What’s been said?
In a similar exchange to the one which recently indicated two imminent EHE consultations in Wales, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, stated in May that his Department is working on revised HE Guidance.
On 9 April Clare Adamson MSP (SNP Motherwell and Wishaw), Convenor of the Education and Skills Committee, wrote to John Swinney MSP (SNP Perthshire North) who is also the Deputy First Minister. Adamson’s letter only makes passing reference to EHE, and that in the context of schools being unable to provide suitable education. Reporting on recent submissions to the committee, she stated that concerns had been expressed “about an increase in the number of children being home schooled not through preference but because the parents or carers considered they had no alternative as a result of issues with the appropriateness of the education and associated support being offered by their local authority.” (p3)
She later emphasised, “In light of the evidence received on seclusion and restraint, part-time timetabling, unlawful exclusions, and home-schooling as a last resort, the Committee considers that the Scottish Government should consider ways of improving data gathering on these approaches, be it through random sampling of schools or a wider approach.” (p4) [Emphasis added]
Swinney’s reply dated 15 May totals eight pages, along with Annex A, a ten page table. Of concern here are five paragraphs under the heading “Home Education”, which appear on pages three and four. In them the Cabinet Secretary does not refer to HE in connection with issues such as off-rolling. Instead he summarises the legal situation in Scotland regarding EHE. He states that currently there are no statistics collected centrally about HE children, and that “there is no statutory duty upon local authorities to monitor on-going home education or to hold records on home educated children.”
It is in his fifth paragraph that the Deputy First Minister makes a commitment which EHE families should be aware of:
“The current Home Education Guidance, published in 2008, would benefit from significant updating to reflect changes to the education landscape in recent years. My officials are due to take forward a review of the current Home Education Guidance during 2019 and plan to engage with home education stakeholders as well as every local authority as part of this review.” [Emphasis added]
The HE Byte team are unsure when this letter was placed on the Scottish Government’s website, but are grateful to Fiona Nicholson of Ed Yourself for posting a link to it on her social media feed recently (20 July).
Why does it matter?
Whilst there are very few details in Swinney’s announcement, it may well signal a change of approach at Holyrood. Whilst there has been much complaining and scaremongering by LA staff, high level civil servants and special interest lobbying organisations in other parts of the British Isles, very little attention has been focussed directly on EHE in Scotland. Instead, the home educating community has been raising concerns about the dangers of the Named Person Scheme which the Scottish Government is trying to introduce as part of its Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) legislation.
We have recently highlighted the problems faced by this scheme (here & here) in the light of the very important 2016 Supreme Court ruling which judged that its data protection provisions breached Human Rights legislation. Ever since then the Government has been trying to circumvent that judgement, but with no success.
This recent development may therefore be a signal that the Government has realised that it will not be able to achieve the level of oversight of EHE children which is being sought in England, Wales and the Isle of Man through its Named Person Scheme.
What can I do?
The main action at present for HE families in Scotland is to keep an careful watch on what is happening in Holyrood. Swinney has not indicated what lies behind this review. The nearest he comes to doing so is when he refers to “changed landscapes,” which is part of the code home educators everywhere are becoming increasingly familiar with. Remember that in May Lord Agnew sought to justify registration in England with the phrase “All these things conflate.” The changed landscape almost certainly has nothing at all to do with elective HE, but rather with school shortcomings and unevidenced fears about abuse and radicalisation.
The summer recess may not be the best time for Scottish residents to contact their MSPs, but should you encounter them at one of the ever-popular summer constituency events, we encourage you to to raise this statement with them and remind them that any move to follow Westminster and impose registration and monitoring will be resisted.
Finally, remember that wherever you live, if you feel you could help to keep others informed by writing a Guest Byte on what is happening in your area, please get in touch.