Tuesday, October 05, 2010

New guidance?

I'm hearing strange rumours that a group of people have been tasked with the job of rewriting some guidance for local authorities about home education.

It's a while since I blogged properly here and so I'm probably a bit rusty, but these persistent whispers from various quarters have brought me back with something to say. For one thing, the names I'm hearing mentioned have not been politically active in English home education for decades, like some others I can think of. So there seems to be a certain amount of re-covering of old ground and reinventing the wheel going on.

I can understand why the civil servants at the Department for Education and possibly certain Local Authority officers and so on might be pushing for new guidance. Carlotta set out the problem very clearly nearly two years ago and there's no need for me to repeat what she said there.

Kelly Green in Canada has also been grappling with the issue on her blog, where she was expertly and quite adequately answered by Barbara Stark in comment number 9 on that post. There are some other good answers in the comments there besides that one, but that comment of Barbara's in particular is worth a read because it provides such a clear explanation of the situation. Barbara is one of those people who have been politically active in English home education for decades. I read everything she has to say: she's a positive wealth of knowledge, experience, information and wisdom.

Between three and four years ago, many of us were involved in a government consultation which resulted in the 2007 [non-statutory] Guidelines for Local Authorities and which I - with my relative inexperience - quite liked (understatement of the year) but about which Barbara and AHEd were less happy.

And then as Kelly set out recently here, along came section 436A of the Education Act, creating the moot point, conflict and confusion over the issue of whether Local Authorities must ask for information about provision from parents who say they are home educating, or whether they only may ask for such information, which is the situation that was set out in a judgment by Lord Justice Donaldson some thirty years ago.

This has been further complicated, as Carlotta explained, by the Revised statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education, which included the words:

87. Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 requires local authorities to make arrangements to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children who are not pupils at schools and who are not otherwise receiving suitable education. In order to comply with this duty local authorities need to make arrangements which will as far as possible enable them to determine whether any children who are not pupils at schools, such as those being educated at home, are receiving suitable education. In order to do this local authorities should make inquiries with parents educating children at home about the educational provision being made for them. The procedures to be followed with respect to such investigations are set out in the EHE Guidelines, 2.7-2.11 and 3.4-3.6.

- stating that Local Authorities should make such inquiries of home educating parents, but then directing them back to the 2007 Guidance... which says:

2.6 Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable 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.

- and then directs officers to the old, 2007 CME guidance which, as Carlotta points out, used to say:

3.3.16. If it becomes known that a child identified as not receiving education is being home educated, this should be recorded on the local authority's database and no further action should be taken unless there is cause for concern about the child's safety and welfare. Monitoring arrangements already exist for children being educated at home. Where there are concerns about the child's safety and welfare, Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures must be followed.

Muddy waters indeed, in which some further clarification probably would be useful, but I understand that the current government does not want to change primary legislation. So we're stuck with section 436A, though not necessarily with the precise wording of the 2009 CME guidance, which constitutes secondary legislation. Before the publication of that document, we still had a workable situation.

This makes me feel perplexed about the talk of new statutory guidance about elective home education, when really - I might be seeing this in terms that are too simplistic, or missing a crucial point somewhere - it would be much easier and less controversial to alter the faulty interpretation of Section 436A in the 2009 CME guidance instead and let the 2007 guidelines stand. Because that wording really is just somebody's interpretation of the primary legislation. I'd be very interested to know who wrote it.

Looking again at what section 436A actually says:

436A Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

(1)A local education authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but—

(a)are not registered pupils at a school, and

(b)are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.

(2)In exercising their functions under this section a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.

(3)In this Chapter, “suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have.”

In my view, this does not preclude the option of taking the parent's word for it unless there is good reason not to. As section 2.1 of the 2007 guidelines clearly state:

The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not.

