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Notes from Education Otherwise meeting with Graham Badman
and Liz Green March 27th 2009

Download as PDF

Present:

Graham Badman
Julie Bunker
Hetty Bunker
Ian Dowty
Elizabeth Green
Lord Lucas
Ann Newstead
Fiona Nicholson
Theo Parmakis Nicholson
Annette Taberner
Rebecca Taberner

Points Covered

Feedback from NSPCC meeting
Models from other countries
Training/standards/clarity across Children's Workforce
Special needs
Home educated children are seen in the community and would be seen more if home education was more widely known as legal and acceptable
Recommendations from home educators please
Good Practice
Common Factors identified by Education Otherwise where there is good practice
Common factors where practice is less than good
What is the direction of travel?
Impact Assessment

Feedback from NSPCC meeting

EO gave feedback from the NSPCC meeting earlier in the day, which included an outline of the recent work Education Otherwise has done on safeguarding. EO has Independent Designated Safeguarding Person, who is qualified social worker.  EO Safeguarding Children Policy (see  note 1 for link to Education Otherwise policies ) was drawn up in conjunction with IDSP and it followed training on child protection issues by Richard Green from NSPCC.  Education Otherwise always flags up the Childline number in the members bi-monthly newsletter.

Sadly this partnership  work has been derailed by recent NSPCC slur on home educators and it is not possible for EO to continue working with NSPCC at this time until something changes. EO recently asked for meeting with  NSPCC at national level to help NSPCC understand more about home education and to explore issues round home educated children and safeguarding. The view was expressed that NSPCC and EO need to challenge the orthodox view that  children's charities would be the logical experts on  child protection in all communities. Anyone putting forward practical recommendations about the regulation of home education must always have an understanding of home education. 

(See note 3 for EO recommendations to DCSF in July 2007)

NSPCC offered EO an introduction to the National Safeguarding Unit for the Third Sector. This was seen as a positive move.  EO offered to speak with Childline Outreach teams in the regions to raise awareness of home education. This is follow-up to EO  meeting with Childline Outreach co-ordinator at a conference earlier in the week. (See note 2 for links to the National Safeguarding Unit and to CHIPS Childline web pages)

Models from other countries

During this stage of the Review models from other countries have been put forward, including the Tasmanian Model.

Education Otherwise couldn't agree with information in the public domain about the Tasmanian Model which talks of monitoring and curriculum and structure, but because Alan Thomas appears to have recommended it there is perhaps something different from what is in the public domain and EO would need to know much more before commenting further.

In addition, EO said the Tasmanian Model went against EO recommendations about moving away from one to one inspection. EO stated that home educators would be no more likely to co-operate with this "police your own" assessment model than with the present structure. The view was expressed that the Department was unlikely to find home education support organisations prepared to collaborate in making such a system possible.

( See note 3 for Education Otherwise recommendations to DCSF in July 2007

Training/standards/clarity across Children's Workforce

Home educators have repeatedly given evidence of huge discrepancies between authorities with inconsistencies and unfairness in different local authorities. It is difficult not to conclude that there would be a benefit in setting out the Government's expectations for anyone working in this area.  The view was expressed that training and awareness-raising is urgently needed across the whole of the children's workforce, not just in education,  but also in health service and social care.

(See note 3 for EO recommendations to DCSF in July 2007)

Special needs

The Review has already led to an increased awareness of issues around special educational needs and home education and this has been welcomed by Education Otherwise and by the Department.

(See note 3 for EO recommendations to DCSF in July 2007)  

Home educated children are seen in the community and would be seen more if home education was more widely known as legal and acceptable

Home educated children get asked all the time why they are not in school. Home educated children are not hidden away. Sometimes the questioning is hostile, sometimes simply curious. Families often experience it as threatening because the questioner is not aware that home education is legal. This is particularly stressful if the questioner is police officer or GP or Health Visitor or Social Worker. Neighbours may wrongly report home educating families as breaking the law. If home education was more widely known and accepted then children and families would feel safer to be out and about. If local authorities had clear information on council websites and the council was seen to acknowledge the validity of home education, then this would be much less stressful for home educating families. DCSF could also give a lead here for instance with information about truancy sweeps or Children Missing Education, making it clear that home educated children are not missing education.  Education Otherwise takes a proactive stance in getting positive features about home education in national and local media.

