Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Home educated children missing from education
As some readers may be aware, there has recently been a consultation about revising the statutory guidance on Children Missing from Education or CME. Needless to say, this has provoked anger among certain home educators who are concerned that the CME agenda might end up with local authorities chasing home educating parents. This would be absurd, wouldn’t it, because home educated children are not missing from education at all?
This is really an etymological and perhaps philosophical problem. Can we change the essential nature of a thing by altering its name? To make this clear, I want to look at a specific case and then invite readers to suggest their own solutions. Local authority officers read this blog, as do civil servants working for the Department for Education; so this is an opportunity to explain to them where they are going wrong!
Fourteen year-old Jack has a history of playing truant and under-achieving at school. He has very limited literacy; barely enough to read the simplest of texts. This is not caused by dyslexia, he has been tested for this, but because he mucks about in class and misses a lot of school. His mother has to leave for work early and Jack is left to get himself up and to school. He often does not manage to do so. Soon after his fourteenth birthday, Jack stopped going to school altogether. He is over six feet tall and his mother cannot physically make him get up. He usually rises at about one or two in the afternoon and then watches TV or plays on the Xbox until his mates finish school. Then he hangs round with them. He seldom gets to bed before two or three in the morning.
Naturally, his mother was worried about being prosecuted for truancy, but a friend told her that if Jack was registered as being home educated, then she won’t need to worry. She accordingly downloaded a template for a deregistration letter from an internet site and sent it to the school. When the local authority asked to visit, she also downloaded and adapted an educational philosophy for an autonomous education and then sent them that, declining a visit.
Here then is the real situation. A semi-literate child is receiving no education of any sort whatsoever. He will not only pass no GCSEs, he is unlikely to attend college and his mother is not the type to arrange an Open University course. His older friends are all unemployed and make a living from a combination of benefits and petty crime. Jack is moving in the same direction. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, a child missing from education. The question is, should describing a child missing from education in this way as being ‘home educated’ be enough to prevent the local authority from taking any further action?
I invite readers now to take the role of a local authority officer and decide what to do next. Should they issue a School Attendance Order? On what grounds could they do so? They have no solid evidence that Jack is not receiving an education. Should they turn up on the doorstep and try to speak to the mother or child? We all know how some home educators view the practice of ‘doorstepping’! Perhaps they should simply write the kid off and forget him? Do we really want local authorities to abandon a vulnerable child in this way? Should they send another letter?
I will be interested to know how readers think that a local authority should actually deal with a child of this sort who is missing from education. As I said earlier, this is a golden opportunity for you to tell local authority officers where they are going wrong and how they should deal with cases like this without resorting to doorstepping or other unacceptable strategies.