Friday, 15 July 2011

Evading visits from the local authority

On several home education lists, parents still seem to be working hard to prevent local authority officers from visiting their homes to talk about home education. You might think that most parents would relish the opportunity to capture such a person for an hour or so and tell her about home education, but apparently some people are not eager to do this. I know that I have covered this before, but I am still wholly at a loss to see what all the fuss is about here.

Just to remind readers, I never made any effort to notify our local authority of the fact that my daughter was not at school. Haringey were vaguely aware of this, but were too lazy and inefficient to do anything about it. When we moved to Essex, I thought of telling them, but did not get round to it. It was not until my daughter was eight that we ran into a truancy patrol and because I was not particularly bothered about it, I gave them our address. Why would I have been anxious to avoid a visit? In my case it was because I was too busy with teaching my daughter to waste time on such nonsense. Some parents evidently have other motives. Let’s look at some of the objections which people raise and see if we can make any sense of this business. I certainly had better things to be doing than entertaining a local authority officer for an hour, but the reluctance to allow visits seems to go a good deal beyond this with some people.

One of the main objections to having a visit is that the person assessing the educational provision might make various judgements about the family and their lifestyle, based not upon purely educational criteria but upon their personal prejudices. Remember that a lot of these people are former teachers and so likely to be in favour of school. This is of course quite true and I am sure that it happens a lot. The question is, so what? We all pass judgements on other people’s homes all the time. Our own house is pleasingly casual and Bohemian; our friend’s place is a filthy hovel. It is hard to avoid making subjective value judgements of this sort and I don’t see why local authority officers would be any different. Another reason for not letting these people in is that they may try to persuade us to send our children to school. They might ask loaded questions to the kids and then claim that the children really want to go to school, but that we have brainwashed them into being home educated. Again, this may well happen; again, so what?

I have to say that I did not encounter anything of this sort in Essex. All the people I actually met were pleasant and ineffective enough, one of them had home educated for a time herself and spent most of the time telling me how her daughter was bullied at school. I am trying to work out what I would have done if any of them had tried to tell me that my daughter would have been better off at school. It would not much have bothered me, really. Likewise if they thought that our house was too clean or dirty, tidy or untidy. The reason for this indifference is that none of that would find its way into the report anyway. If any of them thought, as they might well have done, that our home was dirty and untidy and I was a very strict parent who expected fanatically high standards of behaviour and academic achievement from my daughter, then they would have been perfectly entitled to their opinions. Their only official concern was that my child was receiving a suitable education and their personal views of me did not really matter.

I can quite understand why somebody would object to some particular individual entering their home. I did myself with one of the ’inspectors’ and discouraged him from coming here. It is this general principle which I cannot quite grasp. A visit from an EWO or home education ’inspector’ is a chance to advertise home education and try to persuade others that it is a good thing. I can’t say that I cared much on a personal level what these people thought of me, but it was certainly an opportunity to show that home education was better than what they were offering at the local schools. I used to gen up on the figures relating to the schools in the area and point out how they were falling down on the job. I was able to explain in great detail precisely why I was not about to send my child to one of those places.

Ultimately, the local authority officers who come to a home educating home are only concerned with education. They might very well disagree with autonomous education or think that your child would be better off in school; that’s only to be expected. Their views cannot really harm anybody though. Local authorities are desperately keen to avoid issuing School Attendance Orders and having issued them are even more reluctant to prosecute. It seems to me that what most people are worried about here is not the prospect that their child will be forced back to school. They are rather fretting about a purely social matter; that somebody will secretly disapprove of their lifestyle and the choices which they have made for their children.


  1. Why do you call this 'evading' visits from the Local Authority?

    You have your views on this, I have mine, but the law makes it quite clear that visits are optional. The Council can ask, you can decline. There is no question of evading a duty.

    I also don't see it as my role to educate anyone about home education, especially since methods are so wide ranging that I can practically guarantee that no one else they meet will do it the same way.

    When you say 'their views cannot really harm anybody', you may, again, be right. So perhaps we should allow racist jokes on television unchecked? After all, they don't actually harm anybody either.

    And as for 'secretly disapprove of their lifestyle and the choices they have made for their children', the problem is that it all too often isn't secret. It is blatant, in your face, and not limited to autonomous educators. Ofsted identified my LA as being one who openly believed that all children are better off educated in school. There's not much room for debate there, is there? So why should I waste time and breath?

