Thursday, 6 August 2009

Do we need new laws?

Recommendation 15 of the Badman Review sounds a little strange unless you know the background. This is unfortunate, because it is quite important. It says, "That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioral issues." What can it mean? Schools and local authorities advising parents to home educate? I thought that they had set their minds like flint against the idea of home education and were trying to put a stop to it. Why on Earth should the DCSF have to take action to prevent LAs from advising parents to home educate?

Ten years ago, Firfield School in Newcastle had a lot of trouble with truancy and exclusions. Too much of this sort of thing makes a school look really lousy and they were desperate to reduce both truancy and exclusion. Somebody hit upon the luminous idea of preparing letters for parents stating that they were deregistering their children in order to home educate them. All the parents had to do was sign on the dotted line. A brief account of this disgraceful affair may be seen here;

Other schools had been doing this for a while, but none so flagrantly as Firfield. Today, many schools still do it, but in a rather more cautious way. Nothing is committed to paper and the Head usually has a quiet chat with parents alone. In effect he says to the mother, "Look Mrs. Smith, we are on the point of excluding Jimmy and then it will be a terrible black mark against him on his educational record. Is that what you want?" Or perhaps he says, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Jones but the local authority have ordered me to crack down on truancy. As you know, your son is hardly ever here. I'm afraid that we are going to prosecute you and have you sent to prison. Oh, and of course your son will be taken into care." Once he has put the frighteners on the parent in this way he casually mentions that there is a way out of this. He then explains how to deregister a child from the school in order to home educate.

Because no records are kept of why parents withdraw children from school, we don't know how many children have been pulled out of school like this. This is, of course the purpose of Recommendation 3. These parents have no intention of home educating, even were they to be capable of it. Their kids just carry on hanging round the streets as before and everybody is happy. Except for the children who miss out on an education...... It is very hard indeed to see how this problem can be tackled without new legislation. I would be keen to hear what methods others would use to deal with this which would not inevitably involve some inconvenience to genuine home educators.


  1. The government doesn't appear to share your concern as they have failed to implement any safeguards against this in their initial round of planned legislation. It's not the job of home educators to solve a failing within the school system and by the same token, they shouldn't have to suffer reduced freedoms under the law because of those failings, but if a child is withdrawn from school the LA will be notified. How difficult would it be for LAs to ask parents if this has been an issue for them? This could even be required of the LA by law but I see no benefit in requiring the parent to answer. It seems a bit of a non-issue as far as home educators are concerned.

  2. Well, of course that would be asking the LAs to police themselves, something which is seldom a good idea! It is they who sometimes collaborate with the schools in this practice. It is not a non-issue for home educators because it means that there are a fair number of people who are supposedly home educating , who are actually just using home education as a scam to avoid trouble. I'm guessing that for the general public this might reflect badly on genuine home educators. I know of a couple of estates in Hackney which both have two or three teenagers hanging round during school hours because they have been withdrawn in this way. Believe me, the residents on those estates have a jaundiced view of "home education". The only hours of the day that they ever used to get a break from the malevolent activities of these youths was from 9-3 and now that has stopped due to what they see as a legal technicality. This does affect other people who may be genuinely home educating.

  3. Then what's your suggestion? Does Badman make any suggestions in his report (it's not available on the DCSF site ATM)?

    Any solution should avoid limiting the freedom of home educators (who as you suggest are not at fault and are potentially victims of this dodgy and possibly criminal behaviour) and also avoid further intimidation of parents who have already been blackmailed by LA employees. But really it's not the responsibility of you or I to sort out a problem within a government department.

  4. BTW, the current planned changes to the law seem to be removing a layer of protection to the public and giving more self regulating power to the LA. Currently home educators have recourse to the law in order to dispute a School Attendance Order. LAs will effectively be a law unto themselves if these changes go through as they will be able to refuse registration without issuing a SAO. I don't think the government are particularly concerned about departments policing themselves!

    Besides which, Ofsted polices LAs, so in theory they should check that parents are asked about this issue (if it became a legal requirement) and ensure that it's dealt with correctly. Even easier, why not make it part of Ofsted's remit to write to all parents of children who have left a school between Ofsted inspections. They would probably learn more about the problems within a school by talking to these parents than the ones that choose to stay.

  5. Well said Simon.

  6. Parents should put their foot down, and not sign documents from the schools making them home educate!

    It is wrong that the schools do this, and I do understand a parent who would rather sign this than risk prosecution, but making home education laws to prevent this is too heavy handed and what's to stop the school bringing out these forms at the end of the alloted 3 week cool down period?