Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Local authorities' consultation responses: When "the evidence is 'lack of evidence'"

"Section 3.5 makes it seem straightforward to make progress with families where there are concerns about the education which may, or may not, be provided. It is relatively straightforward to deal with the crisis situations, but much more difficult in the many cases where the LA has concerns, but the evidence is "lack of evidence", ie little or no information about the educational plans, no evidence of real teaching and learning and no way of assessing progress being made by the child. Plans are rarely produced by home schooling parents in this LA, 3.10 AND 3.11 suggests they are not essential.

"Section 3.6 appears very woolly. Bearing in mind the minimal requirements placed on home schooling families, the reasonable concerns of the LA may well create conflict with parents who may have difficult aims and priorities for their children."

This responder is one of those Local Authority employees that cause so many problems for home educators, because they simply refuse to understand what it is that we do. I think it's scandalous that such people are employed and paid to do a job of which they have such a tiny amount of understanding and enough misunderstanding to cause major problems for many families.

This person has no concept of the idea that learning might take place outside of a schoolroom environment and sums up his misunderstanding by calling us all home schoolers, as if that's what we all do. Anyone who knows anything about home education in the UK knows that we don't call it home schooling! And of course his misconception doesn't stop there: he fails to get that parents are in charge of assessing progress and planning education, unless we delegate this to a school. Section 7 has just passed this person by completely. Whoosh, straight over their head. And yet... they earn public money for liaising with us.

Looking on the bright side, the person hopefully shows themselves up for their lack of knowledge and understanding by setting out their thinking like this and sending it to the government. Anyone with a sympathetic eye would read this and see exactly what home educators in some areas are up against. It's one of those things a person might have to read first hand to quite believe it was true.

And there's more:

"In 3.11 there is a simple and clear list of what is not required, enabling a significant number of home schooling families to get away with providing alternative education which, in my professional opinion, is minimal and unsatisfactory, yet could be claimed by parents as preparing their children for the society of community they deem appropriate. The outline of expected characteristics, 3.13 is too vague to be of real use. When the LA does follow up cases of concern, such action does not usually improve the relationship between home schoolers and the LA, nor are the families always supportive when the child is directed back into school."

In the last sentence, he sounds quite surprised!

But yes, we're 'getting away with' 'minimal and unsatisfactory provision'. In other words, we do not hold education very highly in our list of priorities for our children, for some perverse reason. And yet, why wouldn't we? I've yet to meet a parent who doesn't value learning for her child or want her child to 'do well' in life. Yes, people have different ideas of what 'doing well' actually means, but this variety is what makes our society rich and vibrant.

Differences of opinion aside - and this is all this is - the respondent has had the law set out for him in the draft guidance and refuses to accept it. A child must be made to learn in a school-type environment and this must be enforced by the LA, in his opinion, regardless of what the law states. I wonder why he thinks we bother home educating, if that's the best kind of provision we can come up with. I suspect this responder formulated his 'professional opinion' in school, and actually has no professional opinion (or understanding) of home education. Are LAs who employ such clearly incompetent people fit for purpose?

And how to counter this local authority response in our own responses? It's hard to know where to start, which gives me huge sympathy for the HEing families unlucky enough to live within this LA's catchment area.

Here are the sections in question from the draft again:

3.5 If information exists which may cast doubt on whether an “efficient and suitable education” can be provided, the local authority should seek to gather any relevant information that will assist them in reaching a properly informed judgement. This should include seeking from the parents any further information that they wish to provide explaining how they are providing a suitable education. Parents should be given the opportunity to address any specific concerns that the authority has. The child should also be given the opportunity, but not required, to attend any meeting that may be arranged or express his or her views in some other way.

3.6 If there are any reasonable concerns, a local authority may wish to contact parents to discuss their ongoing home education provision. Contact should normally be made by writing to the parents to request an updated report or seek a meeting. A written report should be made after such contact and copied to the parents stating whether the authority has any concerns about the education provision. Where there are concerns about the efficiency or suitability of the education being provided for the child, more frequent contact may be required. Where concerns merit frequent contact, the authority should discuss these concerns with the child’s parents, with a view to helping them improve their provision in the best interests of the child.

3.10 Local authorities should bear in mind that, in the early stages, parents’ proposals may not be detailed and they may not yet be in a position to demonstrate all the characteristics of an “efficient and suitable” educational provision. In such cases, a reasonable timescale should be agreed for the parents to submit their proposals.

Providing a full-time education

3.11 Parents are required to provide an efficient education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child. There is currently no legal definition of “full-time”. Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 39 weeks of the year, but this measurement of ‘contact time’ is not relevant to home education where there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal ‘school hours’. The type of educational activity can be varied and flexible. Home-educating parents are not required to:

· teach the National Curriculum
· have a timetable
· have premises equipped to any particular standard
· set hours during which education will take place
· have any specific qualifications
· make detailed plans in advance
· observe school hours, days or terms
· give formal lessons
· reproduce school type peer group socialisation
· match school, age-specific standards.

However, local authorities should offer advice and support to parents on these matters if requested.

3.12 It is important to recognise that there are many, equally valid, approaches to educational provision. Local authorities should therefore consider a wide range of information from home educating parents, in a range of formats. The information may be in the form of specific examples of learning e.g. pictures/paintings/models, diaries of work, projects, assessments, samples of work, books, educational visits etc.

