After reading what appear to be the finalised Elective Home Education Guidelines for England yesterday afternoon, the children and I went about home education with lighter hearts, for the guidelines appear to be almost as good as we could reasonably expect. They at least make it seem as if we will be able to continue with our chosen form of education, even if they haven't entirely eradicated the fear that some irrational LA bod is lurking out there who will try to take it all away from us. For whilst the guidelines do indeed appear to remain within the law, (for which I think we should thank the hundreds of home educating individuals and groups who responded to the DCSF consultation, since I suspect that this powerful rejoinder compelled the DCSF to listen to their lawyers), they are still only guidelines. Local authority workers may push them to legal limits wherever they find some ambiguity or may even ignore them completely.
On the plus side, there is much to celebrate and much that home educators may use in our dealings with LAs. Bold type seems to be employed as a means of shouting at the LAs, many of whom had so clearly demonstrated that they'd forgotten their statutory and ethical limits in their consultation responses.
"The purpose of these guidelines is to support local authorities in carrying out their statutory responsibilities. "
"The responsibility for a child's education rests with their parents."
"Local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education."
Further on the plus side, it is made quite clear that
"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";
"Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made";
Better still, the variety of educational provision is explicitly acknowledged as acceptable.
"2.5.... Local authorities should recognise that there are many approaches to education provision, not just a "school at home" model. What is suitable for one child will not be for another, but all children should be involved in a learning process."
"3.14 It is important to recognise that there are many, equally valid, approaches to educational provision. Local authorities should, therefore, consider a wide range of information from home educating parents, in a range of formats. The information may be in the form of specific examples of learning e.g. pictures/paintings/models, diaries of educational activity, projects, assessments, samples of work, books, educational visits etc".
However, there are some areas which are ambiguous enough to allow abusive Local Authorities to continue with abusive practices. Particularly notably:
"2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangments to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their function as a LA and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004). These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern. (Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989)."
Hang on a mo there - given that we suspect that the LAs either don't know the law or choose to ignore it, and also appear to hope that home educators don't know it either, it looks as if the guidelines should have clarified that there have to be specific conditions before a local authority has a duty to investigate. Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 states that a child who is worthy of investigation must be:
(i) the subject of an emergency protection order; or
(ii)in police protection;
or that there must be
(b) reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
It would have been helpful if this section had been included in the guidelines for it will not be sufficient for LAs simply to have vague concerns about low level problems. There must be reasonable cause to suspect a significant degree of harm. Home Educators everywhere will have to know their law and be reading it back to any doorstepping social workers.
Gill has a further take on the guidelines.