Friday, May 23, 2014

Home Education Explained (on TV...FINALLY!)

Wow wow wow!!! Mark Wright experiences a volte-face on the subject of home education, starting at about 57 mins in. Ex home educator Christopher Lloyd tells it like it is!!! What a relief...FINALLY.   

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Welfare Thing (Northern Ireland)

Following on from the guest post at Sometimes it's Peaceful, which explained the background and much of the current situation regarding the draft policy proposals on home education in NI, Sarah Dickinson of HedNI provides further information about the welfare issues and the reasons why the proposed approach is so inappropriate.
========================= The Welfare Thing Sarah Dickinson
The draft Policy on Elective Home Education in Northern Ireland is riddled with references to ‘safeguarding’ and ‘welfare’. We know from informal phone conversations that the Boards consider this a crucial element of the policy.
This is problematic on many levels.
  • The law governing the Education and Libraries Boards (Education and Libraries Order 1986) contains no duties or powers relating to welfare.
  • The welfare rationale for the draft is entirely unstated, and no evidence is referred to in the document.  It is very poor policy making to work on unstated and unsupported assumptions.
  • It is offensive to assume that a minority group is more likely to pose a danger to their children rather than investigating concerns on a case-by-case basis.
  • Most importantly the conflation of education and welfare is liable to cause confusion, unnecessary referrals and increased overheads – putting children who are genuinely in need at greater risk of being overlooked.
The Boards shouldn’t be allowed to cry “won’t somebody think of the children?!” and do whatever they please.
No legal power to act
Whatever your views on the desirability of home education, I think most people can agree that government bodies should obey the law.  Whatever the issue to be addressed they should use only the legal powers available to them, no matter the importance of the issue they cannot invent their own duties and powers. The Education Order does not give the Education and Library Boards (ELBs or Boards) any form of safeguarding duty or power. In fact the Education and Library Boards, like all of us, have a legal duty to refer any concerns to Social Services - the agency which does have the legal power and duty to protect children in need.
The policy states that it rests on the Education and Libraries Order and refers also to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In subsequent email exchanges they have appealed also to The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Education Order does not refer to welfare.  The UNCRC is quoted selectively and could just as easily be used to argue against the proposed scheme. In any case this Convention has not been incorporated into Law and cannot create such draconian powers.  The Children Order, on the other hand, relates to matters to be taken into consideration by the Courts; to apply court procedures to families about whom there are no concerns is to turn the presumption of innocence on its head.
The DHSSPS NI's Safeguarding Document gives definitions of abuse, electing to home educate is not one.  In section 3.47 it states
"the education service itself does not have an investigative responsibility in child protection work. However, schools and Education Welfare staff have a role in assisting social services by referring concerns and providing information which will contribute to child protection investigations. Social services may on occasions ask staff working in education for information about a child where there are concerns about abuse or neglect".
Co-operating To Safeguard Children, DHSSPS, May 2003
Emphasis in bold Mine
Bad Policy making
Good policy making is within the law, evidence based and clearly states the reasoning behind any changes:
“Policy-making as outlined in this guide is about establishing what needs to be done - examining the underlying rationale for and effectiveness of policies - then working out how to do it and reviewing on an ongoing basis how well the desired outcomes are being delivered... In summary, policy-making needs to be forward looking; outward looking; innovative, flexible and creative; evidence-based; inclusive; joined up; to learn lessons from experience; to be communicated effectively; and to incorporate ongoing evaluation and review.”
Nowhere does the policy state its aims, nor does it offer any evidence to support the need for additional welfare protection for home educated children.
Home education is a legally sanctioned choice, and cannot in itself be a cause for a welfare concern any more than nationality, religion, skin colour or diet.  It is offensive in the extreme to presume that home educating parents are more likely to be a danger to their children.  In order to introduce a welfare assessment scheme for home educated children it would be necessary to show a greater instance of abuse in home educated children, a causal link and evidence that these children would not be discovered by normal means.
Lack of evidence
During the Badman Review into Elective Home Education home educators were able to show that, despite alarmist claims, home educating children were four times LESS likely to be abused than the national average.
"Alarmed by media statements which sought to smear the home educating community without any supporting evidence, AHEd members had painstakingly collected comparative child abuse statistics from every Local Authority in England via the Freedom of information Act. Analysis of the data not only demonstrated that there is no link between elective home education and child abuse, but also established that the incidence of child abuse is far lower among home educating families."
Is there any reason to think that Northern Irish parents are less trustworthy than their English counterparts?
The implication is that there is some element in registered schooling that is protective of children.  During the Badman Review home educated children were described as ‘hidden’, but in fact the review was unable to demonstrate that schools played a significant role in protecting children.  Nor has any case been produced in which a child would have been safe, if only they had been in school.  Many referrals to social services originate from friends, neighbours and family GPs.  In fact, according to the DHSSPSNI statistics for 2013 -  of 4167 referrals, just 257 or 6.2% were from schools Education Welfare Officers.
It is doubtful that the government would be able to argue that schools are statistically safer than homes, nor can they argue that schools are effective monitors of children’s overall safety.
It is offensive, not only to home educators but to the children who have been failed by the system, to treat home education as a factor in abuse.  Attempts were made, for example, to implicate home education in the tragic case of Victoria ClimbiĆ©.
The Victoria Climbie Foundation said in February 2009 that they were
"...genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria ClimbiĆ© and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden”. 

