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Warrington Regional Campaign Workshop Saturday 10th March 2007

"At 9.08 on Saturday morning Annette and I were sitting in the car round the corner from the Warrington venue putting together the handouts for the workshop while listening to Classic Hits from the 70s on the CD player. And all I can say about this fun-filled part of the day is that I wish my printer had "collate" as the default setting because I regularly forget to check that option. Apparently Annette's daughter took out a skipping rope and did a bit of home ed P.E. in the car park but I didn't dare raise my eyes from the paper-shuffling task in case it broke my concentration.

There were a couple of other keen people arriving early but most people started arriving around 10. This hour in the hall before the workshop began was very useful.

Several people took immediate charge of tea and coffee making (usual home ed variants of decaff, herbal, various milks of animal and vegetable origin etc) I snatched a cup of tea and then went off to stick a few of Jacqui's excellent laminated THIS WAY signs onto lamposts and bollards. (Much later in the afternoon, Annette thoughtfully went out to retrieve these, which was great, but my goodness I had no idea that the sound of unpeeling sellotape was so LOUD.)

We had the chairs in a wide circle round the room and we set up the campaign table facing the clock which I feel greatly improved our timekeeping at this latest workshop (I am still smirking from Alison telling me that the event management was "slick")

Jacqui opened the meeting thanking so many people for coming and giving us full information about disabled access and disabled loos, fire doors, creche collection arrangements, lunch break and closing time for the workshop.

Annette made a brief introduction as to why we were all here and where we thought we were going. I then did a walkthrough on the 2004 Children Act and the possible implications for the home educating community of the 5 Outcomes of Every Child Matters. We explored what it might mean in terms of Local Authority officers now feeling personally responsible for promoting very ill-defined "outcomes" of children in the area and how this might make some officials believe that the only solution was to request more powers over home educating parents.

Phil Hicks, Chair of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group then set the scene with the background to the DfES meeting with EO in December. ( We now think this must the meeting that the DfES are now trying to call an "informal consultation". We certainly haven't had any other meetings since the DfES media team confirmed that there would be a consultation "into light touch changes to the monitoring of home education" )

I wrapped up the morning session with a summary of what we now understood to be the current DfES position on changes to monitoring and the issuing of revised Local Authority Guidelines for Elective Home Education . I said that there had been a number of confusing and contradictory statements from officials at the DfES and latterly from Ministers, but that one phrase in their communiques kept recurring and this was "the way forward".

We have now been told by several different people, the latest being Lord Adonis, that there is no point meeting representatives from home education support groups until the DfES has found "the way forward". I said that of course we were continuing to state the obvious that the home education community had to be included in pre-consultation dialogue in order to be part of that "way forward".

At which point we broke for lunch and I had to admit that I had become one of the very people I formerly castigated for not bringing a packed lunch. I had however squirrelled away Jacqui's information about the nearby fish n chip shop which certainly came in very handy.

We reconvened in a slick manner only a few minutes late for the afternoon session which covered building bridges with Local Authorities in an assertive way. Annette and I modestly detailed all the ways in which we were now making positive changes in the working relationship with our LA in Sheffield (prompting several people in the audience at the workshop to express a certain amount of sympathy for our poor beleaguered LA officers, but I was able to reassure the meeting that no, in fact I believed the Sheffield LA quite liked it really.)

I related the positive example of the previous Saturday's Sunderland Workshop where there were home educating parents from 8 different Local Authorities many of whom were meeting for the first time at the Workshop and who exchanged contact details and then went on shortly afterwards to set up NERHEN, North East Regional Home Education Network.

We made the same point as we did in Sunderland about how much you can do if you are not known to the Local Authority, because you go in at a much higher policy- making level in the Children and Young People's Directorate than your local home education adviser/inspector. We also reminded everyone that Annette is famously not known to the LA but that all LA officers and councillors assume that she must be official if she is adopting such a public assertive stance.

This part of the workshop then segued (almost slickly) into the next agenda item about Building A Positive Relationship with local media. It would have been good to spend more time on this but I hope at least some of the material will be covered in the handouts from the workshop.

Annette closed with an outline of the work which is already taking place with local MPs in terms of letter writing and surgery visits in the local consituency. We stressed the importance of bouncing back if we got an initial rebuff. (We were irrepressibly Tigger-ish in our belief about how important it is to bounce back and not be dissuaded if you don't get immediate positive response)

We finished on time at 2.45 and then broke for more tea and biscuits and informal discussion groups and networking before the EO Open Council Meeting began at 3.30. During this time we passed round a skills register of areas where people could jot down a few notes about felt they might be able to contribute in some way to a Save Home Education As We Know And Love It Campaign.

I was very struck by the positive and upbeat mood of the workshop and Annette and I are still on a bit of a high from it all. We had people from Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire and Wales as well as local people from Warrington. As the day unfolded, we needed a second row of chairs in the original circle as more and more EO members arrived from as far afield as Devon and Bristol for the Open Council Meeting.

Big Thank You to Jacqui Houlding for organising this event. I can definitely say that we would not have been as slick without you, Jacqui. "

Fiona Nicholson
Local Contact for Education Otherwise in Sheffield
Member of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group

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