Thursday, 15 October 2009

Shena's Respoinse to the Consultation

1 Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?
Comments: This question assumes that there is an imbalance to be righted. Parents do not have a "right to home educate" - they have a duty to educate their children, either at school or otherwise (Education Act 1996, section 7). If this duty is not fulfilled then the law already provides for sanctions against the parents. Perhaps those sanctions should sometimes be used against parents who send their children to a state school that is not suitable to the aptitude and ability of their child; in those circumstances the parents do not fulfil their section 7 duty. It is a falsehood to suggest that the "rights of parents" conflict with the "rights of children". If the state argues that there is such a conflict, then the state is setting itself up as the primary guardian of children, rather than the state being the parent of last resort. In general, parents are good enough to raise children and are infinitely better at it than the state, even where parents have specific difficulties (disabilities or dependencies). As well as giving a right to an education, the UN gives a right to private family life. The recommendations in the Badman report largely remove the right to a private family life for the small minority of families who choose not to use state provision of education services in fulfilling their duty of providing an education to their children. This discrimination against a legal choice would not be countenanced in 21st century Britain if the people choosing it were to belong to one religious or ethnic group.

2 Do you agree that a register should be kept?
Comments: ContactPoint will contain a field for "place of education". If this can accept "Home educated", then it will provide a register. There is no need for LAs to set up yet another system.

3 Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?
Comments: I particularly disagree with the need to provide a statement of approach to education as this is very likely to change throughout the education. It is also ridiculous to require "the location where education is conducted if not the home" - very few electively home educating (EHE) families will go sufficiently frequently to any particular place for education to make it worth recording; on the other hand, very few EHE families will not use other facilities than the home. What would be the purpose of this information?

4 Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?
Comments: Parents are not employed by the state. When parents register children in school, the school has a two-fold duty to keep a register: it has a duty to the state which is funding the school and needs to know how the funds are used and it has a duty to the parents to hold enough information in order to be able to fulfil its function. EHE parents know who their children are and do not delegate the care and education of their children. They do not, therefore, need the state to keep a register of them.

5 Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
Comments: What would be the purpose of making this a criminal offence? This is very statist - parents would be subject to criminal sanctions not because they are harming their children but because they did not supply bureaucrats with information about their private choices as a family. This is outrageous and would harm children by turning conscientious and caring parents into criminals.

6 a) Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?
Comments: This questions implies a change to the current process about which you have not seen fit to consult. At the moment, parents do not "notify that they intend to home educate". They have a continuous and ongoing duty to ensure that their children receive education either at school or otherwise. If the parents decide not to delegate the provision of education, they immediately re-assume day-to-day responsibility for the provision of education - a child is either on a school roll or not. What would be the purpose of this 20-day (which, I presume, means four school weeks) limbo period? The Badman recommendation suggests that the main purpose would be to allow LA officials to harrass parents, who may already be at the end of their tether. Suggestions have been made (for example, in the evidence to the Select Committee inquiry) that parents may deregister in a 'fit of pique' and that the 20 days would provide a cooling-off period. This is a disgustingly disrespectful attitude towards parents who have their children's interests at heart and it opens the way for families under stress to be subjected to further pressure. Parents are adults who are entitled to take decisions about the way they and their children live. They should be accorded the courtesy of being allowed to decide for themselves how that works out, without constantly feeling that they are being watched by officialdom.

6 b) Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?
Comments: What would be the purpose of the school providing this information to the LA? I know I have said this before, but PARENTS have the duty in law for ensuring provision of education. If the school is charged with passing this information on to anyone, it should be to the parents (and parents report that this is currently difficult to obtain). There is also a problem with your terminology: achievement and future attainment data. Schools have data on achievement to date. Any information about "future attainment" can be no more than speculation - it is certainly not data. One may speculate that the intention of the LA collecting such information would be to use it to monitor the child's future progress. Even if one were to concede (which I do not) that the LA should have any role in monitoring, the information may well be irrelevant as soon as the child leaves the school system. Such information is often inaccurate. There are many stories of children being de-registered from inappropriate schools and the parents being told that the child can do certain things which the parents then realise that the child cannnot do. There are also stories of parents de-registering children and being told that the child will never do certain things (such as read and write at a high level); after a number of years of more appropriate home-based education, the children then succeed in gaining qualifications far in advance of the school's expectations.

7 Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?
Comments: Why should the DCSF issue statutory guidance when there is, correctly, no statutory need for it to be involved in registration and monitoring of home education? I would respectfully suggest that the DCSF concentrate on the school system, for which it already has a statutory duty. Once the school system no longer fails at least one in six (the number that the Treasury has identified as leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate), it may then become appropriate for the DCSF to concern itself with home education.

8 Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?
Comments: What do you mean by "substantial safeguarding concerns"? If you mean that these children are at real risk of abuse or harm (e.g. sexual abuse or physical harm or neglect), then I am astonished that you consider that this is more likely to happen in school hours! If there are "substantial safeguarding concerns" about a child or children, then the appropriate statutory authority should be involved and appropriate support should be provided to the child. If a home and family are safe for the child to live in, then it is not unsafe for the 30 hours a week (term time only) that schools are open. If a home and family are NOT safe for the education of the child, they are unlikely to be safe for the child to live in. You are, once again, conflating concerns about education and concerns about safeguarding in a wholly unacceptable fashion.

9 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?
Comments: As a home-educating parent, I do not have "premises where home education" take place - I have a family HOME! What would be the purpose of such a visit? If it is to check the "premises" themselves, I cannot imagine what would make a family home unfit for education while still being fit for habitation. If the purpose of the visit would be to requre the child to "exhibit" educational progress (as suggested in the Badman report), then that is outwith the remit of the current legal situation as stated in Education Act 1996 s7. Just as the police cannot routinely visit my home to ensure I am not storing stolen goods, the LA should not need access to my home unless there is reason to assume that I am breaching my legal duty to my children. This situation is already covered by Education Act 1996 s437. If we keep in mind that this is supposed to be about EDUCATION (because welfare and safeguarding are already adequately covered by the powers given to Social Services), why would a written report from the parent be inappropriate? I was appalled to hear Ellie Evans say to the Select Committee inquiry that the LA only has the parent's word for what they are doing. This reverses the burden of proof and of responsibility - EHE parents are assumed to be liars purely on the basis of the choices that they make for their children. Let's imagine a situation where the Department of Health were proposing to visit the homes of vegetarians in order to ensure that the parents were providing their children with adequate nutrition and that a report from the parents could not be accepted. Somehow, I don't think you'd be able to sell that to the general public...

10 Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?
Comments: Who would judge the appropriateness and on what grounds? By whom would the other person be trusted? If we keep in mind that this is supposed to be about EDUCATION (because welfare and safeguarding are already adequately covered by the powers given to Social Services), why would the LA officer need powers to interview children alone? If a child were not able to be interviewed by the officer, why would the parent not be a suitable person to be with the child? Let's reconsider checking parental provision of nutrition - I would not expect a small child (under 10, say) to be able to answer for the parents' planning and overall aims in providing food. However, that does not mean that the parents do not know what they are doing and they could as easily demonstrate that on paper.

11 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.
Comments: See previous answers.

Shena Deuchars

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