(See note 3 for recommendations from EO to DCSF in July 2007)  

Recommendations from home educators please

The Review Team is seeking  recommendations/suggestions of what could change, or be put in place, including models of best practice, and would like to hear from home educators individually as well as from organisations

(See note 3 for recommendations from EO to DCSF in July 2007) 

Good Practice  

Examples of positive partnerships between local authorities and home educators in North Yorkshire, Somerset, Milton Keynes and Cumbria have been offered by Education Otherwise. EO would not want any of these examples to be taken in isolation as a template for The Way Forward. Instead the examples are intended to highlight local authorities where local solutions value goodwill over coercion. EO invites DCSF to examine the benefits to both parties.

(See note 3 for recommendations from EO to DCSF in July 2007)

Common Factors identified by Education Otherwise where there is good practice

  1. At least one person from the local authority who sees the benefit of better relations with home educators and who is prepared to meet and talk at policy level
  2. At least one person from the home education community who sees the benefit of better relations with the local authority and who is prepared to meet and talk at policy level ie somebody has to go out on a limb but they have to be able to carry the local home education community with them
  3. Supportive/non-obstructive management at LA level
  4. Networking within the home education community
  5. Awareness raising about the positives of home education at LA level
  6. Awareness raising about the positive LA initiatives within the home education community
  7. More opportunities for home educators and local authority officers to meet each other collectively. This could be in the form of drop in sessions or termly meetings on collective basis. It can also be supplemented by in the form of a newsletter (email/hard copy) from the LA home education consultant to all the home educators on their books.

    The process has been described to local authorities as giving home educators the opportunity to walk round them and sniff them and watch other home educators interacting with them and generally making sure the LA officers are "safe".

  8. Local authority finding out what local home educators actually want (drop-in and quarterly meetings are also a good way to ascertain this)
  9. Local authority sharing information and facilities with home educators eg in terms of access to exam centres via Pupil Referral Units, access to Advice and Guidance re careers, access to information about work experience. Again drop-in sessions and quarterly policy meetings are useful for brainstorming and also for giving feedback and reassurance.
  10. Positive feedback loop: both sides can see that their work is making a difference
  11. A tried and tested system for what to do if things go wrong. A point of contact/way to make informal complaints and address grievances. EO has repeatedly seen progress falter because an Education Welfare Officer overstepped the mark or a social worker acted inappropriately or appears not to have been briefed about the legalities of home education.
  12. Awareness of and sensitivity towards home education where children have special educational needs, particularly children on the autistic spectrum. An understanding of the limits of a statement.  

Common factors where practice is less than good  

  1. The home education inspector works in isolation and is difficult to reach
  2. There appears to be no accountability
  3. There appears to be no way to address a grievance or make a complaint or even raise an issue with a line manager
  4. The local authority may employ a seemingly random variety of different people, so there is no continuity and no opportunity to establish relationship of trust 
  5. Contrariwise to point 4 the local authority may retain the same person for a number of years whose attitude and working practices appears entrenched rigid and inflexible and where it seems there is no hope of making progress unless and until this person leaves the post
  6. The local authority hyperfocuses on "inspection" and the sole interaction is on a private one-to-one basis with individual families.
  7. There is insufficient awareness of issues raised by home education and children with special educational needs and individual families are over-burdened with intrusive monitoring and unreasonable demands being placed on the family. Typically there will also be a lack of joined-up thinking within the local authority.

What is the  direction of travel?

Will DCSF give an indication of the desired direction of travel ie does the Department want to emphasis one to one inspections or does it want to emphasise the benefit of collective engagement.

Impact Assessment

Neither option is cost-free. As more home educated children become known, the one-to-one inspection system will become increasingly over-burdened; and if the DCSF appears to come down on the side of a more intrusive monitoring role then the cost of enforcing compliance and general chasing-up non-co-operative families must be factored in any Impact Assessment.  

