Sunday, 5 June 2011

Home educated or missing from education?

There is currently considerable disquiet on one of the home education Internet lists about the case of an apparently home educating mother in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. She has been referred, under circumstances which remain obscure, to social services. The assumption is that the referral was prompted by her home educating, rather than any other concern. Of course, without knowing a good deal more about the family than the mother chooses to reveal to an Internet forum, it is impossible to know what is really going on here. Let us assume for a moment though that the case is as presented and that somebody in Barking and Dagenham's education department has tipped off social services about the home education and raised it as a concern. What are we to make of this? I know a little about the situation in this borough because, as I have mentioned in the past, my wife works there in a role which brings her into contact with many exceedingly dysfunctional families with young children. I would not say from what I have heard that home education is very common in this East London borough, but what is not at all rare is parents not sending their children to school, which is an entirely different matter. A number of parents drift into the habit of not sending their kids to school regularly because they have chaotic and disorganised lifestyles. They stay up late, take their children out visiting with them until one or two in the morning and then neither the kids or the parents wake up in time for school the next day. If this happens a few times and nobody takes any firm action, some parents simply stop sending their children entirely after a while. The school sometimes colludes with this and it has been known for schools to hint that if parents were to tell them that they were moving, that it would then be possible for the school to remove the child's name from the register. This suits the school, who don't want a load of fuss and extra paperwork and also the parent who does not want to have to get up early to take the kid to school. Truancy reflects badly on the school as well as the parents and most schools like to avoid having too much truancy. It suggestes that there is something wrong with their school and if a way can be found to remove a persistent truant from the register, many will jump at the chance.



Of course this is not home education at all; it is a child missing from education. However, without looking into such families a little and visiting the home, talking to the child and so on, it is impossible to gauge the true state of affairs. Children from this sort of home background often are at risk in one way and another. The mother might be in the habit of leaving the kid at home while she goes out in the evenings; I also know of several cases like this where the mother was on the game or using drugs.




In a number of local authority areas now, a child not at school is being regarded as being, prima facie, at risk. This is not a desirable state of affairs and yet a very understandable reaction among those who wish to protect the interests of vulnerable children. Often, a single home visit is enough to filter this sort of family our from genuine home educators.



Parents like this are not the only ones who fail to send their children to school. There are a lot of foreigners living in Barking and Dagenham these days, particularly Albanians, and some of these families do not want their children to attend school. There are various reasons for this, none of which involve home education and this is another group who cause concern. I am not really at all surprised that the mother who has posted about being referred to social services has had a visit of this sort. The aim is always child protection and there is no sinister agenda which entails the persecution of real home educators. The goal is simply to check that this is a home educating parent and not one of the other categories of parents who simply do not send their kids to school.

15 comments:

  1. The issue though is can an authority assume that a child is missing from education if there is evidence to the contrary? If I remove little Jonny from school and never respond to any enquiries about what I am doing, then it may be entirely reasonable to send in social services, since there is no evidence that I am home educating. If however the child is known as home educated, has had previous contact with the EHE department and no concerns have been raised in the past, why is at all reasonable to think this is a cause for concern? Okay, it may be that my method of providing evidence that I am home educatimng to the "suitable" criteria may not be what the LA likes (ie not a home visit) or it may be a bit below adequate, but wouldn't a reasonable LA at least write and say "send us more detail"?

    This seems a completely unwarranted response to a situation and I hope they are able to see the light! However we are ending up witha sort of two teir system - the guidelines (backed up by mutterings from Grahm Stuart and co) on one hand and ever more extreme responses for a few LAs on the other. I do wonder whether what actually is happening is a sort of fishing expedition by LAs- it will add fuel to their campaign of " more regulation" if they can come up with a few cases where their intervention identified really worrying abuse- that wouldn't have come to light without their heavy handed approach.

