I sometimes despair of the home education scene in this country. Many parents, particularly those who belong to internet lists and forums seem to be prone to running round like headless chickens at any available opportunity. Once again, my unwelcome views on the latest of these flaps are being censored on the EO support list and so I thought that I ought to reassure those who are genuinely worried and want the facts.
The latest fear centres around a consultation on what the government call raising the participation age and the rest of us think of as raising the school leaving age. As part of this, there is an intention to define just how many hours constitute a full time education. This has nothing to do with home education, but is to prevent unscrupulous employers from pretending to run apprenticeships and just getting teenagers to work full time.
How does this affect home educators? Well, it doesn't; not in the least. The consultation document makes this perfectly clear, when it says:
'it is at the discretion of the home educator as to what form that education takes'
We do not want to set regulations for home education that do not exist pre-16'
In other words, the situation for home educated seventeen and eighteen year olds will not change. Still, what about the whole business of defining full time education? Could that affect home educating parents? Hardly. The favoured figure for the minimum number of hours of education spread over the whole year is five hundred and thirty four hours. Since home education takes place every day, this would mean less than an hour and a half a day!
In spite of the fact that there is nothing to worry about, threads are appearing on various lists marked 'urgent'. Why do people do this? I very pleasantly drew attention to what is actually said in the RPA consulation and my message was not posted, on the grounds that this is 'meta' discussion. This is absurd. Those wishing to spread panic and alarm are allowed to voice their views; it is only when I quoted from the actual document that the discussion apparently became 'meta'. In other words and as usual, facts are not welcome in the debate!
I have remarked before that there seems to be something of a cottage industry in raising fears of this sort and pretending to be working to protect home educating parents from supposed new threats. When I have the time, I shall post more about this.
It will perhaps surprise nobody to hear that I have once again managed to piss people off on a home education forum. I have to say that on this occasion, I was genuinely trying to help vulnerable parents and reassure them that they should stop worrying. This came about because the thesis was advanced that some local authorities in England and Wales bully and badger home educating parents into either abandoning home education or altering the form or content of it so that it more closely resembles a school type model. One person referred to parents being made ’to jump through hoops’ and forced to teach reading in a structured way. This sort of thing is usually done under the threat that a School Attendance Order will be issued, the parent prosecuted and the child returned to school if the parent does not do as the local authority officer requires. So far, so good; I don’t think that anybody here could disagree that this sort of thing happens. I then went on to suggest that it was astronomically rare for home educating parents to be issued with SAOs and then prosecuted for not obeying them, convicted in court and forced to send their children to school. Indeed, I expressed doubts as to this ever happening at all; upon which, a number of people became very angry.
The best way of seeing just how rare this process is, is to look at the figures. Let us begin with two local authorities who are famous for taking what some describe as ’ultra vires’ actions; Staffordshire and Birmingham, for instance.
Here is a Freedom of Information request made to Birmingham about the number of SAOs that they issued in one particular year;
It will be observed that no SAOs at all were issued. Freedom of Information requests on this subject have been made to every local authority in England and Wales and the picture is same across the entire country; most never issue SAOs. Some issued one or two, but these were hardly ever to home educators. Staffordshire, for example has issued one School Attendance Order in the last five years, although not to a home educating family. See here:
Most of the tiny number of SAOs which have been issued over the last few years have not been to home educators. Of those which were, only a few reached the stage of prosecution. I can find not a single case where a local authority has issued a School Attendance Order to a home educating family, prosecuted them in court and then managed to secure a conviction and force them as a result to return their child to school.
I found this to be very reassuring for home educating parents. Knowing that this favourite threat of local authorities is an empty one which can generally be disregarded should allow home educating parents to form a more equal partnership with local authorities; one which is not founded upon fear and threats. Of course, not everybody seeks such a healthy relationship with their LA and some parents might be happy to be bossed about by petty bureaucrats. This is fine; I was not trying to bully anybody into changing how they deal with local authorities; merely pointing out that there is more than one way.
Actually, I thought that digging around might perhaps uncover one or two cases of home educating children forced back into school by their parents having been prosecuted for disobeying a School Attendance Order. In fact, I have not been able to come up with one case of this happening. May I ask, does anybody know of a case where a home educating parent has been served with a School Attendance Order, prosecuted for breaching it and as a result been convicted in court and forced to return their child to school? If so, could we just be told the name of the local authority? Since this is the only way that a home educating child can really be forced back to school by a local authority, it would be interesting to know if it ever happens. Is this some sort of urban myth? Can anybody give a real example?
There is one final point. One can readily see why local authority officers would maintain the fiction that they might issue an SAO to home educating parents, take them to court and force them to return their children to school. This suggestion would be very distressing to many parents and they might well back down under the very threat and do as they are told in order to avoid it. What puzzles me is why some home educating parents themselves seem so keen to buy into this myth and help local authorities to keep the pretence going. This seems to me to be a psychological question, rather than a legal one!