Gateshead EHE Consultation Fails to Follow LGA Guidelines

Consultation on Draft HE Strategy for the next five years open for just five weeks until 17 January!

What’s been said?

Gateshead Council’s website carries an announcement about a consultation which opened on 13 December 2019 and ends on 17 January 2020.

“We would like your views on Gateshead’s draft Elective Home Education Strategy. The strategy provides an overview of the procedures that parents, schools/academies and the local authority must adhere to in relation to home education.”

Both the Strategy document and the on-line survey are linked from the above page.

The survey consists of only five questions. The first categorises respondents via multi-choice options. The second asks to what extent respondents agree or disagree with the Guiding Principles outlined on page five of the draft Strategy. Anyone in disagreement should state their reasons in a maximum of a thousand characters.

Thirdly, respondents are asked whether or not they agree that “the draft Strategy will ensure the needs of young people being home educated are met.” Multi choice options here, with comment box response again limited to a thousand characters.

After a question about readability of the Strategy document, respondents are then allowed two thousand characters to answer the closing “any further comments?” question.

The Local Government Association guidelines make the following generic recommendations about any consultation process:

“If you do decide to go ahead with a consultation exercise, it’s important to make sure you give people enough time to respond.”

“The length of time needed will vary depending on…. [options include] the time of year (for example school holidays) – election periods should be avoided…. [and] the level of response you are seeking”

“Best practice suggests you should plan for up to six to 12 weeks for a consultation exercise.”[sic]

Though adhering to the LGA guidelines by being published after the General Election, the timing of this particular survey is otherwise anything but compliant. The consultation period is short – only five weeks – with two of those spanning the Christmas and New Year holidays!

Why does it matter?

As indicated above, the timing and brevity of the consultation period are matters for concern. The style of survey is unhelpful too, providing such limited opportunity for reasoned comment.

This all calls into question whether or not genuine feedback is actually desired by Gateshead Council. Noting the minimal opportunity for meaningful response, a cynic would dismiss the consultation as an exercise in ‘we have consulted with stakeholders’ box-ticking.

From a home educator’s point of view however, the Strategy is worthy of careful consideration because it specifically claims to have been “developed in line with the Department for Education’s recently updated guidance for local authorities.”

In that sense, it could be indicative of similar material prepared or being prepared by other councils, who are considering updating and publicising their own local guidelines. It therefore behoves the HE community to be on the front foot in their thinking, aware of new developments or significant LA interpretations of issues raised in the April 2019 DfE Guidance documents for LA’s and for Parents.

A preliminary examination of Gateshead’s material reveals two major areas of concern – the worryingly expanded definition of their Safeguarding Duty, plus details about the alarming EHE-MAG (Multi Agency Group) found in Appendix 1. [A subsequent Byte covering these issues is available here.]

What can I do?

In the meantime, download the Draft Strategy document and read it carefully, thinking about the most constructive way you could respond.

Alert other home educators in Gateshead Local Authority and beyond to the existence of this consultation, its short time frame, the importance of responding to it and picking up themes which are likely to manifest themselves in other LA areas.

Consider putting in a formal complaint to the LA about the timing of this particular consultation. Details of how to do so can be found on their Have your say page. It would be better for Gateshead residents to take such an initiative than for it to fall to someone from elsewhere.