Sunday, May 03, 2009

EO's Prospectus for Improving Support for Home Educating Families

I have now had a chance to read the Prospectus from EO here, though I doubt whether I have fully processed the likely consequences of all their proposals. This might take some doing, I suspect, and in recognising this, one can only also hope that these proposals have been well-considered by the authors.

Advice has been taken from lawyer Ian Dowty who has extensive experience in the field of home education law and there is plenty to be thankful for in the preliminary paragraphs with regard to the constitutional significance of any changes to the legislation surrounding home education.

"A thorough investigation (into HE and HE related law) will raise fundamental issues and principles, including:

*the relationship of the state and local government to the family and the child;

*the role of the family in determining a child's education - this currently lies with the parents. Any change will impact on all families;

*whether the state only financially supports, through taxation, education for children and young people when families choose to use the state education system, or whether funding follows the child irrespective of the place of education;

*where the burden of proof should lie - does innocent until proven guilty apply to all or are authorities proposing to reverse the burden of proof in the case of home educating families?

*What are the liabilities of local authorities and if they take to themselves more responsibility for home educating families, will they expose themselves to greater liability?"

...all of which is very sound.

It is likely that EO were motivated to produce this prospectus because they realised that the HE Review Team will have to suggest something, and have therefore come up with some 43 recommendations in order to preempt the possibility of the Review team proposing something worse. Indeed plenty of the suggestions in the Prospectus, such as this one:

"14. that "home education" is removed from the prejudicial areas of vulnerability and dysfunction and becomes a subset of "education" within Children's Trusts."

are very sensible.

However, many in the home education community are far from happy. It seems that hardly anyone beyond the named authors was consulted in the writing of this prospectus. Even other trustees of EO knew next to nothing about it, so the idea that this prospectus has achieved anything like a consensus in the HE community would be hugely misleading and there are many who would resist some of its implications whole-heartedly.

And then there is the matter of recommendation 4, (on page 6)

"4. that the DCSF Elective Home Education Team should work with home education support organisations to set up a national Committee for Home Education, [HEC], remit to include contributing to Government policy initiatives related to home education, contributing to Impact Assessments, and making recommendations related to home education policy. "

Whoa - this came from left field. No-one, even other people formally on the Government Policy Group of EO, appears to have known about this major proposal, and yet the Committee would need the confidence of HEors in order for it to function smoothly. This is going to be very hard to achieve, particularly given the nature of its initial presentation.

Whilst it is easy to appreciate that it would have been immensely hard to sell the idea of a Committee to the HE community before presenting it as a fait accompli to Mr Badman's Review Team, simply thrusting such a big idea upon HEors without any prior consultation is not going to inspire the necessary confidence in that community. If those who propose the idea are prepared to act in such a high-handed, undemocratic way, and seem to be highly likely to end up being the ones on the Committee, HEors cannot feel confident that their voices will be heard and represented by such a Committee and will worry that the it will act without consulting them.

Many home educators have also been very unnerved by the vague nature of the proposals in the prospectus about how the Committee would come about. We hear that:

"A total of 8 or 10 Committee members would be sought to represent the perspective of home educators, local authorities, DCSF and the Children's Workforce.

Spokespeople and policy leads from other Government Departments such as DIUS, DWP, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department of Health and Communities and Local Government could be invited to share policy information and new ideas. Academics and researchers in the field of innovative education and learning would be invited to liaise with the
Committee. It is likely that the Committee would also want to talk to representatives from NESTA, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts."

From the above, it rather looks as if the perspective of home educators could easily be swamped by the perspective of other committee members.

It is also not clear from the prospectus whether there would be an election or an employment process or even whether the Committee members would be volunteers or paid employees. We hear via the lists that the authors intended the Committee to be a voluntary body, but we are not sure that Mr Badman would necessarily know this.

But before dismissing the idea out of hand, it would be worth trying to establish exactly what the Committee might achieve. At the very least, it looks as if it might provide the benefit of creating a stable set of people who are well-informed about home education. One of the on-going problems we now experience is that we have to deal with a constant stream of changing faces in the DCSF, many of whom know next to nothing about HE and who have to be re-educated all over again. A Committee might solve this sort of problem.

The Committee might also function in that HEors might be prepared to raise problems with and through it that they wouldn't raise with their LAs or with the DCSF.

It would also be worth looking at the stated purposes of the HEC as listed in subsequent recommendations in the prospectus, eg:

"7: that the Home Education Committee undertakes to review all such initiatives in the light of Every Child Matters including home educated children."

