Thursday, October 05, 2017

Home Education is NOT THE PROBLEM

With Lord Soley's bill lining up for a second reading, home educators find themselves at the butt end of some simply terrible BBC reporting here and here. Gill has done her usual expert job making mincemeat of one of these pieces, and perhaps there isn't a need to say any more, except I want to - OK, yes mainly because I need to vent, but also because I want to tell you what a teacher friend said to me this morning.

He said, and bear in mind, he's been a teacher for over thirty years, and has only been peering over my home educating shoulder for the last three years, "It isn't home education and home education law that's the problem.  It's schools".   Get that, Lord Soley and all those whose brains are turned to mush by the desire to be re-elected and not say unpopular if true things: It's schools and the related regulatory institutions that are the problem.  Sort that mess out and STOP BLAMING HOME EDUCATION!

Now, let me tell you for why:  (hat tip: teacher friend who didn't eat his porridge till it had gone completely cold because he needed to wave his spoon around a lot), schools are the problem because head teachers are effectively forced to off-roll pupils who are not performing to the necessary standard and this is because heads and teachers are judged on the grades pupils achieve.  If Johnny gets five U grades (or whatever they're called nowadays), Ofsted adjudges heads and teachers the most execrable fuckwits and out they go, losing their jobs, livelihoods, houses, cars, marriages, self respect, you name it, everything goes in an all round personal disaster of epic proportions.

It doesn't matter that Johnny's teacher has been providing excellent, entertaining and informative lessons, and that Johnny has simply decided to spend his time staring out the window. In a piece of idiocy that is almost masterful in it's daring misrepresentation of reality  - given that teachers can't just open up the top of pupils' heads and pour knowledge into them and that pupils do actually have to open their minds themselves in order to learn anything at all - it is nonetheless still the teacher's fault that Johnny has failed.

This mutilation of reality is deemed a good thing by our elected representatives because it isn't a vote winner to have to tell parents that their precious progeny have the brains and attention span of a gnat.  Parents form a far bigger part of the electorate than teachers, and anyway, teachers have nowhere to turn electorally because every party would encourage Ofsted to judge them in a similar manner.

And then there's the added pressure upon teachers in that there is no money for help with pupils who struggle to learn in an average sort of a way.  Even in the very unlikely event that such a pupil actually does have an Education, Health and Care Plan, it is still unlikely that this plan will actually be fulfilled in any meaningful way and this along with all the other pupils with learning differences who don't have EHCPs means that teachers are left with huge classes containing children who actually need specialised provision that they cannot hope to deliver.

So all in all, even the very best of teachers are caught in a vice, with pressure from all sides.  The only release is to chuck Johnny out, telling the parents on the way just so as to make it sound concerned and legal: "So yes, you're going to home educate him," for which read "Phew, now we're bailed out of this holy mess that is not of our making!"

And so it is that disaffected young people end up being home educated and yipppeee from our elective representative's point of view, because home education is an easy target: tiny demographic, which doesn't garner much public understanding or sympathy, we can pick on them, rather than look at the massive mess in our own back yard.

So don't be fooled.  The problem is NOT home education or home education law.  It's a combination of lack of funding in schools, the desire to win votes and the subsequent distortions of learning theory, all of which means that young people end up being home educated without any prior preparation or knowledge about how it works.

BUT, you might be thinking, given that these young people are now being at least nominally home educated, perhaps the law surrounding HE does need to be changed?  The answer to that is a resounding NO.  These children ARE  KNOWN TO THE AUTHORITIES who already have all the law they need to get to young people who may be falling through the net and yet social work teams around the country can't cover the ground as it is.  A shortage of social workers is actually the problem that needs sorting.

OK, so I've calmed down a bit, though of course there's still a lot more that could be said on the crap learning theory in schools and how this could so easily be replaced with personalised learning and a little bit of creativity round the childcare aspect of school, but that's for another post. 

But right now, before I have a proper hope of regaining some composure, I feel the need to make another point: in one of the pieces, someone accused home educators of being irrationally afraid of the authorities.   I've just had to delete a lot of profanities right here, but I still want people to know how downright idiotic that assertion is.  Home educators aren't irrational about this. They have seen HE families torn apart by the authorities who wade in and do simply dreadful things in family courts with total impunity, the horror of the outcome being exacerbated because the authorities assume that families are home educating because they must have something to hide.

Our fears are not irrational.  Children and families have been devastated by the idiotic hand of a powerful state which in the family courts can get away with the most terrible injustices. This is why the law must, at the very least, not become more invasive: the state must not become more powerful, more intrusive and more wilfully misguided than it is already.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blogs about the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill



Will be updating as and when I hear of new blog posts about the bill. 

