In February 2007, for reasons which need not concern us, the 1996 Education Act was amended. Section 436A was added, which laid upon local authorities a duty to seek out and identify children in their area who were not receiving an education. Part of the new legislation says that local authorities should:
make inquiries with parents educating children at home about the educational provision being made for them.
Rather confusingly, Section 437 goes on to say local authorities should only make these enquiries:
if it appears that a child is not receiving education.
There is of course a contradiction here. On the one hand, local authorities should seek out parents who are not providing an education for their children and then make enquiries of them. Home educating parents are specifically included in this. A few paragraphs later, we are told that these enquiries should only be made of home educating parents, 'if it appears' that a child is not receiving an education. So are the local authority to make enquiries of all home educating parents about the educational provision, as Section 436A would seem to suggest? Or should they limit these enquiries only to those cases where is appears to them that an education is not being provided, as is laid down in Section 437?
It is this conundrum which is currently exercising the minds of a number of home educators and former home educators. Although the law is not clear, common sense would suggests that the duty in Section 436A should probably be the thing the to follow. Different people have many and various duties in law, some of which it is for local authorities to enforce. For example, an hotel owner must provide things like wash basins and take care to keep meat products separate from other foods in his kitchen. This is his duty and it is entirely his responsibility to see that such things are done. Nevertheless, the local authority has a duty to check that he is doing this. They will do so, regardless of whether they have reason to suppose that he is failing in this duty. Similarly, parents have a duty to provide their children with an education, either at school or at home. The local authority, just as in the case of the hotel owner, will check that this duty is being complied with. they do so whether or not they have cause to doubt that a suitable education is being provided. The law may be confusing, but our common sense tells us that when hotel owners, shopkeepers, managers of factories, teachers or parents have a duty; some at least will seek to evade this duty. This is human nature. The role of local authorities is to keep an eye out for such evasions and check that they do not happen. It seems as though, once again, home educators wish for special consideration which is not given to others.