Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Select Committee Oral Evidence Session: Enquiry into Support for Home Education.

My own rough impression of the session today followed by a record by Shena Deuchars
First  session

Elaine Grant, Monitoring and Support Teacher for Elective Home Education, Croydon Council, 
Melissa Young, Virtual School Education Manager, Warrington Borough Council
Helen Sadler, Home Education Adviser, Leicester City Council

Someone heard GS say this how we can help "you" in your statutory duty to ensure the education of the kids?  I really do hope this was misheard because if not there is little hope.

There was a lot of talk about sharing good practice, ironic cause the bad is shared like wildfire.

Satisfyingly great emphasis was put on the dishonest ultra vires information on most of the local authority websites.

Melissa who did the bulk of the talking despite looking younger and less experienced than the others made it clear that she does her best to stop people home educating by intervening at the very earliest stages before deregistration, her remit is quite clear, to prevent people home educating.  Resolving issues in school is absolutely not a suitable task for someone who at least technically is employed as a support to home education.  

Melissa did not care that home edders found the joint website misleading, it didn’t mislead her and that was an end to it.

Melissa didn't think one size fits all but yet wants a statutory definition of what a suitable education is and claims that individualising things would be having one amount of money for primary and one secondary, a great demonstration of an inability to understand what the phrase means.  She called being electively educated at home “being out of education” twice, a regretable but probably honest slip of the tongue.

Lol, a snide (possibly) but greatly enjoyable request from one of the panel that they should give Melissa a rest and let someone else speak, she is very very pleased with herself.

There was a lot of talk about interpretation of the law, Melissa seemed unable to consider that a desire to control might be why LAs interpret the law differently.  

The best bit was when the 3 of them said LAs need help interpreting the law correctly, and GS replied that no-one on the HE side had that problem, and he has written examples of LAs acting ultra vires.

A lot of talk about defining suitable, worrying as it was encouraged by GS.

Mr Ward's asked about the danger of defining suitable that it risked of imposing your own standards and ideas on everyone.

Helen Sadler confessed that she knew of 15 home educating families not known to the LA as information given by an independent agency; has Helen the right to this information about private citizens?

Helen says she trained herself by visiting Staffordshire’s forum, it was not clear whether it was a home educating support website or a council one, anyway autonomous education fail!

Helen thinks that she is close to getting results, as someone who has tried to liaise with her with a view to improving the incorrect information she has been giving out for donkeys years I have to feel sorry for her; so many years working on improving things with no results.

They all thought that we thought they were lovely and that relationships were improving, alarming given the trouble home educators are having with the backdoor introduction of Badman, and I have had sight of letters from Helen Sadler claiming all sorts of power she knows she does not have and basically attempting to deceive new home edders.  Fortunately we are well networked but some probably get caught in that net.

The EHE witnesses were all very upfront about seeing their job as safeguarding and clueless as to why this is offensive.  They were forced to admit that they provided no support.

They all rejected compulsory registration, but with regret because they could not envision it being policed effectively.

None of them had a clue that they should not be contacting us without evidence of lack of education. (Liz Truss was quite clear about this though)

The amount of time spent on talking about a cooling off period was extremely worrying especially as it was encouraged by GS, I though that one had been put to bed, they all wanted it of course.  I am surprised at it being raised as it is illegal and would impinge on our section 7 duty.  Offrolling is not our problem, punish the schools, don’t destroy our civil liberties!

Also puzzling talk of Home edders begging the LA for advice and support and pleading for 3 monthly visits, not sure it is the right choice for people like that.

A few committee members were not keen on us having anything even access to exams, give us your taxes then bugger off!  Nice!

Graham made a very touching speech about how we are a poor little powerless minority, nice one, painting the LAs as  bullies harassing  a helpless minority.  He is trying to make it impossible for his witnesses not to understand what is actually happening and that it is quite clear to him!

He knows that we are not helpless, we recruited him after all, but us vociferous lot seem more resourceful than some if others have actually written in with the issues he reports.  Not doubting his word at all but we must await the publication of the submissions to get our own take on that.

It was suggested that an independent body such as Ofsted should check up on LAs, they were not too keen on the idea of someone judging them, lol, sauce for the goose and all that.

