Thursday, 19 November 2009

The new law - fears and realities

Ever since the publication of the Badman Report in the Summer, there has been great anxiety on the part of some home educating parent as to what changes there will be in the law relating to home education. Will children be interrogated alone? Will the local authority be given right of entry to our homes? Will they try and impose the National Curriculum of home educators?
Well the draft regulations have now been published and pretty tame they are too. What difference will they make to most home educators? None at all. Let us look at the original fears and then see how the law as set out in the Children, Schools and Families Bill will actually work.

Fear No. 1 Children will be interviewed without the parents being present.


"Arrangements made under subsection (3) may, unless the child or a

parent of the child objects, provide for a meeting with the child at

which no parent of the child or other person providing education to

the child is present."

In other words, meetings without the parents will only take place by agreement with the parents and child.

Fear No. 2 The local authority will have the right to enter our homes.


"visiting, at least once in the registration period, the place (or

at least one of the places) where education is provided to the


This might be the local library, for instance. No mention at all of the home.

Fear No. 3 The definition of a "suitable education" will be tightened up.


"For the purposes of this section a child’s education is suitable if it is
efficient full-time education suitable to—

the child’s age, ability and aptitude, and

any special educational needs the child may have."

The definition of a suitable education is unchanged.

Fear No. 4 Parents who don't notify the local authority may be guilty of a criminal offence


The onus is firmly on the part of the local authority to track down and register children. There are no penalties for not announcing that you are home educating.

I could go on point by point, but I think this will do. Most parents will not even notice the difference. Local authorities will want to meet parents and children, but even that is hedged around with the proviso, "as far as is practical". This will give local authorities leeway not to insist upon it. True, the local authority will have the power to revoke registration if parents do not co-operate, but this does not alter the existing position either. If they revoke registration, then they will have to issue a School Attendance Order and the whole matter will move to the magistrates court. This will give the parents the chance to argue their case. There is nothing to stop LAs from doing this already with unco-operative home educators. I doubt it will become any more frequent.

All in all, this seems a very good outcome for home educating parents. I dare say that some will still manage to engineer confrontations with their local authority, but for the great majority, their minds will be put at rest and they can relax and carry on with their children's education.


  1. Simon, how many HE'ers are you still in regular contact with? I mean, on a personal level, where you might go out for lunch with them and have a chat? That sort of thing?

    You just seem so out of step with 'the great majority' it makes me wonder that perhaps you don't really know anyone in the HE community any more?

    Obviously, I'm not in touch with the whole of the majory, but I'm in regular contact with two dozen or so, as friends, and they are pretty representative of a wide variety of educational approaches and philosophies and not one of them is in favour of the changes to the law.

    In fact, this process of opposition to Badman's Report and the law ensuing from it, has politicised this bunch of middle-aged mums to an extra-ordinary degree. Seeing their MP's, joining working parties, writing letters, making appointments with LA reps, going to Parliament. Astonishing really, how strong feelings are.

    And most of these mums I know have either finished HE'ing now or their kids are right at the end of their HE journey, so it's not as though they even have anything to lose.

    I really think you are very out of touch with what is going on with 'the great majority'.

    Mrs Anon

  2. I am trying to be upbeat and optomistic, mrs. Anon! I should I suppose have said, "their mind should be put at rest". Whether that will in fact be the case is certainly open to doubt. I suspect that some will continue to act as though all the worst parts of the Badman Report's recommendations had indeed been place on the Statute Book.

  3. They have haven't they? Registration and monitoring and nothing of the good things that were promised. Threats of failure to allow registration and no definition of why.

    I can't see that there's all that much to be optimistic about, other than they haven't adopted it in Wales!

  4. The refusal to allow registration would only open the way for a local authority to issue a School Attendance Order. They can do this at the moment if they are uneasy about a home educator. I have gone into great detail in the past as to why they hardly ever do so; those reasons will remain, even if the Children, Schools and Families Bill is passed. The situation will be the same; if the local authority wishes to force a child to attend school, they will have to go through the courts.

  5. “The refusal to allow registration would only open the way for a local authority to issue a School Attendance Order. They can do this at the moment if they are uneasy about a home educator.”

    But at the moment all the parent needs to do is prove to the magistrate that they are providing a suitable education and the SAO is cancelled. The new law states that if the authority considers it expedient that the child should attend school they should serve a SAO and should disregard any education being provided to the child as a home educated child. The magistrates must abide by the same laws. So even if you are providing a suitable education at home the magistrate will still uphold the SAO if the LA thinks the child attend school.

    "(3A) If it appears to a local authority in England—
    (a) that a child of compulsory school age in their area is a home-educated child, but is not registered on their home education register, and
    (b) that it is expedient that the child should attend school,
    the authority shall serve a school attendance order on the child’s parent.
    (3B) In determining for the purposes of subsection (3A)(b) whether it is expedient that a child should attend school, an authority shall
    disregard any education being provided to the child as a home-educated child.”

  6. You have suggested that the annual plan will not have to be followed. This does not appear to be the case:

    “19F Revocation of registration

    A local authority in England may revoke the registration of a child’s details on their home education register if it appears to them that—
    (a) the child’s parent has failed to fulfil an undertaking given by virtue of section 19C(4)(e),”

    "19C (4) Provision within this subsection is provision—
    (e) for an application for registration to include an undertaking to provide a statement mentioned in paragraph (b), or other prescribed information, to the authority within a period determined by or in accordance with the regulations."

  7. Local Education Authorities used to act as though the 1944 Education Act made home education illegal. This was the basis upon which they issued School Attendacne Orders in the sixties and seventies. See, for example, Phillips V Brown 1980 and also Harrison & Harrison V Stephenson 1981. In the fifties, Norfolk County Council used an SAO against Joy baker. How the local authority views a law and how it is interpreted in the courts are two entirely different matters, as we can see from the above cases.

    As regards the annual plan, there is no suggestion of how detailed it will be. Not at all would be my guess. I think it will come down to a parent saying that she hopes that Johnny will learn more about the world and that his literacy skills will develop in a variety of ways, not necessarily in a conventional fashion but in respect of the emergent literacies now recognised by a number of experts in the field. (This means that he may not learn to read this year, but he will watch television and surf the net). I have already drafted a few impressive sounding annual plans that look very detailed and actually promise nothing at all. I am quite sure that local authorities will be content to meet parents and then go away with a long document that they can file away. If people would rather have a confrontation , of course, then I am sure that will be possible too!

  8. "We have not yet defined the content or rigour of a “statement of education”, but it is likely to be a short, word-processed document. Exemplar curricula which parents could use successfully are freely available from the DCSF and QCA websites"

    Wonder what they consider to be 'short' if they recommend the NC as a suitable example?

  9. Regarding Fear No.1, I got this from Education Otherwise's 'Freedom for Children to Grow' website (no date that I could see) in relation to the Badman Report's proposals: "Local authority officers would be expected to visit the family home 3 times in the first year and at least once a year thereafter. The officer would speak to the child alone in order to measure learning progress and to check that the child was safe and well."

    I take it this has now been superseded by the "Reality" you describe above.

    What's subsection (3)?