In terms of Impact Assessments, there is a risk that we might hugely underestimate the benefits of voluntarism. Collective engagement affords better protection to children and a far greater opportunity for the local authority to meet its legal responsibilities to promote the 5 ECM outcomes for all children.

(See note 3 for recommendations from EO to DCSF in July 2007) 

NOTES

Note 1

Education Otherwise Safeguarding Children Policy

http://www.education-otherwise.org/policies.htm

http://www.education-otherwise.org/About/Safeguarding_Children_Policy.pdf

Note 2

National Safeguarding Unit for the Third Sector and CHIPS Childline web pages

http://www.navca.org.uk/news/nationalsafeguardingunit.htm

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/inform/resourcesforteachers/chips/whatwedo/whatwedo_wda55388.html

Note 3

Overview to the EO 2007 DCSF consultation on Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities

http://freedom.edyourself.org/response%20overview.htm

In July 2007 Education Otherwise welcomed the long-awaited public consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. We endorsed the production and dissemination of new guidelines as the best way forward.

Education Otherwise gives support and information to members who wish to establish a positive working partnership with their local authority.

Education Otherwise is the largest and longest-established organisation representing the interests of families undertaking home-based education. Our organisation and membership are major stakeholders in this process. We met with the Department during the consultation, and look forward to further opportunities for consultation during the next stage of the process.

We consulted widely with our membership via local, regional and national internet support lists run by Education Otherwise. We also canvassed the views of members via the Education Otherwise newsletter, which is sent to 5,000 member families. In addition we have run eight regional workshops for home educators as part of the process of drafting our response.

We retained a barrister with expertise in Elective Home Education and experience in the area of training for local authorities, who assisted in the preparation of our consultation response and the drafting of proposed revised Guidelines.

  • Home-Based Education: The Way Forward
  • The Department talks of relationships between the local authority and home educators. We are pleased to report that an increasing number of authorities are now willing to put the relationship on a different footing.

    During 2007 Education Otherwise travelled across the country to hear our members' views and to set out the implications of the new legislative framework. We have run a series of 8 regional workshops for home educators in the Midlands, the South West, the North East, the North West, London, the West Midlands, the South East and East Anglia.

    The Department is already aware of the new positive working partnership between the local authority and home educators in Sheffield. During the 12-week consultation period the Department met twice with local representatives from Education Otherwise and the Sheffield Children and Young People's Directorate.

  • Local Authority Pilot Projects
  • Education Otherwise recommends that the Department consider a number of innovative pilot projects aimed at promoting positive working partnerships across a range of urban, suburban, rural and metropolitan borough areas. The authority's role in these pilot schemes will evolve from a one-to-one inspection and monitoring role, which is neither cost-effective nor equitable, and move towards an advisory, information, and resource-based support role.

    Local authority duties could better be interpreted as providing an advice and support service, for example:

    • a fulltime Telephone Helpline service;
    • establishment of informative council website pages on Elective Home Education resources;
    • liaising and mediating where appropriate with other children's service departments, the extended curriculum team and extended schools provision for the wider community;
    • fostering links between the home education community and the Further Education sector;
    • ensuring that the home education community is included in circulars on wider community provision for children and young people

    Education Otherwise believes that it is only through engagement with the local community that the authorities will discover the most cost-effective way to meet their responsibilities.

    Local authorities already have a duty to consult stakeholders.

  • Home-Based Education : New Laws Relating To Children And Young People
  • In recent years there have been several important new laws and initiatives:

    • Every Child Matters
    • Children Act 2004
    • Education and Inspections Act 2006

    Local education authorities have disappeared, to be replaced by large multi-agency departments. It is very helpful in the light of these changes for the Department to reissue guidelines to local authorities clarifying their duties and responsibilities.

    Introduction of new guidelines will go some way to addressing the current situation. However, lack of funding to local authorities continues to be a major impediment to the proper implementation of the law.