Second Session

Elizabeth Truss MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education

A very bad start from Ms Truss who thinks she allows us to home educate, not a wise thing to say in a public forum.

A lot of her soundbites were sound but it became clear that it was a money saving choice to leave things as they are and that we are on our own in terms of any support she will offer us.  

When pressed on support for us she nearly said "As long as it doesn't cost any money", she just stopped herself but we heard!

She stated repeatedly that there was no evidence that home ed outcomes were worse than school ones so was not willing to change policy or the law.  She was very keen on evidence based policy, must have enjoyed reading the Badman Report then!

It was very amusing to watch Graham challenge her, often having her speechless and stuttering.

She stated that she respects us, that set alarm bells ringing as it usually signals abuse or completely ignoring our point of view, let's hope Truss knows what it means.  The fact that she mentioned prison sentencing as an analogy though does not bode well.

She admitted to Graham that she not given much thought to philosophy but was going to have a talk with herself about it!  He hoped she enjoyed her personal dialectic, lol.

He forced her to agree to be a champion of home ed and to consider making it easier or even compulsory for schools to provide spaces for home ed kids to take exams.

She was not at all keen on that declaring that we are to be totally abandoned to localism and must challenge the LA ourselves, nothing new there.

She stated that she awaited the conclusions of the committee with interest, we await with a little more than interest :\

It must have made for an interesting and challenging first week in a new post.

There were cries of “how can we know they are being educated if we don't know who they are”  from some of the more gullible? members the committee but she would not play that one which is good.

I actually began to enjoy the cut and thrust towards the end, I can't see any revolutionary changes in the offing but I do think parents of special needs kids with statements may need to sharpen their knowledge of the law as the LA could take Truss's comments as permission to interfere.

We definitely need guidance on taking LAs to task.

On the whole it could have been better, it could have been worse, I suspend judgement till the fat lady sings!

From another viewer, thank you Shena Deuchars for allowing me to share this.

My comments in purple

They've lost the plot (surprise)!

Melissa Young (Warrington): The law is ambiguous - there is no definition of "suitable" or "efficient" education. It is open to interpretation so it is up to each LA to decide if it meets statutory requirements.

Except, of course, there are NO statutory requirements.

Helen Sadler (Leicester City) knows what she is talking about and seems reasonable: No LA offers training in HE, I trained myself. We try to see families once a year but if they don't wish to see me, I have to say OK. "Registration" is an unfortunate choice of word.

Craig Whittaker MP: How can we insist on registration if we offer no benefit from it?

Good point, Craig.

HS says law needs clarity but says her best bet is to put new HE families in touch with others. 

As her local contact up until a year ago this is news to me.

Elaine Grant (Croydon): Define "suitable". I define it as not reducing life chances.

Graham pointed out that it was not possible for choices made not to limit life chances.  Maire

All are not happy with case law; they want a statutory definition of "suitable".

Ian Mearns MP: Should we have a single coherent document that talks about HE?

MY: Yes, but it would be difficult to cover all possible situations (e.g. rural and urban).

MY is very worked up about travellers. (And if that is what HE means in her head, then she's probably not thinking about most of the people reading this.)

HS: relationships improving. Families are more likely to come forward.

EG: relationships are improving but I'm worried about the ones I don't know. Some want to see me every three months. Parents like me to validate what they are doing.

It doesn't seem to occur to them that many people think adults should not NEED to be validated by other people. Some of us see it as a personal weakness (and often a result of schooling, where we spent up to 13 years being told that nothing we did was worthwhile unless someone else approved or marked it).

Craig Whittaker: Is being in the Virtual School area (which deals with looked-after children, safeguarding and children at risk) a good message to give to HEers?

So, the MPs listened to what we said and are asking directly about our suggestions. The LA people are not prepared to discuss safeguarding...  They have not come prepared to discuss that!

David Ward MP: Should registration be voluntary? 

HS and EG: Voluntary. MY: I'm torn - voluntary because enforcement would be difficult. 

HS: Would we give them anything more if families were registered. 

David Ward: How many HE children don't you know about? 

