Thursday, January 22, 2009

Write to your MP

Please write to your MP about the Consultation on Home Education. You can trace your MP here.

Have just updated the draft letter below, 7th Feb, 2009, to take account of recent feedback from MPs and the DSCF and to include other developments such as a mention of the petition site. Please do feel free to use it as inspiration if you also feel like writing to your own MP. Don't copy it though. Put your own views and personal experiences in there, and choose the points you feel are the most important.

There's plenty to complain about. Here are some suggestions below:

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Dear MP,

I am writing to you with regard to yet another consultation which forms part of a review of home education:

There are a number of issues which I would like to raise with regard to this review.

This is the fourth consultation/review 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:

We are left wondering why are 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? Home educators are busy people and have better things to be doing with their time.

We do however understand that local authorities have some outstanding concerns with regards to their duties towards home educated children. We believe that this problem has several causes:

Firstly, changes which would impact upon policy in this area have already been legislated for within the Education and Inspections Act 2006, most relevant section 436a, and yet this has yet be put into practice on the ground since the newest guidance on this legislation has only just been issued in Jan 2009.

Plus, the children's database, ContactPoint which will also effect this area of policy implementation has yet to go live, (due in May). LAs are already likely to find that in the near future they have got more powers than they have had to date, and yet it is impossible to comment sensibly upon their effectiveness until we have had some experience of their implementation.

This, of course, also raises the question of why instigate a review now? Surely it would have been better to wait until it was possible to see whether changes already implemented would be effective?

Secondly, that LAs do not understand how to enact existing law effectively. It is the case that were they do have legal duties, the law is sufficient to enact these. For example, where LAs do have cause for concern, they have powers to enter the home and see the child.

Home educated children, contrary to many assertions, do not live in a vacuum. They are not hidden under the stairs. They are out and about in the community, going to clubs and groups, doing voluntary work, taking part time courses etc. They are known to neighbours, relatives, acquaintances. Indeed far more referrals of home educating children are made than are necessary and families then have to spend their time trying to clear their names.

Thirdly, we believe that many authorities do not understand the limits of their responsibilities. For example, they frequently seem to believe that they have a duty to ensure that our children achieve the five *outcomes* in the Children Act 2004, when this is clearly not the case. They do have a duty to co-operate to promote the *ambitions*, but this is a very different duty. To imagine they have the first duty is in effect to appropriate what should be parental duties, which would represent a grave alteration in the relationship between the individual and the state.

Plenty of signatories to this petition would agree that this is a step too far. The petition had acquired over 1000 signatures within the first 48 hours of its very recent initiation.

Fourthly, the DCSF and authorities in their mission statements appear to be setting themselves an unachievable target. They pronounce the laudable aim of wanting to ensure that every child is safe and do not acknowledge that this is sadly not possible. Social workers will always have a big case load, and yet they cannot simply throw all of the children on their books into care. Mistakes of judgements about which families will harm their children will always be made because of the obvious fact that human nature is unpredictable. It would be better for all if the DCSF and LAs were to acknowledge this point, take the pressure of social workers somewhat, and allow more of them to stay around for longer so that they can acquire experience and fine judgement.

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. To increase powers of local authorities any further, as is seemingly suggested by the thrust of this review, (see for example, the questionnaire for LAs for the above review below.***)
would be to remove parental responsibility for the education and welfare of children, and override the privacy of families to an enormous extent. This would be constitutionally unacceptable and hugely damaging, both for parents and for the state when it will be held liable for failures.

Further, we are concerned as to whether the review will be conducted in an unbiased fashion, and this for several reasons.

Whilst home educators initially only get one chance to respond to only 6 questions, it appears that Local Authorities will be able to offer two sets of responses to the consultation, and with a much longer and this time explicitly confidential questionnaire:

(now just closed.)

This questionnaire for LAs was also unacceptable in that it contains misleading questions which misrepresent the law.

***eg: " 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). "

See paragraphs above with regard to the illegitimacy of questions such as this.

We are very concerned that this will result in a biased interpretation of the information, perhaps as an effect of double counting, and also that once again, allegations will be made against the home education community without any chance of these being checked and substantiated.

We are also very concerned that this review is but nominally independent. Mr Badman, as a local authority employee, is strongly connected with government and is likely to have vested interests. We wonder whether there is any hope of the results of this review being genuinely unbiased. Our doubts are further strengthened by the fact that Mr Badman's CV demonstrates that he has plenty of experience as a teacher and headmaster but, as almost all home educators are aware, home education is a completely different kettle of fish: it is not school at home. It is not clear that Mr Badman has anything like an equivalent experience of home education. We strongly suspect that this review is unlikely to properly informed and unbiased?

Further, the open consultation also only lasts for four weeks, which effectively excludes hard to reach groups.

In summary, I appreciate it if you would forward this letter to Mr Ed Balls for his/her response to the following questions:

1. Why has a review been instituted at a time when new guidance (on identifying children missing a suitable education) has only just been issued, and ContactPoint has yet to go live, the application of both of which would impact upon the answers to the review?

2. We wonder why the EHER preliminary review will only last four weeks, effectively excluding hard to reach groups?

3. Why did the now closed LA questionnaire contain misleading questions which misrepresent the law?

4. How can we be assured that report of the review will give appropriate weight to both sets of answers and that it will represent an unbiased and knowledgeable interpretation of the evidence?

5. Is the minister aware that home educators feel that the consultation process is now being used vexaciously?

6. How much taxpayers' money will be spent on what appears to be a poorly conceived and timed review?

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


Anonymous said...

Thanks very much. This has been extremely helpful and I have used large portions of your suggestions for a letter to my MP.

The link at the top of the suggested letter: refers to "Statutory Guidance (revised) for Local Authorities in England to Identify Children not Receiving a Suitable Education", and I wonder if it should instead be "Independent review of Home Education".

R, Glos.

Carlotta said...

Whoops, you are right...and had checked that already once!

Thanks. Have just corrected this.

HelenHaricot said...

great letter

Bose said...

Thanks a ton for sharing this with me!
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