Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What Ofsted SHOULD be doing!

Here we go again.  The press barrage that precedes some sort of action by the DfE has started up yet again.  We have the BBC here, the Telegraph there, The Times, The Mail, The Guardian, you name it, it's bash home education day all over again.

Let's just put the other side of the story for once, shall we?  Taking the BBC article: 

"Home education for many families is not a preferred choice but a last resort amid a breakdown in relationships with schools, Ofsted inspectors have warned."

Yep, it's true: home education may not be the preferred choice for many who end up doing it, but what are we actually comparing it to?  Some mythical idyllic alternative that only exists in school prospectuses and in the minds of the serially deluded or the reality of terrible schooling options where school funding means that there is no capacity for give?   After a tiny bit of thinking about the terrible alternatives that actually exist, home education frequently becomes the first preference of many families.

And not being a first choice, doesn't mean that most of us can't do it.

"There's no help, not even paper," said another.

As regards there being no help - simple: take the child's school funding and turn it into an EOTAS. That would help.  The DfE and Amanda Spielman can then stop bugging other home educators who are happy to go it alone.

And of course, there is actually masses of help which is offered completely for free in the home education community. Oh the fricking irony of being so demonised when we are shoring up the system entirely without being paid.

The Ofsted report says its research found parents "commonly viewed home education as the only option for them", especially when there had been a breakdown in the relationship between schools and parents,

Then sort out the actual problem - which is school funding. 

And it warns the length of time for a child to be moved to home education can be very short.

Not in the heads of most parents who are often thinking about this for years whilst they try to sort problems with the school and whilst their children suffer before they take the plunge.

Instead of constantly haranguing the HE community and threatening us with more legislation in the form of a register - as mentioned in the Times article, and which is still under review, despite it not being in the Queen's Speech, Amanda and her ilk would do well to think about what they can do to help home educators. 

She should also seek to educate herself about how different forms of education can work extremely well.  (At last showing, she hadn't the first idea).

She needs to pause and reevaluate, to think about how things might have changed since schooling first started.  We now live in the information age, where people have google folks...NEWSFLASH.

And she needs to question whether it is right to put huge swathes of young people into a system which reduces their autonomy and sense of responsibility, which pits one against the other in a terrible race to the podium and which encourages a tribal mentality, when what we need right now if we are to save this increasingly interconnected world are self-initiating life-long learners who can work co-operatively and have a global vision.

Ofsted Rating:  CATCH UP OFSTED. 





Friday, June 07, 2019

Consultation - Children not in school - 2019

OK, this whole thing  feels like a complete charade.  Apparently the DfE have decided, contra numerous responses to the previous consultation,  that registration of home educated children is needed and for reasons of window dressing, have prefaced the introduction of the legislation that will be required to support registration with a supposed "consultation".

The whole way this pantomine is written gives the lie to this fakery - what with most of the questions apparently presupposing that a register of home educated children is a foregone conclusion and also including a lot of in-house terminology that would only make sense to the likes of social workers, which thereby easily prevents those who will actually be most affected by the implications of a register, ie: home educating families from responding to the consultation.

But still, you HAVE to say something.  Not responding isn't a protest vote.  The DfE won't give a jot if you don't say anything and indeed will probably be rubbing their hands in glee, thinking home educators have finally been worn out by this protracted war of attrition.  But we aren't worn out because we can't afford to be, and because, if anything, the situation in LAs has got worse. Fighting for the rights for families to remain as autonomous as possible has got all the more urgent.

So I would urge as many people as possible to respond, if not to the entire thing, at least to some of the most obvious questions.

Here are some of my answers:

Question 20:

20. Why do you not support the concept of a duty on each LA to maintain a register?


Firstly, it will not serve the objective of finding and supporting families who are struggling, as only well functioning HE families will register. Truly needy families are often too chaotic and/or often rightly too afraid of the consequences to register, and deeply abusive families will never register despite any proposed penalties as they risk far greater legal penalities.

Secondly, local authorities are so pushed for money, staff and other resources that asking them to register and then maintain a register of all the home educating and other families in their area will mean that there will be even less money and fewer staff and other resources to support families who are struggling and who do request help.

Thirdly, despite assurances from the DfE, registration by the LA will mean that LAs will become the arbiter of which families may and which may not home educate. Indeed cases of this have already started to occur since the issuance of this consultation and the DfE have failed to police this.

