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EO GPG Meeting with DfES: 22nd June 2007

EO's Conclusions About This Meeting:

We must not think that the threat to our freedoms has gone away. These Guidelines are only a DRAFT and if local authorities use the consultation process to make demands for tighter controls and stricter monitoring then this needs to be counter-balanced by a strong assertive response from the home education community. Local authorities are ALREADY responding individually and regionally to the Guidelines Consultation and in some cases they are making it quite clear that they are not happy about the draft Guidelines. If the home education response is muted then this LA view will prevail.

EO Government Policy Group will be making a comprehensive response on behalf of EO but this will not be submitted until the deadline and in the meantime we need hundreds of individual responses making the legal case for the rights of home educating families. We have put together some draft responses and links for you to download which you could use as a springboard for your own reply but it is very important to put your own views in your own words If everyone replies using the same form of words then this will only count as one response. Consider giving examples from your own experience wherever possible. The DfES needs to be convinced that hundreds and hundreds of home educating families would be up in arms about any changes to monitoring and they need to be convinced that good clear fair Guidelines are The Way Forward.

Please act now!

NOTES OF MEETING WITH DfES

12-2pm
JUNE 22nd 2007
At DfES, Moorfoot, Sheffield

Background: Helen White from the DfES Policy and Performance Division who is working with the DfES Consultation Unit contacted Fiona Nicholson to arrange a meeting with local home educators in order to canvass Education Otherwise views on the draft Home Education Guidelines and to hear more about the Sheffield Model of good practice in terms of a positive working partnership between the Local Authority and the home education community.

Representing the DfES:
Helen White
Representing Education Otherwise:
Fiona Nicholson
Annette Taberner
Alison Blain
Elizabeth Blain
Jayne Roscamp
Nicola Haxell

Introductions:

Helen White is overseeing the DfES work on the consultation into Guidelines for Elective Home Education. This is being done from the London DfES office.

Fiona Nicholson is Chair of the Education Otherwise Government Policy Group, EO Local Contact for Sheffield and a member of Sheffield Home Educators Network. Fiona is a member of the small group who meet regularly with the Local Authority in Sheffield to discuss policy and practice issues around home education.

Annette Taberner is a member of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group and Chair of SHEN. Annette is a member of the small working group who meet regularly with Sheffield LA.

Alison Blain is a longstanding member of Education Otherwise, member of SHEN and the third member of the small working group who meet with Sheffield LA.

Elizabeth Blain is a home educated teenager, member of SHEN and active member of the working group who meet with Sheffield LA.

| Jayne Roscamp is Local Contact for EO in Rotherham and a member of SHEN

Nicola Haxell is Local Contact for EO in Doncaster.

EO asked the DfES what would happen after the Guidelines Consultation closed and learned that a formal response would be published within 12 weeks of the end of July. There is no fixed date for publication of the Guidelines, because ultimately this is a Ministerial decision but the DfES will advise Ministers of the Consultation response and make recommendations which reflect the broad scope of respondents' views.

The DfES was also planning to meet with the Local Authority in Sheffield.

There have been a number of strong early responses to the Consultation Unit already and the DfES Consultation Unit and Policy and Performance Division are monitoring all the responses as soon as they come in.

Members of EO who were present at the meeting set out their reasons for not having wanted a relationship with the Local Authority in the past but emphasised how things were now changing . The introduction of the Children's Directorates have brought in new levels of policy makers who have a duty to consult partners and stakeholders including parents and the voluntary sector. In addition the Information Sharing Index (Contact Point) and Children Missing Education initiative (From the 2006 Education and Inspection Act) will mean that home educated children who have never been in the system will increasingly become known to the local authorities Some local home education groups are finding ways to engage in a dialogue with the authorities and are keen to network and to share Models of Good Practice with the home education community and with the DfES. The debate around draft Guidelines has been a further impetus for the home education community to approach the local authority with a view to working towards a satisfactory outcome for both parties.

We spoke of what it was like for us as home educating parents on a day to day basis, what difficulties we faced and we set out the implications of a positive or a negative relationship with the local authority. There was a consensus that good clear Guidelines ought to mean that in future everyone was singing off the same hymn sheet with a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, but there was certain scepticism about how this would work in practice.

The main reservations from EO were:

The Guidelines are not enforceable, so they are recommendations rather than requirements. If there is no central pot of money allocated to the Local Authority as an education budget then many of the recommendations in the Guidelines will count for nothing because home education is the Cinderella service and the authorities frequently do not have the funding to appoint a full-time person in-house and will not have the time or resources to implement any recommendations for training.

The issue of training in Elective Home Education and Special Educational Needs came up over and over again at the meeting, as did the question of what qualities and qualifications were necessary or desirable for the post of EHE Advisor. EO believed that most important qualities were knowledge of the law; an acknowledgement and endorsement of the legal right to home educate; the ability to interact with families in a non-judgemental way; an openness to new ways of learning and a willingness to share information and offer support as requested. Much of this again came down to funding and training and EO found it unacceptable that it varied so widely from area to area. EO expressed the view that at present this is a postcode lottery. We expressed guarded optimism that good Guidelines might iron out some of these discrepancies.

EO recommended that there be far more cohesion at local authority level with the Elective Home Education department embedded into the Children and Young People's Service.

The DfES summarised EO's position at the meeting accurately by saying that we were making the case for a clearly identified Lead Professional in the field of Home Education. The DfES also noted EO's point that all the other professionals working with children should know about home education and was interested to hear about the Model of Good Practice in Sheffield where the Home Education Manager was delivering basic home education training to everyone in the Children's Directorate who came into contact with children at any level, including receptionists at the enquiries desk and the IT professionals.