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a 'hidden' child, only children who are allowed to fall through the gaps. The key issue here is how statutory services interact with children that are known within the child protection system." 
In a speech to the National Social Services Conference 2003 Lord Laming also commented that Victoria was “known to no fewer than four Social Services Departments, three Housing Departments and two specialist Police Child Protection Teams. Furthermore, she was admitted to two different hospitals because of suspicions she was being deliberately harmed and she was referred to a specialist Child and Family Centre managed by the NSPCC.”
Endangers children
This leads us onto the final and most crucial point.  This policy would not protect children; it would cause confusion and allow more children to “fall through the gaps”.
The Area Child Protection Committees’ “A Short Guide to Regional Policy and Procedures” (linked from page 5 of the draft policy), states on page 13:
Remember that an allegation of child abuse or neglect may lead to a criminal investigation therefore not to do anything that may jeopardise a police investigation, such as asking a child leading questions or attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse.”
Education Officials have no legal duty or power to assess the safety of the environment, or the child's physical, social or emotional health. They have the same duty as all of us, and particularly those in positions of responsibility, which is to report any concerns to the appropriate agency.  This is no area for the Boards to go vigilante. Two potential issues arise from the confusion of roles and responsibilities between the Education Authority and the Social Services.  First, one individual is being asked to carry out two distinct roles at once. Second, two agencies have responsibility for one task.  
One officer attempting to assess both education and welfare in the entwined way described in this policy is liable to find that their assessment of one colours the other.  Equally the responses to any concerns have the potential to become confused – for example a child with mixed welfare and educational issues may be assessed by someone with only the power to issue a School Attendance Order, and to refer them on for another round of expensive, time consuming and stressful assessments.  
Confusion between different agencies as to who holds responsibility for safeguarding has had serious and sometimes tragic outcomes in the past.  Social services should have complete control and all relevant data on welfare cases, other unrelated agencies should not carry out random parts of a delicate process. This is particularly true where the other agency is attempting to institute a policy with considerable administrative overhead and a limited budget.
These elements –
  • No legal powers
  • No legal duty
  • Limited access to necessary information and history
  • Confusion over the scope of responsibility
  • Confusion between areas of responsibility
  • Potential to undermine any future prosecution
Add up to a recipe for disaster.
Sufficient legal framework exists to protect children who need it, if there are failings they are not due to a lack of educational oversight.  An EWO who makes appropriate referrals is fully meeting their legal duties with regard to safeguarding.
If we are looking to improve child protection then child protection is the area we should be looking at – where are children being missed? What can we do to find and help them? The Board’s proposed scheme is a solution in search of a problem, which is poor policy, bad law and undermines child protection.
Please sign our petition, write to the Northern Irish Minister for Education and keep up with news at HEdNI, where you will also find template letters. Thank you for your interest and support."

More on the Northern Ireland Situation

The background and current situation regarding the proposed new policy on Home Education is lucidly explained in this guest post by Sarah Dickenson on Sometimes it's Peaceful.  Great way to get up to speed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Now for the Good News! Local Authorities, Please Note.