The fact that LAs will without doubt use registration as a gatekeeper to home education will mean that families will no longer be able to determine the place of education and will therefore not be able to ensure that an appropriate education is being delivered.

This appropriation of parental duties entirely obviates the point of s7 Education Act 1996 where it states that it is down to the parent to ensure that a suitable education is provided which they obviously cannot do if they cannot even determine the place of education. The law at s7 will have to be rewritten to reflect this new reality, ie: that the state is now responsible for ensuring a suitable education is delivered. At this point, we can be sure that the state services will collapse under their abject failure of provision and as families seek due redress.

Further, local authorities continuously offer the idea that they are a safety net for families who are struggling. In this age of decreased funding for LA services and increased demand upon these same services, this is almost universally utterly illusory and if the family sets out to seek help from the LA, sets up the poor family for years of struggle which almost never results in any satisfactory outcomes for anyone and often results in legal expenses which are crippling for all concerned. Registration and the further erosion of parental autonomy will only increase the illusion that the state can actually help and will therefore only result in more of the same chaos and failure to provide the things that young people actually need.

The relationship between LAs and parents is bad enough as it is. Parents who are only seeking help for their loved ones are frequently labelled "professional" or "warrior" parents or "awkward trouble makers" by social service departments. These labels go down in their records for all to see, given information sharing duties within LAs and health services.

These parents have fallen for an illusion that services will help, but it is an illusion that the state created in the first place by the gradual erosion of parental autonomy which will inevitably get worse when local authorities abuse the power to register for home education.

On top of this, families feel utterly powerless in the face of a powerful bureaucracy which despite seemingly not being able to pay for care, are nonetheless able to fund legal representation whenever matters need to be taken to court. Most parents are not eligible for legal aid, which only maginifies their sense of powerlessness. No wonder we resist further state intrusion. We don't see the point of it, and it ends up damaging our families as inadequate, failing services hurt vulnerable young people. Far better not to make these false promises to families in the first place.

It would be a far better use of resources if services which are already completely not fit for purpose and which only look set to become even worse, dealt only with severe cases and money not be wasted on a useless and indeed damaging registration scheme.


Question 21:   Should a register specify whether children are attending an educational setting (other than their own home) duruing shool hours?  Add comments if you wish. 
No (ticked).

On top of other reasons why a register of home educators would not be useful you can add the following:

It would be a logistical nightmare to include every educational setting that a home educated child attends during school hours. When my children were young, (I've just totted it up), we could be attending as many as 15 different educational settings per week, and often these were one off visits. Would these all need to be registered every day, every week? 

Such a process will also deter parents both attending such events and from offering their skills to other HEing families, which they do usually on an entirely voluntary basis, as the bureaucracy and effort would make the whole thing totally unmanageable.

It is simply mad, impractical and Orwellian in the levels of state control it implies. 




Question 22.  Should the register be widened still further to also include children who are being educated under s.19 arrangements?  Add comments if you wish.
No (ticked)

Surely LAs know about these children already? If not, the levels of incompetence are pretty mind boggling. 

The fact that the question is written in such a way as to not make it clear to many parents which Act s19 comes from also strongly suggests that you only want LAs who would understand this language to respond
 to this consultation. It implies that the DfE are not interested in the views of families and that the register will be used for these children whatever we say. This consultation is pure window dressing.   I am myself assuming that s19 children are the ones referred to in the Education Act 1996.

Question 42. Do you have any other comments about the concept of a legal duty on parents to supply information for the purposes of the proposed register?

Parents are and should remain responsible for the education of their children.  When the state begins to make judgements about this, it defines the nature of a suitable education, and pluralism and freedom of thought are thereby undermined.   


The state will also, with the inevitable abuse of the register by LAs who will use it as a gatekeeping opportunity, (see answers above), become responsible for the provision of suitable education and the law at s7 Education Act 1996 should be rewritten to reflect this. There will of course be dire consequences as a result of this appropriation of parental duties as the state will not be able to live up to its newfound responsibilities. 



Question 49: Which settings do you think should be included within the scope of the duty? 

If you include home education groups, you will destroy the whole fabric of home education as much of it relies on the voluntary work of parents who offer their skills freely.  If you require them to register, you will  find that many will simply throw their hands in the air and give up as they already have a lot on their plate. This will mean that yet more children will be failed as many will not be well suited to the schooling system. 


Question 53: Do you have any other comments about the concept or duties of the proprietors of settings to provide information about children who attend their setting and fall within scope of the education requirement? 

