INTEGRATED COMMUNITIES STRATEGY GREEN PAPER - MY RESPONSE TO THE HOME EDUCATION PROPOSALS

Question 8 of the Consultation in relation to Home Education:

The Green Paper sets out proposals to support parents with their choice of out-of-school education settings. Do you agree with this approach? 


This is an ambiguous question that somehow suggests that the Government intends to 'support parents in their choices’ which is not reflected in the Green Paper. Page 34 sets out an intention to ‘clarify local authorities’ existing powers to take action and tackle poor elective home education more effectively and with more confidence’.

Power is defined in the English Oxford Dictionary as 'the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others, or political authority and control exercised by a government’. The Government’s intention to 'clarify existing powers' does not correspond with a supportive ethos, regardless of how it is worded in the Green Paper.

Chapter 3, and particularly, the section relating to Elective Home Education (EHE), does not go far enough in clarifying that the responsibility for a child's education rests with their parents, not the government. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not. Whilst it appears very beneficent to acknowledge our right to home educate and ‘warmly welcome those who do it well’ this type of statement communicates a sentiment of ‘bequeathing’ something that already belongs to us.

To clarify, Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:

"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable -
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

Although the emphasis is placed on the parent’s rights, the child’s voice must also be considered. Much emphasis is placed on home educating parents to prove that the child’s wishes are respected, yet the same requirement is absent for parents who outsource education to schools or academies. Without interviewing every child of compulsory school age, in every educational setting, we must apply common sense to the consideration of children’s rights in education e.g. Children have parents. Parents can only be parents. Parents have the powers to act as parents when carrying out their legal duty. So, parental rights are, by default, also the children’s rights. One cannot, or should not, be offset against the other.

The important matter is that state-sponsored schools are an opt-in alternative to home education. Not a compulsory requirement. Parents have the option to outsource their responsibility or fulfil the obligation themselves. This must be made implicit in the amended guidance.

The mere inference that home educators require ‘greater oversight’ by the government because they do not attend state-sponsored schools between the hours of 9am and 3pm is not substantiated by evidence. No statistical information is included in the Green Paper to support the notion that children are safer or receive a better education in regulated schools. To seek views on new guidance which will award greater powers to local authorities to intervene when ‘home education is not working properly’ must be substantiated.

‘What does ‘not working properly’ mean?

An ‘efficient and ‘suitable’ education is not defined in the Education Act 1996 , but ‘efficient’ has been broadly described in case law as an education that "achieves that which it sets out to achieve", and a ‘suitable’ education is one that "primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child's options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so".

If it is by this definition of education, set out in case law, that local authorities will assess whether home education is working properly or not, then this needs to be made explicit within any subsequent guidance.

In terms of unregistered schools, it is deeply unhelpful to draw comparisons between those parents who opt to adhere to the above definition of a suitable education and those who outsource that duty to illegal establishments that teach extremist ideologies not conducive to British culture.

However, Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:

"No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."

Therefore, the question must be posed: Does the government wish to change this human right? Is it the religious aspect of unregistered schools that is cause for concern, or the extremist views that pose a threat to our national security?

Once again, there is potential for misinterpretation. Will households practicing Christianity or Catholicism also be classed as ‘not working properly’? In which case, religious schools should come under the same judgement.


Or as suspected, are the comments regarding unregistered schools related to the posed threat against our national security by the teaching of anti-western/anti-British values? In which case, why does the guidance relating to home education need to be clarified in order to control a minority population that are not home educating?

By definition of being unregistered, they are illegal. They are schools that advocate the extremist radicalisation of young British people, which is punishable under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (the duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism). If this duty applies to registered schools, surely it applies to unregistered schools?

Why aren’t the Police, Local Authorities and Ofsted exhausting existing safeguarding, anti-terrorism and education legislation to close down and tackle illegal, unregulated schools? Why doesn’t the Secretary of State intervene?

Why marginalise, vilify and disrespect the rights of thousands of law-abiding home educators to take a less-effective shortcut that will not address the specific threat?

The right to a private family life is enshrined in UK law (Article 8 Human Rights Act 1998), as is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Under these protected rights, the government should not intervene in Home Education unless there is just cause for concern.

