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Birmingham Council damaging misuse of the term "Education Otherwise"

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The following notice has now been placed on the website of Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board:

'"References to "Educating Otherwise" and "Education Otherwise" contained within this Review refer to "Birmingham City Council's Elective Home Education Advice Service" and not the Registered Charity 1055120 "Education Otherwise Association Ltd."' July 30th 2010

The home education support charity Education Otherwise has been in existence since the mid 1970s, raising awareness of legal alternatives to mainstream schooling and providing support and social opportunities for families educating their children at home. Education Otherwise became a private company limited by guarantee in 1985 and registered as a charity in 1996. The charity does not receive Government funding and its income is derived from members subscriptions.

The charity supports a network of local contacts throughout England and Wales and runs a telephone helpline which is open seven days a week. Over the past three years Education Otherwise has also run a dozen regional workshops on home education with spokespeople from the national Government Policy Group. The Membership Enquiries office is also open five days a week to take calls and emails. The Education Otherwise internet forum currently has over 2000 members. Hence, in a variety of ways the charity is well-placed to receive feedback from home educators about their dealings with local authorities.

Six years ago in 2004 the Education Otherwise telephone helpline began to report calls from home educators who were puzzled or angry about the charity's apparent connection with Birmingham Council.

In August 2004 Education Otherwise wrote to Irving Horne in his capacity as Elective Home Education officer at Birmingham Council. The charity told Mr Horne that home educators were confused because employees at the Council told families that Mr Horne was "from Education Otherwise." The Council also answered the telephone as "Educating Otherwise."

In February 2005, having had no reply from Mr Horne, the charity wrote again and also sent a separate letter to Tony Howell, Strategic Director for Learning and Culture asking for the council to stop calling themselves "Educating Otherwise", since home educators were led to believe that the charity had some connection with the Council or that the charity was in some way responsible for the actions of the Council. The charity reminded the Council that the term "Education Otherwise" had been registered with the Intellectual Property Office.

In November 2005 Mr Howell told the charity that the council now called its home education service "Pupil Connect Team."

In February 2007, the charity wrote again to Birmingham Council, this time to Michael Innocenti, Children Missing Education Officer at the Pupil Connect Team, pointing out that the literature given to parents by Birmingham Council continued to refer to the council department as "Educating Otherwise."

The charity said to the council: "We recently had a parent phone our help line, furious that we had written to tell them that they must register with us. It took a while to sort the problem out. The term Educating Otherwise does not mean anything particular to the lay person and there is no good reason for your department continuing to use it. Please can you confirm to me that you will eradicate it from your literature and web site." The charity does not have a record of any reply from Birmingham Council.

In May 2008 the charity wrote to Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board in the wake of the announcement of a Serious Case Review into the death of Khyra Ishaq. Education Otherwise offered to provide information about the law on home education. The Serious Case Review Sub Group did not make a response.

At the beginning of March 2010 Education Otherwise noted that the transcript of the court hearing into care proceedings for the siblings of Khyra Ishaq referred throughout to the council home education department as "Education Otherwise" or "Educating Otherwise." When the charity reviewed the Birmingham Council website, it was clear that home education and "Education Otherwise" were still used interchangeably.

The charity wrote to the Council reiterating that Education Otherwise had been registered with the Intellectual Property Office since 1998 and added : "We are anxious to avoid any possible misunderstanding in the media or in local or national government with regard to Education Otherwise, the charity, having any involvement with the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq. We would therefore be extremely grateful if you could provide a disclaimer making it clear that the term "Education Otherwise" does not imply any connection with the registered charity of the same name and if the council could find a different and more appropriate name for the council's home education monitoring service."

The charity received the following reply from Birmingham Council: "Thank you for your enquiry. We have forwarded your email to the department concerned and they should respond accordingly. Thank you for contacting Birmingham City Council". No follow up email was ever received from Birmingham Council.

Nonetheless, Education Otherwise did make some headway with the court, since the Clerk to the Court replied on March 4th saying that a footnote was to be added to the court report and added: "For your information I spoke yesterday with Birmingham City Council and they assure me that they no longer use the terms "Educating Otherwise" and "Education Otherwise" which form the basis of your concern. I have copied into this email the Deputy Court Manager (Birmingham Civil Justice Centre) and the Press Office here at the Royal Courts of Justice for their information."

At the end of July 2010 Education Otherwise was asked by the media to comment on the Serious Case Review into the death of Khyra Ishaq. It became clear throughout the day of publication of the Review that a number of journalists and members of Education Otherwise believed that the charity had been severely criticised in the Review. The charity was obliged to issue a Press Statement to clarify that there was absolutely no connection between the charity and Birmingham Council.

The lack of action from Birmingham Council over a period of six years and the failure to share information is symptomatic of an over-stretched under-staffed department. Home education services in local authorities receive no funding from Government and money for staff has to be taken from other services. In many authorities the task is simply taken up by someone working in another area such as Education Welfare or Traveller Education. Comprehensive research carried out by Education Otherwise in 2009 indicates that local authorities spend an average of only £200 a year on staff costs per home educated child.

As reported in the court proceedings: "During the course of his evidence Mr H [...] explained that he is the only advisor to Birmingham City Council with regard to Educating Otherwise. He alone, together with the educational social worker, deal with some 350 families. He has no administrative assistance and so all letters are typed by him, he also keeps his own diary."

Education Otherwise has taken legal advice on the chronic and damaging misuse of the charity's name and is in communication with the Business Manager of Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board. On July 30th a disclaimer was placed on the Safeguarding Board website which appears at the head of this article.

References

Education Otherwise Registered Trade Mark
Education Otherwise web site
Family Court transcript
Education Otherwise Press Statements
Statement on Home Education Following Tragic Birmingham Case May 2008
Birmingham's "Lamentable" Child Protection Failure February 2010
Updated Statement on the publication of the Serious Case Review into the death of Khyra Ishaq July 2010
Confusion in Khyra Ishaq Serious Case Review over use of “Education Otherwise”
Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board


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