A register is not required in order to close down places of education that are abusive to children. This should be perfectly possible using other legislation that would not destroy home education in the process. The collateral damage here could be enormous as parents will give up the unequal struggle to home educate which involves families sourcing and creating huge numbers of community resources, all of which will have to be registered. Parents will burn out and children who are educated at home will then have to be returned to schools where they are frequently failed appallingly. Schools will become even more over-crowded and filled with children who are not suited to the school system.

As with much of this consultation, the phraseology of this question yet again suggests that registration is a foregone conclusion and this makes it extremely difficult to answer with the necessary arguments. On top of that, questions that need answering are not asked at all. All of this confirms that this whole exercise is a cynical charade.


Question 56 if such a duty 
(re support for home educators) was to be created, which of the following should it encompass (list of options including advice, support for exams etc.) 

Other. Support from LAs to HEors is currently frequently negligable and as demands on LAs grow and more authorities approach bankrupsty, support will become even more so vanishingly unlikely. Home educators would be the bottom of the queue whatever the DfE say. There is no point at all offering us this carrot. 


Instead there should be an online portal that could offer a reliable distance learning tool that could be accessible by all families, home educated or otherwise, which would be related to the national curriculum and facilitate the taking of public exams.  It should be data driven and sensitive to individual abilities, much as Kahn Academy and Duolingo are currently.   Companies are marketing these to schools but this sort of resource should be immediately rolled out by the government to be available to everyone.  It would not be at all expensive to offer this.  It would have nothing to do with home education and everything to do with offering useful resources for every child in the UK. 

Question 57: What are the potential difficulties, apart from availability of resources, in ensuring that such a duty is properly discharged by a local authority?

The problem of lack of availability of resources is so overwhelming, it is virtually not worth answering the rest of the question, but the other issues would be that should the LA somehow manage to offer any resources to home educators in particular, they would almost inevitably become even more prescriptive in terms of the education that they would demand that parents provide.   This would be another reason why s7 Education Act 1996 would have to be rewritten to reflect the fact that LAs would have appropriated parental duties.

It is also worth noting that families have virtually no effective way of preventing state intrusion or challenging ultra vires behaviour by LAs. 



In summary, given the prejudicial skewing of the questions, you may have to wangle your answers to fit the question, but if you do this,  you can get most of your points across fairly quickly. Go give it a go.  It is too important to ignore.




Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Suitable Education Blog

An excellent new resource for those new to home education and unschooling: A Suitable Education.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Soley's Bill - Report Stage and Third Reading

Lord Soley's Bill has had its Report Stage in the House of Lords yesterday (17th July 2018).  Looks as if they were trying to slip it by us - not only was there no notification of it on the government's site (which now lists the Third Reading of the Bill as being due on the 24th July 2018, an announcement made during the HE picnics), but there were also no speakers and no divisions.

Clearly the DfE don't want us to kick off about the Bill, but at the same time, the fact that the ptb have this legislation lined up at the same time as they are proposing significant alterations to EHE guidance - well, really this looks like too much of a coincidence.  It seems as if the Bill is meant to intimidate home educators into complying with the alterations to guidance but the fact is, a lot of HEors won't be doing with either, not least because a close reading of the draft guidance reveals that there isn't much to chose between the Bill and the draft guidance.  Given the latitude that is handed to LAs in the guidance, coupled with the Localism Act, which means that LAs are allowed to do anything they like as long as it isn't actively proscribed by the law, LAs would have a licence to behave just as the Bill prescribes.  The only sensible thing to do would be to object to both!

Lest we forget (and we really haven't), here's the current draft of the Bill with amendments from the Committee Stage:


A BILL [AS AMENDED IN COMMITTEE] TO

Make provision for local authorities to assess the educational development of children receiving elective home education; and for connected purposes.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

 1   Duty of local authorities to assess children receiving elective home education
(1)The Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2)After section 436A (duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education), insert —

“436B Duty of local authorities to assess children receiving elective home education
(1) Local authorities have a duty to assess the educational development of children receiving elective home education in their area.

(2) Local authorities have a duty to provide advice and information to a parent of a child receiving elective home education if that parent requests such advice or information in relation to their obligations under this section.

(3) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must register the child as such with their local authority.

(4) Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their area (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”).

(5) The assessment set out in subsection (4) must assess the educational development of each child.

