Tuesday, September 29, 2009

About that 2007 EHE guidance

Some of us went to our local authority on Thursday, on our MP's advice. We spoke to two officers with line responsibility for dealing with elective home education.

Our MP had advised us to go to discuss the Badman recommendations and to 'develop a working relationship' with them, but we found that before we could do that, we needed to take them to task on their current practice.

This is the current practice:

On deregistration: the family is referred to Education Welfare Officers, if not already known to them. An EWO then turns up at the house, unannounced (as I understand it) with forms for the parent to fill in and an explanation that if the forms are signed, the Local Authority has no further legal responsibility towards the child's education.

If the house and family look, respectively, 'suitable' and 'capable of home educating' then they are referred onto what used to be called the 'Education Effectiveness' department. (I don't know what it's called now.) They're then usually informed by letter on an annual basis that a home visit will take place on a certain date at a certain time.

The officers we spoke to said that "most families welcomed the visits and found them useful". It occurred to me that they would say that, wouldn't they? My family has had such visits too, years ago, and might well, if pressed, have called them 'useful' in the hope of ticking another box of reassurance for them to get them off our back. It was about five years before I was told by the council that I had any option but to accept the visits. (Although in the event, some of them were useful to us because the LA later helped us to resist a court order application from my ex-husband to force the children's return to school. But I'd still have liked the choice.)

Most home educating families in the area known to the local authority because they've deregistered are not told, in their annual letter, that they have any choice about whether and how to supply information about their educational provision. I was told several years ago that this would change and it didn't then. Again, those of us present at Thursday's meeting were invited to work with the local authority on improving the letter, although they didn't want to bother changing much "in the light of the Badman report," in case their efforts were wasted when everything changed.

We explained to them how home visits from the local authority could be damaging to a child's education, and they explained about how they needed to carry out checks to cover themselves in the event of something not being right with a family. In turn, we explained that by assuming a duty they didn't have, they were in fact taking on a professional liability that the law didn't give them. We read out the underlined section in point 87 of the 2009 guidance which refers officers back to points 2.7-2.11 and 3.4-3.6 of the 2007 guidance which includes the phrase: "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis."

After that, the officers explained that if a family didn't want a visit, they were perfectly free to respond in writing to the Local Authority's inquiries and that this could be a relatively short piece of writing, so they weren't exactly monitoring on a routine basis. (A 'paragraph a year' would be the minimum they would accept, I think they said.) One of us said something along the lines of: "Doesn't once a year count as 'a routine basis'?" The officers didn't reply, and didn't offer to change their approach. They went back to insisting that the annual visits protected their position in respect of liability.

We're going to have some more meetings with them I think, but that 'no point putting a lot of time in so close to legal changes' feeling is kind of infectious, I'm ashamed to say. The mystery of the disappearing guidelines is a deliberate contributory part of this process of attrition I think, which is a powerful tool of government that we the people often overlook. This person does, anyway. It's subtle, isn't it? Announce a review into 'those child abusing home educators', publish the ensuing recommendations calling for compulsory monitoring. Then remove the old guidance which - still in effect - says monitoring is not compulsory and tell home educators there's no point in trying to resist compulsory monitoring because it's coming in soon anyway. This is all before the recommendations have been publicly consulted on, and before the Commons Select Committee has conducted its inquiry into them.

Incidentally, going back to my local authority's current procedure, if that initial doorstepping from the EWO raises any concerns, the family's file stays with the Welfare Officers and is never moved wholly across to the other department. In practice, this means more regular EWO visits. We know of one family who is still being visited every three months, despite managing perfectly well with their child's home education, although we did have some sympathy with the officers when they said that some families, on being asked "What have you been doing?" invariably answer: "Nothing," even on their third or fourth visit, when they've been advised that helping with the shopping, or fixing a car, or playing with lego etc could all count as educational activities.

The overall feeling I think we were left with was that the local authority is broadly supportive of what it sees as 'genuine home educators' but worried about 'those other families' who it sees as being neither capable nor willing to home educate at all. This is consistent with their attitude of several years ago when I met with different officers at the same authority (now retired). I gather it's a very common one amongst local authorities everywhere. If some children really aren't being educated at all due to deregistration, is that a problem? If so, whose problem should it be, and how should it be resolved?

