Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Flouting the law

A bit of a rant this time, so if you're not a home educator, or someone who is considering home schooling your child, you might want to switch off now!

If there's one thing that's sure to get me up on my soap box, it's local authorities (aka councils) that think they can get away with flagrantly misinterpreting, and in some cases deliberately flouting, the law surrounding home education.

It is the right, and indeed the responsibility of every parent or guardian in the UK to ensure their child receives an education suitable to his (or her) age, aptitude and ability, either at school or otherwise.  In other words, it's not the state's responsibility to educate the child, it's the parent's.  And it does not become the state's responsibility until or unless the parent delegates the responsibility to it by applying for a school place.  Of course most parents send their child(ren) to school, probably because they're not in a position to do anything else, but also because most don't realise there's any alternative.  However, it is actually education that is compulsory, while school is not.  Indeed home education is a right in law, whereas school must be applied for.

If your child has never attended school and you have not applied for a school place, there is no legal requirement for you to inform the local authority of (or seek the permission of the local authority) your decision to home educate.  Simply get on with it and enjoy!

Visiting any council website looking for information about home education often leads to a minefield of misleading information and frequently downright incorrect interpretation of the law.  I appreciate most parents considering home ed won't usually visit any council websites other than that of the area in which they live, but I truly pity any new home educator who finds themselves on some of the council websites out there.  I have no qualms whatsoever in naming and shaming those councils that get it so wrong.

By way of example, take Barnsley Council.  Not only does their page on home education take a very gloomy approach to the whole idea of home ed, it also blatantly disregards the law by stating: "The school will not remove the child from their school roll until 10 working days have elapsed."  This statement is illegal.

What should happen is this:  A parent who wishes to deregister their child from school has a legal duty to inform the school (in writing, [and do send recorded if posting]) that they wish to deregister the child as they intend to provide an education otherwise than at school (ie home educate).  No permission is required* to home educate and provided the deregistration letter is sent/handed in, then the parent's duties have been fulfilled.  No further action required on the parent's part.

* The only exception to this is where the child attends a special school; is subject to a School Attendance Order or is subject of an Educational Supervision Order, when the rules are slightly different.

On receipt of the deregistration letter, the school has a legal duty to remove the child from the register immediately, and any who say different are breaking the law.  The school does have a duty to inform the Local Education Authority (LEA or LA), but should still remove the child from the register as he (she) is now receiving an education otherwise than at school.

Barnsley Council further goes on to state:
"If notification of the parents' intention to withdraw their child is received by the school during term-time, an education welfare officer from the inclusion/intervention team will visit the home of the pupil who has been withdrawn within 10 working days. Any relevant information emerging from the meeting will be passed to the assessor for elective home education. The assessor needs to be satisfied that the child will receive suitable education, so usually about two months after the parent has written to the school to inform them of their decision to withdraw the child from the school roll, the assessor will arrange a meeting to talk to the parents and look at examples of work and learning."

Local authorities do have a duty to ensure no child of compulsory school age (currently 5-16) misses out on education.  However it is not right that any council automatically assume a child who is not on a school register is what they call "CME" or a "child missing education".

If you have deregistered your child from school, you will have clearly stated in your deregistration letter that you intend to educate otherwise than at school.  Education welfare has no real jurisdiction here, as they are responsible for children missing education and/or those who are truanting from school.  Your child is no longer on the school register and is receiving an education suitable to his (her) age, aptitude and ability otherwise than at school (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996).

Any council whose truancy officer (aka Education welfare officer) arrives unannounced on your doorstep can be firmly told to sod off, and any council who attempts to insist they have a right to enter your home, meet your children, assess your child's work, look at samples of work, discuss your curriculum etc, etc, is talking BOLLOCKS.  Indeed the law states:  "The Act of 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Education Act) does not provide for or contemplate an intrusion of a parent's privacy by inspectors coming into the home and it is quite wrong for a local authority to insist on such inspection."

At most, an LEA can make informal enquiries as to the educational provision you are making for your child, BUT the duty to make informal enquiries (contained in section 437 of the Education Act 1996) only applies where a local authority has a positive, substantive reason to believe that a child may not be in receipt of a suitable education.
  1. They have no right to enter your home
  2. They have no right to meet you or your children at all
  3. They have no right to request samples of work
  4. They have no right to ask you to complete any Home Education registration forms or similar
  5.  It is entirely up to the parent to decide what evidence to provide (it's sensible to provide something) and most choose to provide a brief statement.
Once the LEA has been provided with clear evidence that a suitable education is taking place, then in law at least, that should be an end of the matter.  The local authority has NO further duties to carry out, and they should not hassle the parent for further evidence, or try to insist on annual inspections or visits.  However sadly many local authorities love to give themselves powers they do not have, and they will try to insist on these things.  Before considering any contact with your LEA, you might want to read this.

Right down at the bottom of its HE page, Barnsley Council admits that home visits aren't mandatory, but then goes on to state among its requirements: "...  length of time of educational engagement, the plan for the future, the process by which they intend to assess the childs progress etc, with an endorsement by an education professional as to the quality of the pupil's education."

HE does not have to be carried out at set times or for set hours.  No assessment needs to be carried out by the parent or anyone else.  And most definitely there is no requirement in law for any endorsement by an educational professional as to the quality of education.  In the worst case scenario, it would be up to a court of law to determine whether the education being provided is a) suitable to the child's age, aptitude and ability, and b) that the education achieves what it sets out to achieve.

Barnsley Council then goes on to pose the question: "Does the child need to be seen" and answers itself with: "Yes, we recommend that the child is seen by both the education welfare officer and the assessor."  There is no legal requirement whatsoever for the child to be seen, and for Barnsley Council to issue such a statement is totally ultra-vires.  They would of course 'get away' with this one as they would argue that by including the wording "we recommend" that it's merely guidance, but I would argue that by their use of "Yes" as an opening they are alleging it is mandatory.  It is not. 

My advice to anyone thinking of home educating is to brush up on the law surrounding home ed, and stand your ground against these interfering busy bodies who think they know it all.  They don't.

Until next time. x

2 comments:

  1. Very well said! I was a home ed parent, my son came out of school aged 11. We were lucky in that the council never contacted us but I had no intention of letting them come in the house, assess my son etc. we did once get stopped by a truancy patrol. When I stated he was HE, I was asked for name and address, I said legally I don't have to give you that information, and we went on our way. I found the book Free Range Education very helpful in regards to our legal rights, though it may be out of date now (son is now 22!)

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  2. Came across this when googling "informal enquiries", have just made spreadsheet of all LAs in England here http://edyourself.org/articles/councilwebpages.php#spreadsheet

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Comments welcomed. Your words and encouragement make it all worthwhile.