What Makes a Director of Children’s Services Tick?

ADCS submission provides an informative insight into the world-view which prevails among Children’s Services professionals.

What’s been said?

Every one of us has a world-view, but most people don’t realise this and therefore cannot understand why they see many things so differently from other people. Our world-view informs the way in which we raise our children, including how we want to see them educated.

Elective home educators on the whole highly value the natural and historic understanding that parents are charged with the responsibilities of being the primary providers for and educators of their children until they reach an age of sufficiently maturity to take on various adult responsibilities for themselves. We also know that we have an inherent obligation to protect them from all kinds of harm.

HE families believe that these responsibilities are enshrined in British and international law, but that conviction is not shared by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association, the Children’s Commissioner for England and an increasing number of national and local politicians.

In its submission to the recent Education Committee Inquiry, the ADCS described itself as “the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children’s services (DCSs) under the provisions of the Children Act (2004).” This relative newcomer to the world of education continues:

“2. ADCS remains clear that parents and carers who opt to electively home educate should register with the local authority (LA) and that LAs should be resourced to establish systems and safeguards to assure themselves that children and young people who are home educated are receiving a good standard of education, delivered in a suitable learning environment, and that they are safe.”

This is a seismic shift in belief from the convictions of elective home educators. This professional body asserts that its members and those who work with them are to be the ongoing arbiters both of when a child is safe and when they are properly educated, rather than their parents. The gulf between the ADCS world-view and that of the majority of EHE parents is further emphasised by this comment:

“4. LAs have a duty to establish whether a suitable education is being provided but do not have a role in assurance of this… ADCS believes LAs should be funded to fulfil an assurance role or monitoring visit and parents should be required to engage with this process on an annual basis.”

A similar conviction is expressed in regard to its members’ safeguarding responsibilities. In response to the question of a register, the ADCS asserts that EHE children are less likely to be seen by “statutory agencies” and “this poses a risk that any abuse or neglect will go unnoticed by those with a responsibility to safeguard children.” [Emphasis added.]

Is it simply that professional bodies like the ADCS and LGA have got the law of the land wrong, or is there some nuance in legislation which home educators are failing to address? This matter needs serious consideration because, unless EHE families and organisations across the UK can effectively naysay such assertions, national governments and local councils are going to embrace what these professionals repeatedly tell them.

Why does it matter?

This is probably the most important issue in this decade-long debate. The Children’s Act 2004 introduced both DCS’s and Children’s Commissioners into the world of children. Before that date, LA Education and Social Services Departments were independent of one another. Now they are rolled together and this mentality, inherited from social work practice, has prevailed.

“Ofsted” is now “the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.” The Children Commissioner “is the ‘eyes and ears’ of children in the system and the country as a whole.” Those with such job descriptions collectively believe that they and their colleagues are charged with protecting your children from physical, emotional and educational abuse by you, their parents.

If state employees are not proactively safeguarding your children, then they apparently fear being charged with neglect. This was the experience of Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s DCS, when “Baby P” died, and we have commented previously on the unrealistic nature of the mindset which has blossomed since.

Before the recent Oral Evidence Session, the Home Education Advisory Service and the name of one of its trustees, Jane Lowe, may have been unknown to many in the wider EHE community. By the end of that hearing, this quiet but firm and very well-informed former home educator had become for many the star of what was otherwise a very sorry affair.

In their submission to the Inquiry, HEAS directly addressed the notion of the Nanny State being the overarching Safeguarder-in-Chief for every child in country:

“The truth of the matter is that no system, however thorough the surveillance, will ever prevent some individuals from abusing others if their mental state or other factors cause them to do so. Given that it is not possible for any system to remove all risks we believe that there is no evidence to justify imposing intrusive regulatory burdens on all home educating families at great cost to the public purse.”

HEAS later provided an understanding which is balanced, realistic and based on a good understanding of current legislation, along with the restraints on state interference provided by Human Rights treaties:

“Further, parents are entitled to the presumption that they will feed and clothe their children and nurture all other aspects of their development without having to demonstrate competence in these areas to government inspectors. Local authorities have the power to intervene in these matters if there is evidence that parents are failing, but it would be unthinkable for all parents to be inspected to ensure that they are performing their duties in these areas. Logically the same presumption should apply to the duty placed upon parents to provide proper education should they decide to make their own arrangements.”

The presumption of innocence in regard to EHE parents has been the recognised position for many decades, but the 2019 revision of the guidance in England brought about some erosion of this carefully balanced understanding. It did so with one word, “Until a local authority is satisfied that a home-educated child is receiving a suitable full-time education, then a child being educated at home is potentially in scope of this duty.” [Guidance for LAs, p12, §4.2 – emphasis added.]

What can I do?

Home educating families need to appreciate that the continuing campaign against EHE is not being driven by personalities, but by the ideologies embedded in the world-views of an increasing number of politicians, civil servants and of course LA employees.

Recognise that not so long ago parents were generally respected by the state. The recent LGA report highlighted that changes in society have resulted in significantly increased numbers of children with high level needs making unmeetable demands on the school system. Given that “the system” is now witnessing such high demand for extra support for children, this appears to have become a “feedback loop” which is driving the modern mentality that all parents need supervising by the state.

Whatever the cause, the world-view within the ADCS, LGA and Children’s Services as a whole now seems to be that no parent can be trusted, therefore their children must be supervised.

Determine to prove them wrong, and continue to do all you can to defend every parent’s natural responsibility to be the educator and safeguarder of their children!

As we observed in connection with the LGA report, your local councillors are amongst those most influenced by these groups. Their knowledge about EHE may arise only from articles based on these reports. These men and women are essentially part of your local community, so it is less daunting to approach them than MPs. They too are likely to be influenced by the safeguarding dogma. If however they come to know the home educators on their own doorsteps, they may begin to question the negative image being projected about hard-working and caring parents.