With many thanks to Dani who provided the inspiration for this, here is my letter to my MP and the Education Secretary about the proposed DfES consultation on monitoring of home education. NB: it is a personalized and impassioned letter, but do feel free to alter and use as you see fit.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
We are one of thousands of families in England and Wales currently exercising our legal right to educate our children otherwise than at school. In common with other home educators we know, we are well aware of our obligation under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act to provide an education that is full time, efficient and suitable to the age, aptitude and ability and any special educational needs of our children.
We are very concerned to hear, via various communications to members of the home education community, that there are some representatives of your department who regard our freedom to determine the form and content of our children's education as an "anomaly" and that as a result of this, your department intends to launch a full consultation on home education early in 2007.
In full, we understand that this further consultation on home education has been proposed as a result of the fact that in last year's partial consultation on draft home education guidance for Local Authorities, LAs reported difficulty in assessing the progress of home educated children and in hearing their views on their education. Further, members of your department have also expressed the idea that if LAs are to implement the Children Act 2004, which sets out the Government's aim to improve educational outcomes for all children regardless of where they are educated, they must have an easier right to intervene in the education of home educated children. Some members of your department clearly believe that this aim is hindered by the present legal framework within which "the state cannot currently prescribe what form of education parents should provide, whilst all maintained and independent school provision is prescribed in legislation and subject to inspection"
It is the case, of course, that s437 of the Education Act 1996 provides a remedy for LAs which have concerns that there may be no suitable educational provision, but Mark Houston (DfES) expressed the feeling that LAs find this "unwieldy, time consuming and expensive and in some cases will be nugatory where home educators are making good provision but are resistant to LA enquiries".
The intended DfES consultation has been described as being undertaken in order to explore what changes the government might implement to strengthen the monitoring arrangements for home education and it has been suggested that legislative changes may follow the consultation. (Elaine Haste).
We are however of the opinion that the law, as it stands, is appropriate and sufficiently effective. In my now not inconsiderable experience of meeting HE families, only a tiny proportion were failing to provide a suitable education to their children and these were already known to, scrutinized and monitored by their local authorities, with children being returned to school in two out of the three families and the situation improving in the third. The safety net seems to me to be working already. Indeed it is the case that whilst your department is considering increasing the degree to which LAs have a right to monitor home education, many home educators say that you already interfere either quite sufficiently already or way too much in the lives of otherwise well-functioning home educating families.
Ms Haste worries that HE children are not able to tell people how they view their education. I could tell Ms Haste that the HE children I have talked to recently all say they love it. Almost all parents whose children say they don't, send their kids back to school. I don't think there is much to worry about in this regard, not least when you consider that there is a far greater problem in that huge numbers of children simply loathe school, and are never heard or taken seriously at all. For example, we hear that at least 20,000 pupils daily don't go in to school because they are bullied. I think you department really does have much more appropriate things to do than worry about than canvassing the views of an almost universally happy bunch of (HE) children.
If Ms Haste is still concerned to hear the views of the HE children I have spoken to over the last few months and years, I can report that they would without exception far rather not have LEA inspectors round their way more than they already do, so if the principle of canvassing and respecting the views of children, as enshrined in the ECM remit, is to be taken seriously, then yet again the argument for increased LA monitoring is further undermined.
As an HE parent, I can see the children's point. Home education springs from a private space, it happens in the very stuff of private family life. We have a right to privacy from the state, as enshrined in ECHRs and we do not need any further state intrusion to remind us that our actions have consequences for society at large.
Home Educators value the duty to provide a suitable education to their children. This often means that they prefer to tailor the education to ensure that it is personalized. Given that they know their children best, we find it difficult to think that an LA inspector will be able to offer much help that cannot be accessed more easily and with less intrusive consequences elsewhere. In this information-rich world and with the availability of HE networks, we do not have to rely on LA inspectors to provide us with links and help.
Whilst we note the concerns of the LAs that the inspection process is unwieldy, we believe that this is not necessarily a bad thing, for to make it otherwise is to risk the introduction of situation that best be described as a police state. And as far as money is concerned, more monitoring would surely mean more expense.
We have noted your recent comments about the need for the government not to dictate to parents in the matter of how they raise their children and we also noted with interest Lord Adonis's comments in the Lord's debate on the Education and Inspections bill, October 30th, http://tinyurl.com/yccnu2 in which he made it plain that the primacy of parental responsibility for education must remain enshrined in law, with the implication if this were not the case, then the state could suffer serious consequences. (see recent stories about the huge prevalence of bullying in schools, http://tinyurl.com/y98g42 and the educational failure of schooled children: http://tinyurl.com/ynbck5
We (by which I mean my family) therefore ask that you consider keeping the situation as it is, for we think that to require further monitoring and control of home educators is to risk the principle of the primacy of parental responsibility for education, to destroy the notion of privacy in family life and to disrupt the provision of personalized education to our children; and all of this at great expense and for almost indiscernible gain.