OK then. Let's consult.
The closing date for the consultation is 31st July, so we have just over 2 weeks left to say what we think about them.
Here is the response document, which I'm printing out to help me work out how they want me to respond. I could post this response on paper by snailmail, but I think I'll respond online instead, when I'm sure I've worked out what I want to say. I printed the the draft guidelines [opens doc again] before.
I hope you'll bear with me, because I've never responded to a government consultation before. I didn't believe in them, until quite recently when some people's views were, I'm told, actually taken into account in one. So I will respond to this, and I hope our collective views are properly taken into account, because I do think these guidelines might make a real difference to the quality of many children's education - one way or the other.
OK, it's printed. It's a lot of sheets, so it's going in a folder so that I can read it like a book. That took some time, but I've got them both ready now. The draft guidelines in one folder and the response sheets in another. (And Alaister Campbell on the TV - will that help? ;-)
Right. I'll get down to it then. This is the hardest part, isn't it? Just making a start.
First: do I want to keep my response confidential? Well, it's being blogged here, so it's a bit late for that! I've got nothing to lose by leaving that box unticked.
Name. Organisation - none. Address. Which of the following best describes me? Home educator, of course, but I see there's a box there for 'young person who is/was home educated'. That's good. I think some or all of the teens will be submitting a response too. I think someone said on one of the lists that their responses might carry even more weight. Hope so - they should. Tom, Ali and Zara will have a lot to say about how our LA's monitoring has affected their education. I'll ask them if I can blog what they say later.
Now the questions. I'll answer them off the top of my head, then see what people have to say in the comments. I might change some of my answers before I submit them, if I'm persuaded that it's a good idea to do so.
Question 1: Do I agree that it is helpful for the DfES to issue guidelines to local authorities?
Yes I do, but only if they're very carefully worded to be exactly in line with how the law presently stands and if there's no possible way they can be interpreted as giving LAs more powers than the law allows.
Question 2: Do I agree that the description of the law (paragraphs 2.1 - 2.3) relating to elective home education is accurate and clear?
Hmmm, let's see. Which paragraphs?
2.1 The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, education is compulsory, but schooling is not.
2.2 Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:
“No person shall be denied the right to education. 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.”
This right is enshrined in English law. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 provides that:
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
2.3 The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. An “efficient” and “suitable” education is not defined in the Education Act 1996 but “efficient” has been broadly described as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”, and a “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”.
Yes, those paragraphs look ok to me.
Question 3: Do I agree that the description of local authorities’ responsibilities (paragraphs 2.5-2.11) is accurate and helpful?
Local authorities’ responsibilities
2.5 Local authorities should provide written information about home education that is clear, accurate and sets out the legal position, roles and responsibilities. This information should be made available on local authority websites and in local community languages on request. Local authorities should recognise that there are many approaches to educational provision, not just a “school at home” model. What is suitable for one child may not be for another, but all children should make reasonable progress.
The term 'reasonable progress' could cause problems for home educated children because some officials will undoubtedly interpret this as meaning progress which needs measuring by them on a regular basis. My experience of home educating is that any kind of official measuring of my children's progress had a marked, direct and negative effect on their interest in learning and their motivation to learn. I would ask that the words:
but all children should make reasonable progress
2.6 Local authorities have a new duty under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to identify, as far as is possible, children who are missing, or in danger of missing, education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately, or in alternative provision). The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.
This paragraph looks OK to me.
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 can intervene if they have good reason to believe that parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that:
“If 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 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.
2.8 The most obvious course of action if such a concern were raised would be to ask parents for information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under s 437(1). Parents are under no duty to comply, but it would be sensible for them to do so.
- I think this paragraph should include a list of the various ways in which parents might provide information. This list of the different means of providing information needs to be inserted at every opportunity, because the possible alternatives to [apparently mandatory] visits are so often overlooked, ignored and unpublished by Local Authorities, to the detriment of children's education (see below).
2.9 Section 437(3) refers to the serving of School Attendance Orders:
(a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and
(b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school,
the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a "school attendance order"), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.”
This section is important, I think, to make very clear to local authorities that they do have legal recourse should the provision appear to them to be unsuitable. HOWEVER I think it would also be very useful to include the words:
such as would satisfy a reasonable person [i.e., not necessarily an education professional] on the grounds of probability
- again, to protect the confidence and motivation of home educated children from being damaged by over-zealous and heavy-handed officials.
