Evading visits from the local authority

On several home education lists, parents still seem to be working hard to prevent local authority officers from visiting their homes to talk about home education. You might think that most parents would relish the opportunity to capture such a person for an hour or so and tell her about home education, but apparently some people are not eager to do this. I know that I have covered this before, but I am still wholly at a loss to see what all the fuss is about here.

Just to remind readers, I never made any effort to notify our local authority of the fact that my daughter was not at school. Haringey were vaguely aware of this, but were too lazy and inefficient to do anything about it. When we moved to Essex, I thought of telling them, but did not get round to it. It was not until my daughter was eight that we ran into a truancy patrol and because I was not particularly bothered about it, I gave them our address. Why would I have been anxious to avoid a visit? In my case it was because I was too busy with teaching my daughter to waste time on such nonsense. Some parents evidently have other motives. Let’s look at some of the objections which people raise and see if we can make any sense of this business. I certainly had better things to be doing than entertaining a local authority officer for an hour, but the reluctance to allow visits seems to go a good deal beyond this with some people.

One of the main objections to having a visit is that the person assessing the educational provision might make various judgements about the family and their lifestyle, based not upon purely educational criteria but upon their personal prejudices. Remember that a lot of these people are former teachers and so likely to be in favour of school. This is of course quite true and I am sure that it happens a lot. The question is, so what? We all pass judgements on other people’s homes all the time. Our own house is pleasingly casual and Bohemian; our friend’s place is a filthy hovel. It is hard to avoid making subjective value judgements of this sort and I don’t see why local authority officers would be any different. Another reason for not letting these people in is that they may try to persuade us to send our children to school. They might ask loaded questions to the kids and then claim that the children really want to go to school, but that we have brainwashed them into being home educated. Again, this may well happen; again, so what?

I have to say that I did not encounter anything of this sort in Essex. All the people I actually met were pleasant and ineffective enough, one of them had home educated for a time herself and spent most of the time telling me how her daughter was bullied at school. I am trying to work out what I would have done if any of them had tried to tell me that my daughter would have been better off at school. It would not much have bothered me, really. Likewise if they thought that our house was too clean or dirty, tidy or untidy. The reason for this indifference is that none of that would find its way into the report anyway. If any of them thought, as they might well have done, that our home was dirty and untidy and I was a very strict parent who expected fanatically high standards of behaviour and academic achievement from my daughter, then they would have been perfectly entitled to their opinions. Their only official concern was that my child was receiving a suitable education and their personal views of me did not really matter.

I can quite understand why somebody would object to some particular individual entering their home. I did myself with one of the ’inspectors’ and discouraged him from coming here. It is this general principle which I cannot quite grasp. A visit from an EWO or home education ’inspector’ is a chance to advertise home education and try to persuade others that it is a good thing. I can’t say that I cared much on a personal level what these people thought of me, but it was certainly an opportunity to show that home education was better than what they were offering at the local schools. I used to gen up on the figures relating to the schools in the area and point out how they were falling down on the job. I was able to explain in great detail precisely why I was not about to send my child to one of those places.

Ultimately, the local authority officers who come to a home educating home are only concerned with education. They might very well disagree with autonomous education or think that your child would be better off in school; that’s only to be expected. Their views cannot really harm anybody though. Local authorities are desperately keen to avoid issuing School Attendance Orders and having issued them are even more reluctant to prosecute. It seems to me that what most people are worried about here is not the prospect that their child will be forced back to school. They are rather fretting about a purely social matter; that somebody will secretly disapprove of their lifestyle and the choices which they have made for their children.


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