Memorandum submitted by a home education local contact in Cumbria

 

 

This submission focuses on the work of a Home Education Local Contact and comments include:

 

1/ Introduction and Background

2/ Cumbria, some history

3/ Currently

4/ Other recent developments

5/ Problems/work on-going...

6/ Problems with the Review Recommendations

7/ A way forward

 

 

1/ Introduction and Background

 

I volunteer as a 'Local Contact' for home educators, both for Education Otherwise and independently, in Cumbria mainly but also receive enquiries from home educating families in North Lancashire and western regions of North Yorkshire. I have been volunteering in this capacity for approximately 3 years. I also organise a weekly home education group in south Cumbria, which provides educational and social activities for local home educating families.

 

The role of a Local Contact is to provide information and support for home educating families and those looking into the possibility of home education. Support is offered by e-mail, telephone and personal contact. The role also includes liaison with the Local Authorities.

 

In my capacity as a Local Contact I work as part of a team of a small number of home educators who meet with our Local Authority twice yearly, to improve relations between home educators and the Local Authority.

 

Due to alarm at the increasing number of consultations that home educators were becoming subject to (1), I thought it pertinent to initiate and build up a working relationship with our local MP, Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale). The purpose of this was to promote understanding of home education and how it works, in its various forms

 

 

Other home educators and home education organisations will, I'm sure, be concentrating on the many concerns that the Badman Report into Home Education. I personally take issue with the all the Recommendations of the Report, some Recommendations more than others, but for the purpose of this submission, have chosen to highlight how good practice within a Local Authority negates the need for changes to current legislation.

 

 

The Badman Review failed to adequately look into the practice of Local Authorities who enjoy positive relations with their home educating families and this begs the question: If some Local Authorities can work within current legislation and guidelines, why can't others?

 

 

2/ Cumbria: Some history...


In 2001, my predecessor in the Local Contact role instigated correspondence with the LA officer who was at the time responsible for home education. This action followed many complaints from home educators in Cumbria about the treatment they were receiving from home education 'inspectors' within the LA. At the time, any one of a team of 24 inspectors might be asked to make contact with home educating (HE) families. Each inspector's attitude to and experience of home education varied widely and it was very rare for a family to meet the same person more than once.


During the course of corresponding with a LA inspector/advisor (IA) the Local Contact became aware that information booklets were being revised and asked to become involved with this process. The first meeting between LA and Local Contact occurred in 2002 and Local Contact was asked for ideas on a 'self assessment' form for home educators to fill in and Local Contact offered to meet with inspectors to discuss HE.

Between 2003 and 2006 an Education Welfare Officer (EWO) became involved in the meetings between the LA and home educators. The Local Contact saw her role as one of educating the IA and EWO about home education. By 2003 one particular IA had taken on the role of responsibility for home education within the LA and was fairly open to it. The EWO took a very keen interest in truancy, attendance issues and families claiming to home educate to avoid prosecution.

 

This period appears to have been a fairly turbulent time in relations with the LA, with issues about information booklets, home visits, lack of timetables/workplans, lack of written work, housekeeping standards(!) etc remaining unresolved. When the Every Child Matters agenda appeared this then led to the muddling of education provision and welfare issues.


 

In 2004 the LA re-shuffled into 3 teams, matching county boundaries and a senior IA in each team decided who would deal with home education. It was implied that this would improve matters. After many months of active negotiation and using some of the groundwork done by Education Otherwise elsewhere, wordings for an acceptable home education information booklet were put together, which was finally issued in May 2006.

 

By July 2006 the IA and EWO had moved on and our current HE co-ordinator was in post. It was noted here that HE 'consultants' were contracted the School Improvement Team to undertake home education contact. Home education contact document wordings were also finalised around this time. It was around this time that I took over as Local Contact.

3/ Currently...

We don't get offered much in the way of services from LA in Cumbria at the moment, such as exam centres etc, but we are generally free to follow our own educational paths, unless there are concerns.


