I have been re-reading the current guidelines which were issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in order to advise local authorities what they should and should not be doing about home education. They may be found here;
The first thing which strikes anybody looking at these guidelines is that they are very favourably slanted towards those home educators who wish to be left alone. Local authority trying to claim that unknown home educated children might be missing from education? Think again, local authority! The guidelines are quite explicit;
2.6 Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory
school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately, or in alternative provision). The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.
In other words, don't bother your head about kids who are being educated at home; they are not the target of this legislation. What about local authorities who insist that they are obliged to operate a policy of regular monitoring? Again, the guidelines are very clear;
2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.
Or how about this;
2.12 Local authorities also have a duty under section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002 to
safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This section states:
“A local education authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that the functions
conferred upon them in their capacity as a local education authority are exercised with a
view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”
Section 175(1) does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.
The current guidelines are perfectly clear and phrased in unambiguous language. (One suspects, judging by the document which has already been circulated by the group working upon the 'new' guidelines, that this may not be the case with the guidelines which they are producing!) Local authorities were very angry when the 2007 guidelines were published, because they in effect chased the local authorities away from home educating families and advised them to keep their distance. These guidelines set out the legal situation very clearly and are not in the least respect unfavourable to home educators, whether known to their local authorities or 'under the radar'. One can see why local authorities might wish for new guidelines, but why should home educators be dissatisfied with them? Last year, when the Department for Children, Schools and Families were revamping their website, the guidelines vanished for a few days. There was widespread consternation among home educators, because they felt that the 2007 guidelines were a valuable tool in asserting their rights around home education. A year later and they urgently need to be scrapped. What has changed?
The answer to the above question is that many local authorities simply disregard these guidelines. They operate policies which are in direct contravention of the principles set out in the 2007 guidelines and bluff parents who are not familiar with the law into accepting arrangements which they do not have to. Since the dropping of Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill, there has been a tendency to act as though though the provisions of the bill actually became law. I don't think that anybody could argue that this is not the case; certainly I would not do so. It is thought by some that if a new and clearer set of guidelines were produced and endorsed by the Department for Education, then this would discourage local authorities from engaging in these so-called ultra vires practices. Of course if they drive a coach and horses through the current guidelines, guidelines which could not be plainer, what on earth is to stop them from doing precisely the same with another set?
As far as I can see, the present enterprise by the 'secret group' is liable to result in a clear and easily understood set of instructions to local authorities being replaced by guidelines which are vague and possibly all but incomprehensible. The document which was circulated by the group recently certainly raises this suspicion. I am awaiting eagerly the first draft of these new guidelines.