Home Truths on Home Education in Scotland and Elsewhere

The Scottish Home Education Forum’s investigation of local authorities’ relationships with home educating families provides vital insights for other parts of the UK

What’s been said?

On Monday 10 March, the Scottish Home Education Forum [SHEF] published its findings from an in-depth investigation of local authorities’ policies, practices and relationships with home educating families in Scotland. The main report runs to one-hundred and ten pages but for those with limited time, a very helpful twelve page summary is available.

An accompanying press release provides the background to the report:

“Drawing on data from freedom of information requests to all 32 councils, an online survey of home educators and a review of forum discussions, ‘Home Truths’ is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of home education in Scotland.

“The research was prompted by escalating concerns from home educators about the quality, accuracy and accessibility of information and advice offered to parents by local authorities.”

The report confirms disparities in local policies and widely differing approaches by LA officers, with the unavoidable outcome of “both a postcode and postholder lottery” for HE families.

Using the evidence collected, SHEF make sixteen recommendations for necessary improvements to the statutory guidance, which the Scottish Government has announced it will update some time this year.

Alison Preuss, SHEF co-ordinator and report author, comments:

“Home educators in Scotland are calling time on councils who routinely place barriers in the way of families seeking to exercise an equally valid educational option for their children, often after local schools have failed to meet their needs.

“Most are failing to get basic terminology right – no matter how often they are reminded to use ‘home education’ and not the American ‘home schooling’ – and many wrongly believe that parents need ‘permission to home educate’, which has never been the case and demonstrates profound ignorance of the law.”

Thankfully the Scottish HE community are supporting SHEF’s efforts by responding to a crowdfunded appeal to cover “the printing and distribution costs for the forum’s summary report.” Copies will be delivered to LAs and other service providers as soon as possible.

On the same day as the report was published, a new Scottish charity was launched. Home Education Scotland is promising to work initially with local authorities to help them improve on the failings highlighted in the “Home Truths” report.

On Thursday 12 March, Kaye Adams interviewed Preuss, Davina (a HE mum) and Jennifer Barr (Senior Solicitor at Govan Law Centre, Education Law Unit) on BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning programme. All three spoke positively about the need for the system to be free of “home eduphobia.” Listen again on BBC Sounds, the fourteen minute segment starts at 1hr 21m into the programme and is available until 10 April.

Why does it matter?

Home educators across the British Isles are very aware that if LA staff and councillors understood education law properly and honestly respected hard-working HE parents rather than looking down their noses at them, life would be much simpler for all concerned.

However, quality research into how LAs relate to HE families is rare, so “Home Truths” is an important contribution, which has something to say about the prevailing hostile environment not just in Scotland.

Recently, Wendy Charles-Warner had the opportunity to make a similar point on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour:

“On the last occasion we assessed it, almost all bar maybe a dozen local authorities of the one hundred and fifty-two in England were not compliant with, with the legislation and guidance. Almost all local authorities do not currently comply. So the argument on parents’ behalf is, if we give them further powers, that will end in further non-compliance.”

Local authority ignorance of the law and overreach by their staff is a problem across these islands. Last September for example, the Ombudsman in England ruled that Leicester City Council dealt unjustly with one HE parent.

Despite these similarities it is important to note that there are also two significant differences between the situation in Scotland and that in other parts of the UK.

In recent years the Scottish Government tried to introduce mandatory state-parenting for every child under the age of eighteen through its Named Person Scheme [NPS]. In 2016 the Supreme Court judged that its data-sharing requirements were illegal, but it took until September of last year for the Government to announce that it was abandoning the NPS.

Four months earlier the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills disclosed that his Department was working on revised HE Guidance. It is almost certain that there is a connection between these two announcements, given that HE families have found the NPS problematic in many ways. Is it any wonder that SHEF has decided to address the proposed new guidance so proactively?

Secondly, unlike in England and Wales, parents wishing to withdraw a child from a Scottish public school to HE them must seek the local authority’s consent before doing so. Section 3.2 of Scottish guidance states, “the authority must not unreasonably withhold consent,” and continues, “it should be noted that while consent is needed for withdrawal from school, consent is not needed to home educate in itself.” Despite such clarity, “Home Truths” details how this anomaly continues “to be exploited by local authorities and/or rogue officials.” This has resulted in unnecessary stress and frustration for both parents and children.

What can I do?

Even if you feel the full report will be too much for you to read, please try and make time to digest the shorter summary of around four thousand words. If you don’t have half an hour spare to do this, then prioritise the sixteen evidence-based recommendations (pages 10-11) which the Scottish Government is urged to seriously consider in its forthcoming review of statutory guidance.

It is also important to to take inspiration from the efforts of Preuss and the team behind “Home Truths” – the pressure on HE families across the UK will not go away of its own accord. The only way to overcome it is by each one of us doing what we can to push back hard against politicians, children’s professionals and lobby groups who are blinded by the ideology that children are safer in the hands of the state than in the care of their parents.