The Lancashire elective home education [EHE] service has been radically transformed in the last few years. Lancashire has moved from being singled out in 2011 by Graham Stuart as “one of the most egregious examples” for home education services to being regarded as a model of good practice.
A number of local authorities have approached Lancashire for advice and support on how to
improve their own practice, and the Lancashire paperwork is used as a template.
Lancashire is acting in accordance with the Guidelines as summarised by the Department for Education and doesn’t doesn’t think that LAs need “more powers.”
“Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education unless there are safeguarding concerns; they should intervene only if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education. Any procedures for dealing with home educating parents and children should be non-intrusive and timely, in order to provide a good foundation for the development of trusting relationships.” DfE email to Thurrock council August 2014
When Lancashire finds out about a family, it sends out the home education leaflet and asks for some basic information. In Lancashire’s experience, some families actually want to talk to someone sooner rather than later.
For example, a parent might contact the LA to say they thought the LA would provide a tutor. When this happens, parents are asked if they want to continue home educating or for their child to return to school. If the LA finds that the school has put any pressure on the family to take their child out of school or misrepresented the situation to parents, then the LA will intervene and challenge schools.
Lancashire is not proactively looking for evidence that education is suitable, so it doesn’t make
home visits the default, or ask for exhaustive information about the home education provision.
The Lancashire website talks about “a brief outline of your home education, just a few sentences.
You do not have to provide this but it will help us confirm that your child is not missing from
Because Lancashire is not looking to assess the provision, families are less likely to feel they have to keep the authority at bay and ask for a “settling in period” or “deschooling” (otherwise termed a “grace period” of so many months as mentioned by Daniel Monk at the AEHEP launch)
If a concern is raised about a child’s education, the LA will inform parents and at this stage a home visit will be offered. Some parents agree to meet, other parents will address the concerns by providing information without a face to face meeting.
Lancashire interprets the law as saying the default position should be for the LA to assume parents are making suitable provision whilst having robust procedures for stepping things up once concerns are raised.
Lancashire will investigate if there is a referral alleging that a child is not receiving education, and
will not hesitate to serve a formal notice under section 437 if necessary. In recent years the LA has also issued School Attendance Orders, although none in the last 12 months.
In Lancashire, officers feel they are getting more families requesting visits now that it is a genuine choice, and also that parents are more ready to admit to having problems and to ask for help, without the answer just being lets get them back into school. Officers feel that their work is of genuine benefit to children and this adds to their job satisfaction.
The LA encourages families to network with other home educators. The LA will also give
information to a home educating parent without asking for all their contact details, or someone can ask on another home educator’s behalf.
Lancashire also gets to see more families, including some not ‘known’, because it offers the type of support which families actually want, and is in fact a really good example of a supportive local authority. Lancashire is proactive in getting information about local exam centres, holds family drop-in sessions across the county where home educators can meet each other and talk informally to the LA officers, and has regular forum meetings with a group of local home educators.
This is in complete contrast to one local authority in London who – when asked what they offered in the way of support for exams said their job was about “attending homes from the point of judging whether the education provided is suitable…to gauge the quality of arrangements…not in providing support and advice”
In Lancashire any safeguarding concerns are referred through the correct channels. It is recognised that the problem isn’t that “nobody sees” or “nobody says anything” but rather that the right people aren’t told in the right way, with a proper procedure for follow-up to make sure that a concern has been investigated.
EHE procedures have been agreed in consultation with the LA safeguarding lead and Lancashire doesn’t have Education Welfare Officers [EWOs] or “family support” going round trying to see everyone “for a welfare visit” or “because of safeguarding.”
To take an extreme example, if home education is ever raised at a child protection conference, the home education service manager will explain that the home education team deals solely with educational concerns and that this is covered by education legislation. Should the conference want home education to be curtailed or for “welfare visits” to be carried out because a child is home educated, the home education service representative will make it clear that this cannot be passed off on to the home education department.
Lancashire seeks to ensure that people working in related areas who might come across home education have a proper understanding of both the scope and limits of legislation relating to EHE and the remit of the home education service. The LA is also working on a level 1 e-learning programme about home education for the wider workforce that it will ask the LSCB to endorse.