All three think numbers are going up and they know that they don't know about all. No serious idea of how many they don't know about. [Duh!]

EG admitted to ultra vires behaviour - encouraging schools not to deregister for a period in order to address the school's management. But some schools get parents to deregister and they turn up in my office wanting to know when I'll send the tutor round.

All three think it is appalling for schools to do that. Early intervention in school problems would help.

Ian Mearns: Are some schools particular offenders or is it across the board that schools force off-rolling? 

HS: I don't know, I deal with one family at a time.

Oh, good. Larger, cross-LA agencies can offer us HPV vax.

EG: 22 wider London LAs meet once a term to share good practice.

Ian Mearns: Should we set Ofsted onto you to disseminate good practice? 

EG: No, cos different LAs are very different.

Sauce for the goose? 
Snap : )

Ian Mearns: What do you think of Alison Sauer's suggestion that your website masquerades as an HE support group? 

MY: That was not the intention

David Ward: Have you heard of parents HEing to avoid prosecution for truancy? 

All three: Yes. 

MY: those are the families where I'd want to be involved at an early stage. And avoid HE if it is not the parents' lifestyle choice.

BUT, if a child is not attending, then deregistering to avoid prosecution may be entirely rational!!!!

Got to be a good subservient and take your medicine!

DW: What financial support does your LA offer to HEers? 

EG: In the last year we've put in help if requested for 14-16 programmes, if proposed course is in keeping with earlier HE. (1 last year, 4 this) Don't know funding source.

That raises the issue of who decides it it is in keeping! What does that mean?

MY: No funding. Our families have done distance learning GCSEs. Now they are more aware of possibilities and we are looking at it. But it is unclear - we can fund HE but must be substantial - can't fund only one GCSE.

HS: We intend to try to find out how to get funding but haven't managed yet.

We're bureaucrats, you expect us to be able to get through the bureaucracy? What an idea!

David Ward: What about SEN? 

All: Looking at statement and supplying therapy (e.g. SALT) even if place of ed changes to HE. 

Graham Stuart: Much stronger duty on LA to ensure suitability of education for SEN. 

MY: Yes.

Ian Mearns: What support do you provide? 

HS: Signpost to other services. Various groupings of 

HEers organise in different parts of the city. They work together well and do not ask for support. 

MY: Connexions as was now sits in the same team and we have a dedicated person offering careers advice to HEers.

Graham Stuart: Should % of per capita amount go to LA for provision of services to HE families. 

All: Yes, but 10% is too low.

Craig Whittaker: Badman recommended consultative forums. Do you do them? 

All: No. But parents can contact us.

Duh! That sounds like they don't know what "consultative forum" means!

Ian Mearns: Moving on from HE to further and higher ed? 

All: I've had success with my Y11s moving on. 

This claiming our children as their own in this patronising way disgusts us, insolence from  complete strangers who would have no role in our lives if at all possible!

Rent-seekers! The young people are not "yours" and you have not assisted in them moving to work, post-16 education, etc.

Second session from Shena.

GS: How are you going to ensure that HEers are better engaged by consultations? 

ET: I'll be interested to hear what the committee thinks about that.

??? That's not an ANSWER!!! You've been called to give evidence. Say what you like about the LA officers, at least they are not politicians! And GS accepted that as an answer... Why? She should at least have been forced to say "I've never even thought about it."

GS: Why was HE moved from children and families to education and childcare? 

ET: The secretary of state took that decision and I'm sure he had his reasons. Anyway, my office is very close to his.

Three minutes in and NO answer to anything!

This does not surprise me, is it not all we have come to expect from those who seek to rule us.

GS: What are the key issues re HE? 

ET: Clearly there are issues. Balance between freedom of HEers and s7 duty is an issue. Funding and access to support are issues. The balance between support and [?? nothing?] is about right.

[This bit is verbatim because people are commenting on it all over the place] 

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 is 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. 

[Non-verbatim] Gove was clear on funding and I don't see a need to change it, given financial situation, but I'll read the committee's report and consider its recommendations.

