Memorandum submitted by the Home Education
Local authorities (LAs) need to learn
about the culture of EHE and work to develop partnerships with
their local home educating communities.
The EHE community has been the subject
of too many consultations and inquiries in the last five years.
The current review and consultations
have been conducted in an irregular manner, on the foundation
of allegations, leading to changes in legislation being drafted
before the process is concluded.
The current laws and guidelines concerning
EHE are adequate and none of the recommendations in the review
The Home Education Centre: http://www.homeeducationcentre.org.uk
1.1 The group is based in Chard, Somerset.
It is a voluntary group, developed and run by home-educating parents.
It is a learning centre and meeting place for families from a
diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds to share skills,
advice and support. We have contact with and share ideas with
other home education groups in the South West. The Home Education
Centre also works on developing relationships with the local authorities
and colleges, so that they may better understand and support the
home education community.
1.2 The Home Education Centre has been running
since 2004 steadily growing in numbers of members and working
to improve the already supportive relationship with Somerset Local
1.3 The home education community in Somerset
has, until recently been supported as a distinct group under the
Equalities and Diversity department using the current Elective
Home Education guidelines for LAs.
1.4 By the LA approaching us to establish
how the home-educating community functions and what support and
advice was needed, the Home Education Centre has been able to
work with the local authority and a local sixth form college to
establish an exam centre for HE students across the region. Somerset
County Council have agreed to cover the cost of sitting exams,
assessment and support for children with additional needs, for
registered Somerset families. This is the first collaboration
of its kind in the UK.
1.5 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. This was the first of its kind in the UK.
1.6 Somerset County Council have recently
asked the Home Education Centre to provide the copy for a leaflet
about home-education that is to be rolled out to all Children's
services, the Police, Primary Care Trusts and the Department of
Social Security within the county. This leaflet will be a joint
1.7 Somerset LA recently shared a report
with Essex County Council regarding Somerset's working relationship
with the Home Education Centre. The Team Leader of EHE at Gloucestershire
County Council has also requested a visit to see and discuss how
we established such a positive relationship. In addition various
other home education groups have visited us to see how they might
develop their groups' provisions and relationships with Local
Authorities and educational establishments.
2.1 The review was publicised in a highly
contentious manner, with unsubstantiated allegations made through
the misguided introduction to the review by Baroness Morgan to
the national press: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0013
CONSULTATION, HM GOVERNMENT,
3.1 Introducing the review into home education
in this manner calls into question whether "the Government
is ready to put sufficient information into the public domain
to enable an effective and informed dialogue on the issues being
consulted on", (Paragraph 1.2, p.7, When to Consult).
As key stakeholders in the consultation, it should be imperative
to encourage a broad and reasoned response, not a limited one
from a point of defence.
3.2 It should be noted that we were only
given four weeks to respond to the review as opposed to the recommended
minimum of 12 weeks (Paragraph 2.1, p.8, Duration of Consultation
exercises). There was little or any prior notice that it
was going to happen.
3.3 It was also difficult in such a limited
time span to consult with and support our members, as despite
the recommendations for consultations to be "free of jargon"
(Paragraph 4.2, p.10, Accessibility of Consultation), the
language of the five outcomes from the Every Child Matters document
was applied. The language of the five outcomes is not commonly
used in the majority of domestic environments and in this context
is jargon and open to wide interpretation.
3.4 The Government has had many responses
to a large number of previous consultations from the EHE community
over the last five years.
3.5 The DfES consulted on a draft Home Education
Guidelines for Local Authorities in 2004. The guidelines were
shelved and in December 2006 the DfES told Education Otherwise
that they were going to introduce "Light Touch Changes to
Monitoring". In May 2007 the DfES returned to it's original
plan and re-issued the 2005 Draft Guidelines to full public
consultation. The revised guidelines incorporating references
to the Children's Act 2004 and The Education and Inspection
Act 2006 were finally published in November 2007.
3.6 How many ways can the Government ask
for the same information in a different context in the hope they
get the answers they want? "While interested parties may
welcome the opportunity to contribute their views or evidence,
they will not welcome being asked the same questions time and
time again" (Paragraph 5.1, p.11, Burden of Consultation).
Regarding this point hadn't "the Government previously obtained
relevant information from the same audience" and shouldn't
"consideration be given as to whether this information could
be re-used to inform the policymaking process?"
3.7 In January 2009 the Revised statutory
guidance for Local Authorities in England to Identify Children
not Receiving a Suitable Education was introduced. In February
2009 the Review into Home Education was announced. Surely
our responses will influence the statutory guidance along with
the home-educating community's responses to the consultation regarding
these guidelines. Why then are we essentially being reviewed again?
Is there any point in consulting us if everything is already settled?
(Paragraph 1.2, p.7, When to Consult).