(6) The assessment may include —

     (a) a visit to the child’s home;

     (b) an interview with the child;

     (c) seeing the child’s work; and

     (d) an interview with the child’s parent.

(7) A parent of a child receiving elective home education must provide information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when requested.

(8) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument specify —

        (a)the arrangements for parents to register a child with their local authority under subsection              (3); and

        (b)the methodology of the assessment.

(9) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(10) In this section “elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them outside the school system.”

2      Guidance relating to elective home education
(1) The Secretary of State must update the guidance for elective home education for local authorities and parents to account for section 436B of the Education Act 1996 by the end of the period of one year, beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force.

(2)In updating the guidance in subsection (1), the Secretary of State must have regard to —

       (a)the expectation that elective home education must include provision of supervised                  instruction in reading, writing and numeracy, which takes into account the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs and disabilities, and

       (b)the views of children and parents who elect home education.


(3)   The Secretary of State may carry out a public consultation to inform the guidance set out in subsection (1).

3   Interpretation

In this Act —

“elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them outside the school system; and

“local authority” means —

         (a)in relation to England, the council of a district, county or London borough, the Common      Council of the City of London 40and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;

         (b)in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough.


4 Extent, commencement and short title
(1)  This Act extends to England and Wales only.

(2)  This Act comes into force at the end of the period of two months, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(3)  This Act may be cited as the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Act 2018.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Arguments for MPs

These are my top arguments - the issues I feel most strongly about:

If an MP were to ask me, "Why are you so concerned about the Draft Guidance or Soley's Bill? "(the latter due its Report Stage on the 17th July, by the way), I would answer with the following:

1.   We KNOW that schools fail some children and that genes play a large part in this. Schooling is not keeping up with neuroscience and learning theory and children with different learning needs are being off-rolled from schools all the time. We desperately NEED diversity of provision and we are extremely concerned that since the draft guidance/the Bill would give LAs so much power in the matter of determining the nature of a suitable education, we risk losing the form of education that has suited our children so well.  Indeed we have seen this happen in France where the authorities, given the latitude, have become more and more prescriptive in terms of what they expect to see by way of an education. We should not let this happen here.

2.  Home education is often entirely different from schooling and young people who are failed by schooling more often than not, thrive when home educated.  Indeed these very same young people often later go on to college and thrive there because they are then ready for it. 

3. By way of an example of the flexibility and therefore suitability of provision that home education can offer: home educated children who struggle to learn to read are not overwhelmed or disheartened since the family can easily adapt and employ other learning methods, such as conversation and other audio-visual sources.  Eventually, in this relaxed but enriched environment and when they are ready, children learn to read and, by doing so, do not suffer the appalling consequences of repeated humiliation and failure that they would have otherwise have experienced had they been in school.

4.  It is a repeated problem that legislators and civil servants who seek to determine the nature of a suitable education are usually the ones who themselves thrived in the schooling model, whereas those who struggled in school never get to have their say about what would have actually worked for them.  We need to hear their voices.  Young people with SEN deserve better, and we now have the means to offer them a whole array of new ideas.  We should allow educational provision to evolve and home educators can help lead the way with this, but this will not happen if we are constrained by the LA officials who fail to understand alternative provision.  Worse still, if we give LAs more power to determine the nature of a suitable education, the chances are that they will abuse this power.  Home educators do not want to cede this ground.

5. Children have rights too. They are humans and they should have human rights, such as the right to privacy, for example.  Home education is integral to family life.  When an LA officer insists on inspecting a child's work, it involves intruding upon family life in a way that represents a gross violation of this privacy.   What's more, it all gets reported back and held on file in council offices, and given the data protection violations that are condoned in the draft guidance for LAs, these families can kiss goodbye to any pretence to privacy.  This LA intrusion can also disrupt family life by causing so much anxiety, since families realise how much is at stake, how much their lives could be changed on the subjective word of an LA officer who might just be making pretty unsubstantiated judgements just because he hasn't eaten enough biscuits.   They rightfully do not trust LA officers to report things accurately, (this happens a great deal...could quote examples) and these things could end up being used as evidence in court.  Families feel very vulnerable in this regard. 

6. All this damage to families for no observable gain.  True abusers won't register.  Children will still be off-rolled from schools because of the pressure from Ofsted which is just creating this mess in the first place.  Illegal schools can be found through other means other than pestering home educators at great expense. It is the CPS that needs to get on this case and provide the help Ofsted needs and we need better EOTAS provision, eg: the Red Balloon of the Air

7.  Just leave well-functioning home educators alone to get on with it.












Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why Should I go to the Picnic?