EO were clear that educational provision and safeguarding children were two separate issues in law but that these were confused on a daily basis down at the local authority. EO returned again to the point that if there is no lead professional who is an expert on the law and home education then anyone and everyone at the authority might consider themselves "responsible" for home educated children both in terms of educational "outcomes" and also in terms of "safeguarding".

EO highlighted the fact Elective Home Education does not have a recognised place in the local authority, that it might be categorised under School Improvement or Attendance and Inclusion or Vulnerable Children. The DfES suggested that there might be a category of "Alternative Provisions".

EO raised the issue the service being contracted out of the department to save money, where the person responsible for home education would be paid a one off fee for each visit + report , meaning that this focussed exclusively on the "inspection" side of the job . EO were clear that independent contractors could in some cases do excellent work but we questioned whether this was the way forward in terms of building relationships and having a lead professional and a clearly accountable and transparent working structure at the authority. EO expressed the need for a Complaints Procedure and also for a system of Conflict Resolution, where it was clear who the line manager was and where exactly home education fitted into the working of the Children's Service Department. We explained how this would be a much less adversarial system than the present one and expressed the wary hope that the Guidelines would address this issue.

EO also explained that since there is no funding for home education at local or regional level within the local authorities there is little opportunity to reduce officers' isolation or to share good practice.

EO gave instances of some of the anomalies surrounding Every Child Matters and the 5 Outcomes set out in the 2004 Children Act. For example our children and young people would often want to Make A Positive Contribution but because schools have funding to make payments to the voluntary sector, home educating families are now being required to pay 30 or more a day if they wish their children and young people to volunteer. We might also have children who want to attend college or gain qualifications outside the school system [Enjoy and Achieve] but again there is no central funding for this since the local authorities do not have an "education budget". EO felt that there was a place in the Guidelines to encourage the lead professional in home education to liaise with other members of the Children's Services and with the Further Education sector and the voluntary sector and to share information with the local home education community. This is happening to an extent in Sheffield already and will be included in the Education Otherwise response under Models of Good Practice.

After lunch the meeting discussed the duties of the local authority. Unsurprisingly there has been a wide range of views feeding into the DfES Consultation Unit over the criteria for "good" or "reasonable" concern from the local authority over the home education provision.

EO put forward the view that the Guidelines could usefully contain an annotated flowchart with explanatory footnotes, setting out the steps which the local authority should take once they became aware that a family was home educating. EO felt that since Children Missing Education was already in place and that ContactPoint was scheduled to be rolled out in 2008 that the authorities would increasingly become aware of a number of families who had been home educating for some time, in addition to the standard notification of deregistration which the LA always received on behalf of children leaving the maintained sector.

EO were quite clear that the initial contact and engagement with any home educating family was quite separate and distinct from the special measures which should be taken under Section 437 if the authority had serious concerns that an education was not taking place. For this reason EO would place any information about S.437 and School Attendance Orders at the end of the Guidelines and not include it as part of the typical "relationship" between the LA and the home educating family, since this would be far less misleading.

EO explained that it was galling to read in any official communication from the DfES that "The Department believes that the best place for a child is in school". We asked that there be more recognition from the Department and in the Guidelines that the DfES respects the family's right to home educate.

EO made a strong point about Special Educational Needs and said that this would also be addressed fully in the formal EO response to the draft Guidelines. We emphasised the need for mandatory training in SEN and in learning difficulties and disabilities. EO said that training should be required and not just "recommended". EO is happy to advise on the form and content of SEN training for home education and also to offer information to the DfES on more specialist support in this area. EO said that the Guidelines should be quite clear that parents with children with special educational needs have an equal right in law to home educate. EO stated that there is very little in statute law with regard to SEN and home education. Instead it is built up on case law and local authorities must all have easily accessible up to date information about this, ideally in appendix and footnotes to the revised DfES Home Education Guidelines. EO considers that this will again enable everyone to be singing off the same hymn sheet, rather than just having a few misleading extracts from the SEN Code of Practice as in the current draft Guidelines. EO will be supplying information and links to SEN case law judgements in our formal Consultation response.

The meeting also discussed the Traveller Gypsy Roma section of the draft Guidelines. EO expressed strong distaste for this ethnic group being singled out as different in the eyes of the law from any other home educating families. The DfES has apparently had representations from these communities saying that they experience racial and cultural prejudice at local authority level, which is why the draft Guidelines includes a recommendation that there should be referral or engagement with the local Traveller Education Service.

However EO made the point that the TES has a strong ethos of inclusion and re-integration into the school system and that therefore this is inappropriate for Traveller Gypsy Roma families who categorise themselves as electively home educating and for whom the EHE department is the correct point of reference as for all other home educating families of whatever ethnic background. The DfES reported that Traveller Gypsy and Roma families are considered stakeholders in this consultation process and that there are meetings planned, though it was acknowledged that this is a hard-to-reach community. This issue was raised at the meeting by EO which is in marked contrast to the DfES meeting with EO in December 2006, where the Ivatts Report was brought into the discussion by the DfES.

In conclusion, the meeting could be characterised as an informal discussion. EO feels it was a constructive and positive exchange of views and we particularly thank Helen White for travelling from London to meet with us. These notes have been agreed by EO and the DfES as a fair and accurate reflection of the views expressed at the meeting.

Fiona Nicholson
Chair of Education Otherwise Government Policy Group
25th June 2007


Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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