Sunday, July 15, 2007

My response to the HE guidelines consultation

Apologies for this boring post, but I thought it might be interesting/helpful for anyone who has still to respond to the consultation.

Question 1: Do you agree that it is helpful for the DfES to issue guidelines to local authorities?

Yes

I believe that clear and accurate guidelines would help local authorities move towards a better understanding of their duties and powers in relation to home educators.

At the moment, there are numerous examples from around the country of home educators being given inaccurate and misleading information by their local authority. For example:

  • home educators are frequently given the impression that they must agree to an annual visit from a local authority officer, to discuss their education provision
  • these visits are often presented (and experienced) as some form of inspection, and local authority staff often claim to be authorised to "approve" home educators' provision, or withhold such approval.
  • home education is frequently viewed as a cause for concern by ill-informed local authority officers and other state officials, such as social workers, health visitors and hospital staff.

This kind of attitude is the major obstacle to any form of constructive relationship between local authorities and the home educating community.

I believe that this problem is best tackled by the publication of clear, unambiguous and legally accurate guidelines, directed solely towards local authorities. In general, home educating families do not need guidance from local or national government, and are not seeking to create any kind of relationship with our local authorities.

Question 2: Do you agree that the description of the law (paragraphs 2.1-2.3) relating to elective home education is accurate and clear?

Yes

Question 3: Do you agree that the description of local authorities' responsibilities (paragraphs 2.5-2.11) is accurate and helpful

No

The phrase "but all children should make reasonable progress" should be removed from paragraph 2.5.

As a home educator, I am of course intensely interested in the progress made by each of my children. As the person responsible for providing them with an education suitable to their needs, I am best placed to observe the progress they are making.

My partner and I are taking an autonomous approach to our children's education. This means that the children themselves make decisions about what they wish to learn about and how they approach these topics. Our role is to facilitate their learning through the provision of resources, opportunities and experiences, and by encouraging and supporting their skills in self-directed research.

It would be extremely difficult for a local authority officer to make a meaningful judgment about whether my children were making "reasonable progress", because they would not know what the children had identified as their priorities for learning. By definition, there are no set standards for an individual, self-directed education, and it is therefore impossible for there to be a standard measure of "reasonable progress".

There is no mention of "reasonable progress" in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, and therefore there is no need for it to be included in the guidelines. The inclusion of this phrase would encourage those local authorities who already overstep their powers to continue to do so.

I welcome the emphasis in paragraph 2.7 on the fact that local authorities only have a duty to act if they have good reason to believe that parents are not providing a suitable education. While many local authorities currently believe they should make enquiries of all home educating families they are aware of, this practice goes well beyond what they are required to do by law.

Unless my behaviour gives cause for concern, I am not routinely questioned as to whether I am breaking the law. For example, I do not have to persuade local authority staff, on a routine basis, that I do not violently assault my partner. It is presumed by society that I am innocent of this crime, unless proved guilty.

As the law stands, I am due the same courtesy, as a person who is presumed to be abiding by the law which states that I must provide an efficient, full-time education, suitable to the age, aptitude and ability of each of my children.

When local authorities do have reason to contact a family to make enquiries, as discussed in paragraph 2.8, this should be done politely and with respect for the wide diversity of educational philosophies present in the home educating community. This paragraph should remind local authorities that parents have a free choice about the method by which they respond to such enquiries.

You have not asked about paragraphs 3.1 to 3.3. I believe these contain important principles, and should be retained in the document.

Question 4: Do you agree that the section on contact with the local authority (paragraphs 3.4-3.7) is accurate and helpful?

No

All of paragraph 3.4 should be deleted, after the word "investigating".

Suggesting that the community in which a home educating family lives should be considered as a risk factor, is to invite local authorities to make decisions based on prejudice rather than considering the needs of each individual child.

The research cited is not based on direct contact with home educating families from the Gypsy/Roma and Traveller communities, or indeed anyone from those communities. It is shocking that the sentence quoted should be included in a government document and thus given the status of fact. I find this expression of a prejudiced attitude both offensive and distasteful.

This problem continues in paragraph 3.5, where authorities are asked to take action on the basis of information which "may cast doubt on whether an 'efficient and suitable education' can be provided". This is not what the law requires - there is no mention in the law of authorities taking action on the basis of what *can* be provided. The law (as accurately described in paragraph 2.7) directs authorities only to take action if they have reason to believe that a suitable education *is not being* provided.

The whole of this section is written as if a visit by a local authority officer to the family home is the preferred method of contact between the authority and a home educating family. Other means of providing information are given only as alternatives, where the family rejects the offer of a visit.

While a home visit may be the preferred option for local authority officers, it is the least favourite option for many home educating families, not because they have something to hide but because they are concerned for the educational and emotional welfare of their children.

