Constructive Engagement with Scottish Government

What’s been said?

On behalf of the Scottish Home Education Forum [SHEF], Alison Preuss made an important announcement on 31 August 2019 about an intended review of home education guidance in Scotland.

A key fact clarified by Preuss is that the Scottish government are planning no changes to primary legislation which, thankfully, “accords equal legal status to home education and council schooling.”

Besides communicating SHEF’s approval that the statutory HE guidance is to be updated after twelve years, the announcement is a reminder of the level of engagement that the group has maintained with the Scottish Government. Of late this has majored on “rais(ing) concerns about some local authorities’ misrepresentation and misapplication of both education legislation and overarching human rights and data protection laws.”

That the current guidance introduced in 2007 has served so well for so long, comments Preuss, is undoubtedly due to the “intensive consultation that preceded its introduction”, which process included the involvement of home educators.

The present announcement speaks of SHEF’s “further constructive discussions with the Scottish Government team tasked with revising the guidance.” The group considers that such a review offers the Government “an ideal opportunity to produce guidance that is also in keeping with the UNCRC…  and this can best be achieved by hearing the views of home educated children and young people and their parents.”

SHEF is also involved in a major new piece of research which aims “to determine how well LAs are serving home educating families.” They hope to report their findings this autumn.

Why does it matter?

The group’s full submission can be accessed here. As well as Scotland-specific points, it highlights  important generic issues relevant to readers throughout the UK.

Space constraints permit only a few short clips selected from SHEF’s responses to the seventeen questions, but the usefulness of this comprehensive document and the emergence of familiar themes will soon be apparent.

  • Ensuring that local authorities understand their responsibilities and the limitations of their powers in relation to parental provision of home education. (Q2)
  • Pro-school prejudice and home-eduphobia should be expressly recognised and asserted as unacceptable, given the imbalance of power that exists between parents and the LA. (Q3)
  • One council exemplifies consistently good practice, another has responded positively to criticisms by engaging with local home educators to redraft its policy, whilst a third has alienated home educating families by acting beyond their statutory vires. (Q6)
  • The Supreme Court named person ruling affirmed the primacy of parents as arbiters of children’s best interests below the established non-consensual intervention threshold. (Q6)
  • There is no statutory duty to routinely monitor parental home education because parents are responsible in law for its provision and must be presumed to be acting in their children’s best interests in the absence of evidence to the contrary. (Q8)
  • Several councils have veered from good to bad and back again, due largely to staff turnover and a lack of mandatory training for home education contacts. [Emphasis added] (Q9)
  • Failure to respect parental and children’s rights has led to a culture of mistrust. (Q9)
  • SHEF also asked for, and were assured of, a commitment to making training on home education mandatory for all family-facing professionals… an underlying culture of home-eduphobia that extends across public services and has highlighted the need for urgent action to combat it. (Q17)

What can I do?

It is obvious from the above that ongoing interaction with the authorities is both necessary and may be productive. If you have been inspired by reading about the proactive approach of the SHEF, seek out similar opportunities to protect HE freedoms and challenge assumptions in your own locality.

This does not have to be at the level of national government – local authorities need to hear regularly from the HE community in their area.

Once you have “engaged” and hopefully seen some improvements, don’t stop! Keep engaging. Just as our homes do not remain clean and tidy for ever on the basis of a one day blitz, so we need to keep at it, building constructive connections, protesting over-reach, offering input re future policy and so on.

If you feel unqualified to challenge prejudice within your LA yourself, team up with other more experienced or even “retired” HE parents.

It really is important that comparatively minor differences of approach don’t stop the HE community from coming together to defend their freedoms from further state encroachment, while the opportunity still exists.