Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Consultations Relevent to UK Homeschoolers

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.


FOUR CONSULTATIONS

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.


FURTHER RESOURCES

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.


To receive automatic notification every time new material is added to this blog, send a blank email to largerhope @ tiscali.co.uk with “Blog Me” in the subject heading. (Note: for anti-spam purposes, this email address has had spaced inserted before and after the @ sign. The address will only work after deleting these spaces).

3 comments:

Barbara said...

Dear Robin,

Are you also aware of the new action for home education group called AHEd? Members of AHEd have a direct input into our campaigns and letters and so this is certainly another way for home educators to take action, or simply to be in touch with what is happening in case they might wish to do something. Membership is free. Every member has a vote and can take part in writing AHEd letters, making plans and influencing the direction of the group.

AHEd has been in correspondence with the DfES, among others, about these consultations you have been looking into.

AHEd members have been calling, since January 2007 for the DfES to re-consult on the guidance to LAs on elective home education which was carried out in 2005.

We have called for the guidance not to be issued without proper consultation, as planned for February 2007.

We have made a formal complaint to the cabinet office better regulation executive about the failure of the DfES to follow the code of conduct on consultation in the 2005 consultation.

On the proposed consultation that was to be launched early this year, we have a formal complaint in process in which we ask that if it goes ahead, this consultation should also be subjected to scrutiny to ensure it follows the code of practice, which it has not so far managed to do, and that home educators as well as LAs and DfES staff are involved in framing the consultation at an early stage and not just included when the foundations have already been established between the DfES and LAs.

AHEd also sent in a response to the definition of full time education consult in which we call for this consultation to be scrapped on the grounds that it is fundamentally flawed, highly misleading and risks adversely affecting home educators by inadvertently or intentionally redefining a “school”, a move that should not be attempted without altering primary legislation. The full response can be read here:
http://ahed.pbwiki.com/Consultation-on-Def-of-full-time-education

There is an index of pages including AHEd correspondence and campaigns as well as letters from the DfES and Ministers and MPs and other items of interest here:
http://ahed.pbwiki.com/Consultation-on-Def-of-full-time-education

The AHEd wiki is a public wiki for all home educators; front page here:
http://ahed.pbwiki.com/

It may also interest you to know that there is currently a consultation on the early years foundation stage curriculum which is to be compulsory for all child car provision. About the only people who will escape these demands of a state curriculum for childhood will be parents! Parental authority and rights to care for their children according to their own conscience is under serious threat in the UK. That consultation is here:
http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conDetails.cfm?
consultationId=1448

I hope you will bear AHEd in mind when discussing these issues and what home educators who want to do something can do?

sincerely,
Barbara Stark
(Chair, AHEd.)
www.ahed.org.uk
wiki now has 59 pages http://ahed.pbwiki.com/

Robin Phillips said...

Interesting. Thanks.

Barbara said...

You are welcome :-)

Here is the correct link to the index page at AHEd: http://ahed.pbwiki.com/Index-to-pages

BWs
Barbara.

Buy Essential Oils at Discounted Prices!