Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Home Education Centre

 

Section 1: As recommended by Helen Southworth, member of the Children, Schools and Families Committee: further written evidence from Zena Hodgson on behalf of the Home Education Centre, Somerset in response to the points raised by the Committee on 14th October 2009

 

Section 2: As requested by Annette Brooke, member of the Children, Schools and Families Committee: further written evidence from Zena Hodgson on behalf of the Home Education Centre, Somerset in response to points raised at the EO Parliamentary Event on 20th October 2009

 

 

Section 1

Q44 Mr. Stuart: There seems to be quite a discrepancy between the articulate representatives of the home education community and what local authority officers say is a large bulk of people who are perhaps less articulate and less capable, which prompts authorities to believe that the Badman recommendations will provide support. What is your response to that?

 

There already exists within the home education community itself a very efficient local and national support network in terms of advice and connectivity between families and groups. This support network is easy to find and access, for instance through the internet and local libraries. LAs are often unaware of the extent and efficiency of these networks, as by their very nature they need little or no input from the LA. Many of the questions and support that home educated families seek are addressed by the home education community itself. If and when families require additional support from the LA, dialogue between the EHE community and the LA often occurs through EHE groups/representatives, as the individuals themselves are not always so confident in those situations. It does not mean that the information is not disseminated down to these families.

Since the true numbers of home educators are unknown, then the LAs cannot assume that the families they actually see is a significant number/truly representative proportion of EHE families. LAs are most likely supporting families that have been referred to them by schools, having just left the school system possibly under traumatic circumstances. They are first seen by the LAs, often very promptly after leaving state education, in a possibly distressed state at a point when they have not yet had time to get over the trauma and decide which direction their educational provision should take. LAs should receive better training in how to assist these few families, the reaction should not be to change legislation that will affect the large majority of home educators for which there is no problem.

 

 

 

Q49 Chairman: Zena, as a Member of Parliament, I know children disappear all the time in my constituency. It's a very real concern. It isn't only runaway children, but children who disappear overseas and when you try to track them it is impossible because we don't have the data. I am sorry, I have to correct you on that as a working constituency Member.

 

Children disappearing is not an home education issue. Children that are home educated, but are not 'officially' known by the LA have not disappeared. LAs, in our experience, are far more aware of the home educators in their counties than the number officially on their records. The recommendations proposed in the Badman review set out to simply catalogue and monitor law abiding EHE families, it will not solve the problem of disappearing children. If the recommendations are brought in as legislation, I have no doubt that the statistics for this wider social issue will still exist.

 

 

 

Q52 Annette Brooke: I would like a straight yes or no answer from each member of the panel. Imagine a very simple registration scheme that gets rid of all the strings and conditions in the Badman report and literally signs up-given that if a child goes to a local school, there is knowledge that the child is at the local school-just to providing the knowledge that a child is being home educated at X address. Let us start with a very simple principle and at least we would get some indication of numbers, although I accept what you said, Fiona. Do you feel strongly about the simplest of registration schemes?

 

No, there should be no compulsory registration.

The very simple principle we should start with is that forcing any minority group to register with the authorities on the basis of mistrust through unsubstantiated concerns is legally and morally unacceptable. Singling out a minority group in this way is discriminatory and should not be used simply as a method of convenient administration for the government.

It is proposed that registration of families is automatic "if there are no safeguarding concerns". Therefore it is not automatic. Families are going to be required not simply to register but be subject to scrutiny in their own home before registration is granted. This is shifting the balance of power to LAs, allowing them to decide whether home education is suitable for particular families. In deed it is a shift in burden of proof in law.

As an analogy; it is alleged that it is statistically more likely for a terrorist act to be carried out in this country by a Muslim. Following the same logical path that is being applied to EHE, we should therefore for the sake of national security, force all Muslim families to be registered and check their home every 6-12months to make sure that they are not potential terrorists. This proposal would be discriminatory and disproportionate to the supposed risk, it would be a waste of tax payers money and an intrusion by the government into private family life. The same discrimination is being proposed for EHE families.

 

 

Q57 Annette Brooke: May I pursue that question? Obviously, you can now register voluntarily. How many of you are registered, or were registered?