 Graham Stuart, perhaps you can encourage Ms Truss to read the relevant statute ( Society as a whole (of which I am a part) places the duty on EVERY parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him or her to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his or her age, ability and aptitude (AA&A) and any special educational needs (SEN). This is not given by your (or any) government to home educators. Society sees education as a Good Thing and places a duty on parents, ALL parents. Not on resident parents, white parents, black parents, working parents, able-bodied parents or ANY other subcategory - ALL parents have a duty to ensure that their child has an education. You cannot put a legal duty on people and then determine how they must carry it out - in fact, section 7 does not do so. It is unfortunate that section 7 implies that "regular attendance at school" automatically discharges the parent's duty - is clear that significant numbers of school-attending children do not receive an education suitable to their AA&A and SEN. If the Education Department and LAs are supposed to be ensuring that parents comply with section 7, perhaps they could start with considering whether parents do cause their children to receive efficient full-time education suitable to their AA&A and SEN by regular attendance at school. Given that the government uses taxpayers' money to fund the majority of schools, surely its should ensure that they are fulfilling their purpose?

An Act to consolidate the Education Act 1944 and certain other enactments relating to education, with amendments to give effect to recommendations of the Law Commission.

Secondly, I do not understand why it is obvious (as implied by Ms Truss's tone) that a parent who makes the decision to home educate has to take financial responsibility for it. A parent who decides to use a school does not have to take financial responsibility. I do not intend to argue for funding - I am well aware of the strings that would come with it and would have refused funding in order not to comply with the strings - but I argue with the suggestion that it is self-evident that families should fund home education from the household budget.

Was just thinking about MY talking about NEETs. She said that of the four HE "leavers" she knew about, one was NEET - but she was a traveller staying with the family, which is culturally appropriate. So, how does that make her NEET. And why cannot they find out how many exHE NEETs they have from the other end, by asking visitors to DWP about their place and date of last education? That would surely give a better idea of whether HE is an issue for future employability? The current method of counting NEETs is widely acknowledged to be stupid.

Neil Carmichael: What about registration because we can't count them? 

ET: Tricky balance. LAs think it is better to co-operate with parents. I'm in favour of LAs co-operating with parents and schools: registration wouldn't help that. Relationships are improving, at least in the LAs who appeared before the committee.

Eh? how did the 's' word get in there? Does she not know that some of us have never used them? Also, she has a sample of 3/152 where 'relationships are improving' - and she's only heard one side of it. Is that good enough for a minister?

ET: On balance, the system we have is the right one. Education of children not in school is responsibility of parent, not LA. [Yay!] If LAs hear of CME, they have a duty to follow up [implied: not to seek out]. No evidence that HE produces worse outcomes so no need to change current system.

Alex Cunningham MP: How can you track and check outcomes if you do not have a register and don't know who they are? 

ET: It is the parent who has legal responsibility, therefore LA does not have to hunt down all parents - that would be shifting responsibility. 

AC kept coming back to it but he was blown off.

GS: What does the DfE website mean when it says its considering policy. 

ET: Nothing, really. It depends on what comes out of the select committee. If it ain't broke, let's not try to fix it. 

GS: HEers think law/guidance are clear; LAs think not; what do you think? 

ET: I see no reason to amend it.

David Ward: 122 LAs have ultra vires or misleading info on websites. 

ET: If the DfE is told about it, we'll follow it up. I am in favour of localism and it is up to LAs what services they provide. 

DW: Should other orgs take on a monitoring role? 

ET: No strong view. Will wait for committee report. 

DW: Do you have any view on whether LAs should support or monitor?

ET: Localism - they can do what they see fit and answer to local electorate. 

This is where it all goes pear shaped, we are offered up to the wolves!

DW: Has the DfE looked at support for HE. 

ET: From Sept 2013, FE colleges can admit 14-15yos without reference to LA. Other than that, new legislation should take account of effect on HEers.

Ian Mearns: You keep saying you have seen no evidence. Perhaps the DfE should look for some? There should be minimum standards [for LAs?] that HEers can fall back on. 

ET: There have been independent studies on numbers and I'm waiting to see the committee report to find out what best practice looks like. I want to see evidence but do not want to intrude on families.

GS: but we are not talking about intruding on families. Couldn't Ofsted deal with LAs, whose procedures and paperwork vary widely? 

