The minutes of the meeting between Gloucestershire home educators and the Local Authority are yet to be networked, but we have it from a reliable source that Glos LA are indeed telling the DfES that visits to home educators must be mandatory or at least that the LA should have automatic rights of access. It seems the LA are taking the recommendations in the Eunice Spry Serious Case Review seriously, ie:
"The Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board should make appropriate representation to Government to highlight the concern that there is currently no legal process, which ensures that children, who are educated at home, are regularly seen, and their progress monitored, by Educating Otherwise professionals".
(The commas are all theirs.)
Right Glos HEors, you have plenty of experience in offering good and pertinent advice to people who may not be as well-informed as your good selves. Now it seems you may just have to apply these skills in another direction and with strong collective action.
For starters, I would suggest a letter from Glos HEors to the DfES, cc'd to Glos LA and the GSCB along the lines of:
Dear Elaine Haste,
Following the recent meeting between members of Gloucestershire Local Authority and representatives of the Gloucestershire home educators' group, we understand that the Glos Safeguarding Children Board (GSCB) are making a case to the DfES to ask for more powers to visit and assess home educated children. We think it a matter of some importance that the DCSF and Glos LA are made aware of a number of issues that arise from such a request.
We do not believe that such measures would be congruent with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (incorporated into UK law as the UK Human Rights Act 1998) which states that
"1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. "
Home education is an entire way of life for most home educating families. It is intergral to their existence and extends into the deepest, most intimate parts of it. Currently many HEors who have contact with the LA already find the visits very stressful, often for the very reason that their privacy has been invaded and this in the situation where the intrusion is invited by the family. One could only envisage that it would become even more traumatic if LA officials had automatic rights to intrude.
It should also be noted in this regard, that many home educated children have suffered terribly at the hands of the state via the schooling system, or are not neuro-typical in a way which makes it very difficult for them to deal with strangers, so automatic visits by LA officers would for this reason be more damaging than helpful.
We have no objection whatsoever, for the LA to pursue families where there are genuine reasons to suspect that there are problems, but Glos LA should be clear that such enquiries should only result from genuine concern and this for reasons of the right to privacy and the need to avoid stress for innocent families.
Further, it seems clear to us that there are already adequate measures in place to ensure that genuine concerns can be pursued and with the implementation of the Children Act 2004, to include the setting up of ContactPoint, we believe that there should now be procedures in place to ensure that Local Authorities pick up on families who are not educating their children to their age, ability and aptitude. This because the database will identify all HE children in the area, and if it is to live up to the billing, will make it easier for professionals to spot repeated patterns of problems. We believe that had this been in place at the time of the abuse perpetuated by Eunice Spry, her abhorrent behaviour would have been detected at an earlier date, and all this without involving and damaging the whole of the rest of the home educating community.
Further, in asking for automatic rights to force themselves upon families, Glos LA are also, in effect, asking for the automatic power to make judgements about the educational provision, judgements which could radically effect those families in ways they did not seek. This contains within it, the possibility or even likelihood of another significant consequence, (other than the overriding of the right to privacy): in establishing the principle of the state being the final arbiter of all educational provision, we should in effect expect a re-writing of Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act to reflect the fact that whilst parents may remain responsible for provision of education, it is the state who is responsible for determining the form and content of it.
There is, of course, also the issue of cost. Most authorities struggle to meet the needs of children with genuine problems and we doubt that Gloucestershire is unusual in this regard. Does it really behove the authority to waste funds inspecting perfectly functioning families who would otherwise save the state a reasonable sum of money when so many other children cannot get the respite care or the wheelchair from which they could genuinely benefit?
It is currently the case that LAs sometimes think that an HE family has a problem of one sort or another than would warrant state intrusion, when they simply don'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 in all likelihood 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, it will doubtless cause increased dissatisfaction with LA services amongst HEing communities.
We are particularly concerned that children with special needs or disabilities will be singled out for extra scrutiny, which could well make it much more difficult for the parents of these children to meet their needs as they are likely to find themselves focusing on dealing with LA demands, rather than providing a suitably tailored education. Such children may not progress in the same way as children without such special needs, but this does not mean that further intervention or extra attention should be given to these families, since they are most often, nonetheless providing a uniquely tailored, personalised form of education
As a final point, many HEors will on principle, resist state intrusion as best they can. Does the LA really want to create such hostility from a normally law-abiding section of the population?
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And for main course, perhaps Glos HEors could consider organising a big delegation to meet with the LA, perhaps mainly to prove the last point?