Memorandum submitted by Jill Harris (CS 31)

 

Submitted by Jill Harris, a home-educating parent, who, like so many others, is rapidly becoming an expert not only on home educating her own children, but also on the legal framework relating to home education, and the proposed changes to this.

 

Summary

 

1. There are a number of false assumptions and distortions on which Schedule 1 appears to rely which I wish to challenge and ask that they be carefully considered.

 

Main submission

 

2. "We already have a voluntary registration system" - what we have is an incomplete notification system - nothing about which is voluntary, since parents cannot choose for their child's details to be removed. The system we have is more accurately one of de-registration from schools, following which the school notifies the LA. Unless they have concerns that the child is not receiving a suitable education, LAs currently have no duty to act on this information, as education then reverts to a purely parental matter. The parent is currently rarely involved in the initial provision of information to LAs.

 

3. "Home education should be monitored" - Education is a basic parental responsibility. Schools are monitored because they educate on behalf of parents, and LAs, OFSTED etc. therefore perform this function as a service to parents in their area. Home educators already know exactly what education their child is receiving, and so monitoring is therefore completely irrelevant. We are families, not schools and should be treated as such.

 

4. "All home-educated children and young people should be registered" - This amounts to the LA, rather than parents having primary responsibility for children, and is equivalent to registering dietary choice. Children are registered at schools as a requirement of contracts for service provision and funding. Home educators almost unilaterally receive no services or funding, except in the case of some SEN children, who are implicitly already "registered". Registration of home educators therefore has no purpose and no benefits.

 

5. "Registration would improve safeguarding" - There will always be some adults who abuse children, regardless of where they are educated, and how well they are known to authorities. The actual statistics show that the level of abuse amongst school children (entirely registered) is much higher than amongst home educated children, so clearly being "unregistered" and "unknown" is not a contributory factor to risk of harm, or else it would follow that registering contributes to an increase in risk.

 

6. "Routine home visits would improve safeguarding" - This breaches international human rights laws about privacy of the family home, and is way beyond even police powers to deal with actual crimes. Routine "trawling" of this nature would merely divert resources from known, real cases of children at risk, and would therefore effectively decrease safeguarding as a whole.

 

7. "Interviewing children alone would improve safeguarding" - This will terrify many children, and would sensibly need to apply to all children (especially under 5s, who are most at risk) if it was genuinely believed to be an effective method of safeguarding children - would you want it for your children? Again, it breaches international human rights laws, and places children under threat of a school attendance order if they, or their parents, object to being routinely interviewed alone by strangers, with no framework, aims, guidelines or set boundaries, and with no prior suspicion of any concerns.

 

8. "LA approved yearly plans will improve educational provision" - This is likely to limit parents and children to "school-at-home", will be unnecessarily bureaucratic, and will inhibit personalised, flexible learning. The parent's focus will have to shift from an education that is genuinely suitable for their child to one that is considered "suitable" by the LA.

 

9. "LAs must ensure education is suitable" - Primary law and case law recognise that parents have this responsibility and are best placed to decide how to meet their child's needs. It is bizarre to suggest that an LA officer, on the basis of one or two annual visits will be in a better position to judge what is suitable at that time, for that child, than their parents. Provision of free and non-judgemental resources and services on educational methods and development would be a more effective way to try and further enhance the suitability of the education.

 

10. "Tighter definitions of "suitable" and "efficient" education are needed" - This looseness is exactly what enables home education to be so effective. Powers to intervene where there are genuine concerns already exist. Uniformity in schools enables provision to be assessed, recorded and compared easily. There is no evidence of either need or benefit for this in relation to home education, and it would destroy the vital safeguard against an entire population being brought up to think and understand exactly the same things, in exactly the same way, and with exactly the same gaps in knowledge and approach.

 

11. "Educational approach should be outcome-led" - Parents have the strongest motivation to ensure the "outcomes" for their child are good, but these are individual, not pre-determined. The single biggest action that would increase the academic qualifications that home educated children attain is simply to provide free and easy access to exams, and to encourage non-standard entry to higher education. Focussing on purely academic outcomes though reduces parents and children to the same regimes that destroy the self esteem and creativity of so many school children. If the long term outcomes of home education were researched, it would likely change the approach of education within schools.

 

12. Children should demonstrate attainment and progress - This is precisely the pressure that home-education offers freedom from. A desire for children to "achieve" shouldn't become a duty to "perform". The "Every Child Matters" aims of ensuring services and agencies give enough support to help children achieve is not the same as giving LAs the right to assess individual children and their parents against these targets. Autonomous education has been widely shown to be a particularly effective form of education, regardless of parental income or academic qualification, but would be almost impossible to assess by any standardised progress model. Attempts to do so would be ineffective and disruptive, offering no tangible benefit for either party.

 

Conclusion

 

13. There are lots of hollow promises in the recently published policy statement about support (no funding), co-operation (compliance), training (unrealistic) etc. which seem to be part of a consistently misrepresentative picture of the existing and proposed arrangements for home education. These all make great sound-bites and will put many off the scent of the reality of the extraordinary imposition and reversal of burden of proof detailed in the small print. Substantial and subjective decisions which are currently made by parents answerable to courts, will be routinely be made by LA officers. Enforcement will largely be through fear of the power to permanently remove the option to home educate from any who do not fully comply, with an inevitable SAO, and an appeal apparently at the level of the LA rather than a court.

 

14. If the assumptions I have listed pass unchallenged, then the portrayal of a group of children whom the state must save from the fear of the unknown, takes hold and this in itself is then the biggest factor fuelling the belief that it is both necessary and effective for this "problem" to be solved by some form of registration / notification and monitoring. It is not. This would be an unprecedented disproportionate and inefficient use of public money for no good reason.

 

January 2010