We've done a LOT already:

* We've filled in and sent off the Call for Evidence on the Draft Guidance (closed as of 2nd July).

* We've signed the on-line petition...still open till Friday 13th, please note.

* We've handed in our constituency petitions to parliament in six different sessions which can be viewed here , herehere from 18.47  , here from 23.20, and here . In Hansard, with a more extensive list:  here , here here, herehere, herehere , herehere, here and here. (Latter four, have not found TV links yet!)

* We understand that petitions from other constituencies have been presented in other ways, ie: directly into the bag, or have been forwarded to the Department for Education for their consideration, following which we gather the DfE should table them in their name.

* We've already had a response to the substance of the petition from the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds as follows:

Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle: 

"Approximately 48,000 children are being home educated in England.  In light of the Government's consultation on home education which ends next Monday, can the Minister clarify what steps his Department are taking to reassure home educators that their views will be fed into the Government's consultation response?

Damian Hinds  The Secretary of State for Education

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We are having this consultation, and there has been a rise in children being home educated which of course includes some children whith particular special eduational needs how have had a particularly bad time in the school system and whose parents devote their lives to their education - I pay tribute to those parents.  The rise includes other categories, but it is important that we listen carefully, and we will, to those parents in the consultation. "


*  It's possible that we can expect more by way of a formal response to the petition since we gather that

"substantive petitions should normally receive a response from the relevant government department and this should normally be within two months of the petition being presented."

*
Quite a few home educators have met with their MPs to explain, amongst other things:

   - that home education is a necessary precondition of a healthy democracy since it provides an essential check and balance upon state powers, and yet civil servants are reinterpreting the law so as to completely change its implementation.  The latitude in determining the nature of a suitable education that is being handed to LAs in guidance could even make home educating effectively impossible if LAs so choose, and all this is happening right under our noses, with next to no real scrutiny by MPs or the public.  

What MORE do we need to do to stop this? 

* Well, first off, as many of us as possible should be trying to speak to our MPs directly.  The Summer Recess which starts on the 24th July 2018 is not a problem in this regard - during a recess, MPs work in their local constituencies, holding surgeries, replying to correspondence and attending local events.  It could be the perfect moment to get hold of your MP.

Research your MP.  What is their position on education and on other related matters.  Consider which arguments they are likely to understand best. Are they a small state Tory, or a paternalistic one who may be concerned to keep costs down?  Is it a Labour MP who wants to do the best by children with different needs?

What should be your elevator pitch?

-  Should it be about better SEND provision via better EOTAS provision?

 - Or about how registration and monitoring won't actually solve the problems of off-rolling that it sets out to solve and won't find real abusers since real abusers won't register?

- Is it how registration and monitoring and being forced to abide by the LAs conception of a suitable education will damage your family?

- Is it the argument in red above or any other of the many arguments there are against the Draft Guidance and Soley's Bill?

* Next - help arrange, advertise and attend your own local HE picnic to fit in with:

WESTMINSTER AND NATIONAL EVENTS – WEDNESDAY 18th JULY

The theme of the day is visibility and the major focus will be on a series of picnics to be held around the country. We invite home educators everywhere to use this day to spread understanding of home ed and to highlight our concerns about the draft guidance.

Let’s see if we can get #homeedinsight trending on Twitter!
There will be the  - local picnics 
                            - the presentation of a letter to a senior politician
                            - the presentation of the on line petition direct to Stephen Bishop.

For more information (and as long as you are a home educator who meets the Conditions of Membership, ie: that you oppose the implementation of Draft Guidance and Soley's Bill), please join this Facebook Group.  


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Should I Sign these Petitions?

The short answer to that is "Yep, you most definitely should!"

Here is the e-petition.   Please sign it now!   And then share it wherever you can. It only takes a few seconds and we only have until Thursday 22.00 hours before we print it off and send it to some ptb, though the petition should keep going after that! 

There is an explanation with links for why you should bother here.   Please do share the consultation and/or this blog post widely and get as many others to sign as you can.  NB: The arguments here and below also apply to the local petitions that are doing the rounds.

For a slightly longer answer as to why you should sign it, you might want to understand a little bit more about the petition.

