REPORT ON SHEFFIELD WORKSHOP, JANUARY 2007
The pilot campaign meeting in Sheffield was attended by more than thirty home educators from around the area.
Fiona Nicholson opened the meeting with a brief introduction to the Every Child Matters agenda set out by Sheffield Council and summarised the work HEors have done in Sheffield on this to date.
A local home educating parent who is a social worker in the same council department which now covers education, ie: the Children and Young People's Directorate, then went through how the Children Act 2004 has impacted on local services for children and families and also answered questions on the social work perspective on the Information Sharing Index, (the national children's database).
Phil Hicks of EO's Government Policy Group then made observations about the Education Otherwise perspective on the Children Act and the Children Missing Education. Home Educators raised concerns about the Local Authority's benign view of the ISI and outlined some of the many agencies which the DfES suggested might be drawn into the database as active participants, (up to half a million registered users having access to the database). There were many questions from the people at the meeting about how this might affect ordinary home educators in the short, medium and long term and many people spoke of the impact they anticipated it might have on their families and what we might be able to do about it.
Phil Hicks, then gave an overview of how Education Otherwise was moving into the regions to reach people who did not come to EO gatherings. Phil also gave us an account of the meeting between Peter Walsh at the DfES and members of EO Government Policy Group shortly before Christmas when the DfES explained the rationale for the imminent consultation on "light touch changes to the monitoring of home education ". Again there were many opportunities for people to ask questions and make comments during this part of the workshop.
This free exchange of views continued during the lunch break. We asked parents who had children in the creche to go and collect their children so that the creche volunteers could be liberated for their own lunch and have a chance to catch up with what everyone was doing.
In the afternoon, people split into groups of four and discussed what home education meant to us and how we might dispel common public, media and state misconceptions . They then gave feedback to the room.
A local journalist then outlined how home educators could work with the press: local papers, trade and professional journals, the national press, specialist educational press, local and national radio and so on. She gave tips on how to write a press release and how to build up a positive working relationship with friendly journalists. Her main points were to do with Home Educators keeping or taking control of the process so that they are not caught unprepared or unawares or pushed into doing something they don't feel comfortable with. She also recommended that HEors draw up a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and agree on some common ground so that they have a sort of "crib sheet " and know that anyone who is elected to speak to the media is briefed on the pitfalls of certain types of responses to journalists' questions. She advised that HEors should be prepared, particularly when dealing with the local newspapers, to be photographed in a clearly identifiable way and to expect to provide full names, addresses and ages of children which will appear in the paper.
A local HE parent, who is also Local Contact for Education Otherwise in Rotherham, then spoke about her family's media experiences last autumn from appearing in a feature and studio debate on home education for The Politics Show Northern Region on BBC One, and then appearing in the Breakfast Show on Radio Sheffield, to be followed by a two-page spread on home education in the local paper.
Another HE parent then delivered an impassioned speech about how she felt there were
injustices in respect of provision for 14-16 year olds - the funding for this in Sheffield is about to be cut. She reported that the MP, Nick Clegg, Liberal democrat (former MEP) had no prior knowledge of home education. She had been told prior to meeting with him that he could only give her five or ten minutes but in the end they were there for half an hour and Nick Clegg undertook to speak to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education about her concerns.
It was impossible in such a short space of time to cover all the issues raised by the proposed threat to the changes in monitoring home education but the group did want to deal with the subject of children with Special Educational Needs since it can be virtually impossible to access any kind of funding or provision if the child is outside the maintained school system and does not have the per capita funding. In this regard, another local HE parent talked about her deaf pre-school-age child and the difficulties she faced in accessing any help and how she felt she was being pushed into special school provision because the system was just not geared up to help home educators. More time could have been usefully spent on the whole area of SEN and home education and may be covered in much more depth at subsequent regional workshops.
The last fifteen minutes or so of the meeting was taken up with exchange of news and view and resolutions to keep up the momentum generated by the workshop.
During the meeting various papers were given out to form part of a Workshop Briefing Pack.
For future regional workshops, the EO Government Policy Co-ordinator would supply this printed material if requested and it will also become available to download from the new EO Campaign Website which will be up and running shortly.