The following account of what happened during our first visit from an LA official after deregistering might help to explain why this is so important for home educated children:
My son (then 10 years old) is severely dyslexic and had been recently withdrawn from school after protracted and serious difficulties caused by the school's complete mismanagement of his dyslexia. On deregistration he had absolutely no confidence in his literary abilities and we were working very hard to resolve this, with some success. We then received a visit from a Local Authority home education 'inspector', who authoritatively asked my son to read and write for him, then proceeded to loudly and sternly criticise the results. With increasing horror at my son's visible humiliation, I eventually asked our visitor if he was at all aware of my son's diagnosed severe dyslexia? He certainly should have been, because I know that the issue was well-documented in the Local Authority educational file on my son. But no, the official admitted that he had neglected to read the file before visiting us. I asked the man to leave, but it took perhaps another 6 months before my son's confidence in his ability to read and write even began to recover from this incident.
If the Local Authority had made it clear to me, as a new home educator, that the visit was not mandatory and that I could, if I wished, provide information about our provision by other means then I would have chosen instead to use one of the other methods of answering their its enquiries. But it did not. At no time was I made aware by the Local Authority that the visits were avoidable. If I had been aware of this, the careless and incompetent official would not have had access to my son and the damage to his progress would not have occurred. Furthermore, if the official had been made aware, perhaps by reading government guidelines, that the information provided could be sufficient to convince a reasonable person [i.e., not necessarily an education professional] on the grounds of probability, that a suitable education was taking place, his behaviour might have been more moderate and cautious.
2.10 A School Attendance Order should be served as a last resort, after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation. At any stage following the issue of the Order, parents may present evidence to the local authority, or the court, that they are now providing an appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked. It will be for a court to decide whether or not the education being provided is suitable and efficient. Detailed information about School Attendance Orders is contained in Ensuring Regular School Attendance paragraphs 6 to 16,.
2.11 Local authorities also have a duty under Section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This section states:
“A local education authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that the functions conferred upon them in their capacity as a local education authority are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”
Section 175(1) does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.
- I'm reasonably happy with this, although I feel that the last paragraph perhaps needs to be more strongly-worded, with further explanations for those officials who seem unable to accept the truth of it.
[The response form appears to have skipped sections 3.1-3.3, but they're OK, I think.]
Question 4: Do I agree that the section on contact with the local authority (paragraphs 3.4-3.7) is accurate and helpful?
Paragraphs 3.4 to 3.7 read as follows:
Contact with the local authority
3.4 Many home educating parents welcome regular contact with the local authority as an opportunity to reaffirm their provision.
- I know many home-educating parents and absolutely none have ever expressed this sentiment to me. I therefore think it should be removed as it may have the unfortunate effect of encouraging over-zealous officials and enabling some self-justification of their actions.
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.
- the preceding sentence is likely to be very helpful and should remain in the guidelines.
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.
I am concerned that the advice in the preceding paragraph might put some home educating families in an unnecessary position of having to provide information about their provision when there is no real reason to suspect it might be unsuitable. The terms 'risk-based approach' and 'individual and community’s circumstances' are particularly problematic, because they will undoubtedly fuel the prejudices admittedly held by some Local Authority officials which often lead to variations between Local Authority treatment of different home educators within the same area. Officials often seem to be unaware of the prejudices they hold, which makes them even more likely to act on them, I think.
For example, in a recent radio discussion about home education, a high-ranking member of a teaching association professed himself to be sure (without checking) that the children of his well-spoken co-interviewee were in receipt of a suitable education, but that others needed checking. He had no information to go by other than the interviewee's voice and very limited snippets of information, which would not have been sufficient for him to make a professional judgment. This kind of prejudice, usually against the ability of certain ethnic groups, family-types and people who fall within certain status and income groups to home-educate effectively appears to be quite common amongst Local Authority officials, as is often transparent in such conversations. I'm also aware of families falling foul of such prejudice and being subjected to excessive monitoring which borders on harrassment, without there being reasonable grounds to suspect their provision of failing. Some home educators are more adept at defending themselves against this kind of behaviour than others, which is why the guidelines need to be absolutely clear.
For this reason, I think that section 3.4 should instead say:
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 consider only taking action where there are definite reasons to believe a suitable education is not taking place, such as reports of specific concerns having been received from other professionals or the general public. The LA should be aware that its interference might seriously damage the home educated child's feelings of stability, confidence and motivation to learn and should seek to balance this awareness against any evidence of concerns.
[I'm not too happy with the wording of that last sentence. Alternative suggestions welcome!]
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.
