Friday, November 03, 2017

Summary of What's Wrong with the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill

Lord Soley's Bill is due its Second Reading in the House of Lords on the 24th November. The Second Reading provides the first opportunity for the Lords to debate the key principles and main purpose of the bill, and to flag up concerns and specific areas that they think require amendments. Further:

"Before second reading takes place

Before a second reading debate takes place, members who would like to speak add their name to a list – the ‘speakers list’.

What happens at second reading?

The government minister, spokesperson or a member of the Lords responsible for the bill opens the second reading debate.
Any member can speak during second reading – this stage can indicate those members particularly interested in a bill, or a specific aspect of it, and those who are most likely to be involved in suggesting changes at later stages.
Second reading debates usually last for a few hours but can sometimes stretch over a couple of days.

What happens after second reading?

After second reading the bill goes to committee stage – where detailed line by line examination and discussion of amendments takes place"

...all of which suggest that now's the time to make it quite clear where the home education community stand on this issue, and why they see the whole thing as hugely problematic.

To summarise: current law as described in these guidelines is already fit for purpose.  All the Serious Case Reviews have demonstrated that children were failed not by being hidden, but by the services failing to act appropriately.  The bill as proposed would not solve the problem as it would stretch resources even more finely and it would introduce all manner of other problems, from constitutional and legislative ones, to inflicting terrible harm on families, to involving a lot of useless expense. Other more creative solutions could be found within current law.

Below is a fuller set of arguments against the Bill in broad categories, along with some other ideas about what could more usefully be done:

Legislative and Constitutional Implications: 

1. If the Bill were to be enacted, the state would take 
over the matter of deciding upon the nature of a suitable education.   As well as contravening 
Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act which states that:" In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions", a state-dictated education risks spelling the end of the culture of free thought, debate and criticism that has underpinned a successful democracy in this country.  It would also mean that given that parents cannot really be deemed to be responsible for something over which they have no control, ie: they must deliver a state mandated education, the state should be responsible (rather than the parent) if the provision fails the child.

2.  The Bill would clarify the meaning of "cause to receive" in s7 of the 1996 Education Act.  If the bill were enacted, LA officials would be assessing whether parents have met their parental duty to "cause a child to receive an education" by looking at the child's work.  This means that they would be looking to see that the child had learnt something, which means that "having a duty to cause to receive an education" doesn't only involve making suitable provision. It would also mean that a child has actually learnt something (and to a suitable level).  This would mean that there would be a lack of parity under the law since HE parents would be held to a higher standard of duty than schooling parents.  Schooling parents are deemed to have deferred responsibility to schools, but for the parental duty to mean anything at all, this only makes sense if the meaning of "cause to receive" means "a duty to provide an education" rather than "a duty to ensure learning takes place".   If schooling parents don't have a duty to ensure that learning takes place, why should HEing parents be judged on this basis?  If the bill were enacted, to remove the resulting inequity of schooling and HE parents being treated differently under the law, either s7 has to be removed from the statute, (obviously not a good thing, since someone surely does have to have a duty to educate young people), or schooling parents would need to be assessed as to how well their children learn.  It is unlikely that this latter solution would be popular with the electorate.

3.  It is anyhow the case that judging whether parents have met their duty to cause a child to receive an education upon whether the child has learnt anything is actually very poor learning theory indeed, as it is simply the case that no parent/teacher/any other human on the planet can open the head of another person and pour knowledge in to it.  However good the provision, a learner can still stare out the window thinking "la la la!".  It is grossly unfair on parents/teachers/anyone else on the planet to judge them on the basis of something over which they have no ultimate control.  And of course, poor learning theory makes for bad laws - the ambiguity surrounding "cause to receive" is a source of much misery in the schooling system as it is, with many teachers leaving the profession because, for all the brilliant lessons they offer, they still can't MAKE their pupils apply their minds.  Let's not make the whole situation even worse by extending the law on false learning theory to another area of education, thereby increasing stress in families and most likely making learning even less likely. 

4. The bill would amount to a breach of various 
UNCRC articles including:
Article 2: a child's right to protection against discrimination.  
Article 3: a child's right to have adults doing what's best for a child.
Article 5: a child's right to be given guidance by parents and family.
Article 12:  a child's right to have an opinion, be listened to and taken seriously.
Article 16:  a child'd right to privacy.
Article 18: a child's right to be raised by their parents.
Article 28: a child's right to an education.
Article 29:  a child's right to an education which develops his/her personality.