3.8 "Consultation makes preliminary
analysis available for public scrutiny and allows additional evidence
to be sought from a range of interested parties so as to inform
the development of the policy or its implementation", (Paragraph
1.1, p.7, When to Consult). As the community is currently
responding to the Consultation on Home Educationregistration
and monitoring proposals, the results of which are not due
until January 2010, we do not feel it is appropriate to include
"improving monitoring arrangements for children educated
at home" in the Draft Legislative Programme for 2010 in
the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill.
4.1 The many recommendations made in the
review cannot all be discussed in detail in such a small report
as this. We will consider the main points raised by Mr Badman
as those requiring immediate action: Recommendations 1, 7, 23 &
24. These focus on the issues of registration, monitoring, home
visits and safe-guarding. The few recommendations that offered
support such as improved exam access, were not considered a priority
in Mr Badman's report and only the issues highlighted below, which
our EHE community do not want or need, were prioritised.
5.1 Why would the Government seek to force
a minority group to register with the authorities on the basis
of mistrust through unsubstantiated concerns. Compulsion to register
starts any relationship with the LA on an uneven footing as EHE
parents are forced to co-operate. EHE families are less likely
to be forthcoming with anything other than the minimum requirements
of contact under these conditions and any partnerships that exist
between LAs and home educators, such as in Somerset will be eroded.
5.2 In recommendation 24, Mr Badman suggests
giving powers to LAs to revoke or refuse registration on safeguarding
grounds. This permits laws that reverse the assumption of innocence.
This is seriously in conflict with the basis of English law. Mr
Badman has not provided any evidence that reasons exist to make
such changes to the law. New laws that could result in prosecution
need appropriately strong counterbalancing measures to prevent
abuse of these exceptional powers by officials.
5.3 If there are serious safeguarding issues
and therefore the parents are not to be trusted with their child,
it makes no difference where the education is taking place. If
there are serious safeguarding issues the child is just as likely
to suffer abuse even if they attend school. When LAs become aware
of safeguarding issues in any setting, there are procedures and
powers in place for them to take action and instigate care proceedings.
5.4 A common question is, "but how
do we know if there are safeguarding issues?" EHE children
are not hidden away. If the child has been de-registered from
school, then the LA are automatically informed; the child is known.
The UK spends around £16 billion a year on databases,
children are registered at birth, see health visitors, doctors,
dentists, are on NHS files, are registered for child benefit purposes
and listed on ContactPoint. They attend a variety of external
clubs, all of which have Safeguarding Children policies. They
visit libraries, attend home education groups and spend time in
the community with parents doing everyday things. Children that
have never been to school or move to a different county are known.
5.5 The "disproportionate" number
of children known to social services, highlighted by Mr Badman
in Recommendation 21, may well be receiving support for reasons
other than home-education. It is an assumption to make the claim
that the numbers of children are "disproportionate"
when the total numbers of EHE children are not yet known. In some
areas LAs and schools are encouraging parents to de-register their
child to avoid exclusion. Also, as a result of the ineffective
implementation of the policy of inclusion and the closure of some
Special Schools, many children who are disabled or receiving support
from specialist services are increasingly opting to home-educate.
Again these families are often previously known to Social Services
for reasons other than safeguarding concerns. There are also many
EHE families that have ended up on Children's Social Care files
for the sole reason that they have been "reported" by
neighbours who are not aware that EHE is legal.
5.6 If LAs are given the power to refuse
or revoke what is essentially a license to home educate, then
this implies that it is the state who has the power to register
children for their choice of education and not the parents. This
would be in direct conflict with Section 7 of the Education
Act 1996, The National Children's plan which clearly states it
is "Parents not Government that bring up children" and
with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(UNCRC) namely Article 18(1), which states that "1. States
Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of
the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for
the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the
case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility
for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests
of the child will be their basic concern." Parents/legal
guardians are responsible for their children and have the duty
and the right to determine the efficiency and suitability of their
chosen educational provision for their children, within the context
of the community that they live in. This may be significantly
different to the States current idea of how education is delivered.
5.7 If LAs are given the power to decide
whether a family can register as EHE, they will have to ensure
they ask everyone the same questions to avoid accusations of discrimination,
this in itself will result in a form of standardisation. If the
family's right to choose their education style is to be preserved,
there can be no standard form to assess whether a family can register
as EHE. If families are forced to conform in the same way that
schools do to meet Ofsted requirements, then the UK will lose
its last true free-thinkers. As Mark Field MP (Con) said in Westminster
on 9 June 2009 "The ability to be free from an
all-knowing, all-seeing state's ideas of education, welfare and
standards forms the fundamental appeal for many of those who choose
home education for their children. Any attempt to alter what is
very much a matter of balance would undermine the entire ethos
of education." It is widely recognised that home educators
are a very diverse group with regards the style that their educational
5.8 It is suggested that as part of the
registration process the parents need to submit a 12 month
plan for the education. During home-education and especially in
the first year of home-education, families may frequently re-evaluate
their approach to education in order to find a style that best
supports their individual children's learning style. In fact good
practice suggests 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. Insisting on a plan also completely dismisses home educators
that choose the autonomous route.