For starters, a sensible perspective from Researching Reform.

Information about the Bill from edyourself

Essential reading from Sometime it's Peaceful

Not directly related, but debunking the "if you have nothing to hide" myth.

From the Badman era, but still relevant, from Uncharted Worlds

From Christians in Education

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Why would the Latest Home Education Bill be Constitutionally Significant?

What is it about the "Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill, which received its first reading in the Lords on 27th June 2017, that is so significant? It is after all, highly unlikely to become law, but at least some of its significance stems from the fact that it is nonetheless part of an on-going effort on the part of those antipathetic to home education to influence legislators.

But what is constitutionally significant about that?  Well, if the bill were to become law, it would completely overturn a key underpinning of our democracy, ie: that it is for families to decide upon the nature and content of education rather than the state. This is because the bill would make it a requirement that every home educating family pass muster with their local authority in terms of their educational provision which means, in effect, that the state takes over the task of determining the nature of a suitable education.  Once this happens, democracy is at risk since it removes one of the key checks and balances that mitigates against the instigation of tyranny, ie: freedom in education.

But why, it is reasonable to ask, given that local authorities already have a duty to try to discover children not in receipt of an education, has the state not already taken over as de facto parent in terms of deciding upon the nature of a suitable education?  The state in determining that a suitable education is not taking place, must have decided upon the nature of a suitable education.

The thing is, the section on children missing education doesn't mean that anyone must define what a suitable education actually is.  It only means that the state must decide what a suitable education isn't!  These things are very different.

A suitable education is a broad category of things.  It is similar, in this way, to a healthy diet.  You can know, broadly speaking, when someone is not in receipt of a healthy diet, but you wouldn't by so doing, have determined what sort of diet a person must eat.

Likewise, the state determining that an education is not suitable is not the same as the state determining the nature of a suitable education, since all manner of different forms of education could be suitable and this is where we are at with current legislation. Families and not the state currently still get to decide upon the nature of a suitable education and they (unlike the state), can vary it so that the education is genuinely suited to the individual child.

However the recent bill as law would overturn all that.  The state would then decide upon the nature of suitable education. Parents would no longer get to decide this, and whilst this might not look constitutionally frightening at the moment, we must not forget how quickly democracies can deteriorate, how a chipping away at the edges of checks and balances could more easily lead to such a decline and how dictatorships are buttressed by a state controlled education.  Think not only of the decline of Revolutionary France and the Weimar Republic but also of the recent annexation of the Crimea and the current political volatility throughout the whole of the Western World, with swings to extreme ends of left and right, and populist votes which resulted in a president that admired the way Putin goes about things and press bans from Whitehouse briefings.

We are by no means at the end of history as Francis Fukuyama would have had us believe shortly after the end of the Cold War. Eternal vigilance remains as important today as it ever was.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Reaction to the Private Members' Bill in the House of Lords

Home educators are still not missing a beat.  A Private Members' Bill with the title:

Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill

received its first reading in the Lords on the 27th June 2017.

Despite the fact that all are aware that there is little chance that the bill will become law, a group opposing the bill was set up on Facebook by 16.00 the next day.  By early the next morning, there were already 4000 plus members and counting, along with streams of good argument as to why this bill will be damaging and unhelpful.

The feeling against registration and monitoring is as strong (if not stronger) than ever!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

There may be trouble ahead...

From the TES:

Having won a reprieve during the last Labour administration, the Home Education lobby will no doubt be preparing for a fight after Ms Morgan signalled that she would like more “regulation” around where children go when they are withdrawn from mainstream education. It was an area of “concern”, the education secretary said.

What Nicky actually said...from 16.52

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Home Education and The Safeguarding Myth

'The author would like to thank the excellent anonymous volunteers who made the FOI requests, in order to ensure that she obtained the information for her to work with. Thank you all for your help.'

Analysing the facts behind the rhetoric.



home-education-and-the-safeguarding-myth.pdf · version 1

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Just how many times is Daniel Monk mistaken?

It's hard to count exactly, but Daniel Monk gets it wrong A LOT. And the reasons why this matters? He is providing training to a number of Local Authorities and the AEHEP, and will be seriously misinforming them about the law and in the process will be encouraging them to commit ultra vires acts.  Some of these ultra vires acts will have far-reaching consequences not just for home educators but also for local authorities themselves, since a lot of what he proposes will cause children to fail to receive an education suited to their age, ability and aptitude, and IF the LA dictates that this is the form of education a child should receive, THEY will be held responsible when it fails.