5. On top of contravening Article 16 of the UNCRC with a massive invasion of a child's privacy (demanding to see the child's work etc), where the bill requires data sharing without parental permission or compulsory state interventions (as opposed to services offered), the proper threshold of concern for sharing data is that there is a cause for concern at the level of significant harm. If this threshold is not met and state interference is routine, then this has already been dealt with in the supreme court.  
The NO2NP campaign judgement covers the whole of the UK, not just Scotland, which means that this type of action is against the law.

6. Current law is already fit for purpose.  All the Serious Case Reviews have demonstrated that children were failed not by being hidden, but by the services failing to act appropriately.

Impact on Families: 

1.  The bill will damage families whose educational provision may very well be ruined by trying to jump through state-dictated hoops. Many HE children have been failed by conventional schooling and home education in its various manifestations can provide a wonderful healing form of education in which these children thrive.  The bill would remove the capacity of parents to provide an education that is genuinely suited to their children and children will therefore fail all over again.

2.  HE families are justifiably afraid of LAs.   They know that LA officials are often poorly trained and have very little understanding of HE and they will be reluctant to leave their child in the company of such a person, particularly as will often be the case, the child themselves is deeply reluctant to be assessed in this way.  Further, HEors know that LA reports about them are often fudged, subjective, don't represent the truth of the matter and are poorly written and they feel they have next to no defence against this misrepresentation.  Recent family court judgements on covert recordings acknowledged that professionals have been known to make things up to the detriment of the family, yet HEors understand that they have little redress with regard to social service judgements and in family courts. They have seen innocent HE families put through harrowing situations in the family courts, some ending up losing their children and others even being falsely accused in the criminal courts of things like Fabricated and Induced Illness.  Even after these families have been exonerated, HEors have witnessed the long term deep damage to the young people and families involved.

3.  Families will be hugely stressed by the visits, for reasons in point above, but also because children have often left school in a severely traumatised state and the fear of returning there is truly awful.  The first young person I mentioned the bill provisions too said, (despite the fact that she is highly academic, thriving in an art college now etc), "Well, if that had happened to me when I was a fully fledged school refuser, I would have refused to comply.  I would have hidden under my bed, and locked the door. I would not have been able to deal with the fact that my parents might be punished for this.  I would have been so scared of being forcibly returned to school, that I wouldn't have been able to do anything about preventing punishment to my parents."    Not only is this clearly HUGELY stressful for these sorts of families, it again punishes already struggling parents for things over which they have no control, unless, of course, the state requires them to forcibly drag their progeny from under their beds, in a way that could be deemed highly abusive.

4. The stress that would be involved in the "assessment" would most likely mean that there would be many false positives, with added stress and expense for local authorities and damage for families.

Costing and Resources:

1.  Local Authorities won't be able to afford to enact the Bill.  The costing exercises some LAs have undertaken look farcically optimistic when read alongside headlines in their own local newspapers announcing LA budget cuts.  These estimations don't take in to account the cost of social work referral, other agency referrals, SAO issuance and taking families to court for non-compliance, etc. as well as the cost of a number of children requiring schooling where they hadn't previously, many of these children requiring extra SEN provision. This bill will stretch over-stretched resources even further and leave even less money for genuine cases.  It is also very likely that the HE community will go on strike, refusing contact with LAs.  50,000 SAOs would be very expensive.

Better solutions:

1. Schools, LAs and Ofsted need to sort themselves out so that they not only making sure that the Pupil Registration Regs of 2016 are working properly and that no backdoor off-rolling is happening, but also that schools are able to talk openly and frankly to their LAs, so that they can raise concerns without fear of being made to feel as if they have failed for not coping with the problem themselves. 

It would help a lot if Ofsted were to stop judging schools by results and instead should look solely at provision. This would introduce far more honesty in the schooling system, including schools being honest with Ofsted and their LAs about the young people who are failed by their provision. Ofsted, instead of punishing teachers and demoralising the work force, should accept the limits of human capacity and instead help with good practice when it comes to off-rolling.  

2.  Illegal schools could be found through a more honest off-rolling process which would allow the Prevent  strategy and other community based projects to kick in more effectively which could then be dealt with through Ofsted without generating a load of unnecessary work monitoring perfectly legitimate home educating families.

3. Ofsted should be given more effective powers of inspection and entry to deal with illegal schools. 

4.  Young people when off-rolled, could be given contact details of a person or hot line whom they could call should they need to.  

5. Families removing their children from school could automatically be given information that connected them to well established groups in the HE community.   The skill set in the HE community is now pretty big.  Most big FB groups in FB can advise and help really effectively.

