In recent weeks, the HE community has had sight of a number of responses to the consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines from LAs and Safeguarding Children's Boards which have had the effect of producing a collective exasperated sigh, then a reality-seeking headshake. Eeeeuuuughhhhh, bwbwbwwbbwww.
Yup, guess what: most of these responses set out with the premise that there are some terrible child abuse situations in the HE community that the local authorities know about and that therefore they should be monitoring all HEors to make sure that this isn't happening.
Ho hum...right oh. In a bid to answer the charges laid at the HE door, it looked as if we needed to know just a little bit more about at least some of these cases that the LAs supposedly know about. Interestingly, it has proved very, very difficult to ascertain whether these cases are in many instances genuine. A home educator of admirable tenacity issued a Freedom of Information request to a group of professionals with a safeguarding remit who made a response to the EHE consultation containing some vague allegations, from which it emerged that the person who wrote the response didn't actually have the details of the cases to which it referred. There is worse to come: this same response was offered up and used as a basis for responses from many other LAs. In other words, when LAs made allegations about problem HE families, they may not actually have any direct experience of such cases.
All that aside, the thing is that in all the problem cases where more details were given, it was transparently clear that LAs already do have perfectly sufficient powers to act and should not therefore, be needing to call upon the DCSF for more powers to intervene in HEors lives on this basis alone.
Of course, despite what they may be saying in their responses, the problem cases they know about aren't the real issue for the LAs. The real point of difficulty is when an HE family provides them with a perfectly acceptable philosophy of education and a description of work done: LAs are left wondering about whether it is safe to leave such a family alone. Could this family actually be abusing their children and superficially be managing to disguise it very well?
There are however, perfectly satisfactory answers to this perceived problem. The first, of course, is that HE families do not live in a vacuum. If these families know the HE community and if their problems are severe, almost inevitably the HE community can't deal with it, and one way or another someone refers this family to the services, faux de mieux. If the families aren't known to other HEors, other family members, neighbours, or the school from which they have de-regged, refer them to SS. In fact in many HEors experience, the bar for referral to SS is set ridiculously low: many more HEors get referred to SS than is necessary.
This still leaves the families that somehow have managed to live in a vacuum, hiding their children away under the stairs for years at a time. I think the chances of such a family managing to do this are vanishingly small. The chances of such a family not being known to other family members or neighbours is vanishingly small. The chances of them being able to produce an adequate ed. phil are small. (Most HEors who produce a satisfactory ed. phil are in contact with other HEors, and therefore, if they have serious problems, the HE community is likely to know about it.) Doctors with their new database are likely to get alerts when a child is not being vaccinated and hasn't visited them about this and the new ContactPoint (children's database) should be doing something to detect this sort of a problem.
If we really are going to try to build a properly risk averse society, we should not be spending huge amounts of time, effort and money preventing problems that are very unlikely to happen, we would be far better off putting all our efforts into preparing for something that is actually likely to happen, like building flood defences. We should also be focusing on coping with something that we already know is actually happening, such as dealing with the abused children we already know about. LAs will be wasting an awful lot of public money if they insist on looking through the whole of the HE haystack looking for that needle of a family. It would be far more efficient to let the community continue to work to produce the evidence.
Of course, it isn't all about welfare concerns. We also have to deal with the other myth that seems to be doing the rounds following on from a particular LA HE inspector regularly repeating the same refrain that 25% of HEors are not educating their children properly.
Of course, the knee-jerk reaction - impossible to resist...tu quoque. Since when were 75 % of school children properly educated? But actually the more mature response is that this particular HE inspector is very, very unlikely to have a clue what she is talking about.
Many HEing families don't go down a conventional school route. They don't emulate school at home. They don't sit down with workbooks and force their children through exams they don't want to take and yet, despite all this, their children are educated entirely appropriately, according to their age, ability and aptitude. The HE community has now seen way too many individuals who have been autonomously HEd, go right through and end up with all the life skills and college courses they could possibly need, not to know that this is the case. The repeated failure of many LA HE inspectors to understand this is precisely why the HE community is making this whole stand in the first place.