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Kent Regional Campaign Workshop Tuesday 3rd April 2007

This workshop was just me; Annette finally had to spend time with her family. Fortunately Ann Newstead, who had organised the Kent workshop, shared the day with me and so my monologues were interspersed by Ann and Roarke's experiences with the media and also with the Police and Local Authorities over correct Truancy Sweep Procedures. It also meant that Roarke took me at my word when I asked him to make sure we stayed on schedule; he staunchly walked in front of me and blocked my view and held up his hand till I eventually stopped talking.

People came to this workshop with pen and paper ready to take notes. I spotted this at Bromsgrove as well. If anything was unclear someone would ask me to stop and backtrack and give precise references. This was very good for me because otherwise I think I live and breathe this DfES business and might end up being quite cryptic.

For instance some way into the workshop when I was talking about the finer points of the consultation this, the consultation that, someone actually asked me what does a consultation MEAN. How does it happen? This is a very good question and one I would have been asking myself a year ago.

So this is how it works. New readers start here.

This is the DfES e-consultation website. It is worth a look. All the DfES consultations are now open to everyone to respond and they are up on the website for 12 weeks. You can register specifically for advance notification of any consultations to do with education or children and you can specifically request that your name be added to the growing list of home educators who have expressed an interest in the "light touch changes to monitoring home education" consultation.

So why did we all get so worried over Christmas about a DfES consultation threatening home education freedoms and why did it never happen and has the threat gone away? This describes the state of play at the end of January 2007. The consultation launch was imminent.

What happened next was quite interesting. Well, there has been a considerable amount of pressure on the DfES over the last couple of years from certain Local Authorities and also from people such as Arthur Ivatts, former Schools Inspector whose report into Traveller Gypsy and Roma Home Education was cited by the DfES as one of the reasons behind the announcement of "light touch changes to the monitoring of home education" the other main reason being the 2004 Children Act which some Local Authorities are interpreting as meaning that they must personally oversee the 5 Outcomes of Every Child Matters and make sure that home educating parents are meeting those outcomes.

I explained how Education Otherwise had learned of the impending consultation from the DfES Media Unit last Autumn. That we had then been summoned to a meeting at very short notice in London where we were told that the consultation would be launched early in the New Year. That this deadline had been and gone and that as we pressed Ministers we were told that the DfES was "consulting stakeholders " before proceeding. Initially we were dealing with Elaine Haste and Alan Johnson MP, but latterly the responsibility for Elective Home Education has been assumed by Lord Adonis who is currently stating that there is no need for a meeting until the DfES has found "the way forward". Of course home educators are telling Lord Adonis that it is we who are the way forward.

I then went through the implications of the 2004 Children Act, particularly the 5 Outcomes of Every Child Matters: Be Safe; Be Healthy; Make a Positive Contribution; Enjoy and Achieve; Achieve Economic Wellbeing. I recounted my experience of co-ordinating the EO response to the DfES consultation on the Information Sharing Index ( ection 12 of the 2004 Children Act) where up to half a million registered practitioners may have access to information about our children, both within the Local Authority and also feeding into the National Database. I also gave details of the Children Missing Education Policy under Section 4 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006 whereby the Local Authority has a proactive duty to categorise the place of education of each child in the area. I suggested that it may well no longer be possible simply to say that you are "making private arrangements" for your child's education. In particular, there will be transition times, primary and secondary entrance points, where the Admissions Teams at the Local Authority will be pressing for more details of where the child is to be educated.

I could have gone on about this but I had instructed Ann's husband (who is also a person in his own right of course) to stop me in mid-sentence on the dot of noon, since I am incapable of reining myself in when I get onto one of my special subjects.

For the rest of the morning session Ann spoke about building a positive relationship with the press and about her work as Media Spokesperson for Education Otherwise. Ann outlined why we need to have the media working for us and how she really needs volunteers to contact her if they are willing to talk to the press or be interviewed about their family's home education experiences. Ann gave examples of positive media coverage (example 1, example 2).

We took an hour for lunch because everyone broke into smaller informal discussion groups. Once again I became one of those people I used to criticise who do not think to bring their packed lunch. (This is in no way a hint to future workshop organisers but essentially I realise I have really never recovered from being spoiled by Karen at Sunderland who took sandwich orders by email in advance and who was abetted by Carole's mum who spread out a table-load of large home made pies).

The afternoon session dealt with the topic of building bridges with the Local Authorities. Ann and Roarke told us how they have been working with Bexley authorities in order to establish the correct procedure for Truancy Sweeps. Roarke outlined how the Police had not realised that the Educational Welfare Officers might be using the Truancy Sweep as a way of gathering contact details of unknown home educating families. The Newsteads had the same experience in Kent as Annette and I have had in Sheffield, ie that the Police were not aware of the laws about Elective Home Education; that it was entirely legal, that we did not need to be "approved" by the Council or "on a list" and so on. Following difficult incidents in both areas, the Police in both Authorities had actively sought information from local home education groups in order that the correct protocols might be followed.

We encouraged others at the Orpington Workshop to consider approaching their own LA and Council over this issue and I explained how the Children and Young People's Scrutiny Board works and how it may be used to open up a channel of communication with the Local Authority.

I related how in Sheffield the LA person who oversees Elective Home Education is now engaged in a positive working partnership with the local home education community and we have moved from an adversarial relationship at Christmas to the situation only two months later where, after a series of meetings we are now jointly reporting back to the Scrutiny Board.

I know that Ann had quite a bit of positive feedback about the Orpington Workshop afterwards. There are people who now want to engage with their Local Authority and to join the London Yahoo list set up by Annie Weekes to facilitate this.

There are also a few volunteers now who are prepared to be contacted by the media to portray home education in a positive light for their families.

The theme of the Workshop was that more people who can engage with their Authorites and the more people who will actively promote home education in a positive light and the more people who will maintain a dialogue with their MPs and local Councillors then the greater our chances of asserting ourselves and protecting our traditional home education freedoms.

We are now looking at further workshops in Yorkshire, East Anglia, Nottingham and the Bristol area. If you would like to get involved with the Home Education Campaign please get in touch with us.

Fiona Nicholson
Home Education Campaign Team
Education Otherwise Government Policy Group


Food for Thought:
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