What we should be saying to LAs and the DfES:
(DfES address for letters: Elaine.HASTE@dfes.gsi.gov.uk
or: Elective Home Education Department, DfES, Mowden Hall, Darlington DL3 9BG.)
*There are perfectly adequate procedures already in place to allow Local Authorities pick up on families who are not educating their children to their age, ability and aptitude. It is currently the case that LAs are able to make enquiries of home educating families in order to ascertain that on balance of probabilities an education is taking place. In the situation that it would appear to a reasonable person that it is not, the LA already have a right to pursue the situation further. Such a balance is finely wrought and should not be tampered with lightly, for it allows for the protection of children who are being educationally neglected, and yet it also allows for families, who are doing very well and acting perfectly within the law, to be left alone. This situation may not be as easy as the Local Authority would like, but they will find, see below, that insisting on a duty to monitor all home educating families will actually make their working lives a lot harder.
*It will be very difficult to monitor us because huge numbers of Home Educating families don't want to be monitored. They will resist intrusion into their lives and homes when they know they are doing nothing wrong, and that your presence will be disruptive for the education of their children, so you will be making yourselves very vulnerable to increased workload, being unable to carry out the work and significantly increased costs.
*If you create a duty to monitor us, you will be held liable when you don't do it.
*Parents will go for you when you try to impose state standards. Many home educated children have been already woefully failed by the state and even the private schooling system. Many HE parents, have learned the hard way that age is not a reliable way to determine aptitude or achievement. These kinds of parents will not be pressed to conform to state standards just to please the LA official when it is not in the best educational interests of their child. If they are pressed to do this, they will sue you for forcing them to provide an education that is not appropriate to the ability and aptitude of their child.
*If we are to be monitored, we will demand funding in order that we may meet with your demands.
*The home educating families who are failing their children are the insignificant statistical outliers. These families are (it seems to us) almost all already known to LAs and are already receiving the kind of "support" you would be offering after you create a duty to monitor all HEors.
* Far from missing out on the very few families who are failing, it is already the case that the HE community is acutely aware that LAs interfere with families who would otherwise be functioning very well. It is frequently the case that LAs think that an HE family is having a problem when they simply aren't. Increasing the degree to which all families are subjected to state scrutiny will doubtless increase the numbers of false positives, will generate an huge amount of expense and unnecessary work, and will probably prevent the accused families from getting on with educating their children as best they can. When the LA are responsible for causing, rather than finding a problem, the family will hold the state to account. This kind of case will also doubtless cause increased dissatisfaction with your services amongst HEing communities, and we will be communicating our dissatisfactions far and wide, to include the media and our MPs.
*It is an abiding problem of either state or a more patrician form of educational provision that those who make such provision are almost exclusively those who have succeeded within the educational system that they propose. All those who failed radically are not given a voice as to how their needs could best be met. This strikes us as a terrible tragedy, for the one-size-fits-all provision that is consequently offered fails to be meet such children's needs and does not allow them to realise their potential. Many home educators have experienced how both state and private schooling fails to meet the educational needs of their children and most of these will have devised better strategies to cope with their children's needs. Children who left school anxious, self-harming and depressed have flourished in the less stressful environment of home- based education and have gone on to live happy and productive lives. It is, in fact, the home educating community who are the experts in educating children with needs such as these.
Being the experts in this field, home educators are also best placed to offer criticism and support to the few home educators who are struggling. The DfES does not need to create further duties for LAs which will undermine the positive elements of civil society and the growth of personal responsibility which are modeled in the Home Education community. Further, the DfES must be aware that in intruding upon the lives of children who are not happy to be dealing with judgmental strangers is likely to be very counter-productive for their education, and all to no observable benefit in terms of educational outcomes.
*The methodology used by the two reports which have been used to justify the DFES's current consultation proposal - namely the NFER (link not working at present) and Ivatts, is highly questionable. The sample sizes in the first study are tiny, and the people consulted in both studies were either only those who were prepared to give the answers the studies sought, or whose responses were not represented in the reports. In addition, the previous DfES consultation in 2005, upon which the present proposed consultation is based, was very biased in favour of LA reports and did not weigh evidence from home educators fairly.
*The currently proposed consultation on "light touch changes to monitoring" of Home Educators appears to us to be flawed and does not conform to the Cabinet Office's Code of Practice with regard to how consultations should be conducted. It seems, for example, that home educators are being consulted at a very late stage in the proceedings, that decisions have already been made as to what action will be taken and that these have been based upon a very biased set of assumptions and presentations from LAs and flawed studies, see above. Home Educators are, afterall, the key stakeholders in this matter, and yet we feel that it is LAs who are being treated as such. Overall, we feel we have been put in the position of having to assert our right to respond to the wrong questions set by the wrong people, based on assumptions that are often erroneous, ill-informed and discriminatory. We therefore do not feel that this consultation meets the Audit Commission's definition, of "a process of dialogue that leads to a decision..... an ongoing exchange of views and information, rather than a one-off event." We also feel that many key stakeholders, such as Travellers, as well as those home educators not accessing email and internet-based information, will not be able to be represented in the consultation process.
*It is the case that many HE communities have invested considerable energy building satisfactory relationships with Local Authority personnel, working with them to achieve a satisfactory balance with due respect for the privacy of families who are doing nothing other than educating their children appropriately and who are acting within the law. If compulsory universal monitoring is introduced, we will be back in the trenches once again.
*Occasional home visits are highly unlikely to pick up accurate evidence of abuse. Instead Social Services departments must continue to rely upon the old method of informal community reporting. This does work. Being unknown to SS dep'ts is not usually the problem for abused children, by far the greater problem for social services departments being to know what to do about suspected cases of abuse. The state must abandon the idea that it can police every family for abuse. The only way this could be done would be to fix cc cameras in all the rooms in everyone's houses and out in the garden as well. Checking huge numbers of HEors for the few who may be being abusive (we contend that these are very, very few) will be a waste of public money and is very likely to lead to a number of false positives, which will get heard about through the HE grapevine and which will act to your discredit. Why enlarge the size of the haystack, since this will only make the needle harder to find?
*What about the right to family privacy as enshrined in European Human Rights Law, Article 8? The child, with no duties being asked of him, will surely have a right to family privacy. If a child doesn't want to meet with the LA, are you going to ask the parents to force that child to do so? What level of force are you going to ask a parent to apply? What about the commitment to listen to and respect the wishes of children, as enshrined in the Every Child Matters agenda and in Article 12 of UNCRC? If a child doesn't want to meet with state officials, will it be in the spirit of the ECM to force the child to meet with them? It is sadly the case that many children suffer terribly in schools. The stress they experience is all too frequently neglected. Many home educating parents are not prepared to stand by and see the physical and mental health of their children suffer. These kinds of parents will not be happy to see their children suffer once again with LA monitoring and an imposition of a school-at-home education.
*Is it that the DfES propose to ignore Article 2 of the First Protocol of the ECHR which states that "In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions"?
*Home educators neither want nor need your support. Instead their communities offer a prime example of successful civil society. We take responsibility for ourselves. We help each other in innumerable ways, we offer criticism of each other, we police ourselves, we help each other grow. Far from hassling such a community, thereby impeding our growth and independence, the state should step back and breathe a huge sigh of relief, for here is a perfect example of they way in which society should be going. Our children are offered personalised learning, which if you didn't interfere with it, would not cost the taxpayer a thing. They are finding and developing their interests and aptitudes, without wasting huge swathes of time learning stuff that will never be of use to them again. They socialize with people of all ages. They live and learn in the real wide world beyond the school gates.