So what *do* we want?
This was, as others have said, the perfect opportunity to ask the House of Commons Select Committee on Education for whatever we'd like by way of support. As Graham Stuart said (in another glorious shot of the top of his head!) ...
[Clip = 19 seconds]
["We on this committee, I think, admire independence of spirit and it's our job to question government, so it's a pleasure to have you with us. You heard the last session. Any immediate reflections on that? Bearing in mind what we do, which is make recommendations to government?"]
And what came from that repeatedly from both expert panels was one single undeniable request from home educators to government and local authorities:
[Clip = 88 seconds]
["It's been 24 years that I've been seeing the same problems happening over and over again in local authorities. And I'm convinced that a lot of it is because of the involvement of.. Behaviour and Attendance, Education Welfare.. whatever you choose to call it. That department. Attendance Improvements, it is in some places. And I cannot see why it is a routine procedure that (let's call them Education Welfare Officers because I think we all understand that term). Why should an EWO be the first person to contact a family who decides that they're going to withdraw a child from school? Immediately, it puts it in the problem category and to my mind, if there were somebody located in the library service, say, who was the person to whom the local authority gave the notification that a child had been withdrawn from school it would locate it in information rather than problems. I'm convinced that's where a lot of this trouble comes from, because EWOs are working all their working lives with people who have difficulties, in one way or another, with the school system. So it's going to be their mindset. So if that is something that could be considered as a policy.."]
Yes. Why does it always have to be that department? Good question.
[Clip = 13 seconds]
["But what does cause the problems is who's going in first and this idea that you've got Education Welfare Officers as opposed to somebody neutral - that's the problem."]
That is the problem. After all...
[Clip = 19 seconds]
["If there's a known problem with a child who is being withdrawn from school, you've already got agencies involved. So where is the need to assume that every home educator, every parent who withdraws a child from school, is potentially a risk to their child?"]
It's endemic. (The assumption, not the risk.) And very damaging to normal, healthy family life.
[Clip = 24 seconds]
["A lot more people would be far more inclined to engage with it, whereas.. how are we ever going to break down this culture, which has been touched upon by a couple of members of the committee, where... People shouldn't have to feel that they're automatically under suspicion of doing something dreadful to their children! So if it were neutral, people would engage with it."]
This is the exact point. It's tantamount to a compulsory register for home cooking, just in case children somewhere, anywhere, aren't being fed properly. Because...
[Clip = 25 seconds]
["We live in a country where the basic principle is that you're assumed innocent until you're proven guilty. And the fact that local authorities go in, sometimes, with 'You've got to prove to us that you're not breaking the law,' is entirely the wrong approach."]
Yes, it is entirely the wrong approach. (It's the approach currently being proposed on a major scale by central government in Wales, which - if enacted - will be a disaster for education there.)
If local authorities must do something, connected to home education, in exchange for that part of our Council Taxes - which most of us have no choice about paying, incidentally - then let them provide us with information only, of good quality, as Shena suggests:
[Clip = 28 seconds]
["Well I would suggest that if the local authority has appropriate, legally accurate guidelines on their website and the members of staff, with whom the parents may or may not come into contact, are also prepared to give accurate guidance then I would tend to agree with Jane. The actual reason for deciding to home educate... because another way of looking at it is to say that the primary duty of education is that of the parent."]
That. Not this...
[Clip = 31 seconds]
["... and the whole question of their policy came up. We discovered that they'd based their policy on a document which was a very early first draft, which came up at the top of the list. If you Google 'home education guidelines', this comes up. And it never saw the light of day. It's got no resemblance to the document that actually we have today. So there is a basic problem with access to information."]
Correct information. Nothing else. It shouldn't be difficult: they do know the law (although it often doesn't seem like it) :
[Clip = 31 seconds]
["I would like to say I find it very disingenuous that local authorities who deal with education don't know the law regarding education. I'm the lay person and we all know the law regarding home education. And I think - I don't know why local authority personnel can't educate themselves properly on the law. I would expect that from any service provider, that they understand thoroughly - they should know in more detail than we do. We have to know it because we have to protect ourselves from them."]
They do know the law.
[Clip =5 seconds]
["I think they know the law as well as we do."]
It seems to me like home educators only want to be treated decently, fairly and legally correctly by their local authorities, when and if they have to deal with them.