And I agree with those people who are saying that, taking all of the above into account, attempts to create a brand new piece of statutory guidance can only make things worse. You can't give ground in an argument when it's not your ground to give. If you put yourself forward for such a position as to negotiate new terms with government, you're morally obliged not to yield one inch of ground that was hard fought for by those who came before you. If you don't understand this properly (and I might not myself, but I'm not negotiating anything!) then you need to go and talk to those people exhaustively, until you really do.


Blogger Tech said...

Thanks for this Gill, a very thorough run through of all the issues ;)

7:05 pm, October 05, 2010  
Blogger Tech said...

That was supposed to be a :) not a cheeky wink!

7:06 pm, October 05, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Tech. I read your wink as a smile!

7:23 pm, October 05, 2010  
Blogger Some said...

I've heard mentions of home edders being involved in the planning of this new guidance, but not who they actually are.

Any names I can put to the commentary flying around?

8:17 pm, October 05, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Sorry, but I'm not publishing the names I've heard because I don't know anything for sure - only rumour and hearsay.

8:26 pm, October 05, 2010  
Blogger Elaine said...

Great blog Gill Thank you for putting it so clearly , thats the first time I have fully understood all that.

1:55 am, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Elaine.

I just want to say something else about the people who I hear are involved. They’re all home educators. One in particular who has.. shall we say, financial interests in home education has been telling people she’s been given the job of writing the guidance. And I hear that at least one of the people involved doesn’t even live in England.

I understand the idea is to get "something" written and then to "put it out to the community for revision etc until everyone's happy with it".

Please bear in mind this is all third party hearsay which annoys me no end, hence the post.

12:44 pm, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Allie said...

"I understand the idea is to get "something" written and then to "put it out to the community for revision etc until everyone's happy with it"."

Blimey, that could take until my children are grandparents... ;-)

2:28 pm, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL! I think you're being optimistic there Allie. Until their grandchildren are, maybe more realistic ;-)

2:32 pm, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Danae said...

The whole mess seems to me to boil down to a question.

Does the LA trust parents?

If the answer is yes, we have no problem.

If the answer is no, then we have a big problem.

The next question is who lies, is secretive, sends mixed messages, promotes school above home education and does a lot to infuriate parents and undermine the role of parents?

Some LAs.

Personally, then, I would trust the word of parents above a local authority official who prefers school to home education (their remit is school, not home education). I also realise that parents and not LA officials are responsible for their children. If the parents are looking after children - feeding them and clothing them, taking them to the doctor and the dentist and, generally, loving them - then why should parents who do all that neglect their children's education?

It makes no sense.


8:45 pm, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Totally agree with you Diane. Well said :)

9:44 pm, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter and Carol said...

I think it will be be Penny Jones from department of education who will help to write new guidance for home education and we all know that Penny is hostile to home education her remit still covers home education to!

9:17 am, October 07, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, I was surprised when I heard it was home educators. I thought only the DfE would risk such a thing! But since we're not being told what's going on, we can only speculate as to what might be happening and why.

9:55 am, October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter and Carol said...

Gill says-since we're not being told what's going on, we can only speculate as to what might be happening and why.

That is no way to conduct any changes to home education policy it should be upfront not behind closed doors with Penny Jones in the background!
Those home educators who are doing this do not speak for many of us so it is wrong? and if some one making money out of it that can not be right to?

11:20 am, October 07, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Peter/Carol: I'd agree with you there. Doing something like that in secret, to later present it like pulling a rabbit from a hat, is never going to be popular with the majority of HErs IMO, however well meaning.

There was a very important debate that should have taken place universally first, which was: does this change need to be made? Because as I've said in the post, I for one would have argued for changes to the CME guidance instead, to reclaim lost ground for us there.

I'm yet to hear from anyone as to why that would have been a bad idea, but there's no open discussion, so I'm not likely to.

It's all very mysterious and - due to the quite blatant conflict of interests involved - also suspicious IMO.

I suppose the people in question would argue that they're acting in good faith and simply fulfilling a request someone's made of them. But my worry - apart from the secrecy - is that.., well, we all know what happens to draft documents in the so-called consultation process, don't we? :(

4:18 pm, October 07, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home