To consider a mandatory register (with sanctions and penalties) for the monitoring and assessment of ‘a suitable and effective education’ in the private family home, without just cause for concern, strays beyond that of a democratic society.

Any amendments to the guidance must make it clear that these protected rights should not be compromised without just cause for concern. Furthermore, in the event of just cause, Local Authorities should follow existing procedures for responding to safeguarding or anti-terrorism concerns.

To improve the current culture of mistrust between home educators and local authorities (caused by unjustified castigation of home educators and their continued association with unregistered extremist establishments), the guidance should limit the potential for personal interpretation and bias, by including clear and concise legal definitions and examples where possible. It is not acceptable for any government representative to judge a ‘suitable education’ based on personal experience or philosophies. A home education should not be assessed against a state-school curriculum and officers should not demand to see the work of children, to further that agenda.

It should be noted within the amended guidance that General Data Protection Regulation replaces the existing Data Protection Act 1998 in May 2018, meaning that children, particularly those over the age of 13, have the legal right to decide how their personal information is shared and for what purpose. This should be taken into account when local authorities insist on seeing examples of children’s work. Refusal should not lead to the commencement of SAO’s.

Nor should the right to refuse a face-to-face appointment for support. The common practice of demanding appointments or ‘door-stepping’ parents is unacceptable given that many home educated children also have special educational needs and additional anxieties.

The amended guidance should seek to protect and respect the child’s right to learn in a safe and caring environment. The practice of unannounced assessments should be prohibited – unless there is sufficient cause to suspect child neglect or abuse. In which case, existing embedded safeguarding procedures should be implemented.

Currently, there is too much inconsistency of local interpretation and application of national guidance, leading to the enforcement of unfair and unjustified School Attendance Orders. This decision is often reached when parents are fulfilling their legal obligation, but the local authority deem it unsatisfactory (e.g. Lilian Hardy and Westminster Council Case). In some instances, local authorities add their own policies to the national guidance, for which there is no mechanism for official complaint to the Department for Education.

I call on the Government to protect the rights of home educators by establishing an official complaints procedure or ombudsman service to respond to legitimate complaints raised about the misrepresentation of the new amended guidance by local areas. This could also be used to respond to complaints about off-rolling by private academies.

Finally, I would ask that Government members refrain from using the term ‘missing from education’ when discussing or describing home education. This is either deliberately misleading or a sign of misunderstanding. Both result in a loss of trust and faith.

Home educated children are educated at home. By and large, they receive a well-balanced, bespoke education that embraces and develops their natural talents and aspirations and prepares them for an ever-changing modern world and workplace. They do not attend school between certain hours, but they are very much present in our community and are educated according to their age, aptitude and ability (substantiated by many health professionals). They are certainly not, by any means, ‘missing from education’ or ‘hidden’.

To reassure the general public that the Government has both the skills and knowledge to know the difference and make the distinction, this term should be correctly applied or completely abolished. It serves no purpose in a document about community cohesion if it implies incorrectly, that home educated children should be viewed as problematic or a cause for concern. The irony of singling out one community in a report about integration and cohesion is not lost.

The problem of troubled households, where safeguarding is a concern, cannot be directly linked or associated solely with home education. Nor can it be evidenced that those that are home educated are at greater risk. Child abuse is pervasive and cuts across every demographic of society, regardless of equality characteristics or how and where children are educated. High profile cases from ‘both camps’ (e.g. Dylan Seabridge/ Daniel Pelka/Blake Fowler) demonstrates that abuse can be missed by entire communities.

We must remain vigilant and professionally curious across all walks of life, from those who send their children to exclusive private schools to those who send them to unregistered faith schools.

This Green Paper presents a perfect opportunity to produce amended guidance for home education. It should not be missed by diluting the rights of parents by wrongly including sanctions and/or directions against groups or individuals that have nothing to do with home education.

The Green Paper responds to a number of separate challenges, each requiring an individual response. There is no unitary solution or piece of legislation to support integration, but we should be absolutely clear here - Home Education is not an inequality or a barrier to integration and opportunity. It does not prevent Britain from building the type of free-democracy that encourages free speech, individual freedoms and the mutual respect of diverse communities.

Quite the contrary – it embodies it!

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