Monday, 2 January 2012

Exploding a myth


It will perhaps surprise nobody to hear that I have once again managed to piss people off on a home education forum. I have to say that on this occasion, I was genuinely trying to help vulnerable parents and reassure them that they should stop worrying. This came about because the thesis was advanced that some local authorities in England and Wales bully and badger home educating parents into either abandoning home education or altering the form or content of it so that it more closely resembles a school type model. One person referred to parents being made ’to jump through hoops’ and forced to teach reading in a structured way. This sort of thing is usually done under the threat that a School Attendance Order will be issued, the parent prosecuted and the child returned to school if the parent does not do as the local authority officer requires. So far, so good; I don’t think that anybody here could disagree that this sort of thing happens. I then went on to suggest that it was astronomically rare for home educating parents to be issued with SAOs and then prosecuted for not obeying them, convicted in court and forced to send their children to school. Indeed, I expressed doubts as to this ever happening at all; upon which, a number of people became very angry.

The best way of seeing just how rare this process is, is to look at the figures. Let us begin with two local authorities who are famous for taking what some describe as ’ultra vires’ actions; Staffordshire and Birmingham, for instance.
Here is a Freedom of Information request made to Birmingham about the number of SAOs that they issued in one particular year;

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ehe_department_suitable_educatio_4
 
It will be observed that no SAOs at all were issued. Freedom of Information requests on this subject have been made to every local authority in England and Wales and the picture is same across the entire country; most never issue SAOs. Some issued one or two, but these were hardly ever to home educators. Staffordshire, for example has issued one School Attendance Order in the last five years, although not to a home educating family. See here:
 
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ehe_related_statutory_attendance
 
Most of the tiny number of SAOs which have been issued over the last few years have not been to home educators. Of those which were, only a few reached the stage of prosecution. I can find not a single case where a local authority has issued a School Attendance Order to a home educating family, prosecuted them in court and then managed to secure a conviction and force them as a result to return their child to school.

I found this to be very reassuring for home educating parents. Knowing that this favourite threat of local authorities is an empty one which can generally be disregarded should allow home educating parents to form a more equal partnership with local authorities; one which is not founded upon fear and threats. Of course, not everybody seeks such a healthy relationship with their LA and some parents might be happy to be bossed about by petty bureaucrats. This is fine; I was not trying to bully anybody into changing how they deal with local authorities; merely pointing out that there is more than one way.

Actually, I thought that digging around might perhaps uncover one or two cases of home educating children forced back into school by their parents having been prosecuted for disobeying a School Attendance Order. In fact, I have not been able to come up with one case of this happening. May I ask, does anybody know of a case where a home educating parent has been served with a School Attendance Order, prosecuted for breaching it and as a result been convicted in court and forced to return their child to school? If so, could we just be told the name of the local authority? Since this is the only way that a home educating child can really be forced back to school by a local authority, it would be interesting to know if it ever happens. Is this some sort of urban myth? Can anybody give a real example?

There is one final point. One can readily see why local authority officers would maintain the fiction that they might issue an SAO to home educating parents, take them to court and force them to return their children to school. This suggestion would be very distressing to many parents and they might well back down under the very threat and do as they are told in order to avoid it. What puzzles me is why some home educating parents themselves seem so keen to buy into this myth and help local authorities to keep the pretence going. This seems to me to be a psychological question, rather than a legal one!

11 comments:

  1. Happy New Year, Simon.

    I think that home educators need to be aware that the threat of an SAO is a tactic that is tried, that they need to stand firm against it and be prepared to take it all the way.

    Part of the reason that there are almost no examples of an SAO being issued to a home educating family is that someone blinks first. Either the family back down and do what the council say, or they stand firm and the council backs down because it knows that its chances of winning if the case comes to court (having been convinced that the family will take it there) are very slim and would prefer to use the resources elsewhere. A former head of EHE at my local council said pretty much that he would much rather not issue an SAO to home educating families because in most cases he knew that the family could turn up in court with adequate proof and he'd have wasted taxpayers' money in preparing a losing case. Therefore he had to make judgements as to whether he thought it was worth it, and pretty much every time it wasn't.

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  2. 'I think that home educators need to be aware that the threat of an SAO is a tactic that is tried, that they need to stand firm against it and be prepared to take it all the way.'

    Sums the matter up in a nutshell, Dave!

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  3. Since when did Tania Berlow come from Birmingham and what has she ever done for the home educating community of Birmingham?

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  4. 'Since when did Tania Berlow come from Birmingham and what has she ever done for the home educating community of Birmingham?'

    She comes from Scotland, lives in Somerset and as far as I am aware has done nothing for Birmingham. Nevertherless, it is intersting to note that Birmingham do not use SAOs.

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  5. We do have someone locally who was pressured to put children into school. I don't know if an SAO was threatened at this point or not. The tale got back to me and I had a long phone call with the person concerned, going through what the EHE people could and couldn't do, depending on how far either side was prepared to go. I always mention the possibility of an SAO and that it is possible to lose in court (not having met the family concerned, I can't make any judgement on their educational provision).

    Last I heard, the children are now back out of school (having had compliments from the head teacher on their educational level) and the family no longer accept home visits from the inspector.

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  6. The EHE consultation in Birmingham was farcical.
    One member had over 20 years experience of HE and was personally responsible for setting up many meetings,activities and offering support.
    She walked out from the consultation and delivered her vote of no confidence to the chair.

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  7. I'm suprised there is no mention of the fact that once people complained about your posts, some people actually stood up for you and they weren't booted off the list. Maybe times and attitudes are changing

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  8. 'I'm suprised there is no mention of the fact that once people complained about your posts, some people actually stood up for you and they weren't booted off the list. Maybe times and attitudes are changing '

    I think that's probably true. The people running EO now are rather different from the last bunch.

    Simon.

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  9. 'The people running EO now are rather different from the last bunch'
    but how long will it be before they adopt similar attitudes to the last bunch?

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  10. Blast. I come here looking for some satire and entertainment and find a barren wilderness. So you've decided to stop posting Simon? I am sorry to see that, as I found your blog very interesting and a welcome challenging voice in the home education 'community'. Oh well...back to pretending all is dandy...rather boring though!

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