For families providing an autonomous, child-led education, the intrusion of a visit (often viewed by everybody involved as an inspection) can be extremely disruptive to the intrinsic motivation on which such an education rests. Children in families pursuing an autonomous philosophy of education are developing the skills of identifying and pursuing their own priorities for learning. Local authority officers often attempt to measure such children against an external set of educational priorities. Children who are receiving an extremely efficient education, in which they follow their own interests and complete their studies to their own satisfaction are then being mistakenly judged against an entirely irrelevant standard. Parents understandably wish to avoid this kind of situation, by providing information in a form which reflects the priorities of the child.

For children who have been bullied or had other damaging experiences while at school, the feeling of having the safe haven of home "inspected" can be extremely traumatic.

For children with some special educational needs, the pressure of a visit and the disruption of routine that this would inevitably bring is unbearable and damaging.

There is no need for children or parents to experience this kind of worry and disruption, simply in order to respond to a local authority's enquiries. There should be no assumption that a visit is preferable - the choice of how to respond should be a free one offered to parents.

Question 5: Do you agree that the section on providing a full-time education (paragraphs 3.11-3.14) - and in particular, the characteristics of provision (paragraph 3.13) - is accurate and helpful?

Not sure

I do not agree that the list of characteristics in paragraph 3.13 should be used by local authorities as a trigger for further investigation, as advised in paragraph 3.14.

I also think that the list of resources in the last point of paragraph 3.13 is unnecessary and overly prescriptive, especially given the likelihood that paragraph 3.13 will be used as a checklist by many local authorities.

Because home education allows parents to provide a tailor-made education for each child, there are bound to be children who need resources that are not included in the partial list given. For example, a child with a particular aptitude for carpentry may need a good set of tools. This is not included in the list, and it is not possible to construct a list that includes all possible resources needed to provide home education for all possible children.

I am astonished that you have not consulted on paragraphs 3.15 to 3.19.

Paragraph 3.17 can be interpreted as being contrary to Section 324.(5) of the Education Act 1996, which states:

"Where a local education authority maintain a statement under this section, then-

(a) unless the child's parent has made suitable arrangements, the authority-

(i) shall arrange that the special educational provision specified in the statement is made for the child, and

(ii) may arrange that any non-educational provision specified in the statement is made for him in such manner as they consider appropriate, and

(b) if the name of a maintained, grant-maintained or grant-maintained special school is specified in the statement, the governing body of the school shall admit the child to the school."

This confusion arises from the wording of the SEN Code of Practice, which the draft guidelines closely follow.

I think the publication of the guidelines on Elective Home Education should be used as an opportunity to clarify the issue of local authorities' responsibilities when a child with a statement is electively home educated.

As the law states, the authority has no duty to ensure the provision specified in the statement, if the parents have made suitable arrangements.

In this case (the case considered in paragraph 3.17 of the draft guidelines, where there is a statement in place but the authority considers the home education provided to be suitable), the parents may well wish to write to the Local Authority and ask the LEA to 'cease to maintain the statement' for their child. Local Authorities should not unreasonably refuse to do this, and this scenario should be described and explained in the guidelines.

The guidelines should also make it clear that where a statement is maintained for a home educated child, in this particular situation, there is no legal requirement for parents (or indeed the local authority) to provide anything specified in a statement of Special Educational Needs.

Question 6: Do you agree that the section on developing relationships (section 4) is useful?

Not sure

I think it is a good idea for local authorities to endeavour to achieve a better understanding of home education. I support the development of trusting and respectful relationships between local authorities and home educators as a community.

However, I do not think individual home educators should be placed under any obligation to form a relationship with their local authority.

Question 7a: Are the suggested resources in section 5 and appendix 2 useful?

Yes

Question 7b: Should any other contacts be included?

No response

Question 8: Please use this space for any other comments you wish to make about the guidelines

I am pleased to see that the Department has chosen to consult on draft guidelines, to encourage local authorities to act within the current legal framework surrounding home education.

Our freedom to provide an education for our children that is very different from the education provided in schools is extremely precious to us.

I believe the educational diversity found within the home education community is also precious for the future of education, as technology continues to reshape the economy and the needs of society. Home education is a living example of the kind of personalised education only now being introduced in schools.

I am pleased to see that the government has rejected calls for legal changes that would have threatened to homogenise and stifle this vibrant and creative section of society.

6 comments:

Dani said...

Got my acknowledgement email through - I was number 251.

Gill said...

LOL I don't find it boring! Maybe I'm just weird ;-)
What a great response. It's extremely clear, straightforward and unambiguous. Makes me feel very glad I didn't submit mine before I saw this.

Tech said...

NO not boring at all. Think that's the best one I've read, particularly in respect of clarity. Excellent, thanks for sharing :)

Ruth said...

Really good:) Not boring at all.

Anonymous said...

hey dani this is a great response! would you mind putting it up on google documents so we could link to it from the eo campaign website ? ( google documents is my new trick !)

love, fiona

HelenHaricot said...

I think it is a fantastic response. wish i had seen some others before I put mine in - not so eloquent, though the general drift being the same!