I’ve been trying to achieve some clarity in my mind about the different consultations affecting UK homeschoolers, for the purpose of an article I am writing for the Christian Voice newsletter. With the help of Norman Wells and Ferris Lindsay, I can vouch that the information below is correct.
Homeschoolers in Britain may come under stricter control under new guidelines promised by the Department for Education and Skills.
Concerned that home educators are not being monitored enough, the DfES is also giving consideration to issuing a consultation to focus on compulsory registration of home educators, standards defining ‘suitable’ education, and ongoing monitoring of home educators.
As a spokesperson for the UK group Education Otherwise said, "There is a grave danger that the proposals in this consultation seek to extend the universal curriculum of school to home educators."
If it goes ahead, the consultation will run for 12 weeks and focus on possible changes to the legislation effecting home education. Developments are being closely watched by the international homeschool community.
Changes to legislation would not directly affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have separate laws governing education. The DfES have not stated clearly whether legislative changes would also apply to Wales.
Basically, there are four consultations affecting home educators – two of which have happened, and two which may or may not happen.
(i) In Spring 2005, the DfES engaged in a limited consultation exercise with a few local authorities and home education organisations (but not individual home educators) on draft local authority guidelines. Since then, everything has gone very quiet and the finalised guidelines have not been published.
(ii) In November 2006, the Department launched a full 12-week consultation on the definition of full-time education in independent schools. The consultation period closed at the end of February and the Department is due to publish its response in May.
(iii) In December 2006, the DfES was proposing to consult on proposed legislation (NB legislation, not guidance) covering
(a) compulsory registration
(b) monitoring arrangements, and
(c) a statutory definition of ‘suitable education’
At that point, it was planned to launch the consultation early in the New Year – i.e. January, or February at the latest. Since then the Department has said that the consultation may or may not go ahead. It is currently with Ministers to make a decision one way or the other.
(iv) Also in December 2006, the DfES was saying that the long awaited guidance (NB guidance, not legislation) would be published by the end of February without any further consultation. The Department's present position is that the guidance will be published “later this year”, but that there may be a consultation on further draft guidance before the final version appears.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
My concern is that the DfES may be trying to gradually move UK policy closer to continental practices. Austria permits homeschooling provided as it is done with a state-approved curriculum and as long as a state-approved school periodically supervises testing. Switzerland allows families to homeschool children as long as an official checks that the sate school plan is being followed. If you also share my concerns, here is what you can do.
Sign the petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Herights/ which asks the Prime Minister ‘to allow home educators to be free from the interference of Local Education Authorities.’
Write to your MP to express your concerns. The consultation which took place in 2005 sought feedback from major home education groups in the UK. Since then home educators have not been invited to comment on the guidelines nor received any feedback about the formal consultation stage. Point out to your MP that this lack of feedback and further involvement (over a period of nearly two years) clearly breaks the government’s own good practice guidelines on consultations. These guidelines say that where a consultation may have significant impact on a community, they should be kept informed and their input sensitively handled.
Ask your MP to contact Rt. Hon Alan Johnson, secretary of state for Education and Skills. Make the point that the DfES needs to provide more information about their policy development intentions.
Point out that the right of parents to determine the form of their children’s education has been included in the European Convention on Human Rights for over 50 years. Parents, and not the state, have the primary responsibility for their children’s wellbeing and education. This principle is clearly stated in the European Convention on Human Rights, 1ST (Paris) Protocol, Article 2: ‘No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’
Also make the point that when the National Foundation for Education Research and other consultants produced reports for the DfES, the alleged grounds for state interventions, none of these reports offered substantial evidence that home education is failing children. In fact, the most substantial studies conducted in the UK, by Dr Paula Rothermel of Durham University, found that the outcomes for home education were, on average, higher than those for school provision.
Statutory provisions already exist for interventions in situations where there is evidence of either lack of educational provision or significant welfare concerns, so there seems little needed for further legislation.
Also contact Elaine Haste at the Elective Home Education, DfES, Mowden Hal, Darlington, DL3 9BG or email her at Elaine.HASTE@dfes.gsi.gov.uk. Express the above concerns and also asked to be kept informed of developments. This is important, because if they know lots of people are closely watching their moves, they will think twice before proposing controversial changes.
For more information, see the Freedom For Children to Grow website for a range of resources and links relating to homeschool law in the UK and possible changes. Go HERE to see Education Otherwise’s thorough catalogue of information and resources about the Government’s consultations. In particular, see THIS PAGE for a description of the organisation’s meeting with DfES on 19th December, 2007. Visit Ferris’ website to see an intelligent response to the second consultation. For misc. resources for Christian homeschoolers in the UK, including homeschooling mailing lists and e-groups where you can discuss possible changes in the law, see HERE.
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