 

I feel it is worth pointing out, that now that a good collaborative relationship between Somerset LA and EHE families exists, more families have been voluntarily coming forward to register. Families feel more trusting of the LA, they do not feel that the LA is looking to catch them out or judge them unfairly. They are beginning to feel that there is better understanding and real, unconditional support on offer.

However, many families have clearly asserted that should the Badman recommendations go through they would withdraw from the relationship. Even more important to note is that some of our local EHE advisors/inspectors in the southwest have stressed that they may feel unable to continue under the new proposals.

 

 

Q59 Paul Holmes: On the Badman report's suggestions about requiring a statement of learning, I know that a number of home educators-both nationally and the ones I've met in Chesterfield-have been very concerned about that and the implication that it might be imposing all sorts of very restrictive prescriptions. Does anybody want to elaborate on that?

 

Educational plans make no consideration for the child-led approach to EHE; where there is no way to predict a child's potentially ever changing interests. There can only be a commitment by the parent to facilitate the child's learning and development. Indeed it would be difficult to come up with a standard criteria for a statement of learning that would be able to encompass the diverse range of learning styles found within EHE.

 

Whatever the style of approach, during home education and especially in the first year of home education, families may frequently re-evaluate their approach in order to find a style that best supports their individual child's learning needs.

In fact good practice would suggest that re-evaluation should take place throughout the child's education. If parents feel they must adhere to the model they first suggest, they could well impair the child's learning for the sake of conformity and fear of the authority of the LA officer.

 

 

Q66 Paul Holmes: Some parents who are home educators are very committed to autonomous learning, some are looking at rebuilding a child's self-confidence and dealing with special educational needs. You have others, as Simon was saying, who will get eight A*s at GCSE. There is a vast range. Going back to earlier evidence, what about all those parents, many of whom we do not know about, who have not got a clue how to cope with any of this? I have always admired home educators because of the amount of work that they do. I am a former teacher, but I could not teach science. So, what about all the home educators who are not in these self-confident, different and contradictory boxes?

 

The answer to this is the same as for Q44.

There is an extensive and efficient local and national network of support within the EHE community itself. Families ask for and receive support and advice from these sources all the time. Indeed as support officer for HEC, I receive many new and ongoing enquiries on a whole range of issues every week. There are also many, many groups, large and small all over the country where parents come together and share ideas and skills to help further their learning experiences.

 

 

Q69 Mr. Carswell: I have a general question for the panel. In Clacton, the parents of 16 children have, rightly in my opinion, refused to send their children to a school that they believe is not able to provide the children with a proper education. They have successfully demanded that they receive a home education grant from the local education authority. Is this something that you welcome, and do you think that the sort of extra regulation and oversight demanded by Badman could be conditional on receiving the grant? If you get the grant, you can be overseen by the state, but if you do not, it should leave you alone.

 

Unconditional financial help can and should be made available to home educators upon reasonable requests for specific support. I find it hard to believe that families would ever have the possibility of receiving direct, standard funds to spend on their child's education as they saw fit. However, I do think that it is possible to set up a system for access to grants in order to gain assistance with specific things such as exams, without having to submit to state control over the family's EHE provision.

In December 2008 Somerset County Council awarded the HEC a specific home education grant of 10,000 for equipment to cover the learning requirements of children aged between 0-16 years old. No conditions of oversight by the state were made in order to receive the grant; the HEC co-wrote the contract, chose and purchased the equipment. This was the first of its kind in the UK.

Home Educators Yeovil, a group developed by two of our members to support the community in the south east of the county were also awarded an home education grant of 2000 in September 2009.

 

Jane Lowe: The problem is that the local authorities don't leave people alone-they interfere with what is being done.

Q74 Mr. Chaytor: But there is no registration scheme in place yet, so how can you make that assessment?

 

When families de-register their child from school, the LA is informed, they are registered EHE. At HEC we are currently supporting a number of conscientious HE families in neighbouring counties, with legitimate reasons for home-educating who have experienced discrimination at the hands of poorly informed support services.

