Many local authorities in this country were gearing up to implement the provisions of the Children, Schools and Families Bill as soon as they became law. As we are all now aware, Schedule 1 of the bill, which contained all the stuff about compulsory registration and so on, will not now become law. Never the less, the momentum which has been building up with many local authorities seems to be unstoppable. Just as a giant oil tanker cannot stop in a few yards, but continues on its course for miles even after the engines have been thrown into reverse, so too with the local authorities. Indeed, many of them do not even appear to have been issued with the instruction to stop engines!
Several parents on the Internet lists have reported receiving communications from their local authority which require them to provide a statement of educational intent, sign agreements and generally behave as though the Children, Schools and Families Bill was in fact passed in its entirety. There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that it as I say, simply the usual bureaucratic inertia which makes it hard to change any policy. The local authorities have made their plans and are now unable to alter them at a moment's notice. There is though another possibility. This is that legal advice has been taken and it is intended to treat those who deregister their children from school as though they were not providing a suitable education unless they give good evidence to the contrary. This would be an interesting point. Of course cases such as Joy Baker's went into this as long ago as the nineteen fifties.
In the same year that Education Otherwise was founded, another court case had its beginnings; a case which was to be just as significant in its own way as that of Joy Baker's, twenty years earlier. Mr Phillips and Ms Reah were the parents of a boy with the unusual name of Oak. They lived in Leeds and chose to educate their son at home. In the course of time, the local education authority in Leeds became aware that Oak Reah was not attending school and in the Summer of 1977 they wrote to his parents asking them about the educational provision being made for their son. His parents decided that it was nobody's business but their own and refused to give any information whatsoever about Oak's education. After a time, the LEA grew impatient and issued a School Attendance Order. Eventually, the family very grudgingly provided an account of what they were doing.
As a result of such cases as these, many parents today believe that all that their local authority is required by law to ask for is an educational philosophy. Accordingly, many parents, particularly those who favour autonomous education, limit themselves to a vague document which expresses their hopes, rather than sets out their plans. A lot of local authorities are unhappy about this and judging by some of the letters being sent, it seems that some will no longer be prepared to accept such a feeble explanation.
This could prove pretty exciting for some of the families who will be the first to challenge this new approach, if that is what it is. Lord Donaldson's ruling in the case of Oak Reah leaves a good deal of leeway for both local authorities and parents to argue about what is acceptable in this respect. He certainly said that if parents refused to give any information about their children's eduction, then the local authority could be justified in assuming that no education was taking place. On the other hand, sending them an educational philosophy does, at least according to some parents, provide the necessary evidence of an education. I wonder if we are heading for another of those landmark rulings in home education? We shall have to see whether or not this is just a little over enthusiasm on the part of authorities who were getting over-excited about the new powers they were expecting or if there is a little more to it.