His work needed a serious fisking and luckily this has been already been done quite superbly by Fiona N here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Welsh HE Consultation

NB, NB, all Welsh AND other UK HEors:

What happens in Wales will influence what other LAs around the country decide to do, so it is very much worth while responding.

In May the Minister for Education and Skills for Wales announced that he would not legislate during this Assembly term, and that non-statutory guidance for local authorities would be developed instead.

Wavehill has been contracted to develop this guidance on behalf of the Welsh Government. The consultants have been contracted to engage with relevant stakeholders, which will inform the development of the guidance.

We can contribute further by filling in the questionnaire by 16 February 2015: (Even though I ranted quite extensively, this still only took 5 mins...but yes OK, I was on a familiar, angry roll!)

For adult:

http://www.snapsurveys.com/swh/surveylogin.asp?k=142125033976

And this for child:

http://www.snapsurveys.com/swh/surveylogin.asp?k=142133904243

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What's wrong with the West Midland's position?

Towards the end of 2014, members of the West Midlands Elective Home Education Forum which was headed up by Jenny Dodd of Staffordshire LA, put together a critique of the 2007 Elective Home Education Legal Guidelines (EHELG) which they forwarded to Stephen Bishop, the contact for Home Education within the Department for Education.

This has been ably fisked by Rambling Violets, and thank goodness for that as there are plenty of problems with the West Midland Forum's  take.  There is little point rehashing Rambling Violet's arguments in full, but I would just like to pick out what seem to me to be a few of the most salient points and elaborate a little.

With regard to the voice of the home educated child, WMF complained that:

"the voice of the child is not implicit in the guidelines".

Rambling Violet rightly suggests that this complaint is the height of hypocrisy, given that the voice of the schooled child is routinely ignored whilst the voice of the home educated child is widely respected and acted upon to a high degree and this DESPITE the existence of government guidance that dictates that schooled children do have a right to be engaged as "active participants in their education", and that there must be ways of listening to the views of pupils and/or involving them in decision-making.

It strongly suggests that it doesn't really matter what guidance and guidelines say on the matter of the voice of the child, the authorities will use it for their own purposes, and ignore it when it doesn't suit them.  The authorities haven't any genuine interest in turning children into "active participants in their education".  If they had, they might find that huge swathes of children prefer not be educated in schools, and would far rather pursue an entirely different path outside of school.

But HEors should not be gulled into thinking that it doesn't much matter if the voice of the child does get included in the EHELG. HEors might even think it a good idea since it might, for example, protect an HE child from being forced into school against their will.  However, on balance it is far better to avoid this and for all concerned.

For HEors it is best avoided because of course the real reason why the WMF asked to hear the voice of the child is not because they are remotely interested in what the child says, let alone actually acting upon what he says.  They only want it added to the guidelines so that it becomes clear that they have a remit to insist that they inspect the child.  It has nothing to do with genuine well-being of the child, and everything to do with protecting their backs.

For the state it would be far better not to include this, since if the authorities are to become the ultimate arbiters of whether the voice of the child is being respected or not, they in effect appropriate a responsibility that had previously belonged to parents. The reason why it is possible to write guidance which allows for a schooling authority to respect a pupil voice is because parents have passed certain responsibilities regarding the education of their children to schooling authorities. Schooling parents therefore have, in effect, retained the role of primary responsibility in the act of passing on that responsibility.  Home educating parents, on the other hand, have made no such a delegation of responsibility.  In choosing to educate their own child according to age, ability and aptitude, they have not conferred any duties upon any one else with regard to the education of their children, and this would include considering the voice of the child.

IF the state really does want to take on the duty of final arbiter in the matter of listening to the voice of the child, they must accept that this is the role that they have and all the consequences that might flow from this.  A parent really cannot be said to be responsible for something over which the state does not let him have the final say. So if, for example, the LA doesn't listen to the voice of the child, forces him child into school against his will perhaps, it is the state who should be held responsible and the child could rightfully sue them. The state has appropriated what was a parental responsibility and they should stand accused for any failure that resulted from not acting according to the duties they appropriated.

A very similar argument should be applied to the WMF's complaints about Part 2 of the guidelines, where they appear to become exasperated at the lack of definition of a suitable education. They say quite categorically:

"Efficient education SHOULD include a systematic approach to learning the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy."

Wow, pretty explicit, pretty dogmatic and yep, pretty darn stupid and ignorant!!