6.1 The problem with needing to "see"
home-educated children is that monitoring the educational provision
and safeguarding issues have got mixed together. LAs cannot simply
presume that just because a family is EHE that there are going
to be safeguarding issues. If the LA feels it needs to "see"
the child to monitor the educational provision, home visits are
not a sensible or cost effective way doing this, nor do they respect
the child's right to privacy.
UNCRC Article 16 states that:
1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary
or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home
or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour
2. The child has the right to the protection
of the law against such interference or attacks.
6.2 Mr Badman proposes to make such interference
lawful. He has not shown that the interference is not arbitrary.
The fact is that all information that the Local Authorities might
reasonably require about the education and safeguarding of children
can be obtained in far less intrusive ways than those being proposed
by Mr Badman. That means that his proposed home visits and interviews
are arbitrary in every sense of the word. A child has a right
to feel safe in their home.
6.3 It has been further suggested that in
some cases the child should be seen on their own. Regarding good
practice in safeguarding children, it is completely inappropriate
to allow a stranger to interview a child on their own. The LA
officer will be a stranger both to the parents and especially
the child. It could also put the LA officer at greater risk of
accusation of inappropriate behaviour. Children will not divulge
sensitive information to a stranger. A true picture may well not
be apparent in a short visit, the local authority will not achieve
what it sets out to establish. When working with children considered
"at risk", it is well accepted that it takes children
a long period of time, with regular contact, to develop an attachment
or establish a level of trust in any adult.
6.4 Out of 153 Local authorities only
three have been identified as demonstrating good practice with
regards EHE. All over the country (including a number of Devon
and Dorset families who attend the Home Education Centre) home-educators
often experience discrimination and are treated unfairly at the
hands of untrained professionals. Mr Badman proposes that all
EHE children are "visited" and "monitored"
in their main educational setting. There already exists a lack
of professionals trained in EHE to support the current voluntarily
registered home-educators. If all children are to be visited,
then large amounts of time and money should be invested in training.
Information would then have to be fed down to all the children's
support services. Training to reduce discriminatory views would
be a necessity. It would have to involve immersing LA officers
in the home-educating community. It could not, and should not,
be taken in isolation in conference centres on "Training
Days" where case studies based on manufactured criteria are
studied. Spending large sums of tax payers money for a "service"
that is not wanted by that home-education community would not
be well supported by the wider population.
6.5 Assuming that the main educational setting
is the home, this calls into question whether the family's right
to privacy is deemed void once they decide to EHE. How parents
choose to educate their child should not mean that they have to
give up rights that are afforded to others. Home educators have
not committed a crime and must surely be presumed innocent of
any wrongdoing, unless evidence proves otherwise. The recommendations
in this report give LA officers more powers than the police force
and challenge our country's very basis in law and well established
procedures of due process that protect people's civil liberties
and rights. Currently the police cannot randomly (or with two
weeks notice) enter somebody's home on the premise that they fall
into a demographic group mostly likely to be committing an offence.
7.1 In 1.4 of the review, Mr Badman
I also recognise that despite the excellent practice
of some, there are local authorities who do not discharge their
responsibilities properly, make effective use of current statutory
powers or use the ingenuity referenced in the good practice illustrated
later in this report. Good relationships and mutual respect are
at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home-educating
7.2 The three models of good practice highlighted
in the review demonstrate that indeed the present laws and guidelines
for EHE are adequate and do not need any changes, not even "light
touches". If tax payers money is to be spent on EHE, then
it needs to be spent on training LAs to better understand EHE
and the already adequate statutory powers that they have at their
disposal. We would suggest that these models be used as a basis
for training for other LAs and support networks. The sweeping
recommendations put forward by Mr Badman are wholly disproportionate
to any evidence for change given and would shift the balance of
power between civil liberties and state intervention. They would
completely undermine the current "partnerships" between
EHE communities and LAs and make them unworkable.
7.3 From the outset Somerset County Council's
approach differed greatly from other local authorities in our
region. They took time to understand the culture of home education
and the reasons many families take this route. They have a good
understanding that home-educated children and families being monitored
and assessed using a current mainstream educational approach is
7.4 Home-education is not just an alternative
to state schooling or independent schooling. Educating our children
does not occur merely during office hours, it becomes a lifestyle.
Hence, the individual approach developed by each family. Introducing
regulation in the manner Mr Badman suggests, will have a profound
effect on the current breadth of philosophies adopted by families.