  • Home-Based Education: The Lead Professional
  • We concur with the Department's view that there is a need to establish a lead professional for Elective Home Education in each local authority. Moreover, the role of the lead professional needs to be embedded in the Children's Service Department with a clear remit and a structured programme of professional development. This will facilitate a better understanding at a local level between the authority and the home education community.

    The current legislative framework is sufficient but poorly understood, and too often custom and practice does not reflect legislation.

  • Home-Based Education: The Parents' Responsibilities
  • The duty in law to ensure that a child is receiving an education lies with the parents, whether the child attends school or is educated at home. European and British human rights legislation provides that parents have the right to choose an education for their children which is in accordance with their religious and philosophical convictions. European jurisprudence makes it clear that States parties have the positive obligation to promote this parental right.

    Any move to make a child's education the responsibility of parties other than the parent's strikes at the very heart of the legislative framework for education in England and would expose those other parties to formal legal responsibility enforceable and actionable in the courts.

  • Personalised Education
  • The requirement to provide an education suitable to the age, ability, aptitude and special educational needs of the child is the cornerstone of the current legislation. It defines the responsibilities of the parent in relation to their individual child and from this parents can deliver a truly personalised education, which is such an important characteristic of home-based education.

  • Lack Of Awareness Among Professionals And Wider Community
  • It is our experience that some of the people employed to work in this area are openly hostile to the fact that home-based education is allowed in law. Some see their task as "getting the child into school".

    There is a lack of awareness of home-based education amongst national and local politicians and councillors, policy makers and national and local authority officials. As a result, our community is often adversely affected by legislation and initiatives not designed to impact on them and frequently forgotten or excluded from initiatives, funding streams and proposals that would assist them.

    This position has arisen following the re-organisation brought about by the Children Act 2004 and we are aware of home educated children, especially those who have special educational needs, being placed on 'at risk' registers or having care proceedings initiated which centre on a misunderstanding of the nature and practice of home education.

  • Every Home Educated Child Matters

    The government's statement that "Every Child Matters" has a very hollow ring in our community. Across the country home educators themselves fund the home-based education (including all educational resources and examination costs), the local family support networks and the national organisations such as Education Otherwise.

    If home educated children entered the maintained sector, this would cost the Exchequer two hundred million pounds, representing £5,000 average per capita school child funding for 40,000 children and young people, with additional costs for SEN provision.

    The relationship between the local authority and the home education community is not without its problems. Too often it seems that professionals are slow to recognise that inappropriate intervention causes untold distress. It is our experience that many local authorities have an expectation of annual intrusive visits to the home where they insist on interrogating the family and on imposing the officer's own school-based model of education.

    Furthermore, some authorities routinely use the threat of a School Attendance Order to get parents to comply with local authority practices and some practitioners have a rigid inflexible attitude and insist on questioning the child. Many families are coerced into reluctant cooperation. Many families find these visits stressful and they rarely bring any benefit to the family.

  • Home-Based Education And Special Educational Needs

    In the consultation response and revised draft Guidelines, Education Otherwise has paid particular attention to the Elective Home Education of children and young people with Special Educational Needs. This is an area which is poorly understood by many professionals who would attempt to import a school-based model of SEN provision into Elective Home Education. Education Otherwise Disability Group assisted in the drafting of our Guidelines on SEN. The members of the Disability Group bring many years of experience to this task.

  • Discrimination

    Home-based education and school are afforded equal status in law. Families exercising their right to home educate deserve to have their decision respected and must be treated equally under the law. Letters from the Department frequently contain an assertion that the best place for a child is in school. This is an impediment to positive channels of communication and undermines trust. We feel that this devalues the sacrifices made by families who undertake Elective Home Education. Families experience prejudice and discrimination on the following grounds: class, race, housing, single parenthood, SEN, disability and de-registration following bullying. Negative stereotyping and prejudice are detrimental to children's security and well-being.

  • Education Otherwise July 2007

    Note 4

    DCSF Guidelines to Local Authorities November 2007

    http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/index.cfm?action=content&contentID=11357&letter=E


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