6.  Schools should have properly funded SEND provision. This would limit the numbers of families with SEN who feel compelled to HE due to appalling school provision.

7. There should be the offer of state funded virtual schools for those who want to work remotely.

8.  Home education, instead of being seen as the enemy, could be regarded as offering a model for updating and improving the education system in this country.  Schooling in this country is in crisis. Funding is a huge problem.   Teachers are leaving in droves.  Bullying of all sorts is rife and young people leave school burnt out and demotivated by a one size fits all curriculum and endless exams,. The contrast between schooled young people and those were were HEd when they enter sixth forms and universities is often dramatic, with the previously home educated raring to go.  Further, the schooling system does not take into account that the teacher is no long the sole repository of wisdom, and it is not making the best use of technological innovation. This slowness to adapt is most likely a result of a combination of vast vested interests and habit, but we have a model of an easily adaptable, light-on-its-feet type of education in the form of home education. Home educators know that information is no longer at a premium.  Lectures from the most eminent minds in the world are available at a click of a button.  Criticism and feed back are available in spades, again at the click of a button.  Home Educators know about personalising education, using data, gamification, and internal motivation in order to improve learning outcomes. They know about how to maximise the wisdom of crowds in many of their FB groups.  Could we gamify education? Can we offer distance learning options. So lets really think about replacing schools with something more appropriate for the 21st century or at the very least, think about something a bit more Finnish. Let's look at providing safe spaces for children to work in, learning hubs, personalised learning, data based, data driven individual educations where children can acquire the skills they will actually need in a fast paced world. This is actually the sort of discussion we should be having and most likely, after an initial disruption, it would be a darn sight cheaper.

7. Instead of funding education centrally, provide education vouchers so that families can chose the provision that genuinely suits their child. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Carlotta,

I think you make some very interesting points here.

I have remained anonymous here as I work for a local authority providing admin support for the EHE team and I can't afford to risk my job!

I was home educated myself and I went into this position with the intention of championing home educators rights from within the LEA, however I have come across a huge amount of vulnerable families bullied into EHE by schools failing their children - as a result of these failings they are very distrustful of the local authority which makes it difficult to assist them.

I would like to make clear that I and all my colleagues insist on encouraging families to seek support from home ed groups on facebook before and during EHE. It's not hard to appreciate that those actually experiencing this education choice are better placed to advise than we are much of the time.

I look upon this bill optimistically, but I think the greatest concern is consistency. In my authority all officers are expected to keep an open mind when establishing what is suitable, we engage with families as best we can and support their decision and rights, however, I appreciate this may not be the case for all LEAs so I think if authorities are well informed then it could be a good thing for home educators.

Finally I must say when families refuse to engage with us (as my mother did when I was home educated) it presents a huge challenge to the LEA because of our experience (as more of our time is dedicated to struggling families than those who are demonstrably capable) we are inclined to assume the worst! I really do believe that home educators should be proud of their decision and of the accomplishments of their young people, honestly it puts such a huge smile on our faces when we meet or talk to a home educator who genuinely has put their child first and is achieving great things.

I hope to have a good debate with yourself and your peers, I think it's important for those on both sides of the table talk to each other about their concerns!

I look forward to talking with you further :)


Carlotta said...

Dear Anon S,

Thank you so much for your comment which is very helpful and yes, it would be great to have a proper debate about this. I will try to bring some here, but in lieu of that, if it is OK with you, I will raise the sort of points you raise elsewhere, (obviously without identifying you), as your perception of both sides of the argument is a rare commodity.

I think one of the problems for many home educators is a feeling that the pedagogy they espouse is still not whole-heartedly accepted as valid by the authorities. Unschoolers, autonomous educators and self directed learners routinely face a barrage of tick box questions from LAs, which require them to demonstrate that their child is doing English, Maths, Music, Biology etc. None of these sort of subject categories are likely to fit easily within an unschooling or AE framework and it sets the whole project of assessment of educational development off on the wrong foot.

By way of an example of the problem, it is routinely the case that unschooled children learn to read at an older age than most schooled children, (though we all know of course that the huge effort that is often put in to getting schooled children has hugely limited returns, that many don't read nearly as well as one imagines and are often reluctant readers when they finally get the skills). Unschooled children however don't suffer for learning to read much later. Most of the unschooled young people I know didn't learn to read till aged 9 till 14, and yet all, without fail, are now highly literate, and are able to undertake further education and be fully engaged in the workplace.

However, it is often difficult to explain the fact that the unschooling child is not doing anything about reading and writing to LA officials, and on many LA forms we receive. We often are reduced to hedging and blustering and we don't feel we want to do this!

