Nothing else. It shouldn't be difficult: they do know the law (although it often doesn't seem like it) :

  [Clip = 31 seconds]

video

["I would like to say I find it very disingenuous that local authorities who deal with education don't know the law regarding education. I'm the lay person and we all know the law regarding home education. And I think - I don't know why local authority personnel can't educate themselves properly on the law. I would expect that from any service provider, that they understand thoroughly - they should know in more detail than we do. We have to know it because we have to protect ourselves from them."]

 They do know the law.  
 [Clip =5 seconds]
 
video

["I think they know the law as well as we do."]

It seems to me like home educators only want to be treated decently, fairly and legally correctly by their local authorities, when and if they have to deal with them. 

That's all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

But surely we can trust them?

This is my fourth post in a series about last week's oral evidence hearing for the Commons Education Committee's inquiry into home education support.

[Clip = 7 seconds long]
video

["So the unit of funding following somebody getting involved with the local authority, yay or nay?"]

He's talking about roughly £500 per year I think (possibly a lot less: I've tried to work it out, but it's complicated!) - 10% of the normal state funding per pupil, although I've no idea where the 10% figure came from, or why it suddenly seems to be being offered to us. As Julie Barker explains:

[Clip = 29 seconds long]
video

 ["10% of a school budget isn't very much. The funding of college places and exams that had been done through the APG or whatever we call it, is a much bigger pot because, you know, college funding isn't going to be paid for.. I mean, some of the colleges, for their 14-16 are charging sort of £4,000 and that's not going to come out of 10% budget."]

But more to the point, can we trust an open offer of government money with no strings attached? Zena Hodgson:

[Clip = 42 seconds long]
video
["Just as long as it's voluntary? I mean, I know there's mistrust, but.." "It's how you can ensure that, and does it start down the road where a few months later, it's not voluntary? You know, a choice of some sort of voucher scheme, yes in principle I quite like that idea, but there can be an element of 'Well, you know, you've not chosen to take this up. We've got vouchers for swimming and music.. but you've not taken it up. So is your education up to what it should be?' These are the concerns. I think in principle, if you could really remove those concerns, I quite like the idea. But it would really have to be set in stone that there is a non-judgmental element."]

Set in stone. And can we trust government promises on home education, even ones that seem to be set in stone? Here's Jane Lowe, talking about what happened several years ago when the Children Missing Education statutory guidance was being developed, and home educators were worried it would affect their position:

[Clip = 66 seconds long]
video

["The two sets of guidance were originally conceived to do two different things. I was involved with discussions when the first draft of that was made, of the Children Missing Education guidance, and the civil servants who we were dealing with assured us that this was not something which was being designed to entrap home educators. They assured us that the whole point of that exercise - giving the statutory guidance on section 436A - was to find children who had completely slipped through the net who were not receiving any education at all. It was not designed to target home educators in any way. And the first version of it actually said explicitly that this guidance does not apply to children who are educated at home."]


 I don't need to remind any home educating readers what happened to that reassurance in subsequent versions of the CME guidance, and how this has indeed adversely affected our position.