A recent article in the Local Government Chronicle published just before schools broke up for the summer (subscription required) looks at how local authorities deal with home educating families and holds up Cambridgeshire as a model of good practice.
Extracts from Graham Stuart’s article are italicised below.
Parents who have opted to home educate their children are often left bruised and bewildered by the attitude of their local authorities. Educating a child at home is a parent’s preferred choice in a minority of cases. Mostly, they do so because their child is struggling to thrive or cope in mainstream schooling. They want the best for their child, yet too often they are made to feel under suspicion by the local authority that should be there to support them.
Parents, not the state, have the statutory duty to educate their children, yet when parents do so directly, officials often think parents are obliged to prove to them that the child is receiving a suitable education. Worse, councils often conflate home education with a child safeguarding risk and seek to impose routine monitoring and inspections.
There is no legal duty for councils to carry out active investigation of home educating families and Graham Stuart says that doing so will only drive a wedge between home educators and the local authority.
These actions are at odds with government guidelines and can be accompanied by misrepresentation of the legal situation both on parents’ doorsteps and in local authority literature. This attitude is counterproductive. Local authorities should be the servants and not the masters in their relationships with home educators.
Graham Stuart goes on to say that where there is a very limited budget, why not spend the money on support rather than policing? Neither are statutory but offering support will improve educational outcomes as well as giving families a positive reason to interact with the council.
The limited resources councils have available should be used to give educational support to parents, such as teaching materials or exam fees. This would not only be beneficial to the child, but could also foster a better relationship with home educating parents.
The example of Cambridgeshire proves that this isn’t just wishful thinking.
The confrontational attitude of some local authorities is, I hope, on the wane. Cambridgeshire CC, for example, has in the past year completely changed its home education service.
The monitoring regime was contentious with local home educators, including its insistence on annual inspections, but now, the local authority assumes parents are providing suitable education for their children unless evidence suggests they are not.
In Cambridgeshire, the new menu of support has evolved from a combination of discussions with home educating families plus the service manager Karen Beaton keeping an eye out for examples of good practice from other authorities such as Hampshire paying exam entry fees. Graham Stuart gives some examples of the council’s new approach.
Cambridgeshire will pay a contribution towards home educated children’s year 11 exam fees and is looking to purchase careers advice for home educators and information sessions from the educational psychology service.
Not everything costs money. Some of the changes are about a different use of staff time with a new focus on outreach and development work.
The council is also approaching local colleges to see if home educators can use science laboratories. Regular information drop-in sessions will be set up throughout the county
Of course, there are many professionals who will come into contact with home educating families and the home education manager sees it as part of her role to explain the law on home education to avoid any misunderstandings. This demonstrates learning from Serious Case Reviews since it is a frequent recommendation, and is also an integral element of the reformed service in Lancashire.
Also, the home education service has briefed children’s services and there will be engagement with health services to increase awareness about the law on home education.
The article ends on the following note:
The changes in Cambridgeshire are a model of good practice. It takes political courage to view home education as good rather than as a risk but, if councillors in Cambridgeshire can do it, others can too.
Graham Stuart (Con), MP for Beverley and Holderness, and the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on home education
Cambridgeshire CC web page elective home education
Graham Stuart, Local Government Chronicle July 2015
Home education and the law
Local authorities good practice support with exams
Lancashire model good practice
Survey local authority home education web pages
All Party Parliamentary Group Home Education