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.