Sunday, July 29, 2007

"Your response identifier is 554"

After much consideration and reading of other responses and related discussions, the following is my response to the government's Consultation on Home Education Guidelines (Closing Date: Tuesday 31 July 2007):


Question 1: Do you agree that it is helpful for the DfES to issue guidelines to local authorities?

Answer: Yes

Comment: Yes I do, but only if they're very carefully worded to be exactly in line with statute and case law and only if they cannot possibly be interpreted as giving Local Authorities more powers than the law allows. In their present form they are confusing, incorrect and contradictory in places, but if they were rewritten to be absolutely clear, correct and concise, and addressed only to Local Authorities rather than to home educators also, they would be helpful in many cases.


Question 2: Do you agree that the description of the law (paragraphs 2.1 - 2.3) relating to elective home education is accurate and clear?

Answer: Yes

Comment: Yes, with the exception of the use of the word: ‘broad’. The guidelines should clearly and carefully stick to adjectives such as ‘efficient’ and ‘suitable’ in describing the nature of educational provision, because use of any other terms for this purpose might encourage some Local Authorities to make ultra vires demands on home educators.


Question 3: Do you agree that the description of local authorities’ responsibilities (paragraphs 2.5-2.11) is accurate and helpful?

Answer: No.

Comment:
In 2.5 “all children should make reasonable progress” absolutely needs to be removed, otherwise over-zealous officials might be tempted to use it as a reason to try to monitor home educated children in order to attempt to measure their progress. 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.


Question 4: Do you agree that the section on contact with the local authority (paragraphs 3.4-3.7) is accurate and helpful?

Answer: No.

Comment:
3.4: I know many home educators and have never met one who “welcomed regular contact with the local authority as an opportunity to reaffirm their provision.” I therefore think the first sentence in 3.4 should be removed as it may have the unfortunate effect of encouraging over-zealous officials and enabling some self-justification of their actions. The remainder of 3.4 is unclear and unnecessary in my opinion.

3.5: The wording of this section needs changing, as parts of it may lead to ultra vires actions by Local Authorities. “Can be provided” needs to be changed to “is being provided”. I’m not aware of any requirement in law that electively home-educated children should be approached by a Local Authority or by its parents to be given an opportunity to take part in meetings. Even the suggestion in these guidelines that meetings might take place (without, each time, listing all the alternative ways for parents to provide information) could encourage over-zealous officers to try to insist on meeting parents and/or children. I therefore think the last sentence in 3.5 should be removed.

3.6 also needs changing, to wording which is absolutely clear and not open to confusion or misinterpretation. “Reasonable concerns” in particular is unclear and unspecific. I think the guidelines should stick to the precise wording of the relevant statute and case law, because anything else could exacerbate the problems that I know some families have with some Local Authorities.

3.7 I am strongly of the opinion that the guidelines should not seek to make assumptions about whether parents enjoy home visits or not, because any such statements will be used by some Local Authority employees to attempt to pressurise parents into receiving them.


Question 5: Do you 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?

Answer: No.

Comment:
The lists in 3.12 and 3.13 should be excluded from the guidelines because some Local Authorities will misuse them as an excuse to make ultra vires demands on parents.


Question 6: Do you agree that the section on developing relationships (section 4) is useful?

Answer: No.

Comment:
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, unequivocal 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, in my opinion.


Question 7: Are the suggested resources in section 5 and appendix 2 useful?

Answer: No.

Comment:
In my opinion the guidelines should confine themselves to the vital job of clearly explaining the legal position of Local Authorities with regard to home educators and their children. Inclusion of extra information will detract from the crucial clarity of this function.


Please use this space for any other comments you wish to make about the guidance:

You have not consulted on sections 3.8 – 3.10. My comments on these sections are as follows:

3.10 makes bizarre use of the word ‘proposals’, even though this has absolutely no relevance to English law. This section needs to be rewritten to accurately and clearly represent the correct legal position in England.

You have not consulted on sections 3.15 to 3.19. My comments on these sections are as follows:

The guidelines should make it very clear that where a statement of Special Educational Needs exists in respect of an electively home educated child, there is no legal requirement for parents to provide anything specified in the statement.