Let's review the situation. The petition says:

On 10th April 2018, the Department for Education (DfE) published draft Guidance for Home Education for LAs and Parents for consultation:

https://consult.education.gov.uk/school-frameworks/home-education-call-for-evidence-and-revised-dfe-a/
These draft Guidance documents were written following significant consultation with Local Authorities and no consultation whatsoever with the home education community, to whom it is presented as a fait accompli.
The subsequent consultation is consequently for little more than show as an intention to implement the content has already been stated.
These Guidance documents seek to encourage Local Authorities to breach the ECHR Article 8 and the GDPR.
They provide no accessible means for a parent to address disproportionate, unreasonable or ultra vires behaviour by their Local Authority, where many of those authorities already act routinely in such ways.
They are oppressive and encourage the use of draconian measures to control and fetter the civil liberties of a minority section of society.
They are divisive and will lead to segregation of communities by treating home educating families as lesser than their peers.
They undermine the rights of children and the duties of their parents.
The petitioners therefore request the DfE to withdraw the draft Guidance documents and the procedure of or results from the related Call for Evidence until:
1. it has put in place an accessible and workable complaints procedure and
2. it has consulted with home educating parents, as it has with Local Authorities, as to what the contents should include.

That really could be self-explanatory, except sometimes it isn't and in fact it has come to our attention that the Department of Education has attempted to dismiss some of the assertions in the petition, for example, issuing a denial that LAs were consulted in advance of the new draft guidance being drawn up
Let's look at the DfE claims. We heard from Stephen Bishop at the DfE who has responsibilities with regard to the drafting of the guidance and the consultation whose communication contains the following assertion:

"The two draft guidance documents do not constitute new policy but rather a restatement of local authorities’ existing powers."

Hmm, OK, that isn't how we see it from this end. First off, if the draft guidance documents really are just a restatement of existing LA powers, why should there be any consultation about them at all? DfE lawyers would surely have advised that such a consultation was unnecessary as per part B of the Guidance on Consultations: "B. Consultations should have a purpose Do not consult for the sake of it. Ask departmental lawyers whether you have a legal duty to consult. "  
Given that we actually are invited, in questions 29 to 45 to comment on the Draft Guidance in what seems like a consultative sort of a way, this in its own right seems to suggest that there ARE changes that constitute new policy in the Draft Guidance, that these DO that matter and therefore SHOULD receive a proper and full consultation, rather than just a few comments at the tail end of the Call for Evidence on other matters. And yes, a pretty cursory glance at the draft guidance will tell you that this is indeed the case: there are very significant differences in interpretation of the law between the current guidance (EHEGLA) and the draft guidance documents and these proposed changes would have a huge impact on the way LAs implement the law and about how HEors experience the impact of the law.

Members of the EHE community have undertaken a close analysis of the differences. They've produced spreadsheets galore comparing the past and present documents and have thrashed out the differences in long but nonetheless productive discussions which reveal, amongst many other examples of differences between past and present guidance, that:

1.  There are significant changes with regard to how a suitable education is defined. At least one paragraph of the new guidance even looks as if it could be used to impose a de facto ban on home education altogether. By way of but one comparison between the two guidances on this point:

What EHELGA says about Article 2 Protocol 1.  

2.2 Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that: "No person shall be denied the right to education. 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."

From Draft Guidance on the same subject;

9.4 d. the first sentence of ECHR Article 2 of Protocol 1 quoted above confers the fundamental right to an effective education, and relevant case law (16) confers very broad discretion on the state in regulating that law.;”

The above paragraph references at (16) a case from Germany which rules out the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions, and in calling it “relevant case law” it in effect could rule out home education altogether, since local authorities could interpret this to mean that a “suitable education” takes no regard for parental religious or philosophical convictions, and sets any standard they so chose by which to adjudge home education provision.  

If that isn’t a change of policy in guidance, we don’t know what is.

This is all quite aside from the fact that the case referred to is not relevant case law, since that case is German and relied upon other local German law to support it and there is no equivalent in English law.

2. The draft guidance repeatedly encourages LAs to use legislation, ie: 436A Education Act 1996 with regard to HEing families when  current guidance (EHEGLA) at s2.6 states that 436A does not apply when a child is known to be EHE. This is a significant change of emphasis between the two sets of guidance and will result in very different approaches by the LA towards EHEors, since where LAs now at 2.7 of the EHEGLA only have to act if there is an appearance that a suitable education is not being provided, LAs are in new guidance effectively being given duties to assess the provision of all HEors, whether or not there is any suggestion that a suitable education is being provided.