    Putting it simply and bluntly, I choose who comes into my home. Why would I want to invite someone whose sole purpose is to assess me against standards I did not set and that they did not adhere to when I delegated responsibility for my children's education to them? What possible benefit is there to my children in doing so? If they can armed with offers of discounts on educational materials, sports activities or payment of exam fees, then the position would be different. As it stands it is a very one sided deal and I have no intention of going beyond my legal responsibilities until Council officials begin meeting theirs.

  2. 'Evading' is an odd word to use in this context. Tax 'evasion' for eg is a crime. Declining the offer of a home visit is not against the law.

    I was happy to receive visits for the first few years. Then the whole thing got tedious, so for the next few, we declined them. We didn't need to 'evade' them because they aren't compulsory.

    If you lived in one particular county I know about, you could expect a visit from someone who'd pressure you to buy his book and for good measure, he'll attempt to diagnose your child with autism. Even though they already had a different diagnosis from medical professionals. All this without ever having met the child.

    LA officers...dear me. Until LA's start to employ people with a background in, or an open mind about HE, you'd be best declining those visits, I think.

  3. I'm not sure why anybody feels that 'evade' is the wrong word to use in this context; it simply means to escape from or avoid something or somebody. Sounds a good description of what some home educating aprents are doing with reagrd to visits!

    ' Ofsted identified my LA as being one who openly believed that all children are better off educated in school.'

    I dare say many local authorities and their officers feel this way. Two of the three who came here certainly did. Again, so what? It's nothing to me what these characters think.


  4. Simon, I don't need to 'escape' from or 'avoid' visits. I just say no. A good description of what some home educating parents are doing with regard to visits is to 'decline'. "Refuse' would be good too. Question their relevance... yes, that fits better than 'evade' as well.

    I am sure someone who earns a proportion of his living from writing is aware of the emotive potential of words no matter what the dictionary meaning might be. Evade has a slightly sneaky tinge to it; as if you shouldn't really be doing it. Having been used for a long while coupled with the word 'tax', it tends to be a criticism.

    Or put another way, I ask you if you'd like a chocolate biscuit. You say 'no, thanks.' Are you evading a chocolate biscuit? Or did you simply not want one? And in a lot of cases, you are not asked if you'd like a visit. You are told that you are having as many as the LA see necessary. I am sure I cannot be the only person whose heels dig in good and hard when I am told that so-called 'authority' is going to do something which I know they have no authority to do. Or, again, put another way, courtesy costs nothing and buys everything and you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    And it may be nothing to you if you have prejudiced people in your home. You clearly relish the chance to argue and cause controversy. Some of us don't. I want my children to have the best possible education. If any LA official can help me to provide that then they are welcome. Otherwise they are at best a pointless distraction.

    Now education calls and I must go back to discussing the difference between literal meaning and implied meaning with my 2 little angel, as we've been doing all week. Strange how relevant you were this morning! Next week, should you be inspired, we are using the workbook about telling the difference between fact and opinion.

  5. 'I'm not sure why anybody feels that 'evade' is the wrong word to use in this context; it simply means to escape from or avoid something or somebody.'

    As I explained, I didn't need to escape from or avoid anyone or anything. I was offered another visit. I declined. I had no need to evade or avoid or escape from anyone.

  6. "I'm not sure why anybody feels that 'evade' is the wrong word to use in this context;"

    Today I have the choice between cheese and ham sandwiches and I've chosen cheese, but I wouldn't say I've evaded the ham sandwiches. Visits are just such a choice. The parents have the choice of how to present evidence of a suitable education, not the LA. One definition of 'evade' is, 'Escape or avoid, esp. by cleverness or trickery'. There are obvious negative connotations to the use of the word so why would you suggest otherwise?

  7. Just read the chocolate biscuit comment (after posting the cheese/ham comment) by the other anonymous. Great minds think alike!

  8. Now I'm going to spend the rest of the day imagining getting doorstepped by a giant ham sandwich and a chocolate biscuit holding a clipboard. Excellent!

  9. 'Now I'm going to spend the rest of the day imagining getting doorstepped by a giant ham sandwich and a chocolate biscuit holding a clipboard. Excellent!'

    Just say, 'No thank you,' politely Allie;-)