“Improving support for children missing education”

“Improving support for children missing education”

Call for evidence which was published in May closes on 20 July, and is very relevant to home education

What’s been said?

Whilst we’re all very much aware that home educating families are weary of consultations and calls for evidence when the Government always chooses to ignore our collective voices, it remains important that we continue to remind them we have not lost our resolve to resist state overreach into the lives of our children. This current exercise provides such an opportunity, albeit a very limited one.

The consultation was announced on the School attendance and absence section of the Government website, though it is hosted on the Citizen Space sub-domain. The objectives and questions to be answered are set out in a thirty-five page PDF document. The questions are divided into eight sections, the sixth of which is “Elective home education.”

Before you rush to this section to express your views, please note: despite the list of which respondents’ views will be welcome opening with “Parents and children, including those with experience of missing education,” Section 6 is one of several in which the questions are only “For local authorities.”

The two questions about EHE are:

25. Once you are aware that a child of compulsory school age is being electively home educated, what checks do you undertake to determine that this child is being suitably educated and isn’t missing education?

26. What would help you to identify unsuitable EHE more effectively?

Both are accompanied by a list of tick-box options too long to reproduce here, but neither offers an option stating “This is not a task which LAs should be undertaking.”

Note too that whilst both offer a free text option, if one selects “other” in response to Question 7 when completing your response on-line, you will not be offered these or several other questions to answer. (The questions are numbered differently in the on-line response portal compared to the PDF document. References in this article from now on are to the on-line numbering.)

Importantly, Q7 states, “The next section is for schools and local authorities only. Are you responding on behalf of a school or local authority?” Answering the question honestly results in the next question which one can answer being, “36. Once a school place has been secured, what works well to integrate a former CME into full-time education?” (Q29 in the PDF). This and the following five questions come from the final two sections of the PDF.

To make it easier for those motivated to respond, we have created a PDF printout containing each of the five web pages included in this version of the response portal. Opportunities for free text answers are limited, and only allow a maximum of either one hundred or fifty words.

Why does it matter?

On this occasion the DfE are looking for responses from “Parents and children… with experience of missing education.” Clearly, that is not all HE families, but more and more families are finding refuge in home education from schools and LAs which have persistently failed their children.

The plight of such children was highlighted recently in the Times (the original article is behind a paywall, but a copy can be accessed on Archive Today). Columnist Alice Thomson’s piece is entitled “We’re failing children who need our support.” She is quite clear:

“Poor parenting is often cited by schools, yet talking to some of these families it is usually only one vulnerable child who is struggling while their siblings have embraced the education system and made friends. These parents aren’t being neglectful or feckless: quite the opposite, they are only too aware that they have a terrible problem with a traumatised sibling. They don’t deserve a criminal record.”

Thomson also quotes Heidi Mavir, author of Your Child is Not Broken, who discovered that her son Theo had autism after he stopped attending schools aged fifteen. Mavir, she writes, was close to concluding that “either she or her son might kill themselves under all the strain, but with home schooling he’s thriving.”

If your child’s story is anywhere similar to those in this article, you are well placed to register your concerns with the DfE. When the state offers to provide free education for a child, no matter what their needs are, it should live up to that commitment. If it can’t do this, it should not seek to shift the blame onto parents, suggesting that a child’s reluctance to attend is because the parents are failing, but openly accept that it cannot meet their needs. Neither should the state seek to claw families who have found refuge in home education back under its supervision, unless that is where they wish to be.

Other home educating parents should also consider responding to this truncated call for evidence in the remaining window of time before it closes. One important argument to lodge with the Government is that increasing the number of families to be ‘investigated’ by including children who are being provided with a suitable education will make it much harder for LAs to support those families who really need their help. Every single child who is being failed by the education system is already known to an LA, and therefore putting them on another register is futile. It will not help them! Similarly, threatening their parents with fines and imprisonment, as Thomson argued, is absolutely wrong. To illustrate this, she cited one mother who could not have been clearer, “[W]hat we needed was help for his crippling academic and social anxiety, not persecution.”

What can I do?

Despite the system being stacked against parents, ask yourself if you would be willing to add to the voices highlighting the absurdity of increasing the size of the haystack when the number of children already known to be missing education, because the education system is not meeting their needs, is increasing sharply.

Here are some links and resources which may simplify the process of responding.

Remember the consultation closes on 20 July at 11:59pm. So there isn’t much time left to respond.

We recommend that you use our supplement to compose your answers to the available questions before accessing the portal, as you can paste your comments into the available free text boxes. This will make it quicker for you to work through the five pages, though it is possible for you to save your work and return to complete it later. The word limit seems to be flexible, but we suggest that you do not exceed it by more than ten percent.

Please also share this Byte with other families you know who would be impacted by the proposals that are bound to result from this exercise. They too need to be aware of the direction in which policy on children being educated outside school is going – a surprising number of families remain unaware that their freedom to opt out is under serious threat!