3.  Given the stretching of the powers of LA at 436A in the draft guidance, it could imply a concomitant extension of safeguarding powers as a result of s175 Education Act 2002 which states:

1) A local education authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that the functions conferred on them in their capacity as a local education authority are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
This again would involve a vast difference in policy interpretation and implementation between the current and draft guidance.

4. The draft guidance encourages the use of data sharing in a way that is not encouraged in EHEGLA and which is highly likely to be in breach of GDPR.  See section 4.4 of Draft Guidance.

There are other significant differences on top of this, but for the moment this should suffice to show that there are substantive and important differences which should require extensive consultation rather than simply a few comments which, given that the DfE say there aren't any policy changes to the guidance, will probably be ignored anyway.
The letter from the DfE then goes on to assert:

“Nonetheless, we are giving everyone involved an opportunity to comment on the way those documents are worded before they are published.”

Given that the DfE have just asserted in the same letter that there aren't any new policies in the new guidance, they must think that there is next to nothing which requires significant change in the draft guidance, so it looks as if the comments which are invited won't be taken terribly seriously by the DfE and therefore don't really constitute a formal consultation process and there will not be any resulting alteration of the guidance by the DfE. Is it a wonder that HEors are concerned that they are not being properly consulted about the guidance in the consultation and are signing the e-petition in droves. (The petition hasn't done badly, given the very short time it has been running by the way!)

The DfE letter then goes on to say:

“Local authorities were not ‘extensively consulted and involved in the drafting’ of the proposed guidance. On the contrary, the two draft guidance documents were drafted from start to finish by DfE officials, drawing only on external legal advice provided by individual lawyers. Indeed, the department expressly did not show the drafts to local authority representative organisations - or any other bodies or persons outside government - before publication on 10 April.”

The quoted phrase “extensively consulted and involved in the drafting” of the proposed guidance it is not what is said in the e-petition, which instead states:

These draft Guidance documents were written following significant consultation with Local Authorities and no consultation whatsoever with the home education community, to whom it is presented as a fait accompli.”

This is different to the phrase that is quoted in the DfE letter which therefore does not offer any sort of critique of the e-petition which does not assert that LAs had contributed directly to the drafting of the guidance but rather that, in the run up to the drafting, the DfE, in the form of Stephen Bishop et al. had had extensive consultations with LAs and LA representatives such as the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals (AEHEP), as evidenced by numerous FOI responses.  It is also clear from these FOI responses, that the views of these bodies are reflected in the writing of the Guidance documents. Therefore the petition wording appears incontestable.

See below, by way of just a few examples of the sort of consultations the petition describes between the DfE and LAs:

DfE Westminster Council, November 2014

"Ministers are agreed that the department should talk at official level to local authorities. SB has had meetings with ADCS policy committee, also talked to 1 LA in the north and visited 2 regional forums of local authorities. SB has come with no commitment about what might change and when it might change, he has come to listen to people's views..."
And: Report for November Meeting Notes from Home Educators Council Minutes.
Minister Nick Gibb:

"The Department for Education officials have met with the policy committee of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services; officers of Darlington Borough Council; the children’s services scrutiny committee of the City of Westminster, and two regional forums of local authority elective home education officers; one for London and the South East and the other for the West Midlands"

In September 2017, Jenny Dodd of the AEHEP stated that the

“Problem with Lord N [Lord Nash] suggesting LA’s stretch the guidance is that this needs to be communicated to EHE community.”

Even further evidence of the degree to which LAs were consulted can be found in the draft guidance itself with numerous references as to what LAs have told the DfE as regards to their problems with the EHELGA, eg:  

6.19 The department is aware that some local authorities have been reluctant to prosecute for non-compliance with a school attendance order, for reasons connected with costs, and the behaviour of some parents who deliberately withhold information about home education provision but are then able to easily satisfy the court that the home education is suitable.”

Or

"A number of problems arise from lacunae or shortcomings in the current legislation which have been drawn to the department’s attention by local authorities and by local children’s safeguarding boards - in correspondence and in meetings both with directors of
children’s services and with forums of local authority officers who deal with elective home education on a day-to-day basis:"
ie: the draft guidance repeatedly refers to LAs telling the DfE about various concerns, which adds further weight to the argument that LAs have been consulting with and lobbying the DfE, which has led to the draft guidance being written on the basis of LA concerns. All in all, it looks as if the petition makes not just a number of good points, but that these points need to be shouted from the rafters if stakeholders, (ie home educators) are to be properly heard in a consultative process with government.
Please sign and keep sharing, and share this explanatory post, just in case anyone is still curious. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Section 6.19 - Should we be worried?