Firstly let me just tell you a little bit about our experience.  My son never learnt to read in any systematic sort of a way. I had initially tried to teach him using a systematic phonics programme when he was very young but it hadn't worked at all, he retained absolutely nothing of it as far as anyone could see and he became dispirited and unhappy whenever we tried to do it, so on the advice of quite a number of autonomous home educators who had already been there and done that, I gave up with that and instead provided him with the things that actually did interest him, (mostly video games, computers, musical instruments, trampolines, climbing walls and friends). And that was all we did.  Nothing even remotely resembling a systematic approach to literacy.

Aged 9, he still wasn't reading a word. By age 10, he was an adult level reader.  He learnt to read by wanting to work out how to do the quests on Runescape.  He did this almost entirely on his own, with only minimal help from the readers in his life.  He then went on to get a 100% in his GCSE English coursework and an A grade at a sixth form college.  He is also now predicted an A in his English A level. ie: there really are more than one way to manage these sorts of things.   Had the local authority pitched up at our door insisting we use a systematic approach to learning the basic skills, I have little doubt it would have ruined his love of reading and writing.  He did it when he was ready, to his time-table, and when it really was suited to his age, ability and aptitude.

So really, the education that the WMF would like to insist on seeing would actually cause many parents (who often have withdrawn their children from schools precisely because a systematic approach to education was NOT suited to their child's age, ability and aptitude), to fail in their duty to provide a suitable education.

But just as with the argument about the voice of the child, it should be transparent that in deciding upon the nature of a suitable education, the state would in effect be appropriating parental responsibility for the causing a child to receive such an education.  Parents cannot, after all, be held responsible for something over which they are not the final arbiter.

The situation is analogous to that of a person driving a car.  He is driving along happily, fully aware of his legal responsibilities as a road user, when along comes a hijacker, who jumps into the passenger seat, grabs the wheel and steers the car into a lamp-post.  Who would any high court judge hold responsible for this disaster?  Clearly it would be none other than the hijacker.

And so it would be in the case of the state becoming the final arbiter of the nature of a suitable education and the state will be held responsible when their chosen form of education fails a child. Parents could no longer be held responsible because they simply weren't.  Children will sue the state.

As I say, there is much more of this sort of thing where this comes from, but if Jenny Dodd or anyone else in or advising the newly formed Association for Elective Home Education "Professionals" , including the NSPCC and Daniel Monk has any sense, they will need to think a little bit more carefully before they get so cavalier with the asking for various powers.

Oh and home educators everywhere, don't forget to explain to your MP what a pretty pickle LAs are hoping to create!  

Monday, January 05, 2015

Association of Elective Home Education Professionals

There is news of a new association of LA officials who claim to be the professionals in this situation:

 "To Stephen Bishop DfE from Jenny Dodd Staffordshire cc Tracey Shield DfE November 24th 2014

"...The national association is in it's (sic) infancy and will be known as Association of Elective Home Education Professionals (AEHEP). We are planning to hold a launch on Thursday 26th February from 1.00 to 3.00pm at Westminster and hope that you both can join us to discuss DfE view and take some questions from the floor? I'll send information about the association so that you can be kept in the loop
Link via this page"

The List of speakers for the launch of the National Body for Home Education Professionals on February 26th:

Graham Stuart;
Lord Lucas;
Nick Gibb (to be confirmed);
Barry Sheerman (to be confirmed);
Daniel Monk;
Stephen Bishop;
Members of the AEHEP committee, including Jenny Dodd (Chair), Dave Harvey (Vice Chair).

More on what some of the members (such as Jenny Dodd, member of the West Midlands EHE Forum) think is wrong with the Elective Home Education Legal Guidelines to come in a short while. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Please Consider Writing to your MP re Proposed Parliamentary Debate.

Season's Greetings folks....but don't get too relaxed because just when you are at your busiest, here's another job to put at the top of the "to do" list.

I can't help wondering if  the scheduling of the proposed debate on Home Education is deliberate...ie: they pick the time when we are most likely to be snowed under so that MPs don't get a stream of letters explaining what HE is really like.

However, HEing parents are used to rattling off letters at 4 am in the morning, and to make it even more plain sailing, there is information on the whys and hows of writing to your MP here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Warning Shot

This blog has been pretty quiet lately, mainly because perforce, it mutated into a campaign blog fighting to protect the right of families to decide upon the nature of a suitable education for children, and yet, for a while, there have been no serious legislative threats to this freedom.  Let's hope it stays that way, but there are ominous rumblings emanating from the Department for Education.

From www.parliament.uk: 


Q. Asked by Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) Asked on: 14 October 2014 Department for Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if she will make it her policy to collect information on the (a) number, (b) religion and (c) ethnicity of children being homeschooled in England. 


