Children and Families Bill

MEMORANDUM submitted by the HOME EDUCATION ADVISORY SERVICE (CF 32)

Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) was founded in 1995 and was registered as a charity and as a company limited by guarantee in 1997. It exists to provide information, advice and support to families and also to local authority staff, other professionals, academic researchers, voluntary agencies and the media. HEAS gives practical advice on educational materials and resources, GCSE, special educational needs issues, information technology, legal matters, social life and curriculum design. Information is available in a range of publications and also through subscription to HEAS.

Summary:

HEAS would like to comment on Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill and its implications for children and young people with SEN who are educated at home. Home education is a small but vital aspect of parental choice in education which is often overlooked when legislation is drafted. We wish to draw attention to the fact that the provisions in Part 3 might cause difficulties for home educating families.

1 It has been our experience in the past that legislation which is not aimed at home educators has had unintended consequences for them. In the legislation which is currently under scrutiny Clause 22 requires the local authority ‘to exercise its functions with a view to securing that it identifies all the children and young people in its area who have or may have special educational needs.’ This duty, without any further clarification, could cause local authorities to insist on screening all home educated children in order to ensure that they do not have special educational needs. Such procedures would be intrusive, costly and unjustified and they would cause distress and inconvenience to many families.

2 Clause 23 replaces and condenses section 321 of Part IV of the Education Act 1996 but in its simplified form it introduces a conflict with the principle of parental responsibility which is derived from Section 7 of the same Act. HEAS believes that the new legislation might result in families being denied the freedom to make their own educational choices. The legislation suggests that the parent might have to prove to a third party that the home education is suitable before being permitted to undertake it. This would constitute an unacceptable reversal of the respective roles of parents and the local authority.

3 HEAS is concerned about the fact that as the local offer will be devised on the basis of children in school, home educators might be forced to choose between receiving no help at all and receiving help which is centred upon school.

4 If home educated children are not receiving support once they are out of school it appears that the EHC plan would be discontinued. This could have a long term impact on the child's future.  

5 During the phase of pre-legislative scrutiny, HEAS instructed barrister Ian Dowty to give an Opinion on the SEN Clauses in the draft Bill. We expressed our concerns to DfE via emails and meetings, but we regret to say that nothing has changed, save the new clause 19 regarding parents' wishes. 

6 HEAS was told that changes to the face of the Bill would not be necessary because concerns could be addressed in guidance.  After being given the opportunity to meet with DfE representatives to discuss the revised draft Code of Practice, we have heard nothing futher and fear that - just as with the Bill itself - our grave concerns will be ignored simply because these matters affect a relatively small number of children.

March 2013

Prepared 15th March 2013