Filling in the Call for Evidence isn't a comfortable experience at the best of times.  Answering 44 questions takes a lot of sitting down for starters, but that really isn't the worst of it. Although home educators have thrashed out cogent answers to the consultation and have formulated template responses to it, every now and again a new outrage which had previously remained buried in the small print of the draft guidance  leaps out at a home educator and grabs them in a lethal mix of terror and outrage that leaves them (at least in their heads), running round their neighbourhoods with sandwich boards and for real, gulping down cups of coffee in fits of nervous exhaustion as they try to explain the barbarity of these oh-so-reasonable seeming proposals in their consultation responses. It's seriously hard and totally unpaid work.

Here's my sandwich board moment from this morning.  Filling out question 34 on section 6 of the Draft Guidance for LAs
I reread the following:

"6.19 The department is aware that some local authorities have been reluctant to prosecute for non-compliance with a school attendance order, for reasons connected with costs, and the behaviour of some parents who deliberately withhold information about home education provision but are then able to easily satisfy the court that the home education is suitable. This is an understandable concern, but local authorities must bear in mind their public responsibilities as prosecutors; in such cases they may wish to seek legal advice about the prospect of obtaining a costs order against a successful defendant on the basis that the prosecution would have been unnecessary if not for the defendants’ unreasonable conduct."


On previous readings, I had had an uncomfortable feeling about the idea t
hat home educators should bear the costs of an action brought by the LA irrespective of the outcome, but only on about the twentieth perusal of the paragraph, did it finally dawn on me that this is an outrageously controlling and iniquitous suggestion that has qualities of the popular version of witch dunking about it, ie: that either you are proved innocent (win), in which case you drown (bear the costs of the court case), or you turn out to be a witch (lose) and are burned at the stake (forced to return a child to school AND pay the costs).  Either way, better not appear witch-like (difficult) in any way, shape or form.

You may be thinking that it probably isn't this bad - that LAs would only insist on parents paying court costs when families had been very intransigent, but that is to ignore the fact that LAs already routinely practice that clever twisting of reports about HE families in order to say, or at least imply, pretty much whatever they like.  That little nudge here or there could so easily suggest that a family are being wilfully obstructive and should bear the costs, irrespective of the outcome.

By way of but one recent example:  a successfully HEing family didn't particularly take to the the Victorian anthroplogist of an ex headmaster who came to assess their provision, who regarded the children as if they were some sort of different species that was barely human, inter alia reporting their extremely well balanced, clearly very happy children as "Children A, B and C are happy enough". So the HEing mum rang the LA to say that she didn't mind having visits, but could someone else possibly visit them instead.  This was reported as "The mother has refused visits".  That alone could cost them dearly.

And that's all quite aside from the very real possibility that home educators may have utterly genuine reasons to prefer their educational provision be judged in the courts.  They may know, for example, that the LA does not support different pedagogies and may therefore think that their best hope is to describe their provision to the court, but given the fact that they will almost certainly have to bear the cost, this check and balance on LA power will be denied them.

All in all, with the almost certain prospect of having to bear court costs, home educators will be far more subject to the whims of LAs as to what they consider an appropriate education. All the LA would have to do would be to just tweak the evidence a little bit to make the parent look obstructive, and bingo, they'd be issuing SAOs like there's no tomorrow. LAs also know that once HEors caught on that this is happening, that they wouldn't risk the almost certain expense of a court case, and will therefore just roll over and do the LAs bidding, meekly conforming to whatever expectations the LA has with regards to the nature of a suitable education, with all the terrible consequences for freedom and democracy that this entails.  


This really does seem like a hugely retrograde step, a return to centralised authoritarianism of pre Magna Carta proportions, though perhaps we should start getting used to this sort of thing as this initiative also seems akin to 
the proposal in May, introduced by Tom Watson MP, which would have resulted in newspapers being forced to fund the action of anyone who takes a case against them, irrespective of whether the newspaper actually wins or not! 

Is this REALLY the way we want to go?  Talk about degradation of democracy: curtail freedom of speech, make investigative journalism prohibitively risky and take out freedom in education whilst you're at it.  After all, the plebs need controlling.


We have to stop this.  Fill in that consultation response, and sign the petition here.