Monday, January 26, 2009

Letter to Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families

Hey folks, another avenue. It is apparently possible for any of us to contact the Select Committee for Children Schools and Families, (email: csfcom@parliament.uk). It's their job to scrutinise the work of the DCSF, though they may not actually deal with our complaints for a while as they deal with a lot of issues, but letters about the many problems of the current home education review may well be worth a shot. Afterall, this review and the related consultation are being handled so disgracefully that the Committee should rightfully be interested in the problems.

We can call for the immediate closure of the consultation and review on the basis of our complaints, but failing that we can explain that we think that the results of the review must be deemed invalid due to the extremely poor method of consultation.

NB: UPDATE: The following letter has required some alteration on the basis of the information received from an MP that this four week consultation launched on the 20th of January is not
the full consultation and is only intended to gauge different parties' ideas that will be considered for the Government's proposals to be outlined in a report on Home Education to be launched in May. Then once the report has been launched which will contain the Government's proposals, it will then go out to a full 12 week on line public consultation which the different groups can have their say on the proposals.

This obviously changes what we should say at this point!

Please find my draft letter below, addressed to Mr Kenneth Fox, clerk of the Committee. Full contact details here.

We could also mail the DCSF complaints department directly, contact details here.

Improvements and/or corrections to the letter would be gratefully received.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dear Mr Fox,

I am writing to you with regard to a review and related consultations on home education which were announced on 19th of January:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0013

The open consultation is to be found here:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1605&external=no&menu=1

and the consultation exclusively for local authorities can be found here:

http://www.myopinion.org.uk/dcsf/homeeducation/index.cfm

There are a number of issues which I would like to raise with regard to this review and I would very much like you to pursue answers to the following questions:

1. This is the third review/consultation directly pertaining to home education since 2005. The latest set of Guidelines on Elective Home Education were only issued after extensive consultation in 2007. See here:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/_documents/content/7373-DCSF-Elective%20Home%20Education.pdf

Home educators are wondering why we are effectively compelled to go through this whole process yet again when procedures and the law surrounding home education were so extensively thrashed out less than two years ago, guidelines were created and the law remains proportionate to the task in hand? Home educators are busy people and would prefer that the matter be laid to rest so that they can get on with observing the duties to their children.

It is also the case that repeated consultations dealing with the same subject matter are explicitly ruled out by Criterion 5 of the Better Regulations Code of Practice on Consultations to which the DCSF is required to adhere.

http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf

2. Worse, we have now been informed by a Member of Parliament that this four week consultation launched on the 20th of January is not the full consultation and is only intended to gauge different parties' ideas that will be considered for the Government's proposals to be outlined in a report on Home Education to be launched in May. Then once the report has been launched which will contain the Government's proposals, it will then go out to a full 12 week on line public consultation which the different groups can have their say on the proposals.

Whilst it appears that this current exercise is nothing but a preliminary garnering of views, to us it is as if we are still being subjected to a full consultation which involves a considerable number of man hours and diversion from our other responsibilities and even worse, we have then to face yet another consulatation, presumably on a similar to identical subject all over again.

3. We believe that there is no reason for this consultation to be compressed into four weeks instead of the standard 12. We do not believe there is sufficient justification for reducing this time scale from the standard 12 week consultation. From the Cabinet Office Code of Practice on Written Consultations:

http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf

which should be adhered to by the DCSF, at criterion 2, we learn that the code allows for shorter consultation periods in exceptional circumstances, such as where departments need to respond quickly in the best interest of the public. However there does not appear to be any evidence for any exceptional circumstances which could justify this urgency and hard to reach groups without internet access will be unable to partake in this consultation because of the short time scale.

4. We wonder why this review has been instituted at a time when new guidance on identifying children missing a suitable education:

http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/resources-and-practice/IG00202/

has only just been issued, the application of which would impact upon the answers to the review?

5. The above point about peculiar timing of this review could be reiterated, this time with regard to ContactPoint which is due to go live in May of this year. The effect of ContactPoint cannot currently be evaluated, and yet this could have a huge bearing on the answers within the consultations.

6. Why does the public consultation only invite online responses? We have been led to understand that paper responses will not be accepted, and even if they had been, they would have been very difficult to return to the DCSF within such a limited time-scale. This of course will result in the exclusion of key stakeholders amongst the hard to reach groups. Criterion 4, of the Code of Practice on Consultations states that "Consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach." On this basis alone, we would call for the closure of this consultation and review.

