West Berkshire, adverse publicity, and Individual Decisions

West Berkshire has a new home education policy.

The new West Berkshire Elective Home Education Policy says that the local authority “strives to develop positive relationships with families who choose to electively home educate.”

The policy is next due to be reviewed in September 2018.

There was a public consultation in Spring 2014 and then all went quiet until a new policy was approved by the Council in March 2015.

The Council was worried that the policy would be controversial. 

“There is the possibility of legal challenge from parents/carers in relation to the actions resulting from this policy from parents/carers. There is also a very st[r]ong lobby for Elective
Home Education who may also challenge this policy. However, this Policy has been discussed with Legal who have approved it. It is considered that the policy offers greater protection for children and that this outweighs the possibility of legal challenge. Possibility of adverse publicity; there is a strong Elective Home Education lobby. Possibility of complaint from parent/carer about processes related to monitoring elective home education…” ‘Implications’ page 3

However, there is a feature of the West Berkshire decision-making process which enables decisions to be “speeded up.”

It works like this.

A member of the West Berkshire Council’s Executive can get a decision listed as ‘Individual Decision’ [ID] in the Forward Plan, as long as it is not a Key Decision.

(The council can also add new items to the Forward Plan later.)

When a West Berkshire resident finds the listing in the Forward Plan for a particular item and notes that it is down for ID and not committee discussion, he or she may send written comments to the relevant officer (council employee) or lead member (elected councillor with special responsibility for a particular area such as education)

The West Berkshire Elective Home Education Policy was ratified by Individual Decision on March 18th 2015, 15 days after Ofsted went in to inspect Children’s Services.

Here are some of the key points from the newly ratified policy:

  1. a child not seen by the Elective Home Education team constitutes a “safeguarding concern” and will be reported to Children’s Social Care
  2. parents and children are required to meet the council within six weeks of starting home education
  3. parents and children are required to meet “at least annually” and provide evidence “demonstrating suitability and effectiveness.”
  4. if the council isn’t happy, parents are given “three opportunities to address concerns”
  5. the three opportunities must take place before the council moves to “initiate the School Attendance Order process”

Two months after the policy was ratified, West Berkshire’s Children’s Services received a verdict of ‘inadequate’ from Ofsted.

The Ofsted inspection of West Berkshire began on March 3rd 2015. It would have been finished by the time Ofsted issued new guidance on home education to inspectors at the beginning of April 2015.

To date there have been no Children’s Services inspections published since Ofsted’s new guidance to inspectors on home education took effect; all reports are for inspections carried out before the new guidance.

By way of contrast to West Berkshire, Lancashire is put forward as a model of good practice. Read more here.

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