3.13 In their consideration of parents’ provision of education at home, local authorities may reasonably expect the provision to include the following characteristics:

· consistent involvement of parents or other significant carers – it is expected that parents or significant carers would play a substantial role, although not necessarily constantly or actively involved in providing education
· recognition of the child’s needs, attitudes and aspirations
· opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences
· access to resources/materials required to provide home education for the child – such as paper and pens, books and libraries, arts and crafts materials, physical activity, ICT and the opportunity for appropriate interaction with other children and other adults.

I think I'll address the ultra vires issues by formulating something more in my response about the difficulties for us of dealing with Local Authorities who employ people not conversant with the law or accepting of alternative methods of educating, giving rise to the desperate need for more clarity in the draft.

The respondent complains that section 3.6 'appears very woolly' and I agree that it needs rewriting for further clarity. I still think it should say:

If it appears, from the information provided, that the educational provision is failing in its efficiency to an extent which would convince a reasonable person on the grounds of probability, the LA may make further enquiries of the family and provide specific and detailed explanations for its concern. The LA should at all stages be mindful of its duty to remain fair, clear, consistent, non-intrusive and timely in its procedures. The LA should also consider the possibility that parents may be attempting to protect their children from interventions which may be potentially damaging to their motivation and confidence.

- although I can see that even this re-write wouldn't change anything in the mind or behaviour of the author of this Local Authority response.

This response also complains that section 3.13 is 'too vague to be of real use'. Personally I'm not too worried about section 3.13, but I do take on board other HErs views that it might be too prescriptive for our liking. I'm still thinking about my final response to this section.


Blogger Ruth said...

I dread to think what mYLA's will be like:(

"Differences of opinion aside - and this is all this is - the respondent has had the law set out for him in the draft guidance and refuses to accept it."

Sounds familiar:(

"there is a simple and clear list of what is not required, enabling a significant number of home schooling families to get away with providing alternative education which, in my professional opinion, is minimal and unsatisfactory, yet could be claimed by parents as preparing their children for the society of community they deem appropriate."


Just out of interest Gill - where are you seeing the LA reponses? I am not keen on BP raise over it but would like to look myself.

10:49 pm, July 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Consult list files, Ruth.

11:03 pm, July 24, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

It is very disheartening, isn't it? Seems that some LA staff have no appreciation of the fact that their dealings with home educators are an opportunity for them to learn! They just go trundling along in their own schooly mind-set - misunderstanding what they see. They are hung up on their 'professional' skills and yet it appears they've never read any Holt or Meighan. The librarian in me wants to send them a booklist...

10:20 am, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks Allie, you've just reminded me of something that I was going to mention in my response: that any personnel liaising with us should be familiar with and understanding of alternative methods of learning.

It beggars belief that they're paid to do home ed liaison work without even having read any books on the subject.

12:12 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Thanks Gill:)

1:09 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

You're welcome. Enjoy! ;-)

5:29 pm, July 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The LEA needs some evidence that children are actually recieving a suitable education,and children do all learn in different ways whether it be structured or in an autonomous way.Otherwise how do they know that children are not autonomously watching the tv, whilst autonomously drinking coke and eating crisps all day, whilst thier mother in on the computer for hours.

6:50 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Dear Anonymous, have you looked up the word 'autonomous' in a dictionary lately?

According to mine, it means 'having self-government'.

It doesn't mention the LA being in charge at all.

7:12 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Raquel said...

I think we should turn the tables and every time the LA person shows no knowledge of the law or intimidates a home educator with unlawful practices or shows no knowledge of their chosen subject we should all write in asking for their resignation. It's about time they realised that we are not their subjects and that in fact they should stick to the law. grrr. sorry that LA response got me angry!

7:23 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

That sounds like a good plan, Raquel :-)

Yes it's one of the worst responses I've seen.

7:26 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger 33, 452 said...

The disregard for the law is staggering, isn't it?!

The title of this post reminds me of something that I said in my response to the consultation:

"LAs should be made aware that lack of evidence of a suitable education is *not* the same thing as evidence of a lack of it."

I'm glad I wrote that bit now!

11:27 pm, July 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh, well done you Adele. I'm glad someone said that. I'll put it on my list to include as well.

It's becoming a very long list.

8:19 am, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Mister Bee said...

how about if an LA "Inspector" shows up, conduct them to the interview chair (ie the only hard chair in the middle of the comfy armchairs) and subject them to 20 minutes of having to answer questions about their background, qualifications, experience in the field, etc before they are allowed a cup of tea and to move over to the comfy chair to ask their own questions? have a clipboard ready and sit ticking boxes in a marked manner

that should see a few of them off

9:43 am, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...


We've done similar! Not quite so harsh, but same effect ;-)

Well, they need monitoring to make sure they're behaving themselves!

9:45 am, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is not only the children that should grow up.

12:23 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Mister Bee said...

quis custodiat ipsos custodes?

12:29 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Pete said...

Actually, it's one of the reasons I've put Continuous Personal Development in the guidelines for any LA officer involved with EHE: they wouldn't let someone inspect schools without it, why should they asses EHE without appropriate, accreddited training?

1:00 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Mister Bee said...

Gill and Pete, I wanted to say thank you for the work you did, I found your sites so useful in formulating my own response


1:12 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"Quis custodiat ipsos custodes?"

Quite so, Mr Bee :-)

Pete, ah I get it now. Yes, I'll definitely be including that phrase too.

1:40 pm, July 26, 2007  

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