A. Answered by: Mr Nick Gibb Answered on: 20 October 2014 


There are no current plans to collect personal information on children receiving elective home education. The Department for Education is aware, however, of some concerns amongst local authorities about the information they have on such children in their areas. We have recently begun discussions with a range of representative bodies about these concerns and other home education issues, especially in relation to safeguarding.


As far as we are aware, this "range of representative bodies" hasn't included any representative bodies from the home education community.  So, in lieu of a formal invite, let's say it loud and clear here:


Things haven't changed much as regards the essential nature of the primacy of parental responsibility for education. 
We've said it before but OK, here we go all over again:

IF the state starts meddling with the principle of parental responsibility in a way that would effectively mean that it would appropriate that responsibility, one of the fundamental tenets of a mature democracy will be fatally undone.   The state must NOT dictate the nature of an education for that leaves the populace vulnerable to authoritariansm. 


We NEED free thinkers, actually not just for the maintenance of freedom, but also because we need children not to be fed the sort of muddle-headed rubbish that DD and I discovered in a Foundation GCSE English course today.  Honestly, this screed attempted to put over such an appallingly faulty ontology that it isn't any wonder that school children in the UK are confused. We need truth-seekers who understand the scientific method rather than a fictional GCSE English ontology and who appreciate that ontology isn't a subject that can mutate across domains. We need these children to offer truth-seeming answers, not the answers that teachers and GSCE examiners erroneously think are right!

Further, if the state starts to insist that parents dance to its tune, not only will democracy be at risk, but those few free thinkers who can still think outside the national curriculum will very clearly understand that they have every right to sue the pants off the state when an education fails a child, for it WILL be the state's fault. Parents cannot be held responsible for something for which the law does not allow them to be responsible.


But that isn't the end of the arguments that can be brought to bear on the threat of greater state intervention into home education.


There is also the not inconsiderable matter of there being NO MONEY...get that?  NO MONEY to inspect loads of perfectly well-functioning families who actually do BETTER without state intervention.  


I am currently working very part-time in the health sector.  In the few years I have been out of it, there has been a marked deterioration in the care of those who demonstrably need it. District Nurses use all manner of excuses to get out of offering all manner of services to desperately needy clients and this because there is no money to offer services.  For example, clients with minimal mental capacity are deemed mentally fit at the first possible opportunity, and their initial minimal demands are left unchallenged. Professionals make no attempt to educate and obtain informed decisions. Several patients I know who would have survived for many years, possibly even decades, are now dying in a couple of years and even months and sometimes even days through professional neglect.  And yet the services seem more concerned to go burrowing around in the lives of perfectly well-functioning families who really do not need them at all!


But it isn't just the lack of money that makes universal scrutiny of home educators impractical and unethical in the extreme, it is also the fact that distrust of services in the home education has, if anything, grown in recent years, for whilst central policy hasn't changed much during the current government, quite a few local authorities continue to defy both the law and common sense by making up their own policies as they see fit. Very often these local policies often DO contravene S7 (the bit that states that it is up to parents to ensure that children are educated in suitable manner).  Ultra vires demands by LAs have caused HEors to become even more distrustful of LAs than they were in the Badman years: how can HEors trust the authorities when they show such wanton disregard for the law of the land and basic human rights?


And worse still, HEors now know about the corruption that exists in all the services - the failure to listen to children, the closing of ranks, the back-covering, the post-rationalizations, the hiding of evidence, the buying of witnesses, the neglect of pertinent evidence and the simple straightforward abuse of children in LA care.


We saw the Panorama programme on how easy it is to corrupt expert witnesses, and have no illusions that these corruptions could be perpetrated by prosecution witnesses just as easily as those for the defence. We saw the attempt by the NHS to buy the secrecy of a doctor in the Baby P case.  And we strongly suspect that there has been corruption of some sort or another, either the police and social services concealing evidence from the CPS, or the CPS colluding with the NHS in a case that is widely known about in HE circles.  We also know that the child in this case was repeatedly ignored by her social worker, and that the damage that has been done to this child by the state has been appalling and utterly unwarranted. This child had been thriving whilst home educating and due to the machinations of the state, may take years to recover, if ever!  Why would home educators put themselves at risk of such harm?


And finally, whilst LAs argue that they need to know about HEors for safeguarding reason, the truth of the matter is that families who are really struggling already come to the attention of social services and those extremely rare families who are truly abusive won't come to the attention of the authorities even if a registration scheme is brought in.  They will just go further under the radar.   ie: a registration scheme would be a terrible, terrible waste of money we don't have.


