Annex A: What Local Authorities Really Want

What’s been said?

We recently commented on the opening three sections of the DfE’s response to the 2018 consultation. The next part, Annex A, is a question by question analysis of the responses received. Covering three-quarters of the document (31 pages, around 9,000 words), it is impossible to comment on it all here. However, it does provide an informative insight into the thinking of many of the LAs which responded to the consultation.

The response is not all bad news for home educators. The good news is arguably the announcement that the Government does not intend to bring forward new legislation to enable enhanced monitoring of EHE children. That statement must however, as previously highlighted, be offset by the Department’s belief that existing legislation allows for more monitoring than LAs appreciated prior to last year’s consultation. This revised understanding is now enshrined in the new Guidance, but has not yet been tested in the courts. Reading through Annex A it becomes clear that the DfE’s response will not satisfy most LAs, as they used the 2018 consultation to call for more invasive powers.

§A.43 highlights their attempted power-grab, quoting one complaint, “The current arrangements expect accountability from the LA’s without giving them the powers in order to do this.” The following section lists six additional powers that were sought, including, “powers to inspect home education premises, the curriculum and children’s work; mandatory visits to see the child and evidence of their education; monitoring of the suitability of the education… on an annual basis; and a requirement for the child’s voice to be heard.”

Paralleling the proposed Education Bill in the Isle of Man, some councils asked for sanctions against parents who do “not comply with monitoring” to include “fines and/or imprisonment” (§A.50). The same section also includes the comment, “The penalties should range from fines to removal of parental responsibilities.” In response to this the DfE responds in §A.53, “As no changes are proposed in relation to monitoring, the issue of sanctions likewise does not arise at present.”

In reporting on Q17, which asked if it was necessary “see the child”, §A.56 & 57 mention some of the reasons cited by those who believed this was not necessary. In contrast, §A.58-62 focus on the comments from the two-thirds of LAs who considered that speaking to the child was “essential because of the need to ensure their safety and the quality of their education.” Further, “Some respondents suggested that there should be unannounced visits” (§A.60). In response to the question relating to interaction with the child, responses included: following the Ofsted inspection format; observation of the education in practice; observation of the home-schooling environment; a qualified teacher visits the home to assess the work; and photographic evidence of activities. In responding to these calls (§A.64), the DfE appears to leave the door ajar. It “accepts that there is a case to be argued for ensuring access to a child” when a LA has not been satisfied under their s.437(1) duties, before adding, “However issues related to monitoring are not being taken forward.”

These of necessity are only selected points from a sizeable Annex. Other sections are worth studying when considering the views now found amongst LAs. For example, §A.89 reports some respondents’ suggestion that private tutors should provide them with “monthly updates on a child’s performance.”

Why does it matter?

In February we featured the Office of the Schools Adjudicator Annual Report in a Byte entitled, What Local Authorities have said about Home Education. Annex A offers similar insights into the thinking which now appears to be embedded in the majority of LAs in England, and no doubt elsewhere. Like the earlier sections of this document, this Annex provides an insight into the changing landscape in which truly elective home educating families now find themselves. Without a doubt today’s political climate has become a hostile environment towards HE.

What can I do?

Perhaps one of the most important things all EHE families should do is to recognise that the revival in recent years of the rhetoric about HE first used by Ed Balls has been very effective. Consequently, the work which now needs to be done to protect all families, and in particular their responsibility to ensure their children are appropriately educated, must address today’s issues not just those of a decade ago.

Secondly, we should recognise that whilst there is much we don’t like about the new Guidelines and the proposal to legislate for registration of “children not in school”, what the DfE has proposed falls a long way short of what many have been agitating for. When Badman’s recommendations were not implemented, many breathed a sigh of relief and returned to their main task of raising their children. Just a few voices continued to warn that these arguments would return.

Annex A demonstrates that whilst the HE community may feel that the opponents of HE have won the day, many of those pressing for change are doubtless feeling equally frustrated by the lack of new legislation providing additional powers for the monitoring of HE children. Consequently, it is very unlikely that they will abandon their demands that the state should supervise families.