Today is the Local Authorities' deadline
I know you and your staff are committed to ensuring that all children are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes. However, we know that some colleagues feel that they are not able to ensure that all home educated children are able to do so. The Secretary of State has asked me to investigate if and how far children who are educated at home are able to achieve the five outcomes; assess the effectiveness of current arrangements for ensuring their safety, welfare and education; highlight good practice; and, if necessary, make recommendations for improvements.
It guides them to their sixty questions (as opposed to our six) and asks for their replies by today. Some LAs are, he says, going to be subject to "..more in-depth work. I intend to look at a small number of local authorities in more detail, investigating key aspects of their practice and interviewing members of staff." I assume that these will be the ones who respond in a 'helpful' way, supplying a selection of concerns and problems on which he can make the focus of his report.
So, let's have a look at the sixty questions Local Authorities were asked to answer, to see if they're as obviously leading as the covering letter.
First off, questions 6, 7 and 8:
Q6 List all teams / professionals involved in supporting home educating families
Q7 List all teams / professionals involved in monitoring home educating families.
Q8 Describe how you ensure collaboration and communication between these teams / individuals
We don't usually require support, and according to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities [opens pdf] (and, oh yes, the law) we should not be routinely monitored by local authorities either, so either Mr Badman is unfamiliar with the current situation, or he is seeking to suggest that such arrangements, teams and professionals should be in place.
Question 14, under 'data and tracking', asks for the total number of children currently home educated who are not registered with the Local Authority. I hope no Local Authority has bothered to answer such an astoundingly illogical query.
But questions 15-20 push the point, making it appear that Local Authorities should all be jumping through hoops trying to locate and identify us:
Q15 Are these figures accurate or based on estimates?
Q16 If accurate, where do you get this data from?
Q17 If accurate, how do you know the data is accurate?
Q18 If estimated, what data have you used to arrive at this figure? (List all sources)
Q19 How confident is the local authority in the accuracy of this data?
Q20 How often does the local authority get updated data? (List frequency for each source separately)
Oh dear, I've read through to question 39
Q39 If you are not permitted access to a child, is any further action taken?
and I'm depressed already.
And what is this question (number 44) doing in there?
Q44 Does the local authority have systems in place to track the educational progress of home educated children?
Where is it written that they're supposed to track our children's educational progress? Isn't that our job, as parents? I'm absolutely stunned that he could even think to ask such a thing about children not educated in schools. He may as well ask if the Local Authority has systems in place to track the colour of their underwear: it's about as relevant.
Q47 Does the local authority take any further steps if a home educated child's education was found to be unsuitable or not full time?
.. should yield replies about the process of working towards the issuance of a School Attendance Order. I hope it does, because that's the way the system is supposed to work.
Q49 Does the local authority face any challenges in assessing whether home educated children receive a suitable education?
- How carefully worded, and the same goes for this one:
Q51 Thinking about your local area, in the last five years, how many cases have you come across that use the premise of home education as a 'cover' for child abuse, forced marriage or other aspects of child neglect?
I hope all the answers are 'none'.
It's all so predictable, isn't it? Inevitably, some Local Authorities will have concerns about some issues regarding some families, and these will be used to form the basis of an alarmist report about the dreadful state of things. It will be interesting to see how it's worded, because I bet most Local Authorities don't respond to the questionnaire (as if they aren't busy enough!) - only the ones with an axe to grind will, and will this fact be included in the report, along with outlines of the responses themselves? We'll see.
All we can do, I suppose, is to keep referring back to Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 to reiterate that "Arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the well-being of children in the authority’s area so far as relating to .. [the five outcomes]" - not "ensuring all children achieve them", and calling them on the atrocious extent of mission creep that's blatantly going on here.