There...and to cap it all, I suspect there will be HUGE NAKED resistance to intervention, a powerful upsurge of civil disobedience, and given that the home education community is ever growing, this could now be an impressive upheaval.

Update:  There is a great piece on the spurious nature of the accusations against home education made by the NSPCC in their report on SCRs here.  


Friday, October 10, 2014

URGENT: Please respond to a consultation against further cuts to legal aid.

The following is a request from a solicitor who has supported many home educators over the years:

URGENT: please consider responding to a short (closes on 15th Oct!!) consultation against further cuts to legal aid.



Sunday, June 01, 2014

Paula Rothermel's Response to the Northern Ireland Consultation

..can be read here: http://www.hedni.org/2014/05/consultation-response-dr-paula-rothermel

Friday, May 23, 2014

Home Education Explained (on TV...FINALLY!)

Wow wow wow!!! Mark Wright experiences a volte-face on the subject of home education, starting at about 57 mins in. Ex home educator Christopher Lloyd tells it like it is!!! What a relief...FINALLY.   

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Welfare Thing (Northern Ireland)

Following on from the guest post at Sometimes it's Peaceful, which explained the background and much of the current situation regarding the draft policy proposals on home education in NI, Sarah Dickinson of HedNI provides further information about the welfare issues and the reasons why the proposed approach is so inappropriate.
========================= The Welfare Thing Sarah Dickinson
The draft Policy on Elective Home Education in Northern Ireland is riddled with references to ‘safeguarding’ and ‘welfare’. We know from informal phone conversations that the Boards consider this a crucial element of the policy.
This is problematic on many levels.
  • The law governing the Education and Libraries Boards (Education and Libraries Order 1986) contains no duties or powers relating to welfare.
  • The welfare rationale for the draft is entirely unstated, and no evidence is referred to in the document.  It is very poor policy making to work on unstated and unsupported assumptions.
  • It is offensive to assume that a minority group is more likely to pose a danger to their children rather than investigating concerns on a case-by-case basis.
  • Most importantly the conflation of education and welfare is liable to cause confusion, unnecessary referrals and increased overheads – putting children who are genuinely in need at greater risk of being overlooked.
The Boards shouldn’t be allowed to cry “won’t somebody think of the children?!” and do whatever they please.
No legal power to act
Whatever your views on the desirability of home education, I think most people can agree that government bodies should obey the law.  Whatever the issue to be addressed they should use only the legal powers available to them, no matter the importance of the issue they cannot invent their own duties and powers. The Education Order does not give the Education and Library Boards (ELBs or Boards) any form of safeguarding duty or power. In fact the Education and Library Boards, like all of us, have a legal duty to refer any concerns to Social Services - the agency which does have the legal power and duty to protect children in need.
The policy states that it rests on the Education and Libraries Order and refers also to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In subsequent email exchanges they have appealed also to The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Education Order does not refer to welfare.  The UNCRC is quoted selectively and could just as easily be used to argue against the proposed scheme. In any case this Convention has not been incorporated into Law and cannot create such draconian powers.  The Children Order, on the other hand, relates to matters to be taken into consideration by the Courts; to apply court procedures to families about whom there are no concerns is to turn the presumption of innocence on its head.
The DHSSPS NI's Safeguarding Document gives definitions of abuse, electing to home educate is not one.  In section 3.47 it states
"the education service itself does not have an investigative responsibility in child protection work. However, schools and Education Welfare staff have a role in assisting social services by referring concerns and providing information which will contribute to child protection investigations. Social services may on occasions ask staff working in education for information about a child where there are concerns about abuse or neglect".
Co-operating To Safeguard Children, DHSSPS, May 2003
Emphasis in bold Mine
Bad Policy making
Good policy making is within the law, evidence based and clearly states the reasoning behind any changes:
“Policy-making as outlined in this guide is about establishing what needs to be done - examining the underlying rationale for and effectiveness of policies - then working out how to do it and reviewing on an ongoing basis how well the desired outcomes are being delivered... In summary, policy-making needs to be forward looking; outward looking; innovative, flexible and creative; evidence-based; inclusive; joined up; to learn lessons from experience; to be communicated effectively; and to incorporate ongoing evaluation and review.”
Nowhere does the policy state its aims, nor does it offer any evidence to support the need for additional welfare protection for home educated children.
Home education is a legally sanctioned choice, and cannot in itself be a cause for a welfare concern any more than nationality, religion, skin colour or diet.  It is offensive in the extreme to presume that home educating parents are more likely to be a danger to their children.  In order to introduce a welfare assessment scheme for home educated children it would be necessary to show a greater instance of abuse in home educated children, a causal link and evidence that these children would not be discovered by normal means.
Lack of evidence
During the Badman Review into Elective Home Education home educators were able to show that, despite alarmist claims, home educating children were four times LESS likely to be abused than the national average.
"Alarmed by media statements which sought to smear the home educating community without any supporting evidence, AHEd members had painstakingly collected comparative child abuse statistics from every Local Authority in England via the Freedom of information Act. Analysis of the data not only demonstrated that there is no link between elective home education and child abuse, but also established that the incidence of child abuse is far lower among home educating families."
Is there any reason to think that Northern Irish parents are less trustworthy than their English counterparts?
The implication is that there is some element in registered schooling that is protective of children.  During the Badman Review home educated children were described as ‘hidden’, but in fact the review was unable to demonstrate that schools played a significant role in protecting children.  Nor has any case been produced in which a child would have been safe, if only they had been in school.  Many referrals to social services originate from friends, neighbours and family GPs.  In fact, according to the DHSSPSNI statistics for 2013 -  of 4167 referrals, just 257 or 6.2% were from schools Education Welfare Officers.
It is doubtful that the government would be able to argue that schools are statistically safer than homes, nor can they argue that schools are effective monitors of children’s overall safety.
Offensive
It is offensive, not only to home educators but to the children who have been failed by the system, to treat home education as a factor in abuse.  Attempts were made, for example, to implicate home education in the tragic case of Victoria ClimbiĆ©.
The Victoria Climbie Foundation said in February 2009 that they were
"...genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria ClimbiĆ© and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden”. 

