Around the Counties – March 2019

What’s been said?

When this Byte was first prepared, it seemed as if all the political attention was elsewhere, and Lord Soley’s Bill had been finally buried. However, as most people will be aware. on Tuesday 2 April the DfE published its response to last year’s Call for Evidence and launched a new consultation on Children not in School. Needless to say, that has now grabbed everyone’s attention. However we thought it still worthwhile publishing the following to remind readers that there is certainly a need to engage with councillors as well as MPs.

In late February and throughout March it was local media which produced sensational EHE headlines.

The East Anglian Daily Times, 21 February, reported on “Why home schooling is on the rise in Suffolk.” The report was triggered by Gordon Jones, Suffolk’s cabinet member for education, informing his scrutiny committee that the county had seen a “doubling” of HE children “in the last two or three years.” Jones listed several reasons for parents choosing HE before commenting about off-rolled pupils, “In some ways I think they are the most worrying of the group [of home schooled pupils] and work is being done on that.” An anonymous parent stated that their child had been “off-rolled” because they had complex SEND requirements which the school could not meet. The parent claimed that “the only reason we did it” was to avoid a potential £60 per day fine from the truancy team.

In Milton Keynes, MK FM published a report on 7 March of a recent Scrutiny Committee under the headline, “Defence of the right to home educate in Milton Keynes.” Cllr. Terry Baines provided the justification for the hyperbole when he informed his colleagues, “We have eight children who have all been home educated by my wife,” adding “I am 100 per cent behind home education.” According to the report he stated that he did not, “want to see the high hand against people who home educate for a reason.” He also spoke about the dangers of safeguarding being used as an excuse for children to be “brought back into the fold.” Whilst some other members of the Committee were of a different opinion, it is very encouraging to hear of one home educating councillor.

According to the Wiltshire Times, 16 March, there are “More children taught at home” in the county. The five hundred and ninety-one children now known to the LA represents a fifty percent rise since 2015. Jen Salter, Head of Support and Safeguarding, recognised that though they currently have six school attendance orders in force, “There’s a lot of kids who are receiving very good home education.” In response to a question from Cllr. Jon Hubbard wondering if there were increasing numbers of children with SEND being HE, Salter agreed, adding “I would say the group we need to concentrate on more is pupils who have challenging behaviours…”

Two days later the Shropshire Star ran the headline, “Home schooling: Why are parents choosing to educate their children?” Under this was a picture of Dylan Harrison and his son Maxim. Max was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder and mild attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was six. Shortly afterwards the private school he was attending requested that his parents remove him. After a short spell at a state school, Max’s attitude changed and he began adopting school avoidance behaviours. Harrison, himself an experienced social worker, said his work had not prepared him for what the family was going through. “I couldn’t get my head around the fact he was suicidally depressed,” he told the Star, “It’s your worst nightmare as a parent really. You feel alone with it, but you’ve to just cope.” He and his wife decided he would give up his work to teach Dylan at home. Included in this informative report are still more increasing numbers of children being deregistered from schools, and comments from Judy Ellis from Wrekin Forest School, which runs outdoor learning courses.

Why does it matter?

Reports like these remind home educators that HE is now frequently discussed in council chambers across the country. As we have pointed out before the reasons for this are increasingly complex, many of the system’s own making. Some do need to be properly addressed, and only the State can put its own house in order.

Importantly, none of the above reports contain the barrage of negative accusations which have appeared over the last eighteen months in the national media. That is something to be thankful for, and encouragement can also be taken from the fact that not every LA is being driven by lobbyists such as the the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals. These are the type of articles it would be very easy to share with family and friends who are uneasy about your choice to teach your own children.

What can I do?

Be encouraged that not every report on HE is an attempt to undermine your responsibility as a parent. Be thankful that at least one councillor has first hand experience of EHE, and is determined that it should not be scapegoated. Remember to speak out in support of parents whose children are being failed by a school system they initially trusted.

Use these reports to motivate yourself to get to know your local councillors, so they are well informed about EHE. Perhaps one unexpected benefit of the recent negative coverage is that councillors, who are very normal people, are now motivated to discuss the reasons why families choose to HE. Your local councillor may not have a particular interest in education themselves, but they will know which of their colleagues do. Engaging with your councillors will make sure they have a different voice in their ear than those of their officers who have no real experience of EHE.

With the new guidance for LAs, it seems more important than ever that those with the energy to connect with councillors do so, especially those HE families with older, perhaps adult, children who are progressing well in their chosen route through further education or in their careers. EHE myth-busters need to heard by elected members in each and every county hall.