Monday, 16 July 2012

Local Authorities and Home Education: A Case Study in Bad Behaviour

from Cos I Can

Why I recommend people tell the LA to sod off.

I sent a lovely deregistration letter into the school,  saying how pleased I had been with certain teachers.  I didn't slag the school off even though some teachers had made life difficult for Mathew, because they refused to acknowledge his needs and differences.  I was hoping to leave things on a positive, even though things had been awful for my son.  I didn't get a response, instead I was ignored. This took me by surprise but I wasn't too bothered by it.
Unfortunately I caught a sickness bug not long after deregistering them, I stupidly answered the phone, in between bouts of throwing up, the woman waffled out her name so fast and didn't explain who she was, all I know is that she was something to do with home education and wanted to come and see us, I asked that she call me back another day because I was ill. She agreed, eventually, after trying to push me for a date, I threw up and hung up the phone.
I didn't hear anything for weeks, assuming she had forgotten.  My dad was visiting one day and we saw a lady walk down the drive carrying a briefcase, I said 'I bet this is the woman', she wasn't!  She apologised for turning up unannounced but was in the area, so thought she would bring me the forms out that I had to fill in. She didn't ask to come in.  At the time I didn't see anything odd about this, although reading the forms that asked about our curriculum and subjects made me aware that they clearly didn't know much about home ed, I also felt the forms didn't look official so therefore not compulsory, so i made hamster bedding with them.  I still to this day have no idea who she was.
I thought that was it, oh how wrong I was!  We had been out to toddler group as we usually did on a Wednesday morning, as we got in, the phone was ringing, I answered and all I heard was
'Where were you? where were you?' being bellowed at me
'excuse me, but who are you?'
'Where were you?'
'If you tell me who you are I will decide if you have any right to know where I was!'
'I'm Mrs B from Doncaster Council, ...' she did say her name and job title but I was flustered by this stage and didn't hear her.
'I came to see you this morning and you didn't answer the door'
'Well I was out as I wasn't expecting visitors'
'You told me to come today'
'I have no idea who you are or that I've ever spoken to you'
'well I rang you and we booked today in'
I finally sussed she was the one that called when I was sick, I explained how we had not made an appointment, but I had told her to ring me back another time.
'Are you calling me a liar' she shouted
'er yeah' I said, ' You called me when I was sick and I asked you to call me back another day'
'well I've got it written in my diary to visit you'
'well I think maybe you made a mistake'
this conversation went on for ages, she was obnoxious, it ended with me asking what she wanted to see me for anyway.
'to discuss whether you need support getting your child back into school or help sort any issues with school'
'no I don't and don't ever call or write to me, I never want you to contact me again'
I hung up, I was actually shaking, so I sat and took a moment to pull myself together, then I tried to figure out who she was, so I rang the council and explained to the receptionist that I'd like to talk to the manager of the department that deals with children who are deregistered. She put me through to integration and education welfare. I spoke to the manager Mr D, he listened carefully and agreed I should not be spoken to in that manner, but maybe I had made the mistake, (I forgot to add in here that he also tried telling me there was a new law that meant I had to let them in, I later realise he was attempting to pass the Badman shite off as law!) I didn't back down and sent a written complaint in, I received an apology for the 'misunderstanding'.
All went quiet, then one day I had a letter and the same forms as before, the letter basically said I had to have a visit from the Elective Home Education Consultant, it didn't explain my options. The leaflet which was  included,  talked mostly of curriculum's and lessons and keeping records.  Again I didn't fill the forms in, but there was a date in the letter for a meeting at my house, I didn't know I had an option to cancel.
' will, however, be the responsibility of the parent to show the Local Authority that the programme of work is helping the child to learn and that the child is making progress.....'
the purpose of the first visit  is to discuss your plane and he quality and range of the curriculum to be offered....'
'evidence would usually include a written programme of work, samples of work, an interview with a parent and a discussion with the child'
'should parents elect not to meet the consultant the evidence of the programme of work and a full range of work samples is of critical importance'
I spent hours cleaning the house and telling the kids to be on best behaviour, I let the EHE in, and she sat there, belittling all my choices, telling me how important it is to push Mathew to write, that Home Ed kids don't have friends, that school is really the best place, that I should push for a diagnosis for Mathew. She was awful.  She sent a report, that stated I should keep the kids work in date order and split into subjects and that it should all be named and dated, she said that whilst the little bit she was allowed to see showed an education was being provided, she expected at the next visit to see a lot more written work.  She also mentioned my 1 year old daughter in the report.  I made a complaint and had the report altered, but they said that this was the EHE's opinion and only she could amend it. But she was on holiday. Once she came back I contacted her, she said that because it had been a while since she visited (2 months) she would need to do another visit because she couldn't remember us, and her notes matched her report. I declined!
A few months later there was a knock at the door, we were all still in pj's and watching a film, breakfast pots still on the table, she was a social worker and demanded I let her in, without going into it too much, she had an allegation that I loved one kid more than the other and that home ed was an issue. She thought home education was illegal, looked around my house, attempted to talk to my kids, who ignored her lol.  She went away telling me she thought that would be the last of it, but then I got a letter saying they wanted to do a core assessment, which would involve weeks of interviews and meetings and discussions with my children, also that they recomended I have another EHE visit, because their last report (less than 6 months previous) was no longer valid.  I fought them and never met with them again, or let them meet the kids again, I also didn't agree to the EHE visits again.  I sent in doctors reports, to show I was looking into a diagnosis for Mathew, I sent a report of all the activities and places we went where adults were in contact with my children, I had people (25 of them) that were in contact with my children and/or knew me well to write character statements, and I kept fighting until they agreed that actually there was no cause for concern. Which they never actually had, their report said no concern except they are not see by a teacher every day. I told them that this was discrimination against home edders who legally choose to educate their children.  The case was dropped. The social worker was shipped off, from what I have heard she was sacked.  The whole thing had been started by 2 family members, that knew little to nothing about me and had decided cos my kids didn't sit to the table to eat, and were allowed to watch tv and eat sweets and of course now didn't go to school that I must have been covering up abuse. Oh and of course that I loved the older one more, cos he sometimes needed a bit more attention because of his ASD and SPD stuff.
