Sunday, 18 October 2009

In the hope that someone will listen,.....

So, it's quarter to two in the morning and I can't sleep, so what better time to share with you my response to the DCSF consultation on the registration and monitoring proposals for home educators. I'm sure I haven't covered everything you seasoned HEers and wordsmith bloggers have covered, but I will put it here anyway in the hope that some of my non-HE friends may use it as inspiration for their response to the consultation (that closes on Monday at 11.45pm hint hint :D)

Question 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?

By asking whether the proposals strike a balance between these two things, you are assuming that for some reason they are in opposition. Parents have a duty to cause their children to receive a suitable education. The UNCRC states that “Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best
interests of the child will be their basic concern.”

Question 2 Do you agree that a register should be kept

Absolutely not. Any compulsory registration scheme would take the responsibility from parents and place it on the State. It would be no more right or desirable to have a compulsory registration scheme for Home Educators than it would be to have one for vegetarians to somehow ensure that they were fulfilling their parental duty to ensure their children are fed.
Any registration scheme would not stop at being registered; as evidenced by the Badman review, people always want to do more with the information and intrude further into family life. Article 14 of the ECHR says that discrimination is not allowed, in addition to specified grounds, for 'any other reason', and where such discrimination exists on the part of government it must it has to be justifiable, meet specific objectives and be deemed necessary, not just reasonable, within a democratic society. This sort of register would be discriminating against home educators on the basis of our educational choice, and it has not been shown that collecting this data would serve any beneficial purpose.
What you are suggesting is not registration, it is licensing, due to the fact that the local authority would have the power to decline registration for any number of reasons. I find it unacceptable that, in choosing to decline the local authority's optional offer to educate my child, using its failing service, that that same authority would then have the power to decide whether or not I do in fact have to take up their offer of the service.

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

This question assumes that I agree with registration, which I do not. In addition it is not definitively stated what the information would be, only what it would likely be. In terms of what have been stated as the likely requirements, it can only be said that it shows a clear lack of understanding of how home education is conducted. It's very nature in being personalised to the individual child means that the educational approach, intent, and desired outcomes change on a regular basis in line with the evolving needs of the individual child. The unrestricted nature of home education also means that it would be utterly impossible, not to mention restrictive, damaging and wholly undesirable, to name a location where education is conducted.

Question 4 Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?

Absolutely not. I disagree with registration as detailed in question 2. You would be updated should a child's educational status change as they would register at a school.

Q5 Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?

I believe that any relationship that a home educating parent has with the local authority should be based on mutual respect, presumption of innocence, and focus on supporting the home educator. Any such relationship should be entirely voluntary, and there should be no penalty, civil or criminal.

1.6 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?

Absolutely not. This seems to suggest that parents need some sort of approval in order to deregister their children from school. Parents are responsible for educating their children and the suggestion that immediate registration on demand should be prevented is no more than state interference.
In addition any such period would be open to widespread abuse from parents wanting to take their children on term-time holidays without prosecution for truancy.
It would also be inefficient and expensive to deny what would actually be an available school place to another child.

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

Absolutely not. This would be personal data concerning the child and would not normally be given to the LA. A parent is responsible for their child's education. If the parent wants this data, then it should be supplied to them. It is unclear what the purpose of providing this data to the LA would be anyway. Any difference in the data from what the child was able to, or wanted to, learn and achieve could be extremely demotivating to the individual child. Such information being passed to an LA for the purpose of measuring an individual child's future achievement would be completely discriminatory in that no parent of a child in the state system is held to account for the apparent failure of their individual child in achieving what has been predicted for them. A law that states that a parent is responsible for causing their child to receive an education must be applied to all equally, and not to home educating parents in a different way than those who send their children to state school or private school.

Q7 Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?