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a 'hidden' child, only children who are allowed to fall through the gaps. The key issue here is how statutory services interact with children that are known within the child protection system." 
In a speech to the National Social Services Conference 2003 Lord Laming also commented that Victoria was “known to no fewer than four Social Services Departments, three Housing Departments and two specialist Police Child Protection Teams. Furthermore, she was admitted to two different hospitals because of suspicions she was being deliberately harmed and she was referred to a specialist Child and Family Centre managed by the NSPCC.”
Endangers children
This leads us onto the final and most crucial point.  This policy would not protect children; it would cause confusion and allow more children to “fall through the gaps”.
The Area Child Protection Committees’ “A Short Guide to Regional Policy and Procedures” (linked from page 5 of the draft policy), states on page 13:
Remember that an allegation of child abuse or neglect may lead to a criminal investigation therefore not to do anything that may jeopardise a police investigation, such as asking a child leading questions or attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse.”
Education Officials have no legal duty or power to assess the safety of the environment, or the child's physical, social or emotional health. They have the same duty as all of us, and particularly those in positions of responsibility, which is to report any concerns to the appropriate agency.  This is no area for the Boards to go vigilante. Two potential issues arise from the confusion of roles and responsibilities between the Education Authority and the Social Services.  First, one individual is being asked to carry out two distinct roles at once. Second, two agencies have responsibility for one task.  
One officer attempting to assess both education and welfare in the entwined way described in this policy is liable to find that their assessment of one colours the other.  Equally the responses to any concerns have the potential to become confused – for example a child with mixed welfare and educational issues may be assessed by someone with only the power to issue a School Attendance Order, and to refer them on for another round of expensive, time consuming and stressful assessments.  
Confusion between different agencies as to who holds responsibility for safeguarding has had serious and sometimes tragic outcomes in the past.  Social services should have complete control and all relevant data on welfare cases, other unrelated agencies should not carry out random parts of a delicate process. This is particularly true where the other agency is attempting to institute a policy with considerable administrative overhead and a limited budget.
These elements –
  • No legal powers
  • No legal duty
  • Limited access to necessary information and history
  • Confusion over the scope of responsibility
  • Confusion between areas of responsibility
  • Potential to undermine any future prosecution
Add up to a recipe for disaster.
Sufficient legal framework exists to protect children who need it, if there are failings they are not due to a lack of educational oversight.  An EWO who makes appropriate referrals is fully meeting their legal duties with regard to safeguarding.
If we are looking to improve child protection then child protection is the area we should be looking at – where are children being missed? What can we do to find and help them? The Board’s proposed scheme is a solution in search of a problem, which is poor policy, bad law and undermines child protection.
Please sign our petition, write to the Northern Irish Minister for Education and keep up with news at HEdNI, where you will also find template letters. Thank you for your interest and support."

More on the Northern Ireland Situation

The background and current situation regarding the proposed new policy on Home Education is lucidly explained in this guest post by Sarah Dickenson on Sometimes it's Peaceful.  Great way to get up to speed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Now for the Good News! Local Authorities, Please Note.

