My response to the consultation on the Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education
is as follows: 1 Based on your experience of local authorities implementing this duty since it was introduced in 2007, does the guidance make clear the actions which local authorities are expected to take to help them comply with the duty?
Comments: The guidance, if indeed it is needed, should only refer local authorities to the elective home education guidance for local authorities, as published by yourselves last November, in the case of electively home educated children. This extra guidance is likely to conflate officers’ understanding of the original document, especially in regard to the process for ascertaining the suitability or otherwise of elective home education.
As many home educators said in their responses to the 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities consultation, the seeking out and vetting of our home education provision by local authorities is often intrusive to family life as well as being damaging to the children’s uptake of that provision. By this I mean that the experience of being ‘inspected’ by the local authority effectively turned off my children’s natural motivation to learn for a period of some weeks, if not months.
My experience of my local authority (Calderdale) is that home visits are pre-booked by the contracted-out liaison person and families are informed by letter that the home visit will take place on xxx date at xxx time and that the liaison person ‘would like to see samples of previous work and to discuss your future plans’. The letters do not allow for any choice in the matter, even though they are ultra vires and not in accordance with the 2007 guidance. Most families would probably feel that they had no choice but to accept the visits.
My own family was visited on this basis on several occasions over the years, and the visits were extremely disruptive to both family life and the children’s education. With hindsight, I wish I had supplied information of my provision by post or email from the start, but this option was not made available to me and I felt obliged to agree to the visits instead. I was pleased to see the 2007 guidance to local authorities seemed to strengthen the position of home educating families in this respect but am now dismayed to see that this draft guidance appears to undo that good work.
My 19 year-old son says: “The home visits put me off learning because I found I was concentrating on trying to convince the officer about my education instead of just getting on with learning. Also, from a child’s perspective the concept of having your knowledge and progress audited in that way is stressful.”
For this reason I think it’s vital that local authorities’ first port of call in dealing with electively home educating families should be the 2007 guidance. I now have two younger children educating at home, whose educational status is currently not known to the local authority and I have found that having the freedom to home educate without official inspection enables me to offer them educational provision that is significantly superior in quality. My provision for the older children was certainly ‘suitable’, but my provision for the younger two, because of the absence of local authority involvement is exemplary. I am concerned that this guidance will directly and negatively affect this situation because my local authority may now feel obliged to seek us out and ascertain the suitability or otherwise of our provision, thereby damaging it. 2 Does the guidance make clear the role that implementation of this duty has in the wider programme of work led by local authorities to improve outcomes for children and young people, including promoting their safety and well-being?
Comments: The guidance in its present form will lead to a severe lack of parity between school children and electively home educated ones, because the education and home environments of some school children can obviously be quite unsuitable for their abilities, aptitudes, ages and any special educational needs they may have, but by virtue of them attending a school for a few hours per day, they are exempt from the processes recommended here. School attendance alone does not guarantee a suitable educational provision, yet this guidance assumes that it does. 3 Does the guidance accurately describe the range of circumstances that put children's safety at risk and puts them at risk of not receiving a suitable education?
Comments: No, because it doesn’t include school attendance. Electively home educated children are surely not more at risk of not receiving a suitable education because they spend their time with loving parents, who understand their educational needs better than anyone else.
Research by Paula Rothermel (Durham, 2002) proves in fact that home educated children are less at risk of not receiving suitable education than their school educated peers: “The results show that 64% of the home-educated Reception aged children scored over 75% on their PIPS Baseline Assessments as opposed to 5.1% of children nationally. The National Literacy Project (Years 1,3,5) assessment results reveal that 80.4% of the home-educated children scored within the top 16% band (of a normal distribution bell curve), whilst 77.4% of the PIPS Year 2 home-educated cohort scored similarly. Results from the psychosocial instruments confirm the home-educated children were socially adept and without behavioural problems. Overall, the home-educated children demonstrated high levels of attainment and good social skills.”
The inclusion of electively home educated children in your list of ‘at risk’ groups is a grave error, in urgent need of rectification. 4 Does the guidance show effectively what steps local authorities should take when children are living in difficult circumstances that put them at more risk of not receiving a suitable education?
Comments: No, in cases of elective home education, this guidance should simply refer local authorities back to your November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities. Anything else may cause confusion and have the unfortunate effect of encouraging over-zealous officials to justify ultra vires harassment of elective home educators. 5 What are the key challenges local authorities could face to implementing these guidelines effectively?
i Confusion, because the guidelines do not simply refer officers back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities.
ii The destruction of previously good relationships with the electively home educating community, because ultra vires requests for visits and ‘suitability’ checks will risk damaging our children’s educational provision. 6 Does the guidance make clear the duties and powers that local authorities have in relation to home educated children when parents are not providing them with a suitable education?
Comments: No, they should simply refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, which outlined a procedure which allays local authorities concerns, whilst preserving the freedom of elective home educators to offer their children the best provision for their education. Use of terms such as: “track and reconcile movements” makes it sound like we’re living in a police state. Surely a better way can be found of balancing the need to ensure children’s safety with their parents’ freedom to provide them with the optimal educational provision. 7 Does the guidance contain all the 'signposts' to other relevant guidance; sources of support and advice for local authorities that will enable them to implement this duty effectively?
Comments: It should simply refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, in the case of electively home educated children. Your appendix 4 is a joke, isn’t it? 8 Beyond the publication of the guidance, what would be the most effective means of communicating the importance of implementing the new duty, and the processes that will help its implementation, to professionals working with children?
Comments: That the implementation of the new duty must be carefully balanced with the position set out in your November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, in the case of electively home educated children. 9 Have you any details of good practice that would be useful to include in the final version of the 'guidance'?
Comments: Yes. An education officer in a different borough heard from a member of a housing co-operative about another family who was electively home educating, but there were no concerns about the family whatsoever, so the officer made the decision to leave the family alone for the time being, until and unless she heard that there might be reasons for concern that their provision might be unsuitable or the children might be unsafe. This enabled the family in question to continue providing their children with an optimum educational provision without the unnecessary and unhelpful stress of needing to justify this to the local authority. 10 Did you find the draft guidance clear, unambiguous and easy to follow?
Comments: Absolutely not. It seemed to me to be thoroughly ambiguous and confusing, when all it needed to say about the procedure for elective home educators was to refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities. 11 a) We have developed standard data definitions at Appendix 1 of the guidance. These were developed in consultation with several local authorities. Do you agree with these definitions?
Comments: I disagree with your definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education: “A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home,” because the assumption that school education is always suitable is plainly wrong. 11 b) If not, what amendments would you suggest and why?
Comments: I would suggest that the definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education should be: “A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home, at school, or elsewhere.” Thank you for taking the time to let us have your views.