Scottish Home Educators “Face an Overtly Hostile Environment”

What’s been said?

Home-educating families are being unfairly treated through Scotland’s health-visiting service, writes Alison Preuss in the Tes on 29 June 2019. Preuss is the founder of Scottish Home Education Forums, an online network for home educators.

The Forum has conducted new research prompted by “an increase in members’ complaints about the quality and accuracy of information and advice offered by health visitors in relation to childcare, nursery and schooling options, and a lack of transparency regarding the voluntary nature of the service.”

Health visitors find themselves in an unenviable position. As designated “named persons” for all under-fives under the GIRFEC regime, reports Preuss, they are “now being expected to collect and share a vast amount of personal information on children and families” – but the problems come when parents exercise their right to say no.

Riding roughshod over parents’ privacy and preferences has of course undermined confidence in the health visiting service as a whole. Parents have expressed serious concerns about the use of “crude ‘wellbeing’ tools” and the “demands for disclosure of sensitive personal data for uncontrolled ‘joining-up’.” Home educators in all areas of Scotland may potentially be experiencing the effects of this, but those in Highland where a pilot scheme is running are particularly vulnerable. Preuss cites one parent’s comment that “minority groups [are] invariably targeted for ‘remediation'”.

Her writing is by no means sensationalised, but the serious nature of all this can be felt in descriptors such as “unseen children”, “non-engaging parents”, being “othered”, “baked-in bias” and “reported incidences of ‘home-eduphobia'”. She highlights the “glaring mismatch between government claims and grassroots experiences”, due to the influence of Girfec-driven thinking in the health visiting world.

Preuss does not merely set forth the the problem. Along with Lesley Scott of the Tymes Trust (the only Scottish national charity dedicated to children with ME), she is putting pressure on the Scottish Parliament to look into the human rights impact of GIRFEC via a petition for a public inquiry, the findings of which will go before the Education & Skills Committee.

Preuss closes with a reminder about “the previously promised mandatory training put in place for health visitors,” and points out that they are currently expected to assess “wellbeing” in the “absence of a statutory definition or clear, inclusive guidance that properly recognises the equal status and validity of home education.”

Why does it matter?

This situation is ongoing and should be watched carefully by all home educators. Unbridled state over-reach is an increasing threat to every parent’s role.

As Preuss observes, the Scottish government is in breach of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the information-sharing provisions in the 2014 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, “which had encouraged professionals to flout overarching legislation.”

She reports that the health visitors’ own professional code “strikes the right balance in relation to consent, confidentiality and respect”, but rightly notes that this has been “badly compromised by Girfec”, with the result that “health visitors have been swept along with the policy tide that has sent them perilously close to the rocks of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and human rights.”

These issues have far-reaching implications. A Scottish Mail report from 30 June speaks of a “sinister rise in state snoopers” and helpfully highlights the resulting confusion which exists amongst Scotland’s thirty-two local authorities and fourteen NHS boards about whether in fact there are or should be any “Named Persons”.

Lesley Scott’s comment illustrates the dilemma, “We have had constant assurances this is a service and a voluntary one. But the truth is, if the Named Person decides to move against you, they’ll do so with all the force of the state machine. The reality for families is that this is an imposition and a threat, not a service.”

Simon Calvert of the No to Named Person campaign is quoted as saying, “When the Supreme Court rules the key part of your flagship scheme is illegal, you really need to take that on board. This policy should be dead in the water. Instead, it looks like state snoopers are on the rise. What breathtaking arrogance.”

What can I do?

To understand the issues better, watch the three minute video below about the No to Named Person scheme by Alison Preuss. Note particularly her point about how easily “getting it right for every child” turns into “getting information recorded for every citizen.”

For further information see Scottish Daily Mail 1 July, “SNP ‘state snoopers’ already in operation.” This follows on from the previous day’s report and illustrates the confusion which now exists with the comment, “Dumfries and Galloway Council said ‘every child must have a Named Person’ with the scheme now mandatory in the area.”

Read a previous Byte Non-consensual Inter-agency Information-sharing in Scotland reported on a Tes article by Emma Seith from 28 May entitled, “Government’s safeguarding policy making families who home-educate feel ‘under threat’.”

Note that here as in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, some individuals are working very hard to withstand the juggernaut of state intervention into family life. If you happen to find yourself in a situation where you can defend the rights and privileges of being a home educator at whatever level, don’t let it pass – take up the opportunity for the sake of your own family and for future generations of all children – in Scotland and elsewhere.