Sandwell Council is consulting on a new elective home education policy. The deadline is the end of March. Download here
The previous paperwork I knew from Sandwell was a 12 page booklet entitled Information for Parents and Carers. This appears to have been withdrawn and is no longer available online, although I do have a copy if anyone wants to make their own comparison.
Some significant changes have been made which I feel are broadly to be welcomed.
The biggest gearshift between the previous Parents’ Booklet and the new draft Policy is over the council’s official process for dealing with families.
The 2016 Draft says that the council will keep a list of home educated children, adding that the “EHE register” is used by the LA “to make contact with parents to offer support and guidance in partnership with home educating parents”
In contrast, it always seemed to me that the 2012 Parents’ Booklet was about families requiring approval to be on the list, saying that the LA had a duty to satisfy itself, and talking about “assessors” making an “assessment” and warning that the assessor would likely want to know about broad and balanced education, parents’ plans, socialisation, organising work, use of tutors, and recording the child’s progress.
The 2012 Parents’ Booklet also said: “it is important that you prepare your child for adult life, and therefore it is recommended that you educate your child to a similar standard to other children of the same age”, and went on to summarise what children learned in school, adding (wrongly) “it is recommended by the DfE that these subjects are also taught at home”
In the previous Booklet, parents were asked to provide evidence preferably via a written programme of work plus a face to face discussion, ideally with the child as well. The previous Booklet noted that where parents gave no information the LA could decide it appeared the child was not receiving suitable education.
The 2016 Policy Draft by contrast does not use the term “assessor”, instead talking about “EHE support teacher” as in “an EHE support teacher is also available on request to advise parents and offer guidance on the delivery of a suitable home education.” There is no mention of “assessment” in the 2016 Draft, and although the council would like to meet parents, the purpose of such a meeting (which could be at home or elsewhere) is reframed as an opportunity for the parent to provide further information, and for the EHE support teacher to explain the support available and to discuss the parent’s intentions.
The 2016 Draft Policy also acknowledges that parents may choose alternative methods to provide the information.
The 2016 Draft Policy notes that the child may or may not be present at such a meeting, and says safeguarding and welfare duties don’t mean the LA must see children at home.
In the 2016 Draft, if the LA has concerns, it will explain and ask the parent to provide information. If concerns remain, the LA will offer support. If provision remains unsuitable (or the parent doesn’t respond following concerns) the LA will serve a formal notice under section 437 (1) requiring the LA to be satisfied. This is in line with the procedure set out in the Government Home Education Guidelines.
I also note in passing that the 2016 Draft Policy says Sandwell will tell another LA if it is aware a home educating family is moving to that area.
A section of the 2016 Draft Policy is addressed to schools
At the point of deregistration, the council will ask schools and academies to complete an “off register” form which is “removal from roll checklist” and send it to the LA.
“The school is responsible for raising any safeguarding concerns and must retain the child’s school file.”
The 2016 Draft says that schools shouldn’t try and push pupils out; if the LA becomes aware that parents haven’t voluntarily chosen to home educate, the school will have to take the child back, if that’s what parents want. Schools should also explain the implications of home education and ask parents to contact the LA for support.
Despite the positive changes, I do still have some issues with the 2016 Draft Policy.
It still starts from the mistaken view that the council “needs to be satisfied” and refers to provision being “deemed suitable” . Additionally, the 2016 Draft Policy says that the LA will make contact annually to confirm the arrangements remain suitable. I don’t know what this means, whether it will be asking parents “is everything still OK” or “can we come round and for a chat and just see if everything is OK.”
The 2016 Special Educational Needs section is better than the previous version.
In 2012 Sandwell was saying that for children with SEN, parents should establish a programme or curriculum, and be able to explain their teaching style and show short and long term plans. The 2016 Policy Draft correctly says that the purpose of the annual review of the statement or plan is to assess whether the statement is still appropriate, requires amendment, or might cease to be maintained.
Confusingly, the 2016 Draft Policy says that statements are “now known as an education health and care plan”. In fact, all NEW assessments are for EHCPs but some children who already had a statement might keep the statement till April 2018, and there is a staggered timetable for transition/conversion which it would be helpful to mention.