Saturday, 16 October 2010

Home educated children and access to health services

I have, as I have said in the past, been involved in helping parents of children with special educational needs to de-register their children from special schools. This can be a little more complicated than de-registering from an ordinary maintained school, because of Regulation 8 (2) of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006, which specifies that the permission of the local authority is required before a child at a special school can be removed from roll. In practice, this is seldom withheld, but a variety of tactics are used to try and discourage parents from taking this step. These gambits are not used maliciously, but are brought into play because the school and local authority genuinely believe that the child's needs can be better catered for in an institutional setting rather than at home. Needless to say, I feel that they are mistaken in this.

A popular way of discouraging parents from taking a child with special educational needs out of school is to claim that the services which she needs can only be provided within a school setting. The Ofsted survey undertaken in 2009 (Local authorities and home education Ref. 0902670) found this practice to be widespread. A mother whose child was receiving physiotherapy while registered at school, mentioned that she was considering home education. She was told that it was a case of, 'either school and services or home education and nothing'. Nor is this an isolated example. Statements like this by a school are scandalous and often untrue. Many health services such as speech therapy and special dentists are available by open referral; in other words no professional is needed to arrange them, it can be done by a parent or friend. This is not widely known. I get pretty angry about this sort of nonsense.

Nor is this problem limited to home educated children with special needs. When I wanted my daughter to have the meningitis C vaccination some years ago, I was initially told that the whole programme only took place at school and that it was not possible to provide it for any child except through a school. It was quite a struggle to prove to them that they were mistaken about this! I had a similar difficulty with the HPV vaccination. These practices vary a good deal between different health services and local authorities. It was for this reason that I was extremely irritated to see that when a local authority like that in the area of Aberystwyth goes out of their way to ensure that home educated children have equal access to these things, it becomes the subject of untruthful rumours on home education lists. Access to all the health services which children at school enjoy should be and is a basic entitlement of all children, not withheld from those who do not attend school.

The School Entry Health Check is given to all children starting school. Obviously it is done with the permission of the parents, but I can't imagine any refusing. It picks up on hearing and sight problems, stuff like that. Children who do not go to school can miss out on this and some do not ever have their hearing tested. This could be a problem, because apart from deafness, which most parents would notice, the sweep hearing test can uncover problems with hearing certain frequencies. So a child might have good hearing but be unable to hear high frequency speech sounds such as 'S' and 'C'. This can harm his language development. School nurses routinely tell parents that 'all children have to have these tests'. I am sure that they say the same thing to the parents of home educated children and this might be where the ludicrous stories originate of children being dragged off to the school nurse against their will so that they can be weighed and measured.

All children are entitled to every health service which is on offer. When local authorities work towards this and try to make sure that a full range of such services is available, they should be commended. If when some LA makes an initiative in this direction they are at once bombarded with Freedom of Information requests, it will make other local authorities less likely to offer these services to home educated children. This would be a very bad thing and I cannot for the life of me see how it would be to the advantage of any home educated child.


  1. I agree :-)

    Health screening and treatment should not be dependent on the educational setting the child is in.

    I've had to fight all the way up to the Dept of Health for some services. Others have been as easy as phoning the practice nurse for an appointment.

    It's the 'compulsory' element which parents can find so offensive. If they believe that someone is attempting to force them to do something with their children, they will naturally object.

    Your exchange with Amy was very enlightening. The person who was delivering these services, which were being *offered*, was using the word 'compulsory'. No wonder hackles rose.

    Mrs Anon

  2. Well of course if somebody had told me that my daughter had to have the meningitis C jab because all children had to have it, I might have wished to show them that they were wrong about that! It is true that suggesting compulsion can put people's backs up. I know for a fact that some school nurses tell parents that 'all children have to have these tests'. This is sometimes said to immigrant parents who are a little wary about things in order to bluff them into agreeing. I dare say that something similar has happened in Wales and Oldham. The motives are sound, but this can be counter-productive when working with awkward customers like home educating parents.

  3. "The School Entry Health Check is given to all children starting school. Obviously it is done with the permission of the parents, but I can't imagine any refusing."

    Didn't you avoid health visitors and their checks?

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