...to the DCSF's consultation on Registering and Monitoring proposals. From PDF here.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Home Education - Registration and Monitoring Proposals consultation document. ADCS is the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children’s services appointed under the provisions of the Children Act 2004 and for other children’s services professionals in leadership roles. The Association provides a national voice as a champion for children, with local and central government, and with the public.
The recognition of parents’ well established rights to home educate children as fundamental to the review is welcomed as is the government view that it has no plans to change that position.
It is only right that the government considers systems to keep children safe and in receipt of suitable education and that they are as robust as possible; ADCS supports this view. It is essential that local authorities are enabled to deal with any concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child, with effective systems in place to address these.
However, ADCS believe that it is important to be clear which of these proposals are intended to ensure a good education and which are related to safeguarding concerns – our response is laid out accordingly. While the Every Child Matters framework clearly encourages services to take a “whole child” approach, this should not cause confusion as to the purpose of any given intervention.
Some questions are answered twice – once in relation to their impact on ensuring a suitable education and again in relation to ensuring that children are safe.
Proposals to ensure a good education
The aim of any regulation of home education must primarily be to ensure that every child receives a suitable and age-appropriate education, even those who do not attend school. This is the legal basis for the current arrangements and must continue to be so.
1. Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?
We agree that the proposals strike the correct balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education.
2. Do you agree that a register should be kept? Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?
ADCS support the keeping of registers for home educated children. The information proposed as being required at registration is basic and probably fulfils the minimum requirement which would support local authorities in ensuring a suitable education.
3. Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?
Requiring parents to register and to keep that register up to date is essential in our view, leaving the responsibility of choice for education with parents, and yet enabling local authorities to fulfil their various roles under Every Child Matters and in particular the achievement of educational outcomes.
4. Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
Converting this requirement into legal responsibility for parents again supports the local authority in carrying out its duties. However, the timing of any legal enforcement should be considered by the local authority in much the same way as the enforcement of the requirement to attend schools is dealt with through current systems so as to allow for ongoing engagement with families.
5. Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?
Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?
We agree that children should remain on the school roll for a short period after the notification of the intention to home educate. This will allow potential alternative solutions to home education to be explored. The time period should be the same period in which a child should be seen at home after home education begins (4 weeks as proposed in this consultation). Information gathered on the visit, whether on the suitability of the education or the views of the child, may result in the child returning to the roll and it would be helpful if they were still on the roll.
Schools retain a responsibility for pupils and we agree that where parents remove children from school to home education, the school should in the first instance respond to this responsibility, and be required to inform the local authority of the change in status of the pupil from a school roll registration to home educated.
Similarly the school holds information on the child and this should be shared with the local authority including the expected and future attainment data. This data should be shared with local authorities to enable them to continue monitoring of educational progression for every child.
6. Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?
Statutory guidance on these systems would be helpful, although care must be taken to make sure that they are not too burdensome on the parent, school or local authority, whilst making sure that a system will achieve the overarching purpose for safety, well-being and appropriate education.
7. Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?
Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting?
We agree that the child should be seen, preferably alone, in the first 4 weeks of home schooling. This would allow the child’s views about being removed from school to be taken into account when assessing the suitability of home education. This is as important to ensure a child is engaged with their education, wherever it may take place. This complements provision for a child to stay on the school roll for a short period after removal – the two measures together will provide a more flexible system to accommodate those who want to return to school in this early period.
Schools operate as part of an integrated children’s service that allows education professionals to share safeguarding concerns with other professionals so that appropriate action can be taken. While not a school’s main purpose, it should be acknowledged that children not in a school environment are less likely to have these concerns identified where they arise, due to their lack of contact with professionals.
In this section we have sought to identify where the proposals will support a local authority in ensuring that home educated children are not more at risk due to their parents choice to home educate.
1. Do you agree that a register should be kept? Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?
The information required is basic and probably fulfils the minimum requirement which would support local authorities in keeping children safe. Most local authorities keep a register of children who are educated at home, and this is good practice, enabling links to be made with health visitors and other health services for example, which can inform safety and well-being concerns. Making this standard practice would be an advantage.
2. Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?
We agree that where there are children about whom the local authority has substantial safeguarding concerns there should be the power and the authority to not allow them to be home educated. This is particularly relevant to those who may be looked after at home and would enable the school to be an integral part of the intervention programme. We have some concerns about whether a change in the law to enable local authorities to insist on school attendance due to safeguarding concerns would be feasible or enforceable. It should be considered in the light of the current arrangements for insisting on school attendance due to concern about a child’s education at home – the right exists but is very difficult to enforce.
3 Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
Making this a legal duty would support local authorities in carrying out their responsibilities to keep children safe.
4 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?
The local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place, and two weeks notice of this visit should enable parents to be engaged in this process.
5 Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?
Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis?
Regular visits by the local authority to premises and interviews with the child would enable safeguarding issues to be addressed. It would be helpful and supportive for the local authority to have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer.
We are concerned, however about the legal framework required to give local authorities the right to speak to children alone in this context – as far as we are aware, child protection investigations do not have the legal authority to demand this, even though it is seen as best practice. It is difficult to see how this could be resolved without legislative changes.
Additional resources will be required if home visits are to be required at 4 weeks, 6 months and annually, seeing children alone would add an additional resource requirement. In principle, however, this is an acceptable approach.
This response has been compiled on behalf of ADCS by Becky Godar, ADCS Press and Policy Officer. Any queries regarding this response should be addressed in the first instance to Rob Belli, Administrative Officer, ADCS (e) firstname.lastname@example.org .
15th October 2009