Apropos of the talks taking place between Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Children, Schools and Families select committee and a group of home educators, it was suggested that it would be a good idea to identify local authorities who were behaving as though Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill had actually been passed. On a national list, somebody put forward Essex as an example of such an LA, on the grounds that they say of home education on their website:
' The LA has a duty in law to monitor that children who are `educated otherwise
than at school' receive suitable education. If the LA is not satisfied with the
arrangements made by any parent for their child's education, there are legal
requirements on both the authority and the parent.'
Now the claim that they have a 'duty in law' to monitor that children being educated at home are receiving a suitable education is, to say the least of it, a little dubious. However, is it worth getting worked up about? Is it really any worse than putting a statement like 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' on a notice board? After all, that's not true either, but nobody usually rushes round getting worked up about legal fictions of that sort. Should parents in Essex be trying to get barristers from London and busybodies from Wales to trot down to Colchester and try to get Essex to change their website? The fact is that most parents, both in Essex and elsewhere, seem to be reasonably satisfied with their relationship with the local authority. True, some individuals have had difficulties with certain local authorities, but even in the area covered by some of the supposedly worst local authorities, those at loggerheads with the council seem to be very much in a minority. The average local authority might know of five hundred or so home educating parents and only a handful are fighting tooth and nail to avoid having a visit. It does not seem to be a widespread problem.
This does not mean that we should simply let local authorities say what they wish or impose outrageous restrictions upon home education. Although there is little sign that they are doing so currently, that does not mean to say that it will not happen in the future. That being so, it is very right and proper that parents keep an eye on their LA. There is another area where things need to be watched and that is the education and training of future employees of local authorities. I have noticed lately that as new textbooks on education and childcare are published, they tend to include more and more misleading statements about home education. Here is an example. Earlier this year Hodder Education published a new edition of Child Care and Education by Bruce et al . On page 402, we find a handy definition of Statutory Schooling. This is, and I quote:
'The age at which children are legally required to attend fulltime education, unless they have the agreement of the local authority that they will be home educated.'
I need hardly say that this is not true; the agreement of the local authority has nothing to do with the case. This is a standard textbook which is used on BTEC courses in childcare and education and is also read by trainee teachers and those working in nurseries. Anybody reading this textbook would gain the impression that it is necessary to have the agreement of the local authority before home education may take place.
I am in two minds about this sort of thing. On the one hand, I think it very wholesome for parents who are thinking of using home education as a way of avoiding problems with truancy to believe that they need permission from the local authority before they de-register their child from school. I can think of other occasions too when it might be helpful if parents were to swallow this mistaken idea about requiring permission to home educate. On the other hand, it might discourage a parent who genuinely wishes to educate her child at home and is worried about seeking the approval of the local authority. This sort of thing, both on the websites of local authorities and in textbooks for those who will one day work for local authorities, might discourage parents from home educating. It is a finely balanced point and I cannot make up my mind about what I think should happen about this kind of thing. What seems clear though is that an increasing amount of the information written, printed and disseminated by local authorities, writers of textbooks and those connected with the world of education generally, now contains statements to the effect that parents need somehow to gain the cooperation or approval of their local authority before they are able to educate their own child at home.