Friday, March 01, 2013

Elizabeth Truss is not our enemy.

On Monday of this week, the DfE produced some new guidance on school attendance, which effectively outlawed the growing practice of flexi-schooling. Elizabeth Truss has been named as the minister responsible for the decision, which has reminded me of a post I meant to write back in October 2012, when she gave oral evidence to the Education Committee's inquiry into Support for Home Education.

I'm sorry for any distress and potential upheaval caused to flexischoolers by the above guidance, but flexischooling is NOT home education. It is permission requested by parents and granted by school heads at their own discretion (until now) for authorised study time off-site. The school retains full government funding for the child's full-time education for which it is, in any case, answerable to the government.

When Elizabeth Truss spoke to the Education Committee, she showed an excellent understanding of what is meant by full-time home education in comparison, I thought. Certainly better than anyone on the committee and most of the other evidence-providers. Here are some short clips of her evidence, with the words she said in them pasted below:

(Alex Carmichael: How do you actually track success and how do you actually ensure that there is some sort of challenge in there, particularly if you don't actually know who these people are?

Elizabeth Truss: Let's be clear. We're talking here about purely educational issues. So it's 'Is the child receiving a suitable education?'

Alex Carmichael: But we don't know if the child is. We don't know, you know, where these children are. How do we know that they're being suitably educated?

Elizabeth Truss: Well, the point is, it's the parent that has legal responsibility to make sure that child has a suitable education. So it's their legal responsibility and if they're not fulfilling that - if it comes to the notice of the local authority, then the local authority have a duty to follow that up. But it is the parent's responsibility and I think we've got to be careful about legislating from Westminster to try and interfere with that current position because the more duties we end up putting on local authorities to register, you then take the responsibility away from the parents and I'm very clear that when parents make the decision to home educate for, in many cases very good reasons - whether that's reasons specific to the way they want to educate their child or whether it's issues at school - they have taken that responsibility on and it's the parent that is accountable rather than the local authority.)

I think it's important for home educators to understand the importance of what this government minister is now on record as having said. When we try to share the funding of our children's home education with local authorities and/or schools, we are also asking for the responsibility to be shared. And currently what protects us from undue local authority intrusion into our educational provision is the fact that we, the parents, are legally accountable for it. The local authority is not.

I feel I can't overstate the value of Elizabeth Truss's keen grasp of this position and the fact that in this, she is very much our ally - not our enemy.

("Because what we're saying here is, parents who have taken the responsibility to educate their children at home, that's their responsibility. It's not the local authority's responsibility. And local authority clearly have a responsibility to establish and identify children in the area that are of school age that aren't registered pupils at school and are not receiving a suitable education and if they hear of, or indeed identify where that's not the case, then they have a duty to follow that up. Well I think we're... in the question between, sort of, freedom and sort of tracking, keeping up with people, I think we're roughly in the right position and I don't think, um, given that there isn't any evidence that home education produces worse outcomes than other forms of education, I don't see a substantial reason at this stage, to change that.")

("I think that the balance at the moment is, roughly speaking, around the right place. So I think that we give home educators considerable freedom. We also give them responsibility to provide a suitable education for their children. We don't ask them to register. We don't have undue interference, which I wouldn't be in favour of, but at the same time we understand that it's a profound decision to educate your child at home and when a parent makes that decision they do have to take financial responsibility for that. I'm aware, the Secretary of State, when he came into office was pretty clear was pretty clear on the funding issue, given the general financial constraints the government face and in particular the Department for Education faces.")

It could not be more clear. As parents, we have full responsibility, set out in Section 7, for our children's education. If we do not wish to delegate this responsibility to the local authority and/or a school, then we MUST take full financial responsibility for it ourselves.

I speak as a single parent on minimum income, who has fully home educated three children to adulthood and is still home educating a further two. It can be done: I am doing it, and I have done it. Furthermore, I would recommend it to anyone.

If you want to watch the above evidence hearing in full, you can do so here.