What’s been said?
On 16 July the Local Government Association [LGA] website featured an article entitled, “Government urged to toughen up home education plans.”
The timing and purpose of this item is clearly stated: “This comes as the Department for Education has rejected councils’ pleas to have greater oversight over home schooled children, following a consultation over proposals for a register.” [Emphasis added]
Claiming that their organisation has “long called for a home education register,” the LGA now states that that this alone will not suffice and warns that “current plans do not go far enough in protecting children and making sure they get a high-quality education.” It urges the Department to “rethink its proposals and grant councils the funding and powers to be able to enter homes or premises where a child is being home-schooled and speak to them.”
The piece touches on familiar themes. It cites Ofsted figures about an estimated six thousand children being educated in illegal schools “which can be in dangerous settings or offering unsuitable education.” Whilst paying lip service to the “rights of parents to choose to home educate their child” and recognising that “most home-schooling parents are doing an excellent job,” its main focus is concern about “a minority of children who could be at risk of neglect or poor future prospects.”
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board Cllr Antoinette Bramble stresses the need for councils to “make sure children are getting a good education and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.”
To boost the validity of their argument, examples of both an invisible home educated child and of malpractice by an illegal faith school are included below the footnotes. (Readers should note that Dylan Seabridge’s case was referred because of welfare concerns and therefore the home should have been visited by social services rather than education officers. In the second case, Jewish yeshivas are not “illegal” according to statements already made by the DfE.)
On 17 July the Guardian ran an article “Government proposals ‘fall short’ on helping home-schooled children” by their Education correspondent, Sally Weale, in which she summarises the LGA website item.
She also includes quotations from Damien Hinds’ April announcement about home educators being required to register, selected to tie in conveniently with Bramble’s concerns about “…prevent(ing) vulnerable young people from vanishing under the radar.”
However Weale is even-handed enough to include views from home educators who oppose councils being given additional powers and consider a council register as “a further step down the path of unwarranted intrusion into family life by the state.” She also notes the growing numbers of pupils being off-rolled by schools, indicating by her comment about avoiding exclusion or fines that there is nothing “elective” about it.
Her final paragraphs helpfully cite the DfE’s reminder that “If there is a concern over the standard of home education a child is receiving, local authorities already have substantial powers including being able to request that parents show the education at home is of a good quality,” adding that if a council remains unsatisfied, “it can serve a school attendance order, enforceable in court.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
The LGA describes itself as “the national voice of local government, working with councils to support, promote and improve local government.” Effectively, the organisation represents the interests of local government to national government.
In a Byte featuring a LGA briefing for the House of Lords in Jan 2018, we observed that “LA staff share a common agenda and wish to exert influence upon policy nationally.”
Another Byte Annex A: What Local Authorities Really Want speaks of LAs’ dissatisfaction with the current arrangements which “expect accountability from the LA’s without giving them the powers in order to do this,” and notes additional powers being sought: “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.”
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has also thrown her weight behind a call for regular assessment of home education. A Byte about her recent accountability hearing before the Education Select Committee opined: “…those who have been lobbying for change in regard to EHE are not going to stop should a register be established … Longfield has clearly signalled that she will continue to argue in favour of substantial monitoring of HE children by LAs.”
Given all the above, the item presently being considered holds no surprises, but it is a timely reminder that those wishing to see HE regulated and monitored are seriously disgruntled about the DfE opting for a register alone; they have not gone away, and they have every intention of keeping up the pressure.
What can I do?
Be aware that local authorities are part of a larger authority structure. Look back over the Bytes linked above to understand better the role and influence of the LGA with regard to registration and monitoring of EHE.
Be thankful that one of its Vice-Presidents is Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb. She has spoken up in the past about state overreach into the lives of home educating parents. You could write to her with your concerns about the LGA’s approach, asking her to advocate within the organisation for continued freedom for parents to EHE without unwarranted state intervention.
You will see several MPs’ names on the full list of LGA Vice-Presidents, so if your constituency is represented, then you could also approach your MP.
If you know of local instances where the LA is acting outside its remit, check your facts, take advice if necessary and speak up.