 I got to know more about the law, and the home ed  requirements. Well I was fuming to say the least, they had not once said I could send a report or anything other option for that matter. Then I became ill, I needed my gall bladder removing and it was making me really ill and tired. I got a letter (8 months after initial visit) asking for another visit, I replied saying I would provide them with a report in due course, but due to illness that they give me some time. in the space of a month I had 3 phone calls and 2 letters demanding my report, by this stage I was even more ill.  I sent an email saying it had not been a year since their visit and I would write to them before then.
Then I was admitted into hospital, I spent 2 weeks being admitted, always being told I was next on the list for the op, to find someone else was rushed in in front of me, I kept coming home and back again the next day. I had 2 missed calls from the EHE (still a month before the year was up)  I answered the call laid in hospital, she was really arsey with me and demanded a report, so I emailed a very short report to them from my hospital bed.
'Dear EHE, I am still happy to be home educating and take my responsibilities to provide a suitable education, seriously.  I provide access to numerous materials, including, books, computers and outings. The children are happy to be home educated and thriving
Me.' (or something like that)
' no evidence of the children's work was provided it is difficuly to write a more detailed report, or relate the children's individual achievements.
 It said they would contact me in a year. Just over a year later I received a letter that said; 
'I would like to introduce myself as the new consultant for elective home education in Doncaster, .......... I note from our records that you prefer to submit a report outlining the educational provision for.......As it is a year since we last made enquiries, I would be pleased to receive your report by the end of April........'
I replied:
Dear Mrs W,
I am still home educating my children, ensuring it meets their individual needs, aptitudes and abilities. As you are probably aware there is nothing in law that states I have to meet with yourselves nor provide a report and you should only be making enquiries if there is evidence that an education isn't being provided.
I am including the following information just so that you have a little bit of info about our home educating, we follow a semi structured/autonomous style, child led, and child centred.  I make sure they have access to plenty of resources including books and computers, we are actively involved in the home education community.
I now do not expect to hear from you again unless there are concerns.
I got a thanks for that, email.
Since then, I have met with the LA with other local people, at their offices, to discuss their recent bad behaviour, letters and website. At this meeting it was agreed that we (the home edders) would write drafts for their letters. website and leaflet and that they would be checked over by the EHE and authorised by management. We were promised that they wanted to improve things and that an open meeting would soon be organised for all families and the LA to attend to discuss issues etc.
We spent hours rewriting and discussing these documents, I organised to meet Mrs W at my home to discuss them and hopefully get her to agree to what we wanted.  When she turned up, it was clear that she felt intimidated by me,  but also her boss, who didn't even know she was here.  She went away promising that the letters would be sorted. Also that the open meeting was being sorted.
Then it all went tits up, her boss left unexpectedly to a different role, leaving her not knowing who, what or where.  I'd asked to see a copy of the EHE policy and been fobbed off, so I sent a FOI (freedom of information request) it came back with a copy and a copy of the new draft, which is awful.   I sent emails (so did Fiona Nicholson, who had been working with us) to the people we knew of at the LA that might be able to help make some progress, we had a list of names, but no one willing to say yes lets get this done.  We finally were given the name of the replacement, Mrs V, I emailed her and she responded with 'I'm sure we will meet and talk soon' I replied asking when, I didn't get a reply, nor did I get a reply from my emails to Mrs W, or any of the other staff, there seemed to be a strange silence. We found this worrying, so drafted a complaint and sent it in. I'm still waiting for a response. We know they were having a meeting this week, so we are waiting on the outcome.
Meanwhile, I was emailed by a newcomer to home ed to say she had had a letter from Learning and Behaviour Support ;
'..........Although I am sure you have already given serious thought to such an important matter, we would like to arrange a visit with NW our Re-Integration Officer to discuss this with you before we formally
process home education. We would ·Iike to arrange a visit for X date if this is convenient. You can telephone us on 000 or write to her at the address below to confirm this  date, and we will be able to discuss this with you.I am sure you will appreciate that the Local Authority must ensure that you are clearly informed about the legal situation, the relevant sections of the Education Acts and the Authority's procedure for monitoring education at home. Accordingly, information and guidance notes for parents are attached with this letter. It is important that you read all this information carefully, but I must draw your attention
to Part 1 The Legal Framework........'
She couldn't understand what they wanted, when she already new it was Mrs W that did EHE, she had a few things going on so I called on her behalf and spoke to NW and cancelled the appointment.  She told me that the appointment was so she could discuss with the family whether they were happy with the decision to home educate, or whether there were issues she could help resolve with the school. I told her they were happy, to which I was told, 'ok, I will pass the families details onto Mrs W the EHE, so she can organise a visit' I told her the family probably wont be having a visit 'oh well that's ok they can send children's work in instead as evidence'  'yep they wont be doing that either' I replied, to this she didn't know what to say, I asked if she knew EHE law, no she didn't, and was surprised that what she thought was law, actually wasn't.  I suggested that we meet and discuss all of this, she liked the idea and welcomed ways to make things better.  But, and isn't there always a frigging but? she spoke to her manager who rang me eventually a few days later, he was not willing to discuss anything, and downright refused to acknowledge that their behaviours were not appropriate. I also notified him (as we had already done every other member of staff) that the cooling off period that they had instigated was actually illegal and went again the 'pupil registration regulations 2006' his was not interested and wanted to know who would take action against them if it wasn't sorted.  He said that they would contact home edders if they ever felt the need to ask for their input on the LA policies. 
So not only do they know they are acting beyond the EHE guidelines, they are breaking the law, by telling schools not to remove children's names immediately, they don't actually care.  They are refusing to speak with us, or meet with us.  So I await a response to the complaint, and see if anything happens off the back of the meeting they've had.
I don't hold out much hope, so for now, I tell any local family to not deal with them at all, opt out of visits, don't send lengthy reports and definitely don't fill in their dodgy forms.  I happily will help any family and as I have before I will speak on their behalf. I will help write letters, I will say you should always reply to their correspondence, even if it is stating the law and saying sod off!!!!!