After yesterday's disappointing news regarding the proposed Home Education policy changes in N. Ireland, it is great to hear that things could be working out for the better in some other parts of the UK.

News has reached us that Graham Stuart MP. has written to the Tri Borough, (Westminster CC, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea BCs), to call them out on a number of misdemeanors with regard to home education, which include:

* their misrepresentation of current law in the UK
* their disregard for guidance
* their appalling treatment of home educators in their boroughs.

Apparently the make-works in these boroughs have quoted out-dated law in the cause of seeking to insist on seeing both parent and child face to face. They insist this is the only way to monitor the home education and that this is their duty!

Parents have been terrified by their heavy-handedness and rightly so, given the gross miscarriages of justice perpetrated by children's services departments that we have witnessed up and down the country over the years.

Graham Stuart, (serious thanks are due to this man) wrote: 

Dear Ms (Head of children's services),

I am writing regarding the guidance issued to the Tri Borough group of London local authorities relating to Elective Home Education (EHE).  As the chairman of the Education Select Committee and the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education, I have concerns about some apparent misrepresentation of the law contained in this guidance, (a copy of which is enclosed for your reference).

Specifically, I would like to raise the sections of the guidance which state:

"The local education authority has a duty under section 199 of the Education Act 1993 (in England and Wales) to monitor the education provided."


"A local authority school improvement adviser (SIA) will visit your home to assess the quality of the education you ore giving and, if necessary and in the light of his or her findings, make recommendations on how it could be improved."

The Education Act 1993 was repealed by the Education Act 1996. Under the 1996 Act, local authorities have no statutory duty to monitor home educating families on a routine basis. Instead, they should intervene only if they have a reason for doing so. They are not obliged, or indeed pre-emptively to seek reasons to intervene. This is confirmed by paragraph s 2.7 and 2.8 of the Department for Education Guidelines for Local Authorities on Elective Home Education. These state in full:

2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.

This section states that:

"lf it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education."

Section 437(2) of the Act provides that the period shall not be less than 75 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served
2,8  Prior to serving a notice under section 437 (1), local authorities ore encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the some as a notice under section 437(7), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

The guidance issued by the Tri Borough therefore fundamentally misstates the powers and responsibilities of local authorities in this regard. I would be grateful to learn what action you will take to amend the guidance so that it properly reflects both the law and the Department for Education's Guidelines.  Rather than imposing a monitoring regime on home educating families, it would be better for the Tri Borough to concentrate on improving the support and resources available for home educating families, in accordance with their individual wishes.

On a related note, I have also been show correspondence from your adviser Ms Kyria Parsons to XX who is home educating her son.  In a letter dated 11th February 2014, Ms Parsons told XX

2we are of the view that our statutory duties, under 437(7) Education Act, 1996, can only be consistently and satisfactorily fulfilled through face to face meeting with parents/carers and the child(ren) being home educated."

In light of the Department's own Guidelines, I believe this view has been formed in error.  Ms Parsons states in her letter that it has been taken on the basis of legal advice.  I would be grateful for the opportunity to review the advice in question.  

The Department for Education shares my concern about the Guidelines for Home Education being represented incorrectly to parents.  I am theefore copying this letter to the Minister Elizabeth Truss, whose office I expect will be in touch shortly."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Now the turn of Northern Irish Home Educators.

Just after receiving confirmation that the Welsh Assembly has dropped plans to legislate to bring in compulsory registration of Welsh Home Educators and that any new guidance will be non-statutory, (YIPPEE), we hear that Northern Irish HEors are now in the firing line for new statutory guidance.

Same old, same old. Yup, the same old arguments must be recycled, it seems! When will the ptb realise that

Access to the home without suspicion of wrongdoing 
Access to the child 
Control over deregistration from schools 
Restrictions on how and what children should learn

altogether over-ride the principle of parental responsibility for education, and that should the ptb decide to make our decisions for us, we will come for them when they screw up?

Graham Stuart MP (head of the Education Select Committee) has already tried to explain why it is a bad idea, but all help will be gratefully received.

Please sign the petition here.