My general comments about the guidance are as follows:

Local Authority personnel often misunderstand, misrepresent and misinterpret the legal position with regard to Elective Home Education, which leads to undue problems for many home-educating families and sometimes adversely affects educational provision. Those employed to liaise with us are often ex-schoolteachers and rarely seem to have good knowledge or experience of education as it takes place outside schools.

They are often, when contracted-out, paid only for home visits and not for other home education liaison work. They often seek to create work (and therefore income) for themselves by asking for more information than stipulated by law, more frequently and in inappropriate ways. Some of them speak publicly about elective home education and home educators in very negative terms and vociferously demonstrate their lack of understanding about home education. As well as being unprofessional, this gives rise to serious concerns about conflicts of interests, in my opinion, and these guidelines could helpfully give clear instructions about the conduct and employment terms of people in those positions.

My own Local Authority has:

- insisted on regular monitoring when there was no appearance of failure to provide a suitable education;
- paid its home education ‘advisor’ for home visits only and not for processing information received from parents in other forms; and
- sent ‘first (and subsequent) contact’ letters to families containing announcement of ‘a [hitherto undiscussed] home visit on xxx date at xxx time’ and demanding samples of work and information about future plans, but failing to explain alternative ways in which families can answer its enquiries.

The effect of this on my family has been as follows:

- The first visit was made by an officer who had not read the Local Authority file on my severely dyslexic son and authoritatively demanded a demonstration of his reading and writing abilities, which he then loudly criticised. My son felt humiliated and this negated months of hard work we had spent on restoring his confidence in reading and writing. My son’s literary abilities did not recover from this for almost a year.
- Subsequent routine annual visits, although conducted more carefully by a more sympathetic person, were dreaded by my children whose interest in learning declined markedly for weeks before and after each visit.
- Only after I took the position of local Education Otherwise contact for my area and made enquiries into the professional conduct and employment terms of the local advisor did the authority’s ultra vires insistence on annual home visits to my family cease and with it, the damage such visits inflicted on the quality of my children’s education.

I would therefore like these guidelines to focus mainly on seeking to prevent the causes and effects listed above.

12 Comments:

Blogger Annkrozeika said...

Hello from response identifier 553 ;o)
Yours is a fantastic response, I only wish I could have written mine so well. Your answers are straight-forward and to the point, whereas mine tend to be a bit long and rambling! Ah well, they'll find my points in there somewhere :o)
Thanks for all your blog posts on the consultation - they've really helped me understand it all better.
Zoe

2:11 am, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks Zoe :-)

I'm just kicking myself for saying 'literary' instead of 'literacy'. Doh!

And one or two other things.

I should stop re-reading it really, because it's too late to change it now. The teens' responses will go in today and hopefully I'll get their permission to blog them.

8:26 am, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

And oh, you were 553! Standing next to me in the queue then ;-)

8:26 am, July 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gill would you consder uploading your response to google docs in order to give people a published web link ? ( just put google docs into err google, it is v easy sorry if that sounds patronising and you knew it already but google docs is my new trick )

last response i heard was 560 so counter will be updated asap

love, fiona

9:50 am, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I didn't know about Google docs, no. Have uploaded this blog post there and it should appear here.

10:17 am, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

How is that link more useful than this link though?

Happy to provide both if it's useful - just wondered why it might be.

10:23 am, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Great response Gill:)

1:53 pm, July 30, 2007  
Blogger 33, 452 said...

Yay!

Great response! :)

And definitely stop with the re-reads - I remember how frustrating that can be from doing it with my own!

5:51 pm, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks you two :-)

6:09 pm, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

I am 677 so the numbers rising

1:02 am, July 31, 2007  
Blogger degz said...

Up to 722 now. I probably wouldn't have done it without all the encouragment on your blog Gill, so thankyou so much

11:25 am, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Glad to have helped Degs xx
722? Blimey! I wouldn't want to be E.Haste next month! LOL

11:27 am, July 31, 2007  

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