Sunday, September 28, 2008

My guidance trumps your guidance

I blogged a few weeks ago about a consultation on the DFES's Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education. What I didn't realise then, and would like to thank a certain very perceptive lady in Wales for pointing out now, is that this new guidance, being statutory, will supercede the much more legally accurate and hard-won non-statutory guidance [opens pdf] about which I blogged last November.

1.2.1 This document is issued under the section 436A (inserted before section 437 in Chapter 2, Part 6 of the Education Act 1996 (school attendance) by the Education and Inspections Act 2006), which provides that local authorities must have regard to statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State. This document provides that statutory guidance and applies to England only. Local authorities in England must take this guidance into account and, if they decide to depart from it, have clear reasons for doing so.

So if the new guidance goes through unchanged, it seems the previous November's

  • "Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home";

  • "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";

would be effectively rendered null and void. Suddenly, this new Statutory (compulsory) guidance would put local authorities very much in the position of assessing what is and what isn't deemed 'suitable' home education provision.

1.2.7 Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish whether a child who is being educated at home (under section 7 of the Education Act 1997) is not receiving suitable education.

Do they mean the Education Act, 1996?

1.3.1 Local authorities are responsible for meeting the requirements under section 436A.

Do they mean section 437(1):

School attendance orders

If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.

Or has this act been rewritten, rescheduled and redated when I wasn't looking? Always possible, I suppose. I have been a bit busy recently.

Oh wait - they're talking about section 436A of the 2006 Education Act. (Confused? You will be..)

Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

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.
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.
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.”
[My emphasis]

So that's where the word 'suitable' came from.

I have ploughed through said draft guidance [opens Word doc.] more than once now and it doesn't get any easier for repeated readings.

For a start, the list of "relevant partner agencies" in section 1.3.3 doesn't even include parents, unless we come under "voluntary and community organisations" tagged on at the end. Do you have to be in an organisation now, then, for your views to matter?

2.1. The purpose of the duty is to make sure that children not receiving, or at risk of not receiving, a suitable education are identified quickly, and effective tracking systems and support arrangements are put in place. This will enable the Children’s Trust to ensure that action is taken to provide any child identified with a suitable education, and will also trigger activity between partner agencies that puts in place measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.

I mean... tracking systems? I've just read this out loud in our dining room and Tom said: "Why don't they just tag us all and have done with it?" "Don't give them ideas.." was my answer. And: trigger activity? Oh, very 'Blade Runner'. In fact, I've just finished reading Brave New World, and we're 80% there, surely. Inching closer by the day.

Effective Pupil Tracking Systems
Does the local authority have systems to prevent children from not receiving a suitable education?

LOL! Does this include school pupils? I don't think so..

"Does the local authority follow up children at regular intervals until they are registered with a new provider?"

This kind of question will actively encourage many LAs to pursue the kind of routine regular monitoring of home educators which directly contravenes the

"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis"

in the 2007 Home Education Guidelines to Local Authorities.

I'm really struggling to work through this. It's abhorrent, isn't it? Exhausting. (Other, probably far more reader-friendly draft responses and advice about this can be found here, here, and here, amongst other places, no doubt.)

Basically, none of section 2.3:

2.3. In order to implement these changes, local authorities should select, according to local circumstances, from the practical model of process steps given in from paragraph 6.1 onwards below. These process steps reflect practice that local authorities have already demonstrated as being effective. The key processes are:
· receive information about a child;
· check if place of education already known;
· log details on database;
· locate and contact family;
· determine child’s needs;
· identify and access available provision and places;
· monitor attendance for all provision; and
· track and reconcile movements.

should refer to children receiving Elective Home Education - except, maybe, "check place of education" and log it, if they must. Parents who do not choose to delegate their Section 7 responsibility to a school or other education provider are surely not in need of these extreme enforcing measures? Or is the concept of parental responsibility now completely dead in the water? Brave New World indeed..

I'm going to come back and say a bit more about this in future posts, I think. This one is already in danger of being unreadably long and I'm only about 10% through the document. I don't know if I've got the time or the stomach to do much more, but I suppose we need to remain eternally, exhausingly vigilant to pay the price of freedom. Right now, I've got to go and buy some food. Oh - and home educate my children.


Blogger Dani said...

It's Section 436A of the 1996 Education Act, which was amended by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

Clear as mud, huh?

The draft guidance is extremely badly drafted, imo, but I think your interpretation of it is highly likely to be the one LAs will go for.

2:26 pm, September 29, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh right, thanks Dani. Yep, clear as mud indeed! Especially the way the references are set out in the draft guidance - it's very hard to work out which sources they mean.

I'm planning to plough through the rest of the document (again) and blog the rest of my probably grumpy thoughts about it, then read what you and Carlotta and others have said and blogging some more before putting my response in.

I don't want to be rushed through the process - actually couldn't be because I don't have the spare time to speed it up - but I have now grasped the monumental importance of putting in good responses to this, fait accompli though it seems to be.

5:20 pm, September 29, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh yes, it actually says "(inserted before section 437 in Chapter 2, Part 6 of the Education Act 1996 (school attendance) by the Education and Inspections Act 2006)" doesn't it?

Gah, do I have to read it properly as well? ;-)

6:58 pm, September 29, 2008  

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