Local authorities' consultation responses: Taking a 'risk-based approach'
Here's the relevant paragraph in the draft guidelines:
3.4 Many home educating parents welcome regular contact with the local authority as an opportunity to reaffirm their provision. However, where parents do not want any involvement with the local authority, the LA should not automatically assume that there is a problem which needs investigating. Instead, the LA should take a risk-based approach, taking into consideration the individual and community’s circumstances. As one example, recent research shows that “few Gypsy/Roma and Traveller parents have the knowledge, skills and resources to provide or deliver a full-time education that is efficient and suitable”. We do know that there will be Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children who do receive a good education at home. Those monitoring elective home education should seek advice from Traveller Education Support Services before engaging with parents from these communities.
The decision to use the exact phrase 'risk-based approach' in the draft was, in my opinion, a very deliberate and calculated one on the part of its authors. This is no casual, throw-away term which appeared there by chance. It was designed, I think, to convey a specific and important message to Local Authorities, possibly with the hope that this would be overlooked by home educators. We should therefore explore in some depth the meaning of this term: risk-based approach.
The risk in this context is a legal risk to LA agents and personnel, based on the issue of Causation in English law. This basically means that if it could be demonstrated that a member of staff or other person acting as a Local Authority representative in respect of a home-educating family had a Duty of Care towards the family, they could of course be personally vulnerable to a Negligence suit, amongst other implications.
If I was any kind of an employee of a Local Authority in respect of home education, I would be urgently seeking good legal advice about my personal position regarding the ongoing monitoring of home educating families, in the light of this consultation. And if I was a home-educating family in Glouscester, the local authority which is, we're told, planning to "make appropriate representation to Government to highlight the concern that there is currently no legal process, which ensures that children, who are educated at home, are regularly seen, and their progress monitored, by Educating Otherwise professionals", I would be very loudly reminding my local authority of this risk.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 tells us that "The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education." It does not tell us that the Local Authority of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education. If I was a Local Authority employee, especially a home-owning one, especially in Glouscester, I'd want to keep it that way.
The plight of the children in the Eunice Spry case should have been picked up by Social Services, pure and simple. The apparent attempts to make this into an issue about monitoring home educators should be firmly resisted, by local authority education personnel and home educating parents alike.
Glouscester aside, to counter such self-defeating requests from Local Authorities to make monitoring mandatory, I think we need to be making strong arguments about the negative effects of monitoring on our educational provision.
The autonomous method is particularly vulnerable to negative effects from monitoring, (although I think that probably all methods are to some extent.) Autonomous education relies on the student's intrinsic motivation, which usually springs from curiosity and the freedom to pursue it. In my opinion this is the most useful - possibly the only genuine - form of learning, as opposed to the basic skills training which is supposed to take place in our schools.
But yes, my very simple message to local authorities seeking increased legal powers to monitor home education provision would be this:
Be careful what you ask for: with increased powers will also come very real, very personal, increased legal and financial RISK.