The Department for Children, Schools and Families has written to local authorities updating them on the situation regarding home educated children with special educational needs. This is being done in light of the Badman Review and the proposed new legislation. Most of us would see this as a fairly good idea; keeping the LAs posted and reminding them of the new duties which will possibly devolve upon them with the passage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009. Most of us, but not a number of home educators. The response of one mother posting on a list sums up their reaction, "OMG, how dare they!" Another cries, "Completely outrageous!"
So what do the DCSF actually say which provokes such anger? Well, to begin with they want to make sure that children withdrawn from school do not lose the specialist services which they are getting, just because they are going to be taught at home;
"In some cases it may be that parents on their own would not be able to make suitable
provision for their children but could do so with some support from the local authority. Under
section 319 of the Education Act 1996 local authorities have the power, after consulting the child’s
parent, to make special education provision otherwise than at school, including in the child’s home.
The Government expects local authorities to consider whether such provision could help home
educating parents to make suitable provision when decisions are being taken concerning the
suitability of home provision for children with SEN. Where local authorities make such provision for
a home educated child with an SEN statement then the provision can be recorded on the statement
(SEN Code of Practice, paragraph 8.96)."
This is, I think, a timely reminder. Many parents have found that services have a habit of stopping once they deregister their child and it is good that the DCSF is aware of this. There is also talk of funding children to take GCSEs if they wish and also having access to some school facilities;
"We are also planning to allow local authorities to access DSG funding where they do not
provide significant financial support but permit young people to access some school services and
fund them to take their GCSEs if they opt to enter as private candidates. We would count each such
pupil as 0.1 for DSG funding purposes, and review towards the end of the next spending review
period whether this is an appropriate level. We plan to make this change for the 2011-12 DSG
Apart from that, the DCSF remind the local authorities that if the child has a statement then there must be an annual review. If it is impossible to establish that the child's needs are properly provided for in the course of the review, then a School Attendance Order should be issued.
We must of course bear in mind that some children with special educational needs are among the most vulnerable of individuals. Some suffer from global developmental delay, for example and are pretty well helpless; unable to speak, understand much, take care of themselves in even the most rudimentary fashion or express any needs or wishes at all. I really cannot see that when such a child has a statement, that it would be unreasonable when reviewing it for the child herself to be seen and her situation assessed. Some parents, despite the fact that they love and cherish their child, are actually not capable of looking after them and providing for their education single-handed.
So bland and anodyne is this document, that it is hard to see why anybody should take exception to it. As far as I can see, the main objection seems to be that the DCSF are preparing in advance for the implementation of a new law, rather than leaving it until the last moment. This would be a bad thing, because?
One is inescapably driven to the conclusion that the people who are kicking up a fuss about this letter are doing so purely and simply because it is something which looks new. In fact all the duties to which the DCSF draw the attention of local authorities are existing duties. They are alerting them to things which may change in the next few months. It is very depressing to think that some people are so opposed to change that they would start shouting about something like this as a matter of principle. It seems that anything which comes from the DCSF or mentions new legislation automatically causes fury and opposition from a certain section of the home educating community! Even more intriguing is the fact that none of the vociferous people on the lists who are complaining about this letter, actually seem to have children with special educational needs! There is a frantic effort to find anybody who actually knows about the law on special needs, just so that complaints may be made that the DCSF is overstepping the mark.
I have said before and I will say again, that this attitude, that of opposing everything suggested as a matter of principle, is likely to backfire badly. If home educators continue to refuse to deal with them, the DCSF will simply find other partners. I cannot see how this would be of any benefit at all to home educating parents. Even the new piece of research being suggested is likely to be boycotted by some parents. The effect of all this will be that the DCSF may decide that there is little point in even attempting to ascertain the views and opinions of home educators.