"The LA expects evidence."
When I deregistered Tom, Ali and Zara from school I was furious with the LEA and the school for failing my children so spectacularly. We started home ed provision on the firm basis that anything the children did at home would be an improvement on the school provision, which had damaged them so inarguably and measurably. In that way, I suppose we had the LEA on the defensive - although I wouldn't recommend it as a plan!
In my very early dealings with them after deregistration I wasn't in touch with other home educators, so I didn't know about difficulties HEing families had with various LEAs and I had no idea that people would resent their involvement so much. From my own perspective, my LEA was involved in my children's education - to the extent that they'd had charge of it until we began HE. I was angry because I'd been stupid enough to trust them to do a decent job, and I felt that they hadn't even tried.
In my frame of mind at the time, the idea of privacy didn't really occur to me. In writing the early HE reports I was thinking more along the lines: "At least if someone there is reading how problematic it is to sort out their mess, then it might help those children still in the system to get a better deal." I still thought school was meant to be a beneficial thing, in those days, and I felt cheated because it had been the opposite.
I held the school firmly, totally responsible for my children's unwillingness to learn. I don't think I still hold that view though: with hindsight I realise that it was not being in complete control of their learning that made them unwilling to learn. I actually found it helpful to 'have to' log the process of solving this problem, in my reports to the LEA.
I suppose, from the LEA's perspective, they didn't have much choice but to accept and condone what I was telling them in the reports. I wasn't hiding anything and they could come and verify what I was saying at any time. My only priority was my children's best interests and this was glaringly obvious throughout my whole dealings with them. It wasn't deliberate, but I guess the fact that I was justifiably angry with them and sufficiently articulate to be able to do something about it (I'd sent copies of my deregistration letter, including lengthy and very detailed rant, to the Minister of Education) might have dissuaded them from challenging anything in the reports.
I would have relished the challenge anyway, and when the children's father tried to get a court to order their return to school, I got one of sorts. In the event, I just handed my LEA reports over to the judge. The LEA submitted their own report in support of my provision and my ex-husband's request was denied.
I was working from a position of righteous fury, and the LEA was on its back foot which is, I now realise, not the case for most home educators in their dealings with their LEAs. Most home educators - quite understandably - just wish to be left alone by the LEAs, to preserve their privacy and to protect their children from unwarranted intervention for fear the LEA will reject the provision as being unsuitable.
So have home educating families with autonomous learning children got anything to fear from their LEAs, really?
One LEA visitor to our house, early in our autonomous provision, asked to see samples of the children's work.
"I've stopped insisting on them producing work," I said, "Because their interest in learning shut down whenever I did. Is the LEA interested in my children's learning, or in their work? Because the two things are mutually exclusive, so it can't have both."
"Erm... well I suppose learning is the important thing," said the visitor and the LEA has been happy to take my word for it that the children are learning, ever since - though I accept that some LEAs might just never be so amenable.
At the heart of Calderdale's treatment of families and children are some chief officers who really do care about education and child welfare. I know this because I've had lengthy conversations with them about it, though I did also find they had concerns and some prejudice that "some families aren't fit to home educate," and that "some children's best chances are in school." We tried to dispel those myths, but kept coming back to child welfare issues which shouldn't have been - and, I believe, still aren't within an education department's remit to detect or solve.
Autonomous educators' main worry, I think, is lack of work to show. I think we need to strongly make the case that education does not mean work. Learning and work are very different, largely unconnected things. I don't think even education law confuses learning with work, though many LEA personnel obviously do. Perhaps we can produce some documentation, for the general use of autonomous families, to support this? Perhaps it already exists somewhere and we just need to find it.
In law the Harrison ruling still stands, in which the term 'suitable education' was defined as one which enabled the children ‘to achieve their full potential’, and was such as ‘to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society’. The term 'efficient' was defined as achieving ‘that which it sets out to achieve’. [Harrison & Harrison v Stephenson (appeal to Worcester Crown Court 1981)]
It's impossible for anyone to justify how viewing samples of work could possibly prove any of the above, because it can't even give an indication of whether any of the above criteria are being met.