The Review of Elective Home Education - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Home Education Centre

SUMMARY

    — 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 are necessary.

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 Authority.

  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 venture.

  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.

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE REVIEW INTO ELECTIVE HOME EDUCATION.

  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

CODE OF PRACTICE ON CONSULTATION, HM GOVERNMENT, JULY 2008

  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 Education—registration 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.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY THE REVIEW ON ELECTIVE HOME EDUCATION

  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.

REGISTRATION & SAFEGUARDING

  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 provision takes.

  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.

MONITORING AND VISITS

  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 and reputation.

    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.

OUR CONCLUSION & SOLUTIONS

  7.1  In 1.4 of the review, Mr Badman says "…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 parents…"

  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 inappropriate. http://www.six.somerset.gov.uk/equalities/v.asp?level2id=5866&rootid=5866&depth=1

  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.

September 2009






 
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