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London Regional Campaign Workshop Saturday 24th March 2007

The London workshop was well attended by representatives from many London boroughs, Greater London and beyond.

The venue was excellent. One of the main advantages was the large foyer with adjacent open kitchen so that people could meet and chat before the meeting started and again during the lunch break, fuelled by teas and coffees and home made cakes. The catering was provided by a group of confident and dedicated home educated children and young people who were not backwards in coming forwards when it was time to ask for more donations to The Cause from cake enthusiasts . I know this from personal experience because my son Theo said that they queried whether his level of cake consumption was commensurate with his pound donation and within a few minutes the catering team had pressed him into service making and distributing the beverages and anyone who knows Theo in real life or from my cyber stories might recognise what a very impressive feat that was. The volunteers might be interested to know that the cake stall raised £50.37.

The workshop was recorded on 2 digital camcorders. It was filmed from the right hand balcony and also from the back of the hall. The event was also recorded for sound and we were fortunate to have a professional photographer home educating parent who volunteered to come and take stills photographs throughout the day. Any photographs which appear on the campaign website will have been cross-checked for the written consent of the people featured in the images. My 13 year old son Theo had charge of the cameras and Phil Hicks sorted out the sophisticated sound system throughout the day at what I thought of as "the mixing desk". Phil was also called upon to come to the front of the hall as Chair of EO Government Policy Group and to tell us all about the meeting with DfES before Christmas.

Theo is currently in the process of transferring all the data from tapes and disks and we will then analyse the recordings and see how all the sounds were picked up and what kind of film it makes and how soon an edited transcript might be made available via the campaign site.

In terms of paperwork out from the Campaign Team and in from the audience we had briefing packs available on the table as follows:

How to Get Involved
How to begin a dialogue with your Local Authority
Why we need to build a relationship with the press
Plus a rough example of the trifold leaflet prepared by Sheffield Home Educators' Network for the LA Home Education Advisor to distribute to home educating families "on her books"
At this point I would like to say a "Big Thank You" to Leslie Barson of the Otherwise Club in London who worked with the catering team and who also organised a fantastic free crèche in the Children's Room upstairs with a paid CRB-checked play worker and interesting activities for children of various ages. Early analysis of the feedback forms from the workshop shows that people really appreciated this and said that it made the whole event more family-friendly. The campaign team recognised the challenges posed to families by an all-day event in central London. We know it wasn't easy for anyone and we were very moved by the number of people who managed to get there and take part.

For me one of the main purposes of these Regional Campaign Workshops is the opportunity for informal networking. In London the balance of the workshop was equal between formal and informal settings. There were three hours for the whole audience in the main hall (11-12.45; 1.45-3.00) and three hours talking in smaller groups (10-11; 12..45-1.45; 3.00-4.00).

Within the formal sessions of the workshop there was a variety of speakers and plenty of opportunities for people to ask questions and express their own views. The speakers were 4 members of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group, a BBC journalist and film-maker and a home educating parent with experience of using the services of professional PR companies who presented a proposal for the home education community to use a PR company in order to put the positive values of home education into in the national media on an organised professional basis.

The workshop opened with an introduction to the 2004 Children Act and the 2006 Education and Inspection Act and the implications of this legislation for home educating families. The Children Act brought into statute the requirement for children's wishes to be taken into account and enshrined in legislation the 5 outcomes of Every Child Matters

This Act also introduced the concept of the Information Sharing Index (Section 12) with multi-agency co-operation and up to half a million people working across the range of education, health, social services, public sector housing, and youth services and so on being able to access and input data about children and young people 0-19.

Section 4 of The Education Act brought us the government initiative "Children Missing Education" [hyperlink ] which creates a pro-active responsibility on the part of each Local Authority to categorise every child's place of education, whether it is in maintained sector, private sector or in elective home education.

I put forward the case that it will become increasingly difficult to remain unknown to the Authorities and that for this reason if no other we should now be thinking seriously about building bridges with our Authorities, educating them about the positives of home education and developing a positive working partnership, spreading examples of good practice among the home education community, Local Authorities and also sharing this with ministers and officials from the DfES.

The Government Policy Team believes that it is necessary to explain home education at local and national level because otherwise we run the risk of individual officers in Local Authorities making their own definition of the 5 Outcomes of Every Child Matters and using this to press for more interference in home education as we have already seen in communications from the DfES.

The workshop also considered the positives of Every Child Matters. Parents and children now have a right to be consulted in matters which affect them. The legislation and subsequent government initiatives including full public DfES consultations are now bound by law to make information available so that participants in the process can make informed choices and have their say. We are making the case that access to facilities and events which promote the 5 outcomes should now logically be made available to home educated children and young people on an equal footing and not restricted to school children because of per capita school funding or other historical or logistical problems.