The current set up in Cumbria is that we have a Home Education co-ordinator within the LA who is very well aware that home education takes on many forms and appears to have a good understanding of how autonomous home education works. As a background she has previously done some private tutorial work for a home educating family and has a background in Steiner and Montessori education. Home educators meet with her twice yearly to discuss home educating matters.

 

 

 

The HE co-ordinator heads up a team of 3 other home education 'Consultants', who make contact with HE families. This team has been carefully chosen as people who have a wider view of alternative forms of education and are supportive of home education. They have a good understanding of how autonomous education works and understand that there may not be much written work to show, work plans or timetables etc but that this, in itself, is not a cause for concern that an education is not being provided.


These 3 consultants have a geographical area that they cover and therefore have contact with the same families, which allows a relationship to be established. The families I have had contact with are well aware that home visits are not compulsory, but they are usually more than happy to have them as the home education Consultants have a positive attitude. Since this set up has been in place (approximately 3 years) I have had only one complaint about the LA behaviour - this turned out to be caused by EWOs lacking training and understanding in home education matters. I was able to refer the family concerned to the HE Co-ordinator, confident in the knowledge that the matter would be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.

 

I have had positive comments from families who have elected to meet with the HE consultants and many families elect to have follow up visits (even though they are aware they don't have to) because of the positive attitude of the consultants.

 

There are HE families in Cumbria who elect not to have visits and this is now not regarded as an issue. I am aware that the HE co-ordinator has worked fairly hard to re-iterate this point to the consultants and this has certainly benefited relations with the home educating community. It is working so well, that the LAs home education department has been protected from cutbacks to education services, I have been informed, verbally.

 

In its response to Badman's questionnaire for Local Authorities, Cumbria LA indicated that they were willing to answer further questions, but that offer was not taken up.

Education Welfare Service can still cause problems. I occasionally have contact from families who have just, or are about to, embark on home education and who are having problems with Education Welfare Service, often because there have been attendance issues prior to de-registration. It is now established that such families can be put in touch with the HE Co-ordinator and the HE team will take over from there.

 

 

I feel the positive position we have here in Cumbria is down to:

- the active engagement of dedicated home educating parents, who managed to turn a less than acceptable relationship between the LA and home educators to what we have now and,

 

- the HE team within the LA treating home educating parents with trust and respect and doing what they can to maintain this relationship and supporting us. This team is small (which has allowed ongoing relationships to develop between the LA and families) and understands home education, in particular the various forms that education provision can take.

 

 

4/ Other recent developments...

 

Home educators have made a point of actively engaging local MP, Tim Farron with the home educating community in Cumbria. This was initiated around the time of the 'Light Touch Changes to the Monitoring of Home Education' proposals. Tim Farron was invited along to one of our home education meetings and had the opportunity to see how home education worked and to discuss issues and concerns with parents and children. He has since produced a supportive Early Day Motion when changes to Income Support for lone parents were proposed and a further EDM when the current Consultation was launched. He has since visited our home education group again, to discuss concerns over the Review into Home Education.



The Extended Services Co-ordinator has made contact with us and is keen that home educators in Cumbria should have access to the services they provide and as Local Contact I have been to a meeting with the local Extended Services team. My contact details have also been passed on to all the local Extended Services teams within Cumbria so that they can pass on details of activities which may be of interest to home educators.

 


5/ Problems/work on-going...


Access to exam centres, college funding and accessing courses through Community Education is proving to be a problem within Cumbria and nationally, I'm informed.

 

The HE Co-ordinator is writing to head teachers in all the secondary schools in Cumbria to ask them to be accommodating towards home educators if approached to be an exam centre and is taking up the problems with accessing Community Education courses with other personnel within Cumbria County Council. It is still early days on this, so I've nothing to report back as yet.

 

6/ Problems with Review

 

The Recommendations fail to take into account the impact on home educating children. Some children simply do not fit into the school system, commonly referred to as 'a one size fits all system'. Home educators decide on this option for many reasons, not just philosophical.

 

At school there may be problems with bullying, SEN provision, or developmental maturity, amongst other reasons. Sometimes schools have simply given up on a child. Whatever the reason, parents are responsible for educating their children and parents are the experts in their own children and are generally best placed to meet their children's needs. Where parents fail to meet those needs, there is sufficient legislation in place for the State to intervene. The State is and should remain, the parent of last resort.

