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Sunderland Regional Campaign Workshop Saturday 3rd March 2007

Morning Session

"The day was well attended by parents from all over the North East which was brilliant and allowed us to network with each other. The morning began with a frantic phone call between our three main speakers - Fiona,Annette and Carole. Fiona and Annette were stuck in traffic on the A1 because of an horrendous accident involving air ambulances! They were still 30 miles away and we were in a bit of a panic LOL Karen stepped in and re-jigged the time of events and we were able to change around the slots. Carole started the day talking about Local Authorities, particularly in our region and how much we knew about each of them in the morning.

We got feedback of both good and bad experiences - in some cases in the same authorities. Many people at the workshop had no experience of their Education Authorities as their children had never been to school. There were only two LAs not represented in the whole of the North East so we had a good range of people from across the area from North Yorkshire, Tees Valley, County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. We found that there was absolutely no consistency within each LA or across the regional LAs. This is something which needs to be noted as we are clearly not all playing on a level playing field. It became clear that sometimes how we are treat is down to who the actual 'Inspector' or person that we see, or who writes the letters or even who sends out the information. There was no consistency even within the same authority! The afternoon sessions run by Annette and Fiona were really helpful as we could apply their knowledge and experience with Sheffield to our own Region quite well. Models of good practice could be given to LAs as a format to work to and from. Although there were no plans made on how to approach our LAs by the end of the session people understood that this was a problem that would not go away and needs to be addressed. We will take this back to the 5 local lists and discuss like crazy to see if we can get together and make this happen.

Carole also touched on how any changes could affect children with any special educational needs. There were at least 5 families with children who have SEN at the Workshop so it was very relevant to us. Carole talked of the problems that some families who have Children with SEN face from LAs - especially through de-registration some are reported to Social Services and deregistration is turned into a care issue. Some have even been accused of emotional abuse of their child as a way of forcing them back into school. Of all the areas of change that are being proposed SEN could be the most challenging as clearly many LAs believe that the best place for these children is a school setting and many parents are not clear about their own rights.

At this point Fiona and Annette arrived just in time for lunch. Then we started the afternoon session. "

Karen Bowlzer

Afternoon Session

"Annette and I were delayed by a bad traffic accident on the A1 yesterday so we hastily re-jigged the morning session which I understand Carole Rutherford conducted brilliantly.

The venue had a large sunny hall for the children's area which was great. In addition there were several puppet shows provided by someone who wrote to the Campaign Team offering their services and I personally am distressed to have missed this because I hear that it was excellent and I only noticed the highly professsional -looking striped canvas booth at the end of the workshop, though of course I must have walked past it several times. So many thanks for this and also thank you to Carole's mum for ALL THOSE DELICIOUS HOME MADE PIES.

Annette opened the afternoon session with a bit of background about who we are. I will now include a short paragraph about myself in the third person:

"Fiona Nicholson and Annette Taberner, are home educating members of Education Otherwise in Sheffield for around 10 years and recent recruits to Education Otherwise Government Policy Group and the newly formed EO GPG Campaign Team. Fiona is also Local Contact for Education Otherwise in Sheffield and Annette is Chair of Sheffield Home Educators' Network."

I then went on to introduce some of the changes which have been taking place in all Local Authorities in England following the 2004 Children Act. I took along my trusty visual aids, namely the 5 large laminated envelopes with illustrations of the 5 Outcomes of Every Child Matters: Be healthy; Stay safe; Enjoy and achieve; Make a positive contribution; Achieve economic well-being.

We spent some time discussing the implications of this.

We also explored the current state of play with the DfES and the chronology of the mixed messages and lack of any satisfactory dialogue with Ministers or members of the Department for Education and Skills.

We outlined what the Government Policy Group were doing in terms of pressing for an answer at Ministerial level .

Our main message about the national campaign for home education is that by the time the full public consultation on home education is launched by the DfES much of what we stand to lose will already have been lost and so the time to act is NOW.

Before the consultation questions are framed.

Before the great British public decides on the evidence of biased media reports that home educated children need more government interference.

We have no current date for the consultation going live. It just keeps getting more and more delayed as the DfES increasingly realise that they may have bitten off more than they can chew and that home educators turn out to be a well-informed public-spirited highly conscientious bunch of people.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to outlining the ways that we can seize control of this waiting period and use it to our best advantage.

Annette talked us through the ways in which we can begin to establish links with policy makers in our Local Authorities.

We also discussed how to get our MPs working for us. Carole and Terry then did a wizard powerpoint presentation double act with laptop and big projector screen ( I am hazy about the technical details of this ) about Building A Relationship with the Press and Linz told us how she got a very positive home ed feature into the local press the other day.

The meeting ended with people busily completing a skills register, which the local organisers will be analyisng for useful "volunteers".

I would say that this last thing was the other major theme of the meeting; namely that WE are the experts on home education and that the media and politicians and policy makers need to be listening to US. In addition home educators are a very diverse group of people with skills and experience in many different areas and that we are now finding ways to work together for the future of our children's education and wellbeing.

I am writing this 18 hours after the end of the Sunderland workshop and we have had already received a number of positive and encouraging comments.

The first was from Liz ( big thank you from me to Liz's optician who has clearly not been sending out reminder notices) who said that from a distance I looked very young.

The second was a note from one of the organisers later which said that the people there were "all impressed just how positive it all was - I think some thought that we would all be depressed afterwards!"

Fiona Nicholson
Home Education Campaign Team
Education Otherwise Government Policy Group

Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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