Memorandum submitted by Mr Imran Shah and Ms Cintha Archer (CS 07)

 

 

 

 

1

This submission refers explicitly to Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, (hereafter referred to as Schedule 1) which proposes changes to the current laws pertaining to home education.

 

 

2

The authors of this submission are Mr Imran Shah, and Ms Cintha Archer. Both are qualified social workers and home educators.

3

Ms Cintha Archer has worked with children, young people and families for 16 years. She has worked within child protection, fostering and adoption as a Social Worker and as a Senior Practitioner. In addition to her Social Work qualification, she holds a BA (Hons) in Social Policy and a MA in Social Work. She has three children who are educated at home.

4

Mr Shah has 15 years social work experience, mostly with children and young people, including child protection and child welfare. He is currently researching for a book that looks at the biological underpinning of home education. He has two children who are educated at home.

 

 

 

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

5

The powers afforded to local authorities under Schedule 1 are:

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Inflexible, discriminatory, and unjust.

7

Since they:

8

Place no legal obligation on the local authority to consider the child's best interests as paramount, and

9

Will discriminate against working class, poor, black and ethnic minority families.

 

 

10

A comparison of the powers that we have as local authority officers dealing with known cases of serious child abuse, with the powers that local authority officers will have dealing with any home educating family, shows that:

11

home educating parents, about whom there are no welfare concerns, will have less legal protection than those parents whose children are on the child protection register for abusing or neglecting their children.

12

As home educating social workers ourselves, we will have fewer legal safeguards in the matter of our children's education and welfare, than the parents of the children whom we know or suspect to be abusing their children

 

 

 

MAIN SUBMISSION

 

 

13

Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill will give new powers and responsibilities to local authorities to maintain and manage a register of home educated children in their local area. Currently, parents have a duty to educate their children either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. This duty is enshrined in the Education Act 1996.

14

There is nothing in the proposed Bill that revokes this duty or this relationship. However the net effect of Schedule 1 will be to modify parental freedom to act in the child's best interests. They will need to follow certain requirements set out by the Local Authority and prescribed by the Government, even if parents believe those requirements are counter to their child's best interests.

15

There is no equivalent requirement in any other children's legislation that seeks to modify or monitor parental duties, without first establishing a clear need, or deficiency in parental care.

16

Where other laws do allow local authorities to modify or monitor parental actions, local authorities must always have the child's best interests as the paramount and over-riding concern.

17

There is no statutory requirement within the text of this Bill, for local authorities to act in the child's best interests. As experienced social workers we are alarmed at this omission, which gives administrative procedures primacy over children's needs.

 

 

 

 

 

IMPACT OF SCHEDULE 1 POWERS ON ISSUES OF EQUALITY

 

 

18

There is no statutory requirement for local authorities to consider issues of class, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, ethnicity or culture, and the impact of its actions on families, or home educated children from those groups.

 

 

19

Social workers and social policy makers accept that the groups that fare the worst in dealing with government and its agents are those groups that are not articulate and middle class.

 

 

20

Given that the main thrust of Schedule 1 is to give local authorities new administrative powers over home educating families, home educated children whose parents are not affluent, not graduates, from ethnic minorities, or from poorer homes, who are not middle class, are more likely to fail to meet the administrative requirements laid down in Schedule 1, resulting in their children being compelled to attend school:

21

regardless of whether it is in the child's best interests to do so.

 

 

22

Nor will such families have the opportunity to request independent courts to adjudicate, and advocate on their behalf since no such provision is made under the proposed powers.

23

Only those families with the financial wherewithal, and confident enough to advocate for themselves will be able to seek legal redress by some other legal route, not covered by this Bill.

 

 

 

 

 

COMPARISON OF LOCAL AUTHORITY CHILD PROTECTION POWERS WITH SCHEDULE 1 PROPOSED POWERS

 

 

24

In instances where a child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm, as practising social workers, we do not have the power to issue an Order or amend an existing Order:

25

if we determine that the parents of the said child were failing to cooperate.

26

if the parents of the said child deviated from the Care Plan, even if the change was detrimental to the child's well being.

27

if the child had previously been subjected to an Order, whilst living in another local authority area,

28

if an existing Order lapses.

29

if there is a material change in the child's circumstances. E.g. a change of school.

 

 

30

As social workers we can only seek Orders if we can demonstrate to a court that:

31

Our paramount concern has been the child's welfare and her best interests.

32

We have attempted to work with the family, but this has failed

33

We have considered issues pertaining to race, gender, disability, special needs and any other relevant factors.

34

We are seeking an Order as a last resort.

 

 

35

In all such instances, the families of the child concerned will have the right of legal redress and representation to ensure that local authority actions are carried out with the best interests of the child as the paramount concern.

 

 

36

In contrast, Schedule 1 gives local authorities automatic powers to issue School Attendance Orders, in all the instances above, without demonstrating the criteria outlined in lines 31 to 34 above.

 

 

37

We find it perverse that Schedule 1 will give local authorities greater powers to act over families who are otherwise provided loving care, than they have over families where children are being abused or are at risk of abuse.

38

Since there is no obligation on local authorities to have the best interests of the child as their central and overriding concern, the new powers will be damaging to the well-being of the child.

39

This damage will be compounded by the lack of legal redress that home educating parents, who are otherwise providing loving care, will have.

40

As home educating social workers ourselves, we would enjoy greater legal safeguards if we were abusing our children, than we would do for educating at home.

 

 

41

We are not arguing for the removal of the protections that are afforded to the families who are subject to social services intervention, merely stressing that it is unjust to not extend those same protections to those families who are educating their children at home as an expression of their loving commitment to their children.

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

 

42

Compared to the drafting of the Children Act 1989, which enjoyed cross party support and had an extensive consultation period, we consider Schedule 1 and the provisions therein to be ill-thought, repressive, and disproportionate.

43

Local authorities already have the powers that they need to ensure that children are safe and that their educational and other needs are being met.

44

The effect of Schedule 1 powers would be to remove any obligation to safeguard the home educated child's best interests, and remove the rights of legal redress from home educating families.

45

This is unjust, illiberal and damaging to home educating families and their children, and we ask for it to be repealed.

 

 

 

 

 

January 2010