Well, the current law contains the resolution in paragraph 2.8 of those mysteriously disappearing guidelines:

2.8 Prior to serving a notice under section 437, local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437, and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so."

'Information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education' perhaps coming to the Local Authority from concerned acquaintances, neighbours and extended family members - a route of communication in which Local Authorities seem to have little faith. But really, until and unless they receive such information, it's none of their business who is and who isn't receiving a suitable education because Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act makes this a duty of parents, not local authorities. I wonder why parents are never prosecuted under this article? We asked at Thursday's meeting how many School Attendance Orders had been issued and were told that none had been.

Yes. I think we do need to have another meeting with them.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Links to 2007 EHE guidance for local authorities?

All of my links to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities have suddenly stopped working. They all now lead to this page instead.

Does anyone know why?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: summary of weak points

I'd like to draw your attention to two recent blog posts: this one at Bishop Hill, about the DCSF's bizarre and unfathomable excuse for resisting home educators' FOI requests, and this one at Patch of Puddles, explaining the equations of child abuse in home education. I can't help but be inspired by the sheer eloquence of such other campaigning home educators and the amount of hard work that so many people are putting into preserving our freedoms beggars belief, and is quite humbling.

So here finally, on the eve of our Select Committee deadline (Mr Badman has secured an extension to this for himself) is the summary of my critique of the Badman report [opens pdf].


The report seems to make careful use of language in several key areas to obscure or dress up its real meaning, repeatedly referring to such things as parental rights, for example (instead of - as the law states - their legal duties). This supports the erroneous suggestion that there is some conflict between parents' and children's rights, when in fact these are completely compatible with the more accurate position of parental duties.

The recommendations describe a system of licensing for home educators, but refer to this throughout as a system of registration, which it is quite evidently not and even at one point (Recommendation 7) descends to such a linguistically tangled contrivance as: "That parents be required to allow the child.." [my emphasis] instead of stating its real meaning: '..compelled to coerce..'. These and the many other examples throughout the report of obfustication combine to signify a serious underlying degree of fundamental dishonesty, which the author must have deemed necessary to convey what can therefore only be a set of publicly unacceptable concepts.

The review itself was launched on the pretext of alleged safeguarding concerns, and yet a compilation of local authorities' own statistics demonstrate that such concerns were unfounded and that a strict monitoring regime would therefore be disproportionate. An hour spent in the company of a child once a year by a local authority's education officer would also be an absurdly ineffective method of safeguarding and the potential psychological damage to children and families by such an inspection regime as the one proposed in the report is completely overlooked.

Recommendation 24 contains the nonsensical suggestion that a family might not be deemed able to provide a sufficiently safe environment for home education, but nevertheless be left with residential care of its children. We would contend that a child at risk of severe neglect or abuse in its family home is at the same level risk regardless of whether education takes place at home or at school.

The report's recommendations give rise to five serious legal issues, namely: (from recommendation 7) whether it's the educational provision, or the child's uptake of this which is compulsory; that the method of autonomous education in its purest form will not be possible under recommendations 1 and 7, due to the necessity to plan and demonstrate uptake of planned learning; that the proposed de facto licensing scheme will breach a parent's inherent right to educate his child according to his own philosophy; that the 'anything else' rider of the list in recommendation 23 might potentially lead local authority officers to make arbitrary and prejudiced decisions; and that several of the recommendations ride roughshod over the presumption of innocence.

There are four aspects of the report which defy any form of logical reasoning: recognising the need for good relations between home educators and local authorities, but then recommending a list of procedures which would render this all but impossible; calling for "further research into the efficacy of autonomous learning" - after recommending the effective outlawing of the practice which would somewhat challenge the availability of data for such research; [in recommendation 15] seeking to prevent the alleged practice of 'off-rolling' whilst failing to allow for Local Authorities' duty to publicise the option to home educate; and again, in recommendation 24 suggesting that that some children might be quite safe at home with their families in the evenings, through the night, at weekends and throughout the entire school holidays - but not between the hours of 9am and 3pm whilst being home educated instead of attending school.

Finally, the report raises a financial issue in its section 9, in which it implies that the AWPU of home educated children should be drawn down to fund the administration of the recommendations, but not their actual educational provision.