 

Home Education is not necessarily 'school' at home between 9am and 3pm. For many home educators it is a lifestyle. In this context it is not the fear of accountability that worries HE parents, but the invasion of privacy; the subjective analysis of where we live, or the appearance of our homes with the potential to influence the LA advisor's assessment.

If the LA officer has a negative opinion of the diversity and breadth of the home educating community, it will ultimately affect the outcome of the visits.

 

 

Q77 Mr. Chaytor: I am just curious as to why you are so reluctant to demonstrate the quality of what you are doing. You are happy to assert it, but not to demonstrate it.

 

With regards to English law, it is assumed that home educators are fulfilling their duty to provide a suitable education for their child, unless someone can provide evidence to the contrary. Home educators do not have to demonstrate their provision. Just as in the same way ordinary citizens do not have to demonstrate that they are not committing any kind of criminal act; it is just assumed that they are law abiding unless there is evidence to the contrary.

 

 

Q78 Mr. Chaytor: Lots of children in mainstream schools and special schools are on the autistic spectrum, so is it your argument that under no circumstances whatsoever should there be any objective assessment of the progress a child has made or of the achievements of particular children who are educated at home?

 

Parents with children in schools have delegated the duty of educating their child to the school and it is right that the progress of that child is noted and reported back to the parent. Parents who educate their child at home fulfil the duty themselves and are therefore best placed to assess their own child's progress and achievements.

The parents are held legally responsible for the child. Again, English law states that one is presumed innocent unless evidence shows the contrary to be true. Therefore it has to be presumed that parents are fulfilling their duty to their child and unless evidence to the contrary is forthcoming there is no reason for the government/local authority to assess the EHE child or interfere with individual families and their lifestyle choices that are their legal right to make.

 

Section 2

 

Somerset Approach to supporting EHE Families under the current EHE Guidelines for Local Authorities

 

 

Under current legislation and guidelines a positive relationship has developed between the home educating community and Somerset County Council.

 

Somerset EHE team originally approached the home educating community from the perspective of being a cultural minority under the Equalities and Diversity department using the current Elective Home Education guidelines for LAs. The LA approached the Home Education Centre to establish how the home-educating community functions and what support and advice was required.

 

Under current legislation and guidelines exams can be accessed in our new exam centre at Richard Huish College in Taunton Somerset.

 

The Home Education Centre held a meeting with local colleges of FE and the local authority. We were keen to establish an exam centre where home educated children from across the region could be guaranteed to sit exams of their choice easily. Through their previous experience of home educated students' aptitude and attitude, the college was very keen to accommodate EHE children. Home educated children are now able to sit exams in any subject using any exam board.

 

Somerset County Council has agreed to cover the cost of sitting exams, assessment and support for children with additional needs for registered Somerset families.

 

Under current EHE guidelines for Local Authorities the EHE community can receive financial support.

In December 2008 Somerset County Council awarded the Home Education Centre a 10,000 grant for equipment to cover the learning requirements of children aged between 0-16 years old.

 

The centre co-wrote the contract, chose and purchased the equipment. The remit was clearly set out; the Home Education Centre was to purchase equipment and resources to support children aged 0-16 years across a wide range of subject areas. We bought resources that families found difficult/expensive to provide in their homes. HEC provided the LA with the accounts and copy of receipts for the 10,000. The local HE advisor was then invited into HEC to view the resources in use.

 

Somerset LA did not ask for information about individual families, they enquired as to the approximate number of Somerset families we support, as the HEC also supports families from Devon and Dorset. Some families are registered with their local authorities, some are not. This was the first grant of its kind in the UK.

 

Home Educators Yeovil, a group developed by two of our members to support the community in the south east of the county were also awarded a grant of 2000 in September 2009.

 

The Home Education Centre has recently developed a working relationship with Somerset Connexions service.

 

Like Somerset County Council they are happy for us to set the terms of our access to their service. We are putting together a list of requirements, so that Connexions advisors can tailor their support appropriately.

 

We intend to work collaboratively on enabling EHE children to access work placements and apprenticeships. Connexions are happy for us to benefit from their database of employers and from the health and safety checks and liability insurance offered by the Connexions service.

 

 

October 2009