- Section 3.5 needs to include the phrase "such as would convince a reasonable person on the balance of probability." The law does not require us to satisfy an educationalist that our provision is suitable. This is important because Local Authority inspectors and advisors are very often only experienced in education as it takes place in schools, to which home education can be very different. Home educating parents are, quite rightly, less concerned with meeting school standards than they are with using the opportunity provided by home education to provide their child with a uniquely-tailored individually personalised education, which is very difficult to explain to, for example, an ex-headmaster or schoolteacher who has little experience of learning outside the classroom. The inclusion of "such as would convince a reasonable person on the balance of probability," might serve to remind such officials that their professional (school-based) judgment is neither necessary nor appropriate in this context and can be extremely problematic for home educating parents and children.
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.
Several other methods of submitting information about provision should be included here. Also 'reasonable concerns' again needs strictly defining, to protect home educating families from over-zealous officials.
A written report should be made after such contact and copied to the parents stating whether the authority has any concerns about the education education being provided for the child, more frequent contact may be required.
This does not make sense and appears to have been incorrectly altered. A previously published version of this section of the draft document reads as follows:
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.
- which is more grammatically logical, but it contains wording with which I still disagree. I would instead prefer section 3.6 to 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.
As regards section 3.7:
Many parents welcome the opportunity to discuss the provision that they are making for the child’s education during a home visit
I repeat: I know many home-educating parents and absolutely none have ever expressed this sentiment to me. I therefore think it should be removed as it may have the unfortunate effect of encouraging over-zealous officials and enabling some self-justification of their actions.
but parents are not legally required to give the local authority access to their home. They may, choose to meet a local authority representative at a mutually convenient and neutral location instead or choose not to meet at all. If they choose not to meet, they will need to provide evidence that they are providing an efficient and suitable education.
This wording fails to convey the spirit of relevant case law, specifically Philips v Brown, in which Lord Justice Donaldson said: "the parents will be under no duty to comply. However it would be sensible for them to do so." I would therefore prefer the use of such term as:
If they choose not to meet, parents may instead wish to provide information in one of the following ways:
· write a report;
· provide samples of work;
· invite a local authority advisor/consultant to their home, with or without the child being present; or
· meet a local authority advisor/consultant elsewhere, with or without the child.
. any other method preferred.
In making their enquiries of home-educating families, Local Authorities should give equal emphasis to all of the different ways of providing information, instead of only mentioning the possibility of a visit to the house.
[Again, paragraphs which need altering (3.8-3.10) have been ignored by questions.]
Question 5 Do I agree that the section on providing a full-time education (paragraphs 3.11-3.14) – and in particular, the characteristics of provision (paragraph 3.13) – is accurate and helpful?
Here they are:
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.
I am happy with 3.11 as it stands, I think.
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.
The list of suitable forms of information in section 3.12 needs to include educational philosophies and information about resources and activities.
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.
Some families, such as those who favour a Waldorf-type education, may prefer to discourage the use of ICT, whilst others may favour the use of ICT over such things as pens and paper. These variations could perhaps be reflected by making the list one of examples of resources and materials, rather than a rigidly definitive set of requirements.
3.14 If, on considering the educational provision, one or more of the above characteristics appear to be lacking, local authorities may choose to further investigate whether or not an efficient and suitable education is, in fact, being provided. A full written report of the findings should be made and copied to the parents promptly, specifying the grounds for concern and any reasons for concluding that provision is unsuitable. If the authority is not satisfied that efficient education is being provided, and the parents, having been given a reasonable opportunity to improve their provision and report back to the authority, have not done so, the authority should consider serving a School Attendance Order (see section 2.7).
I would like
reasons for concluding that provision is unsuitable
to instead say
reasons for concluding that provision may be unsuitable
because I feel the former implies that the provision has definitely been deemed unsuitable already, when in fact receipt of further information from the family may well allay such concerns. The section should go on to set out the various opportunities families should be given to provide information in such a way that is clear, consistent, non-intrusive and timely, before making reference to School Attendance Orders. I also think it probably necessary, at this juncture, to supply further information for Local Authorities about the law pertaining to School Attendance Orders.
Question 6 Do I agree that the section on developing relationships (section 4) is useful?
No. Sections 4.1 and 4.2 should be removed, in my opinion.
4.1 As noted in the Introduction to these guidelines, the central aim of this document is to assist local authorities and home educators to build effective relationships that function to safeguard the educational interests of children and young people; relationships that are rooted in mutual understanding, trust and respect. The guidelines outline a number of recommendations that are geared towards the promotion of such relationships.
4.2 Whilst there is no current legal obligation on education authorities or home educators to develop such relationships, doing so will often provide parents with access to any support that is available and allow authorities to better understand parents’ educational provision and preferences. A positive relationship will also provide a sound basis if the authority is required to investigate assertions from any source that an efficient and suitable education is not being provided. This will be true whether or not parents are required to demonstrate that suitable home-education provision is being made available.