So until unschooling/AE/SDE etc are properly appreciated and understood by the powers that be, there will be suspicion from huge swathes of the HE community.

My personal feeling, what with the school system falling apart as it is, is that unschooling theory etc has much to teach the rest of the education system, but because these are so vastly different from a schooling pedagogy, and there is so much vested interest in maintaining the educational status quo, this seems virtually impossible.

Sugata Mitra started to show the way with his "hole in the wall" experiments, which are of course, not entirely unschooling, but which demonstrate how alternatives can work and how they can be easily adapted and refined...see his use of the "granny Cloud". That is also one of the great joys of unschooling method: it can be easily adapted as well as being personalised to the child, ie: the most efficient form of education known to man, yet can we be believed on this?

Unschoolers KNOW unschooling works. They won't give it up lightly. They won't want to have to jump through antiquated, inhibiting and totally redundant hoops that often limit what they can and cannot do throughout the year. In fact, they would prefer the learning establishment to face up to the fact that unschooling is actually a more efficient way to learn.

Carlotta said...

It is also the case, of course, that concerns about families can actually be dealt with through the current regulatory framework. LAs can already intervene where they do have valid concerns, yet so many LA officers are unaware of their current powers, or are for some reason unwilling to use them.

LAs can indeed issue SAOs where there is obviously no educational provision whatsoever. That is the intent of s437, ie: SAOs after the informal and formal process of inquiries has been exhausted.

Anonymous said...

Feel free! I would love to reach more of the community.

The tick box aspect of things is difficult, when dealing with huge numbers of people it is hard to record in an entirely qualitative way. Whilst we will record what families are doing in this format we also have more detailed summaries of their methods from talking to them and taking notes on what they share with us. To mark that a child is learning maths doesn't mean they need to be sat down at a desk in front of an exercise book, we recognise that people employ many different approaches to education but it's often clear from meeting the child if they are receiving an education or not; we don't need to see conformity to recognise when good education is happening. I think an assessment is too strong a word, we don't test children, for us it's much more about setting up a dialogue.

I appreciate that it can take longer to learn through these methods, if I recall correctly I was around 7/8 when my mum taught me to read. Again it's more about the process than the proficiency for us, we want to see that education is happening, we aren't there to test the children.

It is my understanding that the new legislation if it makes it into law would ensure that certain areas are covered by educators, rather than demanding a defined proficiency in said areas. We've seen children who are very learned but morbidly obese, we've seen children with incredible engineering minds but completely illiterate, my sister is EHE and her writing ability is astounding but her maths is appalling. I have a friend who was home educated in an extremist Christian setting, she is fluent in ancient Greek and can quote the bible end to end, but she is extremely naive and gained no qualifications. I think what's needed is a basic set of expectations/ areas that are deemed necessary to cover, while retaining the freedom of choice with how those areas are delivered.

I see no issue with the methods mentioned here, much of my education came from long conversations/debates with my mum that were directed by me. I think the issue with unschooling from the perspective of the LEA is that a small minority use the term incorrectly, some will claim they are unschooling and be using their children for domestic servitude, childcare for younger siblings, underage employment, etc etc. Yes it is a minority of a huge community, but as history will tell you it is often the minority that need to be protected/regulated. Also, as ridiculous as it sounds, the term conjures up a negative image of opposition to education rather than a genuine alternative.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the last thing the authorities should be doing is limiting delivery of education, but I really believe this bill will prevent inexperienced and vulnerable educators limiting their young people's education themselves (as in religious extremist or overly culturally specific education approaches).

I appreciate that we do have the power to place legal constraints upon those we believe aren't educating, but quite frankly we don't like to assume, if we can't see a child we can't know if education is happening. If we assume everyone who refuses a visit isn't educating then we would be using an awful lot of court time, public money, and causing a great deal of stress to families. Also I'm sure you'll agree that positive reinforcement is a much better vehicle of change than punishment. Of most of the school attendance orders I've been privy to the children don't end up in school, the parents don't improve the education provided, instead they are taken to court for breaching the order, slapped with a huge fine, and we appear heavy handed and uncaring. I believe a school attendance order is an absolute last resort and rather draconian. The whole exercise is so much easier on all involved when families show off their work, we say thank you very much, good on you, and move on to the next family!

All my colleagues genuinely care about the children known to us and we want the best outcomes for them, prosecuting people does not make us feel good, what makes us feel good is meeting hugely enthusiastic and eccentric families who take pride in their children's abilities and accomplishments.