7. Why are LAs invited to respond to a different consultation from the public but are also able to respond to the public consultation?

8. How is the report going to ensure appropriate weight is given to answers to both consultations? We are very concerned that this will result in a biased interpretation of the information, perhaps as an effect of double counting, given that LAs can respond to two consultations when the public can only respond to one.

9. The LA consultation is also apparently completely confidential, so it appears that once again, allegations will be made against the home education community without any chance of these being checked and substantiated.

10. Why does the LA questionnaire:

http://www.myopinion.org.uk/dcsf/homeeducation/index.cfm

contain misleading questions which misrepresent the law?

For example " Question 58. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes? (of the Every Child Matters agenda). "

In current law, (ie: The Children Act 2004), local authorities have no duty to monitor for the five outcomes in the ECM agenda. It remains the case that parents, not government, are responsible for ensuring the welfare and education of their children. To suggest with loose wording that LAs have these duties in law when they actually do not is likely to cause them to call for further powers to enact these imagined duties and yet such powers of state intervention into families would be entirely unnecessary, given that current law is sufficient to the task in hand, and would override any hope of families being able to be responsible for themselves or having any privacy.

This loose wording appears to infringe Criterion 3 of the Code of Practice on Consultations which calls for clarity in consultations.

11. Why is the DCSF seeking a review on this subject at all when the relevant law and policy concerning home education remains proportionate and sufficient to the task when applied correctly and it remains for Local Authorities to improve at working with it.

This would appear to infringe the Code of Practice on Consultations again at Criterion 3.

The government urgently needs to give consideration to the fact that if they increase powers of local authorities any further, as is seemingly suggested by the thrust of this review, they would in effect remove parental responsibility for the education and welfare of children, and override the privacy of families. This would be constitutionally unacceptable and hugely damaging, both for parents and for the state when it will be held liable for failures.

12. We understand that because this current consultation is not a full one, there does not appear to have been any need to undertake an Impact Assessment on potential policy changes, as would normally be recommended by the Code of Practice on consultations. However, questions in the LA questionnaire which imply that the government believe that LAs should have ultimate responsibility for ensuring the welfare and education of children would have huge implications for man-power and cost. We believe it is irresponsible to suggest that these duties exist without really considering the impact this would have on the government finances, since these costs would be HUGE.

13. How much taxpayers' money will be squandered on this consultation and report?

14. Home educators are extremely concerned that the review will not be conducted in an impartial fashion. It is being led by Mr Graham Badman, formerly a teacher, head teacher and Director of Children's Services at Kent County Council. It is far from clear where the expertise on home education will come from in the review of the collated information and we feel that the conclusions are highly likely to be biased as a result.

The seriousness of the many complaints above have led many home educators to call for the immediate closure of the consultation and the review. Failing this, we would expect that the results of review be taken as invalid.

If you need any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

9 is particularly brilliant!

Adele

Carlotta said...

Thanks A...

Just to confuse everyone - what was point 9 is now point 10 as have added in an earlier point about the initiation of ContactPoint!

On what is now point 10..am wondering if I just have somehow missed the Impact Assessment...has anyone seen it so far?

emma said...

*stands up and applauds loudly*

I really am thinking more and more that the old saying "the pen is mightier than the sword" is the one for us all to be chanting, mantra like, in this process.

Ruth said...

Gi 'em a headful o' dandruff the Scunners! :-)

Carlotta said...

Lol Ruth...yeah!

Have just updated the above letter as a result of a letter from an MP on facebook which I had missed...stating that this consult is only a prelim one and we will have to do yet another one pretty soon after this!!!!! OUTRAGEOUS WASTE OF TIME.

Oh, and Adele...point 9 is NOW 12! Keep thinking up new reasons to be very, VERY CROSS!

Ruth said...

OK, so now we're hearing that it's NOT a consultation at all. Noooooo it's an "independent review" and that's why it doesn't have to follow consultation rules.

A consultation is what we'll get AFTER the "independent review" if Badman recommends any changes.

Yup {nods at the looks of disbelief} if the conclusion of this review, that we've been wasting our lives responding to, is that something needs changing then we will have to go through it all again, probably with long, badly written new draft guidelines to pick over. I can hardly F'ing wait!