My answers to the review questions
1. Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.
YES. As far as I know, there is no system for specifically safeguarding children who are educated at home, and nor should there be. Local authorities already have powers to act if they are concerned about any individual family. S. 437 gives them the right to insist on information about home education if there are any doubts, and SAOs give them access to the child - once they have an SAO in force and the child is in school, they can see them. If there are cases that LAs are worried about they should use existing powers. Social workers always will have a difficult job. They don't have special powers to predict they future: they don't know which child will be hurt and which won't. They are paid to use fine judgement. They shouldn't expect the job to be easy, and the public must understand that mistakes will always be made. Policing the population to the point where mistakes are not made would be to completely remove any hope of familial privacy and autonomy.
2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.
YES. Taken as read, without the distortion in meaning provided by the aims, and then the associated documents and indicators, there is no reason why home educated children should be less able than schooled ones to achieve those five outcomes, if there is a legal obligation for them to do so, though I can't find any such obligation written in law and I strongly believe that people should be allowed to determine their own outcomes.
(a) Be healthy
YES. I know several children whose health needs were not attended to in school and have had to be home educated to ensure their continuing good health. Home education affords freedom to exercise spontaneously throughout the day and to eat healthily when hungry, which children do naturally. Being confined to a classroom is not conducive to good health. The wording of the specific requirement for every child to receive '2 hours per week of high-quality PE and sport' needs to be changed to "every school child" to retain familial autonomy and to prevent Local Authority officers from feeling the need to try to assess the quality of physical exercise in home educated children.
(b) Stay safe
YES. Home educated children are usually far better supervised than schooled ones, spending most of their time with their parents and/or in small groups. The consistency of care for them enables any safety issues to be quickly spotted and resolved. If parents do not keep their children adequately safe from harm then this is a child protection issue for which there is a legislative and procedural framework, regardless of where the child is educated.
(c) Enjoy and achieve
YES. I've never met a home educated child who didn't enjoy and achieve. However, four out of five of the stated aims relating to this outcome are dependent on school attendance, which conflicts with Section 7 of the Education Act. These aims need to be rewritten in the framework to reflect the true legal position, in my opinion. The ability of home educated children to 'enjoy and achieve' would be impaired by Local Authority monitoring, which is stressful for children and their parents and which restricts the vital spontaneity that plays such a major part in our lives.
(d) Make a positive contribution
YES. Again, every home educated child I know can be said to do this and the specific aims listed under this outcome are not difficult for home educated children to meet. But the precise measures and definitions of 'Path to success' and 'Participating in high quality structured activities' are far too restrictive for home educating families. This and many other ECM framework-related problems for home educating families could easily be solved by the use of the term 'every schoolchild' instead of 'every child', and 'all schoolchildren' instead of 'all children' in all of the PSAs and DSOs. This will enable home educating families to retain their autonomy and home educated children to set their own outcomes without Local Authorities needing to be worried that they aren't meeting their statutory responsibilities.
(e) Achieve economic wellbeing
YES. Home educating families tend to be extremely good at managing their finances and I have never met a home educated child who was suffering from material deprivation in any way. But this outcome, on closer inspection, actually has two very specific *other* meanings. The first is a requirement that the family income be greater than 60% of the national average, after housing, tax and other standing charges are taken into account, and the second is that both parents should be working full-time. These are not legitimate requirements and, if imposed, will constitute a severe breach of human rights and civil liberties. They will also be extremely damaging to children, especially home educated ones whose stability and autonomy will be lost. The strategy being rolled out to attempt to impose these requirements needs an urgent rethink, in my opinion.
3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?. If you answered no, why do you think that?
NO. Section 10 of the 1984 Children Act speaks only of a duty to promote the outcomes, not an obligation to ensure them. This drift from 'promote' to 'ensure' can only be due to a severe case of mission creep which surely needs to be nipped in the bud. It is not a legitimate function of either local or national government to try to impose certain pre-set outcomes on people.
4. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?
NO. Absolutely not. There currently is no system for supporting home educating families and nor should there be. Individual families might ask their Local Authority for individual support and receive it or not, but this has never needed a 'system' and nor does it now. Also, recent government documents have led us to believe that 'support' is no longer a word that officially denotes voluntary participation on the part of those receiving it, so I don't think home educating families will be queuing up to request such a thing.
5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?
NO. Please read the latest Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities and you will then see that there is no system for monitoring home educating families, and nor should there be. Routine Local Authority monitoring of home educating families is both stressful and damaging to the children's education, because a child's will to learn is dependent on curiosity and spontaneity - both of which are stifled by official monitoring. I have had experience of this with my own children, and seen evidence of it in many other home educating families. This is why we resist the imposition of official monitoring systems for our children.
We have been officially asked for, and duly provided, our opinion on this so many times now in recent years that many home educating families are starting to feel severely harassed by these processes. I think it's safe to assume that if we didn't want an official monitoring system last year, or the year before, then we still don't want one now and nor will we next year, or the year after that.
6. Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?
I think that government - and any other sensible people - should resolutely ignore anyone who tries to incite hatred against a law abiding minority group by speculating in this way.