The purpose of these guidelines should be to assist Local Authorities in understanding how to fulfil their legal duties effectively. The development of relationships between home educators and Local Authorities, where sometimes useful when they spontaneously occur, often have their drawbacks and can sometimes result in problems between home educating families with some inevitably being excluded from the relationship, for various reasons. These guidelines will be most helpful if they retain their focus on providing a clear, unequivocable explanation of the legal position and do not seek to extend this. Talk of developing relationships is unnecessary and detracts from the absolute clarity required.
I am satisfied with sections 4.3-4.6, but sections 4.7 and 4.8 gives rise to serious concerns.
Contact with parents and children
4.7 Local authorities should acknowledge that learning takes place in a wide variety of environments and not only in the home. Some parents are happy for the local authority to have the opportunity to see the child in their learning environment, to enable them to see the provision at first hand. Seeing the child responding to the educational provision of the parents may provide a strong indication that an efficient and suitable education is indeed being provided. The authority does not, however, have a legal right of access to the home and the matter should not be forced.
4.8 Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made. Although it is recognised that the learning environment can have a bearing on the effectiveness of learning, LAs should, in the vast majority of cases, be able to discuss and evaluate the parents’ educational provision by alternative means. Parents might prefer, for example, to write a report, provide samples of work, have their educational provision endorsed by a third party (such as an independent home tutor) or provide evidence in some other appropriate form.
4.7 in particular implies that providing information in the form of allowing a visit to the home is the optimal method of responding to enquiries. I feel very strongly that there should be parity, even in implication, between all methods of providing information in response to enquiries, because anything else is open to misunderstanding and abuse by over-zealous Local Authority officials.
or provide evidence in some other appropriate form
'evidence' should be replaced by the more legally accurate word: 'information'.
Question 7 Are the suggested resources in section 5 and appendix 2 useful?
As regards section 5.5 pertaining to information-sharing with Connexions:
5.5 The Connexions Service is for children and young people aged 13-19 years living in England (see www.connexions.gov.uk). Its services and responsibilities cover children and young people who are being educated at home. The LA is a key partner in a local Connexions Partnership and each must review how it will bring coherence to the different services and agencies within the area. The Connexions Service needs to maintain an overview of the learning and work status of all young people of a relevant age and ensure that individuals do not fall between the responsibilities and remit of different agencies and thus become marginalized or lost to the system. LAs may be asked (as partners of Connexions) to provide details of children and young people being home educated; the Learning and Skills Act 2000 gives powers for various partners to share information with Connexions, subject to normal data protection principles.
If Local Authorities are to be encouraged to share information about home-educated children without consent, there is likely to be very little trust of the Authorities on the part of home educators. This will make the process of making enquiries and providing information far more difficult than it needs to be. Section 5.5 should therefore be removed.
The section 5.10 on Truancy Sweeps:
When planning and running truancy sweeps, LAs should refer to the DfES "Truancy sweeps: Effective practice and advice" which is available at www.dfes.gov.uk/schoolattendance/truancysweeps. This includes a section on children who are educated outside the school system. Those taking part in the sweeps, including police officers, should be fully familiar with this guidance and be aware that there is a range of valid reasons why school-age children may be out of school.
also needs changing because it could easily be misconstrued to imply that home-educated children need to supply a reason for being out during school hours, which is not the case. It should instead read as follows:
When planning and running truancy sweeps, LAs should refer to the DfES "Truancy sweeps: Effective practice and advice" which is available at www.dfes.gov.uk/schoolattendance/truancysweeps. This includes a section on children who are educated outside the school system. Those taking part in the sweeps, including police officers, should be fully familiar with this guidance.
Please use this space for any other comments you wish to make about the guidance.
With regards to the section on deregistration from school, section 3.8:
First contact between local authorities and home educators often occurs when parents decide to home educate and approach the school (at which the child is registered) and/or the authority to seek guidance about withdrawing their child from school. It is important that this initial contact is constructive and positive.
should instead read as follows:
First contact between local authorities and home educators often occurs when parents decide to home educate and approach the school (at which the child is registered) and/or the authority to seek guidance about withdrawing their child from school. It is important that this initial contact is constructive and positive. Local Authorities should not seek to dissuade families from discharging their legal duties towards their children by making what they consider to be the most approriate educational decisions and should instead supply the information listed in section 3.1 promptly on request.
The final sentence in section 3.9:
Local authorities may encourage parents to inform them direct, but have no legal right to insist that they do so.
needs to be removed because it is extraneous and therefore detracts from the necessary clarity of the guidelines.
In section 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.
it would be very helpful to add:
Initial assessment periods for families of between six months and one year are often required before enough useful information can be given to local authorities pertaining to educational provision.