The morning session then continued with a recap from Phil Hicks, Chair of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group about what the spokesman from the DfES had said about the consultation into home education and an overview of what has happened since that meeting.

At that point DfES was considering a full public consultation to discuss the following:

  • How home education provision could be quantified and how it could be assessed and how progress could be measured.
  • Mandatory access to the home educated child on a regular basis
  • A definition of "suitable" education
Despite our best efforts, EO Government Policy Group has not been able to get any firm details from either officials or Ministers at the DfES as to when this consultation will now happen or when the revised Local Authority Home Education Guidelines will now be issued. In December it appeared that this was a matter of urgency for the DfES. We believe that DfES was responding to pressure from individuals such as Arthur Ivatts and also from members of some Local Authorities who were arguing that as they understood it their new responsibilities under the Children Act would now require them to have additional powers and increased funding.

DfES has subsequently been made aware of reasoned objections from individuals and groups both within the home education community and also within an increasing number of Local Authorities whom we believe to be by no means unanimous about what is either required or desirable in terms of increased powers. In short, more and more of us on the ground are calling for the DfES to listen to us and to work with us and for us to talk more to each other and find a way forward together.

The morning session ended with a presentation by London home educating parent, Alex Fernandez who put forward a strong argument for the home education community recognising the extent of the threats to our historic freedoms in home education and for using the services of a professional PR company to promote positive images of home education in the national media. People had the opportunity to ask questions in the meeting and also to meet Alex and talk more about this during the lunch break and at the end of the workshop.

The afternoon session opened with a talk by film-maker Kate Ansell who has already been in touch with home educating families with regard to a feature on bullying in schools. Kate explained how television producers and film-makers get their ideas, how they are always looking for a good story, how they build up a database of contacts and what we can do to promote ourselves and our interests.

We also had Stephen Tarlton speak to the workshop. Stephen is a member of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group, EO Contact for 4 London Local Authorities and is also a tireless inquisitor of the DfES. Stephen has experience of privatised education services in Waltham and outlined the recourses currently available to local home educating parents.

By way of contrast, Annette and I then talked up the possibilities of positive relationships with Local Authorities despite unpromising beginnings. We gave an account of The Sheffield Model as an example of how people might begin to work with their Local Authorities. We related how we had taken concerted action to ensure that EWOs and police officers observed DfES Truancy Sweep Protocols. We now have a written agreement to the effect that home educated children and young people will not be asked for names and addresses once they identify themselves as home educated.. Moreover this agreement was read out to local Councillors at a Scrutiny Board meeting in February. We have attended two meetings of the Children and Young People's Directorate Scrutiny Board. We have developed a positive working relationship with the Director of Local Delivery who is responsible for the Every Child Matters remit within the Local Authority. We have also set up a series of meetings bringing together home educating parents with representatives from Local Delivery and Access and Inclusion (thus far restricted to four families in the context of a small group meeting but with the intention of widening access as soon as possible). We have also liaised on a regular basis with the Elective Home Education Advisor who has personal contact with a broad spectrum of home educating families and the local home education support group has produced a leaflet for the Local Authority about social and educational opportunities available to home educating families in Sheffield.

We spoke of how we promoted home education in the local press, using the springboard of an article on truancy by the council media spokesperson which denigrated and insulted children who were out of school and made no mention of the legal option of Elective Home Education.

In all of this collective action in Sheffield one of the main protagonists, Annette, is not "known " to the Local Authority. We make a point of saying this at every Regional Campaign Workshop. It is not necessary to be "known" in order to speak on behalf of a group to policy makers in the Local Authority. This is not about individuals trying to change things on a one to one basis with the local Home Education Advisor/Inspector; it is much more about opening up a channel of communication with decision makers in the post 2004 Children and Young People's Directorates.

The afternoon workshop concluded with a wide-ranging discussion on experiences in different London Boroughs. Our impression is that there is a wide variety of experiences among different Local Authorities, including public sector and privatised education services. In order for people to be able to move forwards in building bridges with their Local Authorities Annie Weekes has generously volunteered to set up a networking yahoo group for Londoners to share information and offer mutual support. For further details on the new London HE Network, please get in contact with Annie.

Annette and Theo and I had to leave the hall at 4.45 in order to catch the train back to Sheffield. Many people stayed after the meeting for a further hour and when we left there were still people engaged in animated discussion. We were exhausted but felt very happy to have been a catalyst for all this positive energy. Thank you again to Phil Hicks for opening up the church to us in such a generous way and more thank yous to Leslie, the crèche workers, and the dynamic young catering team. I'd like to thank my son Theo here as well because I think that he was quite useful and I know that he gave it 100%.

Fiona Nicholson
Home Education Campaign Team
Education Otherwise Government Policy Group

Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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