 

The Recommendations appear to make some sort of provision for future assessment of educational provision. This would require a standard to be tested against - presumably this would be the National Curriculum. Currently home educators are not obliged to follow any set curriculum. The law states that education provision is mandatory - uptake is optional

 

There is not the evidence to back up claims about home educated children being at increased risk of abuse (2)

 

 

Evidence submitted to the Review was selectively quoted

 

No home education representation on the Review panel

 

No Impact Assessment was carried out.

 

Implementing the Recommendations of the Review will be very costly for the State. Home Education Advisory Service estimate this would cost in the region of 500million (3), at a time when the country can ill afford it

 

The Recommendations are in conflict with civil liberties/human rights and other legislation. They undermine a basic legal premise of being innocent until proven guilty.

 

There is no right of appeal

 

The Recommendation about seeing a child alone goes against current guidelines for safeguarding children and would leave LA personnel open to accusations of improper conduct between an adult and child.

 

The registration process, which is more akin to a licensing process, appears to shift the responsibility for education away from parents and on to the State. This of course would lead the State vulnerable to expensive litigation.

 

The effect on school places is not known, should home educating families decide that the level of State interference in home education is too much and opt to send their children back to school.

 

Should these measures be introduced, it will cause extensive damage to relations between Local Authorities and home educators. This impact will be greater where relations are currently good. There is a general feeling that there would be little point in having meetings to improve relations with the LA as the Recommendations, if implemented, mean loss of current freedoms, provide little room for negotiation and no right of appeal. I know of at least one local contact that withdrew from further meetings with their LA on the day that the Report was published and I suspect that many others will follow suit should the Recommendations be implemented. This is a situation that can easily be avoided but requires a proper open and respectful dialogue between all parties.

 

 

 

 

7/ A way forward

 

A sensible way forward is to look at why some Local Authorities can work within current legislation and guidelines and why others cannot. Anecdotal evidence shows that many Local Authority personnel who have contact with home educators have little understanding or training in both the law pertaining to and the practice of home education, particularly autonomous/child-led learning. It is this problem that needs more urgent attention.

 

Local Authorities need to be more pro-active in building positive relations with home educators. At present, home educators, who voluntarily give up their time to do such work, instigate much of this relationship building.

 

It needs to always be borne in mind that most parents take responsibility for their children very seriously. The decision to home educate is never one that is taken lightly and I have yet to have contact with a home educating parent who has taken their child out of school on a whim.

 

Where there are concerns about a child's welfare or educational provision, current legislation needs to be enforced. This would of course require improved training and resources for those working in this area. Investigation of high profile child abuse cases, such as the Spry case, showed that home education was not the factor in the failure to protect, it was failings within the social services that were to blame. It is paramount that home educators, quite legitimately educating their children outside the school system, should not be made to pay the price of these failures. This would be an abysmal failure of the State to protect the civil liberties of a minority group and a diversion of scarce resources from those children who really need the State's protection.

 

Access to exam centres and college courses for under 16s is an issue that needs addressing. Where home educated children under 16 wish to access college courses, funding is proving to be a major issue. Currently, if a family wishes to access funding for such courses, they need to find a secondary school willing to take their child on to the school role, but to be educated off site. This is a most unsatisfactory position for both the school and the family to find themselves in. For the school, it will often interfere with its GCSE league table results and home educators find themselves trawling around individual schools trying to find one willing to help them.

 

Colleges often don't understand how the funding works and a number of home educating children have found themselves being accepted on college courses, only to have their places cancelled at very short notice when the college realises that they have no funding, unless parents are able to pay.

 

It is considered that children wishing to go to college are re-entering State provision and should therefore be entitled to funding. Personally, I think there should be a mechanism in place that allows either the LA or college to apply for funding on behalf of home educated children who wish to enter college pre-16, rather than the very unsatisfactory situation of funding only being available through schools. If we are trying to train a workforce for the future it is astonishing that willing and able students are being denied access to vital training.

September 2009