Portsmouth Home Educators Take Next Step Towards a Judicial Review

£20,000 raised in just one day, but fundraiser still open for further donations

What’s been said?

At the start of February we reported on media coverage of difficulties being experienced by home educators in Portsmouth due to the actions of their Local Authority.

On 11 February, Portsmouth Home Education Group [PHEG] launched the second stage of a fundraising campaign to enable them to “progress to filing for a judicial review of PCC’s [Portsmouth City Council] policies and actions towards local home educators.”

Their fundraiser page provides a helpful summary of events leading up to the present situation, and details events since 1 February, when a virtual meeting took place between two representatives of PHEG accompanied by David Wolfe QC, and PCC’s Head of Legal Services.

It reports that on Friday 5 February, a short response had been received from PCC indicating that they would withdraw the “clarification section” from their EHE policy, but also stating that there was “no need to change their EHE policy.”

The closing sections of the page explain more of the thinking behind the decision to go ahead with filing the judicial review. This process needed to be set in train by Friday 12 February in order to fall within the mandatory three month window of opportunity.

The Education Otherwise [EO] website also features a report on developments in Portsmouth, with helpful clarification about different levels of court hearings. Their report links to a brief but very informative video by QC David Wolfe about the process of judicial review.

Why does it matter?

The significance of events in Portsmouth and their relevance to home educators beyond that local authority is clearly stated:

“Whilst this is currently a local issue, we believe that it should be of concern to all home educators nationwide, because of the precedent it sets for other local authorities, especially as PCC was recently used as an example of good practice in the Local Government Association (LGA)’s report into ‘Children Missing Education’.”

(As we have commented previously, this LGA report was based on the now familiar conflation of children receiving home education with children potentially missing education.)

Education Otherwise’s piece bears out PHEG’s view, concurring that “the case is of great significance to all home educators, not just in Portsmouth,” and pointing out that “what is tolerated from one local authority can become the norm in others.”

EO further emphasises that any “home educator or supporter of parental democratic choice” could imagine themselves in a position where a LA was “making unlawful demands.”

That these things relate to the much wider issue of parental democratic choice is a very important point. As such, it should be of concern to parents outside the home educating fraternity as well as those within it, and we encourage home educators to do all they can to help others to appreciate this fact.

As stated in our first Byte about Portsmouth, sections 6.19 and 6.22 of the DfE’s Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities [2019] are also relevant here. §6.19 refers to the need for local authorities to bear in mind “their public responsibilities as prosecutors,” and §6.22 reads:

“The department will be happy to support local authorities to test the boundaries of current case law through discussion with them of potentially difficult home education cases which they are contemplating bringing before the courts, on the basis that the public interest means that local authorities should take this approach in suitable circumstances.”

Such initiatives are seemingly based on the prevailing belief in government circles that safeguarding laws now have precedence over education and other Human Rights legislation.

What can I do?

Recognise the wider significance of this case and keep up to date with developments as they happen; for example the 12 February update from Education Otherwise.

If you are in a position to do so, consider contributing towards the costs of the legal challenge being mounted by PHEG.

Donations started coming in from the moment the fundraiser was launched, and it was most encouraging to see such widespread support for their campaign from a large number of people. The £20,000 target was reached within the day, but given the potential need to cover further costs in future, PHEG have now extended their target to £30,000. [Stop Press: By midnight on 12 February, over £26,000 had been donated.]

If, like families in Portsmouth, you have evidence that your LA is behaving badly, do remember to talk to someone with experience in such matters. There are a good number of EHE veterans involved in groups like EO who can provide helpful advice.

Whilst there have been some very significant changes in what is driving the agenda seeking to remove educational choice for families, the response to the situation in Portsmouth emphasises that there is much to be gained from standing shoulder to shoulder to resist the apparent desire of many for enforced state-controlled schooling of all children.

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