The above example represents a problem with the proposed Committee in that it is sufficiently vague to give rise to anxieties about its functions. Even if one assumes that the initiatives referred to here are the ones mentioned in the previous recommendations, ie: 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6, (including things like requiring the DCSF to raise awareness of HE as a legal option and to look at models of good practice and for LAs to move from the role of monitoring and inspection to one of offering advice and support), point 7 of course only requires that the HEC review "such" initiatives. Thus other, at present, unspecified initiatives may well fall within their remit. This could therefore give rise to the Committee being pushed by the DCSF to mutate from its apparent initial functions to one of, for example providing a monitoring service, along the lines of the Tasmanian model that is much favoured by Mr Badman.

Education Otherwise have stated that they would not be responsible for setting up a body that would monitor home educators, but the Committee is not EO and it is therefore conceivable, given that we don't even know who would be on the proposed Committee or how answerable they would be to the HE community, that a mutation of functions of this sort could come about.

There are many other proposed functions for the HEC, which could offer great benefit, eg:

"15. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee establish protocols for national and local Government to seek the view (sic) of home educated children and young people with respect to government initiatives such as new play areas, myplace, Youth Opportunities Funding."

"17. Recommendation: Education Otherwise and the Home Education Committee to liaise with the Children's Workforce Development Council and the DCSF to make available a budget for training. DCSF to stipulate that anyone dealing with home educating families either has had prior training in home education themselves or will be required to seek further information on home education at the point of first contact."

"22. Recommendation: DCSF and the Home Education Committee should raise awareness of home education with the Ministry of Justice."

"23. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate the issue of off-rolling."

"34. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate barriers to home educated young people accessing college at 14"

though there are some where intervention may give rise to more problems than it solves, eg:

"28. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate the impact of raising participation age on home educated young people. What will be the role of the local authority in relation to home educated young people 16-18?"

Uh, oh...couldn't they just forget about us?

"33. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee investigates ways in which home educated young people could have greater access to Key Skills provision and accreditation."

Eeek...suppose, just suppose this goes wrong? If we have greater access, couldn't this mean that we all have to end up doing it?

All in all, it seems a shame that the Prospectus couldn't have been more widely consulted upon before it was presented to the Review team. We suspect Mr Badman will seize upon the proposal to set up an HEC and we suspect that this will cause monumental problems with consent in the HE community.


Other blogs on the same topic:

Sometimes it's Peaceful
Travelling to Scotland
Home Education Forums
Renegade Parent
Making it Up


cosmic seed said...

Were anything like this to happen - and I would fight it tooth and nail - then ONLY those home educators whose child/ren were still below compulsory education age should be involved on such a committee, as their actions would then be tempered by the fact that whatever they did to HE, they too would have to live with.

Anonymous said...

I think point seven is meant to be mildly ironic and draw attention to how the ptb use this when it suits their purposes but not when it doesn't - see the expanded point further into the document for what the "such" refers to.

Expanded point:

"Home educated children and young people excluded from Government
initiatives such as the Home Access Scheme for PC/broadband

The Home Education Review asks for ideas about “support for home educated
children.” Education Otherwise receives regular updates from the DCSF Press
Office outlining new Government initiatives and offers for all children. Education
Otherwise invariably requests further information and these offers always turn
out not to be available to home educated children. One conspicuous example
would be the Home Access scheme to provide PC and internet access to all
family homes.

DCSF wrote to Education Otherwise on November 6th 2008 that “this initiative is
designed to support young people in accessing school and LA resources such as
learning platform content outside school hours and to be able to extend their in-
school learning into the home without a change in format or access
arrangements. In addition it would help parents with children in school to
engage better with their child's learning by giving access to online reporting and
attendance data. None of this would apply to home educated children since as a
result of parental choice which has been made, learning is an integral part of
their home life and as such there would be no case for the Government to

7. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee undertakes to
review all such initiatives in the light of Every Child Matters including home
educated children."

I think it's a lot clearer there. However I worry that the irony may be lost on the review team...


cosmic seed said...

Frankly it's ludicrous to make poor use of irony in a formal document, particularly when it is open to abuse. How utterly ridiculous.

Ali said...

I extend deepest sympathy from notb to home educators in England who have been sold out by a manipulative minority of self appointed, self interested individuals.

Another great reason to move to Scotland which is an EO free zone.

Firebird said...

LOL @ Ali, don't worry, if it turns pear shaped you'll be running out of places to put us ;-)

Ruth said...

Were anything like this to happen - and I would fight it tooth and nail - then ONLY those home educators whose child/ren were still below compulsory education age should be involved on such a committee,

Yes absolutely agree Tech.

Maire said...

Very good point Tech, it is easy for those whose chidren are nearly over compulsary education age to consider cooperating with the need to control.