Monday, December 08, 2014

Children Missing Education - ours aren't, and you should not be checking them

At short notice I was recently asked to attend a meeting locally, to support a home educating parent whose child was recently deregistered from school. The meeting was between a Children Missing Education officer and the parent, even though the parent had clearly conveyed her plans to home educate. The Children Missing Education officer said that, while she knew the child was home educated, she still "had to check", but asserted within five minutes of the meeting's start when I challenged her that although the parent in question was "genuine", "some families will use it as an excuse to take them out of.... so it's just for us to build an understanding of why she wants to educate him at home really, that's all."

The meeting was in a local children's centre because the parent had resisted this officer's concerted efforts to arrange a home visit. The parent really wanted to keep her dealings with the authorities in writing as is her right according to the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities, but the CME officer would not be satisfied by this and had insisted on a meeting, so they compromised by choosing a neutral venue. At the last minute the parent felt uncomfortable and put a call out to the local home education community for support and I just happened to be shopping around the corner, so I was able to attend.

It turned out this parent's instincts had not let her down and if I had not been present to challenge the CME officer, she may well have felt so bullied as to agree to reregistering him at school. In the course of the meeting, the parent was asked:

  • Her language and ethnic origin;
  • Her reasons for choosing home education;
  • Whether she has always wanted to home educate;
  • Why, then, she chose to enrol her child in school?
  • Whether she had any family pressure to enrol her child in school;
  • How her son felt about being home educated - the child was also asked directly even though both the parent and I objected to this;
  • Who specifically she had contacted at the local authority for advice about home education, if anyone;
  • How she home educates: "What happens on a daily basis?";
  • Whether the child had sufficient recreation time and space "to go out and play";
  • Whether the child had contact with other children. Did he have friends?;
  • How long they spent working together on each subject every day. How long on reading? How long on writing? How long on maths?;
  • Whether I - since I had introduced myself as a home educator - also home educated this parent's child;
  • What resources she planned to use and whether she could access them all; and
  • The precise date of his deregistration.

When I asked this CME officer whether if she was operating under section 436A of the Education Act (the part of the law that essentially creates her role and which is a few lines long) she asked me: "What's that?" She also seemed unfamiliar with the content of the statutory CME guidance, which historically contained an instruction to officers to follow EHEGLA for children who were being home educated, although that link is currently missing, an omission which effectively legitimised her treatment of this parent in the meeting.

The CME guidance is currently under review and we NEED to have the link to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities reinstating to the glaringly obvious gap in the footnotes where they belong in order to protect families like the one I was supporting in this meeting. Here is the gap in the CME guidance where EHEGLA belongs:

I needed to be able to show the guidance to this CME officer which - if repaired in this month's review, would clearly state an instruction to follow EHEGLA in dealing with home educating families and thereby save families like the one in the meeting from such routine interrogations. I wonder if we should all email the Department for Education and ask for this mistake to be corrected in the review, as a matter of urgency? My fear is that Local Authority monitoring of home education is creeping in by the back door in this way, which is damaging to children's education and unfair to those families who are undergoing such treatment.

10 Comments:

Blogger Gill said...

We discussed on Facebook who might be the best person to contact about this month's CME guidance review and worked out that it would probably be people's own MPs.

10:03 pm, December 08, 2014  
Blogger sally lloyd said...

Mine is a total waste of space and NEVER replies even though I go through all the steps she demands of constituents. :-(

12:20 am, December 09, 2014  
Blogger Gill said...

That's bad, Sally. Do you want to name and shame her here? I think you can do so properly on sites like They Work For You as well, can't you?

12:55 pm, December 09, 2014  
Blogger Gill said...

I've just sent this to be added to an email to the local authority in the main post here, which is not my own LA:

"The meeting was unnecessarily intrusive for a family who has explicitly stated upon inquiry that they are home educating the child in question. The law does now allow for a lengthy signing off process in such situations: only that the parent notifies the head teacher of the child's deregistration and the head teacher notifies the local authority. From the precedent set by Donaldson (Phillips v Brown 1980), we know that local authorities should make an inquiry of the parents as to the child's educational status and that the parent "would be sensible" to supply the information.

I would also draw attention to section 2.6 of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, linked in the statutory Children Missing Education guidance, which says: '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.'

Apart from the unlawfulness of the meeting, I am concerned that the ultra vires questionnaire requiring so many details - the first answers of which were sometimes not immediately accepted by this officer - conveys an implication that the local authority has more power over a deregistered family's educational provision than it actually does in law. This could jeopardise the family's confidence to make their own necessary close assessment of their child's specific needs and respond to these accordingly, as Section 7 of the Education Act obliges them to do. In every mention of parental responsibility of educational provision the law reiterates the onus on local authorities to take action only where concerns become apparent - as per Section 437 of the Act and comprehensively extrapolated in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities."

12:56 pm, December 09, 2014  
Blogger Gill said...

I've also emailed my MP via writetothem.com as follows:

"Regarding the Statutory Children Missing Education Guidance, which is being reviewed this month, there is a link to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities missing from the footnotes on page 4 which is causing problems for home educators. There seems to be no public consultation on the matter, so please would you urgently ask DfE to correct the mistake?"

1:52 pm, December 09, 2014  
Blogger Katie Pybus said...

Are school children ever asked if they would rather be home educated?

9:23 am, December 11, 2014  
Blogger Holly said...

The actions of the LA are deeply troubling. I have emailed my MP re the missing link. He is normally good at replying and often shares my views, despite being a Tory! The more MPs made aware of this the better.

5:18 pm, December 11, 2014  
Blogger Gill said...

Katie that's an excellent point, and it's the question they ALL have to be asked if our children are to be.

Holly that's great news! About a dozen of us have taken action so far then that I know of. Hopefully more.

Does anyone reading this have a direct contact at DfE please?

5:22 pm, December 11, 2014  
Blogger Naomi Lever said...

I have emailed my MP, Peter Tapsell, another Tory. Will let you know if I get a reply.

9:47 am, December 14, 2014  
Blogger Gill said...

Brilliant. Thanks Naomi!

3:55 pm, December 14, 2014  

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