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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's an either/or issue, though, Gill. s.7 EA 1996 is clear that parents are responsible for children's education and that the *education* must be full-time, but whether it takes place at school, at home or both depends on the child's age, ability, aptitude and SEN.

In theory, parents can delegate as much or as little of the task of educating as they like to a school. And the school is responsible only for the education it provides.

Many schools use flexi-schooling as a way of ensuring that children with all kinds of difficulties get some kind of education, as a gradual transition process etc.

I see absolutely no reason why a school shouldn't get full-time funding for a child who is attending part-time for good reason and at the HT's discretion.

2:30 pm, March 01, 2013  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi, I take your point about arrangements, but it's government's choice whether to supply a school with full-time funding for a child who is attending only part time.

"In theory, parents can delegate as much or as little of the task of educating as they like to a school."

I agree that this should be the case, with the school's agreement. But we are many years down the line - irrevocably, some might say - of the government having the power to dictate such things. A head teacher would have to disobey this guidance now to allow flexischooling, which would presumably have funding and assessment grading implications for the school. Not to mention legal implications for its proprietor!

"And the school is responsible only for the education it provides."

I'd say this is a grey area, if the child is registered on a full-time basis!

"Many schools use flexi-schooling as a way of ensuring that children with all kinds of difficulties get some kind of education, as a gradual transition process etc."

So I understand, which takes us into the territory of suggesting that children at home might not be being educated or that certain kinds of home ed are invalid. It's therefore not a position I can support.

"I see absolutely no reason why a school shouldn't get full-time funding for a child who is attending part-time for good reason and at the HT's discretion."

Obviously the government can though. This is not my argument - I simply wanted to point out in my post these two things:

1. Flexischooling is not home education; and
2. Elizabeth Truss is very understanding and supportive of full-time home education.

3:17 pm, March 01, 2013  
Blogger Danae said...

I agree. Ms. Truss has shown a good grasp of the home education thing. Flexi-schooling is something else. Flexi-schooling is a choice that parents and children have hitherto been able to make to suit their own circumstances. The fact that flexi-schooling has possibly been withdrawn without due regard to the welfare of children who are following that course concerns me. How many children can there be? How much will it cost to continue down the line of flexi-schooling? it just smacks of bean-counting somehow, and doesn't sit well with the constant refrain of children's welfare being of prime importance that we've been hearing for some time. Removing flexi-schooling is removing choice. A choice that a schooled child who cannot cope might find conducive to his or her own education. That is what I find unpalatable.

5:34 pm, March 01, 2013  
Blogger Gill said...

Lots of things concern me about the treatment of school children Danae. I think if I was to start campaigning for them it would first of all be with the worst possible thing - the isolation booths/rooms which sound like an evil method of enforcing compliance.

Since I heard about what was happening in Bedford, I haven't been a great fan of flexischooling schemes but have adopted a 'live and let live' approach, even though this wasn't always an option for the non flexischooling HErs in Bedford. Individual arrangements are something else, and it seems a shame that these have to come to an end.

As for bean counting - I guess there aren't many beans left to count, now the money has all gone to the fat cats and the bankers! Which I'm guessing might be what's at the bottom of this decision.

6:03 pm, March 01, 2013  
Blogger Dave H said...

I have no interest in flexi-schooling as such, it still contains all the reasons why we chose to home educate. However, the manner in which the rules were changed with no consultation and no notice is something that deserves a response. Imagine what the previous government (and possibly a future one) would have done to home education with something like this as a precedent for issuing diktats.

If they want to change the rules then fine, let's have a proper consultation and a sensible proposal for transitioning those affected to an alternative method of education. Given the track record of this government, it's even possible that they'd accept reasons why it's a bad idea and reverse their policy.

10:31 am, March 06, 2013  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, as a precedent it is worrying, I agree. I can see why it's been done - to nip a likely explosion in flexischooling in the bud, and to support Charlie Taylor's recommendations. I have to say I don't agree with his recommendations. But changes by consultation certainly help to keep us engaged in the political process: as long as our responses really are counted into the end decision, which didn't always happen if I remember correctly.

Personally I think the DfE will hold its line on flexischooling because of the wider attendance-related policies. I don't think a public consultation would have mitigated this, because Michael Gove wants to take a hard line on attendance issues. I might be wrong though, and for the sake of all those who were flexischooling or were hoping to in the future, I hope I am.

4:48 pm, March 06, 2013  
Blogger Jax Blunt said...

Excellent post as always, I have to say it is mainly Dave's point that concerns me, the lack of consultation or notice.

6:34 pm, March 09, 2013  
Blogger The Ferals said...

This is a really excellent post Gill and the comments too!
Real food for thought. I, too, agree that the general support for full time HE was evident from Ms Truss. However, the lack of consultation is concerning.

A watch this space...

Thanks for your time in writing this blog it is fantastic!


9:01 pm, March 10, 2013  

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