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  2. ' I do wonder whether what actually is happening is a sort of fishing expedition by LAs- it will add fuel to their campaign of " more regulation" if they can come up with a few cases where their intervention identified really worrying abuse- that wouldn't have come to light without their heavy handed approach.'

    What would the motivation be here for the local authority? I simply can't see that they stand to gain anything from launching campaigns of this sort. I am far more inclined to think that this is just that most LAs have a list of families where the children are not attending school and nothing is really known about the circumstances; there have been no visits, say. I am guessing that in some places they are referring cases like this to social services, partly to cover themselves if the kid turns up on a slab in the mortuary, but also because they genuinely are concerned about the welfare of the kid. The problem also lies in the terminology. 'Home education' is being cited as a risk factor for children, when the actual risk factor is 'non-attendance at school'.
    Simon.

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  3. But this particular family have been home edding for about 6 years I believe and have sent in ed phils every year which have always been accepted. So the LA can't claim that they're just checking that they're a genuine home ed family as they already know that they are. How many families that don't send their kids to school because they can't be bothered to get out of bed in the morning could be bothered to do an ed phil every year just to try and trick the LA into believing they're HE'ing? That's a pretty elaborate ruse, I can't imagine that they'd even know what an ed phil was.

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  4. 'That's a pretty elaborate ruse, I can't imagine that they'd even know what an ed phil was.'

    I rather think that just as a fishing net will sometimes bring up fish which are of no interest, so to in this case the local authority might simply be trying to get somebody to check homes and see that the kids are alive and that things are not too frightful for them. It may well be that all children who are not at school are being sifted through in this way and from time to time a genuinely home educating family will recieve a visit.
    Simon.

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  5. "The aim is always child protection and there is no sinister agenda which entails the persecution of real home educators."

    Ignorance again SImon Webb. You just don't know how much you really don't know and yet think you know it all - as usual.

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  6. Hi, I live in that borough and have only been home educating this year. This conversation is both fascinating and worrying. I think I have met this family.

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  7. ' This conversation is both fascinating and worrying. I think I have met this family.'

    Come on Anonymous, tell us more. Is it your impression that the council are being heavy handed or do you think that they are justified in their actions? Do you have visits yourself? How do you find Barking and Dagenham's attitude to home education?

    Simon.

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  8. Its me 'Anonymous' from Barking and Dagenham again. Its early days to say what I think of the boroughs approach because we haven't home educated for very long. So far I have only spoke to them on the phone and filled out their standard initial home ed form. They did want to come to our home merely to collect the form, which I thought was intrusive, so I hand delivered it to their office. They also wanted to come again with someone to assess my daughters academic 'levels' and also visit again to see what I was teaching her.I requested that they co-ordinate their visits (so we do not have to keep having them intruding). I accept they have to monitor that my child is not at any risk. When I spoke to Home Ed department at the LA, I knew more about the non-public sector provision which we have organised for my daughters SEN than they did. They were actually asking me questions, requesting details of the contacts and services which we have been using !( my child is dyslexic/dyspraxic ) I find it ironic that they seem to think all HE families( particularly in this borough ) are like Simon descibes in his original piece. My child is receiving 1 to 1 professional tuition in literacy and numeracy as dictated as necessary for her in the report we paid £400 for from a dyslexia assessor. I get the impression they were a bit surprised at all this.

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  9. B&D HE Mum8 June 2011 at 00:43

    By the way, I hope it is evident that I am not the same 'anonymous' as whomever posted on the 6th June. My posts start with 'Hi' and 'its me'. So I will alter profile if possible. Sorry-I am a newcomer to blogs so need to get the hang of it.

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  10. Urgh, profile still not right.Trying again.
    Want to use B&D HE Mum as profile/url but not accepted so will revert to anonymous until I understand this blogging lark.

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  11. I think Simon was asking if the LA are being heavy handed or if their behaviour is justified in their handling of the other family, not your family.

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  12. Or rather, he was asking about both since he didn't know when he asked the question if you had visits or not.

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