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Norwich Home Education Workshop 20th July 2007

This workshop was about the home education response to government consultation on written guidelines for local authorities. This consultation closes on TUESDAY 31st JULY (http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conDetails.cfm?consultationId=1479).

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Walkthrough page
Information on Latest (see especially sample responses from other home educators)

First of all, big thank you to Michelle for organising this. And to everyone with babies and young children who gives time and energy to home ed campaigns I am in awe of you; I am the first to admit that I did nothing till Theo was practically a teenager.

I'm sorry for the delay in publishing this report; it's been a bit of a busy week !

We had a good venue level access for the meeting itself, with adjoining big room for children to do craft activities. Michelle found a great person to mind the children and we kept the door half open so the children didn't feel hived- off somewhere and which also meant that the parents could play a fuller part in the meeting.

The hard part was keeping on track because we could have talked all day about the iniquities of the present system. It would appear that in Norfolk at least the LA people are OK, but once again it is a postcode lottery as to whether you get someone "sympathetic" or even someone who acknowledges the validity of your educational approach. Families who were not known still preferred not to have any involvement with the authorities. I was speaking at the workshop as Chair of EO Government Policy Group and member of EO Disability Group but I was also speaking as EO Local Contact for Sheffield and emphasising the link between what was happening nationally and what was happening locally. Regular readers will not be surprised that this led me to talk one more time about Sheffield and how we engage with policy makers higher up the food chain in order to pre-empt problems and also to tackle any difficulties collectively , not just in terms of one inspector making demands on one individual family . I said it was good for the LA to know that we all talked to each other and that they were being watched. This was also of considerable interest to the DfES ( or DCSF as they now prefer to be called. )

I recounted how we went to Scrutiny Board meetings for Children and Young People and how we tackled the LA directly about EWOs and police officers breaking Home Office Guidelines on Truancy Sweeps ( by insisting that home educated children had to give names and addresses ) I also gave out the trifold leaflet which the local home education community group had prepared for the LA to give out to new home educating families and I explained how this came about. It is our view that it is doing the LA a big favour because they now have a duty to consult with people for whom they provided services and they have to provide clear and accurate information. This is a radical reworking of the LA's role following the 2004 Children Act, and while the policy makers and managers and Directors of Children's Services are well aware of this new role, the Home Education Inspector/Advisor may still be stuck in some paternalistic time warp and not be liaising with the rest of Children's Services very much at all.

Then I put my Government Policy Group had on and we went through the consultation response form looking closely at the Guidelines and trying to understand the implications of what we were being asked in the questions on the consultation form . I explained how EO central will be making a big heavyweight response to the Guidelines Consultation but that individual responses and responses from local groups will count for a LOT because they will counterbalance the "sample cases" brought to the consultation by the local authorities as "proof" that more monitoring powers are required. I think we should keep repeating over and over that hard cases make bad laws.

I set out EO Policy Group's belief that the original plans for changes to the law, involving monitoring, registration, programmes of work and specified academic standards ( for home ed children AND parents ) were clearly the favoured plans of the department and of many local authorities and that we knew that some authorities were very cross about this now being reduced to a consultation on guidelines and would be using the opportunity once more to press for new powers. So that we needed to make sure that our voice was louder.

As we went through the form I was at pains to stress that there wasn't a "party line" on the consultation responses EXCEPT that I think strategically all home educators really MUST say in answer to QUESTION ONE that YES they think IS a good idea to issue written guidelines to local authorities. We could say "not sure" but the Policy Group knows from looking at feedback on earlier consultations that the department will say x% of responses said this and y % said that, so if all the local authorities say no nor not sure, and we say not sure as well, then the no vote goes through and the department recommends primary legislation change to ministers. I went through some of the key elements where EO pressed her for details on what would happen after the consultation on the draft guidelines. I said I felt that to an extent we had to second guess the LA responses and in fact we had seen some LA responses already and they all brought up the issue of "safeguarding" and "what is a suitable education". I said that the local authorities wanted a definition of "suitable education" and were hoping for a checklist from the department, so that we had to be extremely careful of any bullet pointed list because the LA might just print it off and say " look, this is what the government says you have to provide" This was borne out by one of the home educating parents at the workshop who said that she had worked for the Civil Service for years and that this was indeed the bureaucrat's worldview ; give me a list so that I can tick off all the items. We already know that this is the way OFSTED work in school inspections.

