Michael's Response

My response to DCFS consultation on 18/10/09   (the one that could be published)

Home Education – registration and monitoring proposals

Launch Date: Thursday 11 June 2009

Closing Date: Monday 19 October 2009

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?

No, it isn’t balanced at all and this question also has an implicit assumption that home education does not provide a suitable education.

There is extensive research (eg Rothermel (2002)) which shows that home educated children excel in PIPS Baseline assessments and in the National Literacy Project assessment. In contrast, it is known that many thousands of children receive unsuitable education in state schools officially declared to be failing in their provision.

The proposals ride roughshod over the right to respect for private and family life as declared in the Human Rights Act 1998. The proposals will give the Local Authority ‘officers’ the right to inspect all HE homes and interview HE children without a parent present. This is something that otherwise can only occur when there are serious concerns about abuse and is only permitted with a court order at the behest of Social Services. There are already powers for Social Services to investigate when cases of abuse are suspected.

The proposals also request that a child ‘exhibit’ their work to a local authority officer, who then would ‘judge’ whether they were receiving a suitable education. This clearly assumes that the children will be disposed to ‘exhibit’ to a stranger who enters their home in what might be an antagonistic manner, with the threat that the child may be send back to a school environment where they may have had bad experiences. It is impossible to judge the suitability of the education under such circumstances.

Do you agree that a register should be kept?

No, the existence of such a registration scheme would lead (as proposed) to unwarranted intrusion into the lives of home educators. LAs already have the power to check on the provision of a suitable education when they have a justified concern and it is the parents responsibility to provide that education. A compulsory registration scheme and annual re-newal, with penalties for non-registration gives the LA powers which they currently do not have and provides the LA a list of individuals to check irrespective of whether there are educational concerns. This significantly increases the bureaucratic burden and the number of checks being made and increases the likelihood that misunderstanding and disputes will arise as ‘officials’ conflict with home educators who are exercising their right to choose how to educate their child. 

Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?

No, as I do not agree that a register should be kept.

Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?

No, as I do not agree that a register should be kept.

Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?

No, as I do not agree that a register should be kept. This also increases the possibility that perfectly law abiding citizens who are doing their best for their children will find themselves criminalized if they object to this intrusion into their private lives.

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?

No, this does not respect the right of parents to choose the type of education they provide for their child. By insisting that their children stay on the school roll, their choice is not respected.

Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data? 

No, the child’s achievement becomes the responsibility of the parents and the parents choice to choose the type of education they provide for their child should be respected.

Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?

No, as I do not agree that a register should be kept, and the proposals for monitoring disregard the rights of parents to choose the type of education for the children and subject parents and children to an inspection by officials which includes the right of access to the family home, and interview our children without a parent present. This is something that otherwise can only occur when there are serious concerns about abuse and is only permitted with a court order at the behest of Social Services.

Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?

No, there are already sufficient powers for Social Services to intervene in many ways when there is a concern about safeguarding. The choices made about monitoring by these services should be examined on a case-by-case basis. These choices are then subject to scrutiny by the supervising bodies and also by the courts. A decree that home-education is forbidden in such circumstances is unlikely to be helpful to the considerations of the entities involved. It also pre-judges that home-education is a factor in the safeguarding issue and that enforced school attendance would provide adequate safeguarding.

Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?

No, as I do not agree that the LA should have right of access to the home where there are no safeguarding concerns. Where there are, then Social Services already have powers to intervene, though both they and the police must apply to a court to interview a child without parental permission.

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?

No, as no other authority has a right to interview a child alone without parental permission. The request for such an interview in the presence of a trusted person implies that the relationship with the parents is mistrusted. In such circumstances and without any safeguarding issues, the issue of who constitutes a trusted person is likely to be very contentious. I also have concerns about the rights of the child being interviewed in such circumstances, with real possibility to cause undue distress, as the questioner is likely to be a stranger to the child. There is also significant scope to pose leading questions, and misinterpret answers and behaviours.  

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. 

No, as I do not agree that the LA should have right of access to the home where there are no safeguarding concerns. I also do not agree that the LA should have the right to interview the child, for the reasons given in answer to question 10, so the interval that such interviews are held is irrelevant.

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