Friday, 13 July 2012

It got busy

Sorry no more postings on the Select Committee, my submission went of un proofread and at the last minute, still it went.

Very much looking forward to Hesfes in just over a week, not so much the packing.

Interesting post about autonomy in higher education caught my eye.

"The open day began with a short but detailed introductory talk from Professor Neary on the reasons for setting up the SSC and how it intends to be organised. He outlined how the Centre’s existence is a response to the increasing commercialisation of Higher Education, with increasing privatisation and rising tuition fees cutting off access to millions of potential students. He was quick to point out that the Centre is in no way opposed to ‘official’ universities, but that it intends to offer a more democratic education. He also stressed the point of equal involvement from both staff and students in a non-hierarchical setting, stating that rather than differentiate between the two groups, everyone involved on courses would be referred to as ‘scholars’, as the academics themselves have as much to learn from their students as the students do from them."   Read more here.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Select Committee Inquiry: Support for Home Education

Time is getting on for submitting a memorandum to the Education Select Committee's inquiry into Support for Home Education.

The deadline is noon on Monday 9 July 2012

Of course non of us are eager to engage with this process again, myself included but needs must so here are some of the resources I will be using in the hope that they may help others in the process.

I do think it is worth making the effort, I know it is a long shot but wouldn't it be nice if those pesky LAs were to offer real voluntary support instead of the coercive misinformation that is the norm at the moment.

Here are the questions:

Written submissions of evidence are invited on the following specific issues:
• the duties of local authorities with regard to home education;
• what support (financial and otherwise) is currently available for home educators, including from local authorities and other bodies;
• the quality and accessibility of that support;
• whether current arrangements for financial support are adequate;
• the support available for home-educated students’ transition to further education and higher education;
• what improvements have been made to support for home educators since the December 2009 recommendations of the Children, Schools and Families Committee; 
• what guidance is available for local authorities concerning their duties in regard to home education, and the quality of that guidance; 
• whether the Government needs to alter existing policy or arrangements concerning the support available for home educators.

I am seeing the questions about support as needing to be informed by the quality of "support" on the ground at the moment. They need to know where they are starting from, so even if you do not want any support and wouldn't touch it with a bargepole it wouldn't hurt to inform them of the sort of harassment home educators experience in the name of support from many councils on a regular basis.

So here are some links that might be useful.

Some of the worst current offenders, Doncaster, Lincolnshire, Stoke on Trent and Barking and Dagenham.

I will try and blog about this more up until the deadline.

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