1:08am, Friday 16 October 2009
The Department for Children, Schools and Families is consulting on proposed changes to registration and monitoring of home-educated children.
This is my response, which was allocated number 2284. Many thanks to friends and others (including the Family Education Trust) for suggestions and ideas for points to include. Please feel free to borrow from it if you want - if it encourages you to reply to the consultation, so much the better!
1. Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?
The law states duties and responsibilities - not rights. It is parents - not the government - who have the duty and responsibility to ensure that a child receives a suitable education, whether by attending school or otherwise. Local authorities already have powers to intervene when it appears that a child is not receiving a suitable education. This is all quite clear in the Education Act 1996. There is no need for further legislation.
2. Do you agree that a register should be kept?
To require annual registration is equivalent to requiring parents to apply for a licence to educate their children. That turns home education into a special privilege which the authorities may choose to grant or withhold rather than a choice which is freely - and legally - exercised. Furthermore, parents are not required to apply for a licence to feed or clothe their children, or look after their children's other basic needs. Provision of education is a basic need and should not be treated differently.
3. Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?
I do not agree that a register should be kept (see answer to question 2). The consultation document says that parents must provide "a statement of approach to education". However: 1. The "statement of approach" is not defined, nor are criteria given by which it would be judged. This is intrinsically unfair. 2. As per my response to question 2, parents are not currently required to give a "statement of approach to feeding", or a "statement of approach to clothing". Education is part of parenting and does not need this sort of documentary support. 3. Many home-educating parents consider it a major advantage that they can quickly adapt the education they provide in response to a child's changing needs. This is clearly incompatible with the bureaucratic demands imposed by a definitive "statement of approach". Also, the requirement to state the location where education is conducted indicates a serious lack of understanding of how home education works. Education is not an activity confined to a single location but is part of a child's growing up and development.
4. Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?
I do not agree that a register should be kept (see answer to question 2).
5. Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
I do not agree that a register should be kept (see answer to question 2). Existing legislation (the Education Act 1996) requires a parent to ensure that their child receives a suitable education. This, with the existing powers of Local Authorities to intervene where it appears a child is not receiving a suitable education, is sufficient - a need for further legislation has not been demonstrated.
6. a) Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?
If a parent chooses to educate their child at home then that decision should be respected, and the child should be deregistered on the date the parent specifies.
6. b) Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?
It is parents who are legally responsible for a child's education, not the local authority, therefore the school should give the data to parents. Release of an individual child's data to a third party would be a breach of privacy. It is conceivable that estimated future attainment data might be used by a local authority to apply pressure on home-educating parents to choose a particular educational path. This is undesirable because the final decision - and responsibility - lies with the parents.
7. Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?
There is no need for intrusive registration or monitoring. The existing (non-statutory) guidelines are adequate, where properly understood and followed.
8. Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?
If a parent can be trusted to feed, clothe and otherwise safeguard a child then it is difficult to see how they cannot be trusted to educate them. Registration with a school only indicates that a child is likely to be out of the home between 9am and 3pm on weekdays in school term. If it is safe for the child to be at home in the evenings and during weekends and school holidays, it is difficult to see why the situation would be different during school hours.
9. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?
The proposal to grant the local authority a right of access to the homes of home-educated children reverses the principle of "innocent until proven guilty". It treats home-educating parents with suspicion until they have proven themselves innocent. There should be no right of entry to the home unless there is grounds for belief that some form of neglect or abuse is taking place. The proposal as it stands is a serious and unwarranted breach of family privacy.
10. Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?
There is no justification for treating home-educated children differently from others here - if evidence shows a child is at risk, social services should investigate with their existing powers and procedures.
11. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.
I do not agree that the local authority should have access to the home or the right to interview a home-educated child (see answers to questions 9 and 10). The proposed measures display a significant distrust of parents. Parents are not routinely and regularly monitored on their ability to care for, feed and clothe their children. There is no basis for considering home education a cause for concern. Therefore parents should be trusted to provide for the education of their children - if there is cause for concern then existing legislation and local authority powers are sufficient to address it.