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.