Since I had very little to do with the conduct of the review and related consultations and have mainly focused here on the content of the report since it was published in June, I think I will submit the above summary as my written contribution to the Select Committee Inquiry tomorrow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: points arising: Financial

There's so much going on, it's hard to stop reading ( ..and home educating, sorting out camping gear and generally riding the waves of domesticity..) and start writing. The consultation deadline (19th October) is looming - more about that in future posts - and home educators have been busy peacefully opposing the Badman report, as usual, to good effect. Our local group didn't manage a picnic, having just been away camping together from which I think we're all still recovering. I wish we had though. [I'd also like to direct you to Jax's comments about Mr Badman's latest efforts.]

Today's post is the last in the secondary layer of my critique of the Badman report [opens pdf] and it's focusing on the financial issues arising.

The main financial issue, in my opinion, arises in section 9 of the report, in which it is implied that the AWPU of home educated children should be drawn down to fund the administration of the recommendations. As I contended here, if the AWPU is to be drawn for home educated children, it should surely be used to fund their education, not the administration of a convoluted checking process of this.

In the current financial crisis, there might well be difficulties in providing funding for the recommendations - even just the 'safeguarding'-related ones identified for immediate action in the Ed Balls letter [opens pdf]. It will be interesting to gauge the effects of the imminent and necessary public spending cuts on this agenda.

My next post will be a concise summary of my detailed critique of the Badman report.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: points arising: Illogical

First, here is an excellent new information blog if you're wanting to know more about home education in the UK. It's extremely well-written by a lady who's had a lot of experience.

Now onto the next set of points arising from my work on the Badman report [opens pdf] to date. This collection comprises the four aspects I've noticed in which the report seems to contradict itself, or otherwise make no sense. I suspect more of these aspects might occur to other people. If so, please let me know.

The four illogical aspects are as follows:

1. Relations with local authorities. The report on the whole, including many of the recommendations, would render good relations between home educators and local authorities almost impossible. The de facto licensing system, compulsory home visits and separate, unaccompanied, enforced interviews with the children are all proposals which have already caused despondency and disconcertion amongst home educators and yet point 5.7 of the report talks about families "having rejected the schooling system, not re-engag[ing, with local authorities] for fear of further requirements or restrictions". So the author knows that we don't tend to engage with LAs for those reasons, recognises the usefulness of such an engagement, and then recommends a raft of changes which amount to.. a lot of extra requirements and restrictions.

2. Autonomous learning. As I said on the day the report was published, the requirement for parents to produce a year's detailed advance plan would render the autonomous education method almost impossible to practice but then point 10.1 calls for "further research into the efficacy of autonomous learning". If the recommendations are enacted, there will be no autonomous learning left to research! I know that Mr Badman received a lot of tireless, patient explanation about autonomous education when he was gathering information, so he will have known perfectly well the effect of his recommendations on the method.

3. Publicising the option. The report makes no mention of the duty of local authorities to inform parents about the option of home educating, and yet this is a legal responsibility of theirs. Instead, in point 6.4 and recommendation 15, it seeks action to prevent the practice of 'off-rolling', which is when LAs suggest home education to parents as an alternative to prosecution under truancy laws. (I myself see nothing wrong with this practice and think that LAs would be extremely lax not to point out this option to those parents whose children refuse to attend school. If the legitimate escape of some of them from the day prison causes problems for neighbours, this is part of a wider social issue and nothing to do with education. Does anyone actually believe that forcing a young person to sit at a desk all day is a realistic solution to those situations anyway?) So how can local authorities comply with their legal duty to tell parents about the option to home educate, without.. um, telling parents about the option to home educate? Ohh I see, they should only tell the right parents! Incredible.

4. Refusing registration on safeguarding grounds. I'm back to recommendation 24 again for this one, even though it appeared as a 'safeguarding' point arising also. But it is stupefyingly illogical to suggest that some children might be quite safe at home with their families in the evenings, through the night, at weekends and throughout the entire school holidays - but not between the hours of 9am and 3pm whilst being home educated instead of attending school. It makes no sense whatsoever, and most home education usually goes on through the evenings, weekends and holidays etc anyway. We don't even confine ourselves to school hours for learning, which further adds to the irrationality of that recommendation.

I'll finish this set of points arising with a brief post about finances, then I'll finally sum up my thoughts on the Badman report, before moving onto the Ed Balls letter of reply.