Well Done, Dumfries & Galloway Home Educators!

Well Done, Dumfries & Galloway Home Educators!

Inspiring report on successful outcome resulting from hard work and persistence

What’s been said?

On 23 September the Scottish Home Education Forum [SHEF] published a post headed “Bridging payments win for home educators in Dumfries & Galloway.”

It details how refusal to “accept differential treatment based purely on their children’s home educated status” had led to an arduous year-long campaign in which local councillors were eventually persuaded “to overturn a previous decision and embrace inclusion by making bridging payments available to eligible home educating families in the area.”

The point at issue concerned pandemic support payments dating back to 2021 and 2022 “for children and young people of school age [P1 – S6 education] in receipt of Free School Meals on the basis of low income eligibility criteria.” See Scottish Government guidance.

Three additional documents were appended to agenda item 7 for the Education & Learning Committee’s 14 September meeting. Appendix 3 provides a helpful summary of the background to this matter and the implications of administrative changes.

The SHEF post commends the HEs for their joint efforts, the pooling of their skills and their attention to detail. It also highlights how valuable a learning experience the whole campaign was for the young people themselves, leading eventually to unanimous acceptance of a council motion to find the funding to make payments to all eligible families.

The Draft Minutes of the Education & Learning Committee meeting on Thurs 14 September are now available, and record the following decision for agenda item 7:

7.1 NOTED the support and resources available for Home Education as detailed in section 4 of the report and the supplementary Appendix 3; and

  1. AGREED, if no money is available from within the existing budget, to make a request to Finance Procurement and Transformation Committee for monies of up to £46,000 to allow a one off retrospective discretionary payment to families of a child [w]here they are both (i) recorded as being home educated during the period 2020-2022 and (ii) where the Financial Wellbeing and Revenue records indicate that they would have, had they been enrolled in school, been entitled to Free School Meals.

Why does it matter?

First it should be noted that this was not a battle about securing funding for HE families to help them educate their children. The money which they were being denied had been allocated by the Scottish Government to help relieve the effects of low income. These particular families were excluded from receiving this only because the system relied on the limitations of its own record-keeping. Thus the families affected were unjustly prevented from receiving funding to which they were entitled. (The scheme in question has been replaced by the “Scottish Child Payment” which is administered by Social Security Scotland, not through LAs.)

Secondly, the video of the council meeting is worth watching as it demonstrates the benefits of taking time to establish meaningful communication with local councillors, to give them a thorough understanding of any HE-related issues. As noted above, various papers had been circulated prior to the meeting so that members would be well informed (see item 7). Cllr Willie Scobie (Democratic Alliance, Dee & Glenkens Ward) was then able to follow these up by advocating very articulately in the council chamber for a just resolution of the matter.

It fell to the Council’s Integration & Inclusion Manager Hew Smith to respond to several subsequent questions. The majority of these were quite generic, concerned less with the specifics of the matter under consideration, but rather about the practice of home education and the council’s responsibilities to such children. These will have a familiar ring to any who follow the wider HE scene.

In response to queries about increasing numbers of children being HE post Covid, he confirmed there had been a rise across Scotland, though not a significant one. He went on to explain that he was able to supply the current numbers in terms of trends, but “in cognisance of concerns raised by home educators,” the authority does not “maintain a significant amount of data…” (Evidence of earlier behind the scenes work there it seems, which should be an encouragement to HE families everywhere to engage on such issues.)

Recognising that the LA role was largely one of engagement and support, Smith spoke of the situation being very complex, and saying that they had been waiting for years for the Scottish Government to update statutory guidance. He noted that the LA does have some statutory duties as well, but these would only have to be considered at the point where concerns were raised.

The final paragraph of the SHEF post is worth noting too, as it couples their customary vigilance and attention to detail with the recognition that what HEs achieved by their tenacity in one matter can spill over into a wider benefit – that is, the ‘re-education’ of both councillors and officers.

“We noted a couple of minor errors in understanding of who is responsible for providing education (it is always parents unless children are subject to compulsory measures or LAC) and a nervousness about lack of ‘monitoring’ (which is not provided for in law or guidance, a fact recognised by the reporting officer); however, Dumfries and Galloway home educators have essentially re-educated both councillors and officers and have done us all proud. Thank you!”

What can I do?

Read the SHEF post, and watch the video of council proceedings.

Recently the Byte has reported on other instances of HEs being proactive in different contexts. If you haven’t already seen these Bytes, read The Truth Always Matters, and Historic Distortion of HE Facts Down Under.

If a HE-related situation arises in your area or sphere of influence which you feel would benefit from some adjustment, think about asking other local HEs how they’d feel about working together with you to challenge any assumptions or decisions that you’re unhappy with. There may be a part for many of us to play in holding the line/pushing back; great oaks… and all that.

And finally, another very worthwhile read from SHEF. On 23 September they published a post called “Ask the Home Educator (Scotland)”. It concerns “a new space [Facebook group] where professionals can ask questions and participate in discussions in confidence.”

The tone of this article is very good. In the interests of SHEF’s “ongoing commitment to improve relationships,” it reaches out to those professionals who have expressed a previous interest in SHEF’s work, whilst at the same time respectfully reminding them of some key ‘mind your language’ pointers.

Clearly SHEF’s steady efforts over recent years have earned this group some standing and respect in their field of expertise, which now enables them to advocate from a position of strength. There are no shortcuts for others to reach a similar place, but we can surely listen and learn from how they go about using it.