According to Ian Dowty, who is of course a lawyer specialising in home education, a recent court case in Oxfordshire ruled that the burden of proof in establishing that a home educated child is receiving a suitable education falls upon the parents. In other words, the onus is not upon the local authority to demonstrate that the child is not receiving an education, but the ball is in the parents' court to show that the child is. This is quite interesting, because many local authorities are dubious about the 'evidence' produced by parents to show that an education is taking place.
Quite a few parents whose children are not at school get irritated to be called upon to prove that they are educating their children. Why can't the local authority just take their word for it? Why do they need evidence at all? Well the reason is of course that everybody lies and an awful lot of home educating parents say anything at all that they think will get the local authority off their backs. Local authorities know this perfectly well and so they require something other than mere words. Parents often tell the local authority officer whose job is to monitor home education a pack of fairy stories and hope for the best. Here is Myra Robinson, a Home Education Advisor from Newcastle;
'Other pupils are unable to produce work samples on demand or demonstrate an understanding of the basics, despite parents' claims about their level of education.
"One girl said she worked in the library, but didn't seem to know where the library was," Ms Robinson said'
This is a fairly typical example of what many local authority officers encounter. Parents send them an educational philosophy, backed up with a diary of supposedly educational activities. Then when they get to meet the kid, it turns out that this is a lot of nonsense. This is one of the reasons, incidentally, that local authorities are so keen to visit. It is often only during such visits that the truth comes to light. Presumably many parents are reluctant to accept visits for the opposite reason; so that they can prevent the truth coming to light. Mind you, maybe Myra Robinson is not telling the truth. After all, she works for a local authority and it could be that she is unjustly maligning home educating parents for sinister reasons of her own. Let's see what a few home educators have to say.
Up in Herefordshire, a well known and vociferous home educating mother gave an interview to her local newspaper recently. During the course of the interview, she repeated what she had already told her local authority;
'Mrs Gxxxx added that Mxxxx is looking to do between six and eight GCSEs at the end of the year.'
Blimey and the kid is only twelve! Small wonder that the local authority have been led to believe that she is a dedicated and fantastically structured home educator. But hang on a moment! What does she say when she is relaxing with her friends of one of her favourite Internet lists?
'We are thinking that GCSE's are going to be a no-no. The stress would stop
his brain working'
See the problem? How can the local authority take seriously what she is telling them? No wonder that they want proof and not just empty words. At the other end of the country, Hampshire County Council served notice of their intention to issue a School Attendance Order upon parents in Alton. Subsequently, they were provided with evidence of this child's academic work. Can you believe it though? They expressed doubts that the work they had been given was actually done by the child. How can people be so suspicious and lacking in trust? What reason could they possibly have had for doubting that the work which they were given was in fact the unaided efforts of the child himself? Well, let's look at another recent example of this same boys work, namely an email which was sent to Penny Jones at the DCSF on November 20th last year. He signed his name and so we can be sure that he wrote the thing. He says;
'I’m not scared of a school attendance order do it go for it. I burn it on the fire like the other one! I’m not scared of you Ed Balls DCSF come on Ed takes us to court I’m soooooooooooo scared! '
All right, stop laughing at the back! It is sheer coincidence that his style of writing is so uncannily similar to that of his father. I am shocked and disgusted that anybody could be so cynical as to assume that the father produced both this email and the written work sent to Hampshire County Council.
I have recently had the impression that some local authorities are becoming a little tougher about the standard of evidence which they require to establish that a suitable education is taking place. Some have attributed this to their behaving as though the Children, Schools and Families Bill was actually passed intact. The case in Oxfordshire which Ian Dowty mentions might well provide another explanation. I have an idea that more local authorities will be adopting a hard line now and requiring a bit more convincing that a suitable education is really being provided to children. I for one find this a very encouraging development.