ET: We need more transparency to make LAs look to what they are doing, so they are held accountable and can learn from best practice.

Ian Mearns: Can the DfE make it clearer how LAs should access APF? 

ET: Yes. 

IM: And what about SEN, can you be clear that LAs should provide support for SEN, even if the child is HE?

ET: Yes, with or without statement. 

IM: How does the SEN Bill affect this? Can you make sure that HEers are catered for by it? 

ET: Yes. 

IM: It's a postcode lottery - what should HEers do if they are in a 'bad' postcode? 

ET: I'll wait to see what the committee report says. Localism. Legislating or regulating does not necessarily change what happens on the ground. LAs should do their jobs properly.

Craig Whittaker: Access to exams? 

ET: Evidence of difficulty but what can govt do about it and what can schools do about it? It is a cost for a school and I don't want to make it hard for them. 

GS: So you prefer to have a group of children effectively barred from public exams? 

ET: There's evidence it is difficult but not that children have been barred. 

GS: Lots of schools manage it OK. I'm not sure that it is a great cost to schools. 

ET: But this govt wants to let schools get make their own decisions and therefore are reluctant to intervene. HEers manage to get exams, even if difficult. 

GS: Duty could be on LAs, like with other duties that they fulfil through schools. You're the first person to say that there shouldn't be any changes. 

ET: But don't want to interfere with autonomy of schools. 

GS: If we can show that HEers cannot access exams, will you deal with it? 

ET: There is evidence and evidence but I'll look at it with an open mind.

Craig Whittaker: It's the access not the cost, because parents have to pay. What about access to other services (sport, music, etc.)? 

ET: No idea. 

Alex Cunningham: What about giving HEers vouchers? 

ET: overall constraints on education budget, where the funding would be found. Also admin difficulties, given discussions about registration.

Errm. If we all put our children into school that would make a HUGE impact on the budget - at least 21,000 * £4000 = £84 million plus the cost of buildings, equipment, etc.
Oh, well done, Alex Cunningham. He says precisely that - if the HEed children were in school, they'd cost you money so why is it not available? 

ET: When HEers decide not to use schools, they take on the financial responsibility.

That's an answer?

ET: If LAs want to release the money to HEers, we won't stop them. 

AC: But there's no consistency across the country. 

ET: Consistency is not necessarily desirable. It is up to LA leaders to answer for that to the committee. We're all waiting for your report. The current system, broadly speaking, is working. We don't want to upset the balance. 

GS: Will you be a champion of HEers? [General laughter] 

ET: That would make me popular with you. I certainly respect HEers and I will take up their issues with other ministers and with myself. [General laughter] Yes, I will be a champion.

David Ward: I have a right to go to the Bahamas but cannot afford it. What about parents who have the right to HE but cannot afford exam, swimming, etc.? Its a worthless right. We are looking for a message to HEers. If they have a right to HE, they need a right to reasonable costs to fund it.
Aaaarghhh! We are not talking about a RIGHT but a DUTY. If I cannot afford to feed my kids, the govt helps me because I have a DUTY to feed them. If every parent in the country were to fund education directly from the household budget (rather than through taxation), I bet that would have an interesting effect on the economy.

It's a right and a responsibility. Cost of exams is a relatively small cost compared to overall cost. The parent is deciding not to educate inside state system and they need to make sure they can provide. The govt says that the taxpayer will pay for state system. 

GS: Do you have a philosophical objection to state provision to supplement HE? 

ET: No, it is a practical objection. No time to consider philosophy since joining the DfE. I'll think about it, especially after I get your report.

M: Does it not concern you that we have no idea about numbers? 

ET: some studies show 20,000 (known by LAs). We get back to registration. I'm not convinced that tracking is not important. Perhaps HEers themselves could look at the numbers. Not responsibility of DfE to find out how many HEers. (Pending reading the report.) 

IM: But LAs may be completely unaware of some children. ET: I see no evidence that this is a problem.

GS: Some HEers suggested they'd like to have an online free school. Would you fund it? 

ET: Philosophical difference between home education and school. It's on a continuum. ...

That's all, folks!

Thank you Shena, very very helpful!

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