Scottish Home Education Forum keeps up the good work

Calling out intrusive data sharing, challenging human rights impact of GIRFEC, and demanding equal exams access for independent candidates

What’s been said?

Whilst English elective home educators have been fully occupied with their Call for Evidence submissions, the Scottish Home Education Forum team has been hard at work on some important issues. Their three latest blog posts are reported below.

On 16 October the team announced the publication of a new piece of research, Taking Local Authorities to Task. Produced together with Home Education Scotland the report is “an investigation and critique of Local Authorities’ data protection policies and practices in relation to the withdrawal of children from school for elective home education in Scotland.”

SHEF’s March 2020 extensive report Home Truths had already highlighted “intrusive and unnecessary data collection and sharing by LAs” in instances where state-schooled children are withdrawn for home education.

Since then, forum members have been reporting a growing volume of “serious data-related complaints,” causing the SHEF team to feel that further investigation of LAs’ data processing procedures would be timely, ahead of the important review of their HE statutory guidance by the Scottish Government, which is scheduled for November this year.

Data protection is an ongoing and major area of concern, and the post concludes with SHEF’s belief that LAs “should be strongly urged to adopt ‘model’ guidance.”

29 October saw a post highlighting SHEF’s latest submission in connection with their long standing Petition PE01692, which calls for a public inquiry into the human rights impact of GIRFEC. This post reports that PE01692 was referred to the Education & Skills Committee by the Public Petitions Committee, and is now due to be revisited in November “in the light of further information” from other bodies. SHEF’s latest submission is available here.

Our original coverage of PE01692 was in a Byte in December 2019.

The headline of the third item, posted 30 October, will sound all too familiar to readers from across the UK – “Home educated candidates need equal access to SQA exams.

A previous blog post, “Home educated candidates to be ‘cancelled’ along with 2021 exams?,” had already outlined the problems. The later one features the text of a letter to John Swinney MSP (Deputy First Minister and cabinet secretary for Education & Skills) written by Home Education Scotland, co-signed by SHEF and endorsed by representatives of fifteen Scottish HE support networks.

The letter highlights the “disproportionate effect on the home educating community through cancellation of examinations or qualifications in 2021.” It states how private candidates, many with additional support needs, were denied access to the 2020 exams and excluded from alternative arrangements about predicted grades, leading to financial loss and disruption of their progress to further education.

Why does it matter?

The first item is an exposé of “an inherently discriminatory legal anomaly” in the matter of parents requiring Council consent to withdraw children from school into HE. SHEF reports that “some LAs have shamelessly exploited the anomaly to wilfully obstruct parental choice.” They have additional concerns about some Councils infringing on citizens’ Article 8 and data protection rights during this process.

Since 2008, human rights, data protection and equality legislation have come to play a much greater part in policy and delivery of children’s services in general, and SHEF are right to insist that any new guidance “must expressly prohibit councils from routinely gathering and sharing families’ personal data for the purpose of processing withdrawal requests.”

Worryingly, SHEF’s analysis of anecdotal and FOI request data found that the data processing activities of some LAs “exceed[ed] what is permitted in law.” They also cite “jaw-dropping factual errors, professional bias, hearsay and a culture of secrecy and contempt for parents who object to infringements of their own and their children’s rights.” Because UNCRC will shortly be incorporated into Scottish law, securing safeguards against infringement is even more important.

Two further areas of concern may be noted from the observation below – the hostile attitude towards home education prevalent amongst many public service providers, and the discriminatory treatment meted out to a minority group:

“It is morally wrong that home educated children and young people should have their rights infringed on a routine basis by public service providers that are hostile to home education, and that they should receive less favourable treatment from those tasked with upholding these rights…”

The second item goes back to the downfall of GIRFEC, and subsequent government attempts to circumvent it. This is a long-running saga too complex to review here. But families remain concerned about increasing state surveillance and interference in their private lives, and SHEF is to be commended for their thoroughness and persistence in these matters. Calling out instances of overreach takes careful research and investigation, but this is essential work, especially in the current climate.

As far as the joint letter to John Swinney is concerned, two aspects are worth noting. The “successful challenge to an unjust exclusion from alternative arrangements” made in Ireland (see this Byte) was referenced in order to press for the playing field to be levelled for independent candidates in Scotland and other parts of the UK.

This was followed by a request for direct engagement with the stakeholder signatories, plus an assurance that there would be an Equality Impact Assessment regarding the needs of the aforementioned group.

What can I do?

If you are home educating in Scotland, visit SHEF’s site regularly to help you monitor these situations and keep abreast of issues faced by Scottish home educators.

Home educators from other parts of the UK will also find it useful to read these three well-researched and informative articles.

Considering any government’s response to home educators can be helpful as it broadens our understanding, and the problems faced in different areas of the UK have many similarities.