There were lots of questions and interesting discussions about the implications of various questions. We had printouts of the draft guidelines and printouts of the consultation response forms and made notes on the form as we went through. The general feeling of the people at the workshop was that more training was needed and that the guidelines needed to be clear about the law and absolutely DIDN'T need to make a commentary on the law, because every time they did this in the draft Guidelines they slightly moved away from the law itself. Examples of this would be when they talk about "suitable education" without always making it clear that this is "suitable to the age ability and aptitude of the child and to any special educational needs he may have" or where they talk about "concerns" which might lead a local authority to instigate the proceedings for a School Attendance Order set out in S.437 of the 1996 Education Act. I said I thought we should insist that Guidelines on the Law must direct the local authorities to look at the actual law, rather than relying on some third hand precis from the department.


( see above, largely on the basis that anything else would be MUCH WORSE and they can't be seen to do nothing. )

asks us if paragraphs 2.1-2.3 are accurate and clear about the law. On balance we thought these were reasonable but that there were newer laws which the authority would expect to find such as the Children Act 2004, where the LA believed erroneously that this gave them extra duties to monitor and to safeguard all home educated children.

[ paragraphs 2.5-2.11] raises the idea that the home educated child should make "reasonable progress". I said I felt that logically this put an onus on the local authority to assess attainment at point A and point B in order to assess this value-added "progress" and that in my view it was an open door to ongoing monitoring. . I said this did not come from anywhere in law and that any response to the draft guidelines could usefully point this out and could also say that any demand for measurable quantifiable progress might also work directly against the primary requirement in law for education to be suitable TO THE CHILD. ( I am aware that this goes against what I said about how there is no right or wrong answer to any of the questions…because I have high ideals about this democracy but in practice of course our individual biases will show through ) "Reasonable progress" comes up in paragraphs 2.5-2.11 which we are asked about in QUESTION 3

Another big theme of the Norwich workshop about the guidelines was the danger inherent in any "risk based approach" We had already heard horror stories from people at the workshop of social services believing that there was a "right way" to do things, so the idea that a family might be pre-judged as being the right or wrong sort to home educate seems completely the wrong way to go about things. This comes up in QUESTION 4 which asks if paragraphs 3.4 -3.7 are accurate and helpful.

Question 5 deserves close attention. I said that the authorities were wanting a clearer definition of suitable and that we had to be careful about letting the Department give them anything in writing over and above suitable to the child's age ability and aptitude and in conformity with the parents' religious and philosophical convictions. We should be wary that any list didn't become a CHECKLIST. This applies particularly to the checklist in paragraph 3.13 of the draft Guidelines which we are asked about in QUESTION 5 of the consultation.

QUESTION 5 is also a good place to talk about home-based education and children with Special Educational Needs. The SEN section is paragraphs 3.15 to 3.19 yet in QUESTION 5 we are only asked about paragraphs 3.11-3.14. I advised that people might put any views and experience about SEN and home education here as well as in "any other comments" at the end of the consultation.

Question 6 asks us whether it is useful to talk about "relationships" [ section 4 ] I set out the new duty which local authorities have to consult people for whom they provide services. This now includes children and parents. The new landscape is therefore not so much about "relationships" on a one to one basis ( the "inspector" and the individual family ) but properly trained Home Education Advisors responding to our collective views on their service. But yet, these guidelines are supposed to help local authorities understand the law, and there is no law which says we have to have a "relationship" on a one to one basis.

Fiona Nicholson
Education Otherwise Government Policy Group

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