Absolutely not. Parents we are responsible for their children's education. We pay taxes to the government to provide services, many of which are optional, and one these optional services provided by local government is state school provision. The provision of state education is to enable parents who choose not to educate their children at home, to have their children educated by people appointed by the state. If a parent chooses not to use this service, they should not be answerable to the provider of the service. If I choose to buy my books in a bookshop, or even write my own, I would not have to explain to the local library why I have done this, nor be monitored by them.
Should a local authority have concerns about a child's welfare, or reason to believe that a child it not receiving an education, then it already has enough powers under the Education Act and the Children's Acts to address these concerns. One of the bedrocks of our society is the assumption that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty. A minority group should not be monitored under the assumption that they are more likely to be guilty, it is an abhorrent thought. A local authority does not have the right, and should never be given the right, to intrude into a person's home or life, unless it has any of the concerns mentioned above. As parents, adults, citizens and voters, we are not answerable to the government for engaging in lawful activities; rather government and its agencies are answerable to us. Rather than parents answering to the local authority, the local authority should present to home educating parents, on request only, a plan detailing how it will support them to exercise their lawful right to educate their children at home. The services provided by the local authority need to remain non-mandatory, just as a hospital cannot force parents to bring their children in for annual check-ups, and a library does not have the power to make people come inside and read its books.
There are many different reasons why parents choose to home educate. However, I would say that the providers of a service of which growing numbers are declining to avail themselves, instead of looking to monitor and control those individuals, should instead look at their own service where they are failing hundreds of thousands of children against their own benchmarks.

Q8 Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?

Absolutely not. Either children are safe to be in their home or they are not, home education doesn't come into it. Children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should be handled by the appropriate social services department.
New powers are not necessary. If a child is considered to be at risk of significant harm, a supervision order can be applied for. If it is seen, as a result of observation during supervision, that a suitable education is not being provided, an SAO or Education Supervision Order can be applied for.
What about a child who attends a school that cannot guarantee their safety? Will it be recommended that they be educated at home?

Q9 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?

Absolutely not. Again this is nothing but discrimination against home educators. No other group is subject to such random intrusions against their privacy. If there are welfare concerns then access should be handled as per the existing legislation I have detailing in previous questions. There should be no automatic right of access to the home unless it covers all families, regardless of educational choice, and even then it would still be a completely unacceptable breach of privacy. Such a right to enter would violate both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8.
In the event that a family voluntarily wanted the assistance of the local authority, the LA may suggest a date and time for an appointment but this should be open to agreement to find a time and date that is acceptable and convenient to both parties. The local authority is answerable to the public, not vice versa.

Q10 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?

Absolutely not, what a horrifying notion. If there are reasons to believe that a child is at risk, social services should be notified and should deal with that child in the same way as any other child that there are concerns about. There is no need for a LA to interview a child alone. Taking a child to be interviewed alone would be incredibly harmful as it inherently suggests to that child that it is safe to be alone with strangers like that and talk to them. It would also leave LA staff open to allegations of abuse. Social workers and police are highly trained to deal with these circumstances, such cases should be left to the professionals to deal with using the legislation that already exists.

Q 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

Absolutely not. There has been no solid, irrefutable evidence shown that demonstrates that the current arrangements are inadequate, or indeed that greater, tighter regulation and monitoring is wanted, needed and effective. Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive an education, either by attendance at school, or otherwise. It is not right that if a parent declines a service offered by the local authority, that same service would then monitor the other legal option that they are providing. A local authority cannot be responsible for assessing children outside it's system. Not only is their own system failing by it's own benchmarks, but it would likely, and completely inappropriately, use these same benchmarks to assess home educated children without taking into account the many different styles of home education, and the unique flexibility, sensitivity, and individuality that it comprises for each individual child.
There is no argument by which parents should have to justify to a government agency what actions we take to bring up our children, as long as we are providing “good enough” parenting (the standard use by social services), and our children are not at risk of harm. There are already measures in place to deal with it if this is not the case. If we were vegetarians we would not have to justify to the DCSF that we did not feed our children meat, even though it surely falls under the DCSF's remit that children are fed properly, as well as educated.
Finally, there is a clear race and class bias to the proposal. It is an established fact that lower socio-economic groups do not fare as well in their interactions with officialdom. The effect of implementing these proposals would be disproportionate for working class families and those of ethnic minorities.

If you haven't yet responded to this consultation, you can find it here If you don't think this applies to you, think again.

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