After yesterday's disappointing news regarding the proposed Home Education policy changes in N. Ireland, it is great to hear that things could be working out for the better in some other parts of the UK.

News has reached us that Graham Stuart MP. has written to the Tri Borough, (Westminster CC, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea BCs), to call them out on a number of misdemeanors with regard to home education, which include:

* their misrepresentation of current law in the UK
* their disregard for guidance
* their appalling treatment of home educators in their boroughs.

Apparently the make-works in these boroughs have quoted out-dated law in the cause of seeking to insist on seeing both parent and child face to face. They insist this is the only way to monitor the home education and that this is their duty!

Parents have been terrified by their heavy-handedness and rightly so, given the gross miscarriages of justice perpetrated by children's services departments that we have witnessed up and down the country over the years.

Graham Stuart, (serious thanks are due to this man) wrote: 

Dear Ms (Head of children's services),

I am writing regarding the guidance issued to the Tri Borough group of London local authorities relating to Elective Home Education (EHE).  As the chairman of the Education Select Committee and the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education, I have concerns about some apparent misrepresentation of the law contained in this guidance, (a copy of which is enclosed for your reference).

Specifically, I would like to raise the sections of the guidance which state:

"The local education authority has a duty under section 199 of the Education Act 1993 (in England and Wales) to monitor the education provided."

and

"A local authority school improvement adviser (SIA) will visit your home to assess the quality of the education you ore giving and, if necessary and in the light of his or her findings, make recommendations on how it could be improved."

The Education Act 1993 was repealed by the Education Act 1996. Under the 1996 Act, local authorities have no statutory duty to monitor home educating families on a routine basis. Instead, they should intervene only if they have a reason for doing so. They are not obliged, or indeed pre-emptively to seek reasons to intervene. This is confirmed by paragraph s 2.7 and 2.8 of the Department for Education Guidelines for Local Authorities on Elective Home Education. These state in full:

2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.

This section states that:

"lf it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education."

Section 437(2) of the Act provides that the period shall not be less than 75 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served
:
2,8  Prior to serving a notice under section 437 (1), local authorities ore encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the some as a notice under section 437(7), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

The guidance issued by the Tri Borough therefore fundamentally misstates the powers and responsibilities of local authorities in this regard. I would be grateful to learn what action you will take to amend the guidance so that it properly reflects both the law and the Department for Education's Guidelines.  Rather than imposing a monitoring regime on home educating families, it would be better for the Tri Borough to concentrate on improving the support and resources available for home educating families, in accordance with their individual wishes.

On a related note, I have also been show correspondence from your adviser Ms Kyria Parsons to XX who is home educating her son.  In a letter dated 11th February 2014, Ms Parsons told XX

2we are of the view that our statutory duties, under 437(7) Education Act, 1996, can only be consistently and satisfactorily fulfilled through face to face meeting with parents/carers and the child(ren) being home educated."

In light of the Department's own Guidelines, I believe this view has been formed in error.  Ms Parsons states in her letter that it has been taken on the basis of legal advice.  I would be grateful for the opportunity to review the advice in question.  

The Department for Education shares my concern about the Guidelines for Home Education being represented incorrectly to parents.  I am theefore copying this letter to the Minister Elizabeth Truss, whose office I expect will be in touch shortly."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Now the turn of Northern Irish Home Educators.

Just after receiving confirmation that the Welsh Assembly has dropped plans to legislate to bring in compulsory registration of Welsh Home Educators and that any new guidance will be non-statutory, (YIPPEE), we hear that Northern Irish HEors are now in the firing line for new statutory guidance.

Same old, same old. Yup, the same old arguments must be recycled, it seems! When will the ptb realise that

Access to the home without suspicion of wrongdoing 
Access to the child 
Control over deregistration from schools 
Restrictions on how and what children should learn

altogether over-ride the principle of parental responsibility for education, and that should the ptb decide to make our decisions for us, we will come for them when they screw up?

Graham Stuart MP (head of the Education Select Committee) has already tried to explain why it is a bad idea, but all help will be gratefully received.

Please sign the petition here. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

French Home Educators' badly needing our help!

Approx translation:  

"We want to get the complete abandonment of the legislation which proposes to limit the option of home education to cases of disability.

Home education in France is legal and is a free choice that belongs to parents.  It is a constitutional freedom which is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The bill also aims to reduce individual freedoms of everyone and is an attack on families in their choice of life. We must strongly oppose this in order to continue to choose the best for our children.

Sign this petition now and show governments how far we've come in taking on responsibility for education!!

On which point, this book is great on the efficacy of autonomous learning for a great life and a great career: