Thursday, 11 April 2019

Comparing HE Guidance for LAs and Parents

I have been asked a few times whether the new guidance for LAs and that for Parents means that current home educators have to do anything different to what they're currently doing; especially because advice up until now has been to keep everything in writing, preferably avoiding visits at all, and if you're under the radar - stay there.

Trying to answer this question, made me realise that I haven't actually compared the two documents - so I'm going to attempt that now.  As a recap, here were my initial thoughts about the guidance for LAs, but as I haven't gone through the guidance for parents explicitly, I will do that here.
In an attempt to make it easier to determine which guidance I'm talking about, I will colour quotes from guidance for LAs in Red, and quotes from the guidance for Parents in Green.
(I apologise to anyone reading this who are red/green colour blind. I will endeavour to try and make it as clear as possible to which I'm referring from the text too.)

This is a shorter document, than that for LAs, at only 24 pages.

The guidance starts by saying:
This is departmental guidance from the Department for Education. It is non-statutory, and has been produced to help parents understand their obligations and rights in relation to elective home education.
The guidance represents the department’s view as to the way in which the current legal framework affects the provision of home education. It does not create new powers or duties, and only the courts can make authoritative decisions on the law.
Given that there is no duty for HErs to be on a register, to accept visits, or to be monitored by the LA, I do question the thought that it does not create new powers or duties.

Section 2.4 says:
2.4 You may also decide to exercise your right to educate your child at home from a very early stage, before he or she reaches compulsory school age. There are no requirements in that case as to the content of any home education provided - since there is no legal requirement for any education to take place at all, although state-funded places of between 15 and 30 hours a week would normally be available in early years settings for children of an appropriate age. 
Whilst state-funded places are often available for preschoolers, it is not compulsory for them to be taken up.  Many schooled-children are kept at home until they start at Reception.  Similarly, some children who are never going to go to school, accept the state-funded places and stay their until they are CSA (Compulsory School Age, ie the term after their 5th birthday).

Section 2.6:
Conversely, it is possible to deliver a suitable education very inefficiently.
You mean like school!?! Doo-da-doo <walks away whistling>

Section 2.7:
2.7 There is no legal definition of “full-time” in terms of education at home, or at school. Children attending school normally have about five hours tuition a day for 190 days a year, spread over about 38 weeks. However, home education does not have to mirror this. In any case, in elective home education there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may sometimes take place outside normal “school hours”. 

5hrs x 190 days = 2hrs 36min every day of the year.
I'm glad it has said that home education does not have to mirror this, because it is arguable that schools do not even achieve this.  Monkeymum has done a detailed breakdown of the time spent in schools, and it comes down to 51min every day of the year!  In fact, I've seen a similar calculation on a blog (that I can't find right now), that says if you were to do school-at-home, and teach the national curriculum as set out in teacher's plans, it would take a maximum of 2 hrs a day, right up to GCSE level!
I like the quote at the end of MonkeyMum's post: "As I said earlier, I’m not anti-school. 51 minutes per day, actively learning, sounds brilliant to me. But what about all the other hours spent in school?
Our family time is too precious for that."
Sections 2.8 and 2.9 say:
2.8 Home-educating parents are not required to:
• have a timetable
• set hours during which education will take place
• observe school hours, days or terms
2.9 In practice, the question of whether education for a specific child is full-time will depend on the facts of each case; but you as parents should at least be able to quantify and demonstrate the amount of time for which your child is being educated. Education which clearly is not occupying a significant proportion of a child’s life (making due allowance for holiday periods) will probably not meet the s.7 requirement. 
This is worrying, from an Unschooling point of view.  If your home education looks like school-at-home, or is eclectic, so you have some structured time, as well as free learning, it will be very easy to quantify how much time is spent on learning/education.  However, if your approach to HE is a whole life approach, where there is no distinction between work or play or anything else, and specifically if it is child-led, this will be more difficult to do.
Swapping briefly to the Guidance for LAs, Section 2.4 says:
Many home educating families do follow a clear academic and time structure but it should not be assumed that a different approach which rejects conventional schooling and its patterns is unsatisfactory, or constitutes ‘unsuitable’ education. Approaches such as autonomous and self-directed learning, undertaken with a very flexible stance as to when education is taking place, should be judged by outcomes, not on the basis that a different way of educating children must be wrong.
Where is the need to account for each hour of education coming from, if it is not coming from the guidance for LAs?  In fact, the word "quantify" is not in the LA's guidance at all!

 Back to the Parent's Guidance, Section 2.10 says:
More generally, you should bear in mind that: a. even if there is no specific link with the National Curriculum or other external curricula, there should be an appropriate minimum standard which is aimed at, and the education should aim at enabling the child, when grown-up, to function as an independent citizen in the UK - and furthermore, beyond the community in which he or she was brought up, if that is the choice made in later life by the child
 And yet, this "appropriate minimum standard" is not defined anywhere.  Again, going back to LAs guidance, section 9.4b says:
b. notwithstanding (a), the home education provision does not need to follow specific examples such as the National Curriculum, or the requirement in academy funding agreements for a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum, nor the independent school standards prescribed by the Secretary of State

So, if HE provision is not required to meet independent school standards, what is the minimum standard that needs to be aimed at, and how can that be monitored or assessed or quantified for those home educators who live their learning?

Section 2.10 c says:
c. local authorities may use minimum expectations for literacy and numeracy in assessing suitability,
so again, referring to some minimum expectations, which are not quantified. I am not bringing up these points because I think home educators should be free to kick back and not learn anything; on the contrary, I personally still love learning and enjoy getting more and more qualifications under my belt.  However, if the suitability of education is to be judged on "outcomes", as in the 2.4 quote above from the guidance for LAs, that can only occur at the end of the time of education.  If we can refocus, so stop thinking of education as occurring only at school, but is indeed truly life long, it could change our whole society. 
Personally, I'd prefer 18yos to come out of "education" having no qualifications, but a desire and aptitude to learn more, rather than coming out with a hands full of qualification that they then chuck to one side because they are "fed up with learning" or "learning is boring", and being unable or unwilling to learn as they live their lives.  But that's just me.

Section 2.10d:
d. education may not be ‘suitable’ even if it is satisfactory in terms of content and teaching, if it is delivered in circumstances which make it very difficult to work (for example in very noisy premises). This might also affect whether it is ‘efficient’ and indeed, whether it is ‘received’ at all for the purposes of s.7; 
Dare I mention schools again?  With 30+ kids? No TA? I even have a friend who teaches primary and is covering 2 classes because the other teacher went on maternity leave, and the school has been unable to fill that post!

e. education may also not deemed suitable if it leads to excessive isolation from the child’s peers, and thus impedes social development. 

Unlike schools, who put "disruptive" children into isolation for hours, days or weeks, without identifying or managing any underlying cause.

Section 2.11 I'm including because it is a good thing, and reminiscent of section 3.13 of the old Guidelines for LAs:
2.11 There are no legal requirements for you as parents educating a child at home to do any of the following:
• acquire specific qualifications for the task
• have premises equipped to any particular standard
• aim for the child to acquire any specific qualifications
• teach the National Curriculum
• provide a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum 
• make detailed lesson plans in advance
• give formal lessons
• mark work done by the child
• formally assess progress, or set development objectives
• reproduce school type peer group socialisation
• match school-based, age-specific standards 
For comparison, the OLD guidelines said:
Home educating parents are not required to:
teach the National Curriculum
provide a broad and balanced education
have a timetable
have premises equipped to any particular standard
set hours during which education will take place
have any specific qualifications
make detailed plans in advance
observe school hours, days or terms
give formal lessons
mark work done by their child formally
assess progress or set development objectives
reproduce school type peer group socialisation
match school-based, age-specific standards. 
In the new guidance for LAs, this list is no longer there in this format but all the points are there within the paragraphs and text.

Section 2.12:
2.12 However, many home-educating families do some of these, at least, by choice. Furthermore, it is likely to be much easier for you to show that the education provided is suitable if attention has been paid to the breadth of the curriculum and its content, and the concepts of progress and assessment in relation to your child’s ability.
So, even though we don't have to follow the NC, don't have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, don't have to mark work, don't have to assess progress and don't have to set development objections, home educators are being advised it'll be "much easier"  for us, should we do all this...

Section 2.13 says:
You should, however, consider whether home education is realistically possible in your family’s particular circumstances, and if your child is happy to be educated in this way. The local authority may wish to gain the child’s opinion on the suitability of the home education received (as distinct to the question of the child’s preference for being educated at home rather than at school), as this can be relevant to any decision it needs to make on whether the s.7 requirements are met.
I do wonder if Ofsted actually asks any school children whether they think their school education received is suitable?  After a quick google, I can see that Ofsted asks the opinions of some parents (I don't know whether any parent can reply, or if they are chosen?) but not asking the children directly.

Section 3.1 ends:
 Also consider whether home education is in your child’s overall best interests, including social development.
Because of course, all HE kids are kept locked under the stairs, have no friends, and don't know how to socialise.  <eye roll>

Most of the rest of Section 3 isn't too bad, as it seems to be trying to prevent off-rolling, and advising against temporary HE for the wrong reasons (though it considers changing school to be a bad reason, whereas I think home educating whilst you are waiting for a preferred school place isn't necessarily a bad thing, assuming you are home educating during that time).
What it doesn't do, however, is recommend that you talk to other home educating families whilst you are still in the 'considering' stage.  I would consider this vital (much more so than contacting the LA), as other families can share what HE is really like, can advise what groups and meets are local, and in all honesty, are going to be much more supportive than the LA ever will.

Section 3.8 says:
3.8 In summary, therefore, as parents you should consider:
a. why are you thinking of educating your child at home?
b. what does your child think about the idea?
c. do you have the time, resources and ability to teach your child properly?
d. is your home suitable for undertaking teaching and learning, in terms of noise, space and general environment?
e. What support do you as parents have from others? What would happen if you were unable, perhaps through illness, to provide teaching for your child for a period of time?
f. can you provide social experiences, access to cultural and aesthetic experiences and physical exercise, to help your child develop?
g. Do you envisage educating your child at home for the whole of their time of compulsory school age, or only temporarily? What are your long term intentions for the education of your child?

I question (c) "ability to teach your child properly".  Section 2.11 has already said you don't need specific qualifications, and studies from America (mainly because HE is more prevalent over there, so there have been more studies done, than in the UK) have shown that parental qualification have no impact on the success/attainment of homeschooled children, whereas the quality of time spent together does correlate with academic achievement.  As you've come to expect, I can't remember where I read that, and can't find it from a search, but have found this summary of research which includes a summary of Paula Rothermel's research from 2001 which says:
It showed that whilst 14% of parents interviewed had some teacher training home educating parents were more likely to come from manual and semi‐skilled backgrounds and, contrary to most educational research findings, lower social class did not equate with poorer performance in children; in fact the reverse was often true.
I also question points (d), (e), (f) and (g).

9.4g of the LA's guidance says:
g. any assessment of suitability should take into account the environment in which home education is being provided. Most obviously, home accommodation which is noisy and/or cramped is likely to make it very difficult for a child to learn and make satisfactory progress.
 Whereas a home educated child can learn in any room of the house, in the garden, or elsewhere (libraries, parks etc before we even mention groups that meet in hired halls or in specific buildings), classrooms can be only 55m2 for 30children!

As I said above, to conquer (e), the guidance for parents should specifically point parents towards meeting other home educators. (f) is part of home education - how many times do I need to say that HE kids are not kept under the stairs?! And (g) is irrelevant.  Schools will always be there.  HE will, hopefully(!), always be there.  Parents need to make the decision based upon what is best for their children now.  Yes, look to the future, but things change.  Circumstances change.  Children's interests change.  The NC changes often enough!  One of the great benefits of HE is the flexibility.

Section 4.1 says:
4.1 If your child has never been enrolled at a school, you are under no legal obligation to inform the local authority that he or she is being home educated, or gain consent for this. However, it is strongly recommended that you do notify your local authority of the fact, in order to facilitate access to any advice and support available. Some local authorities operate voluntary registration schemes which are linked to support arrangements.
Why advice and support can the LA offer? Section 3.6 has already said you're on your own:
Remember that if you choose to educate your child at home, you as parents must be prepared to assume full financial responsibility for the child’s education, including bearing the cost of any public examinations (which would have to be entered via an external examinations centre, which may be some distance from your home). Some local authorities may provide financial or other assistance to home-educating families for public examinations, but this is discretionary. Other costs to consider include books, paper, IT and other equipment, and educational visits and sporting activities. Local authorities can consider giving support when special educational needs are being met through home education and additional costs are incurred as a consequence of those special needs. Even in these cases, assistance is discretionary. Some local authorities operate support groups or forums for home-educating families, or provide access to advice; but again, this is discretionary. 

And given how much LAs are trying to underhandedly register and monitor home educators (not to mention the current consultation about registration), no HErs worth their salt would recommend anyone joining any support group or forum run by the LA. Get your support from other HErs instead, or from one of the various HE websites eg or charities eg These sources are much more trustworthy, imo, and will help you get in touch with other home educators should you need it (but as a hint, join Facebook and type "Home Education *your LA*" and you should find at least one HE group local to you).

Section 4.2 starts in a confusing way, imo:
4.2 If your child is currently on the roll of a school you are not obliged to inform the school that he or she is being withdrawn for home education or gain consent for this.
If your child is registered at a school, you MUST deregister by writing to the head teacher; otherwise you risk your child being CME (Children Missing Education) and you could get fined or worse.  What section 4.2 means, is that when you ask the school to remove your child's name from the school roll, you do not need to specify that you are home educating, though it is sensible to do so.  You also do not have to give any reasons as for why you want to home educate.  As the parent, you are legally responsible for your child's education, whether at school or otherwise, so once you deregister, that is it.  You don't need to have any contact with the school; you don't need to have any meetings with the school nor fill out any of the school's forms.

Chapter 5 is all about the duties of the LA, and how much contact they will have with you.
5.1 Your local authority has no formal powers or duty to monitor the provision of education at home. However, it does have a statutory duty (under s.436A of the Education Act 1996) to make arrangements to enable it to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in its area who are not receiving a suitable education.
5.3 The local authority is therefore likely to make such enquiries if it becomes aware that you are educating a child at home - or may be doing so. As parents you are under no legal obligation to respond, but if you do not, the local authority is entitled to conclude from the absence of any response that it appears that your child is not receiving a suitable education, with all the consequences which can follow from that (see below).
If the LA get in touch with you, it is ALWAYS advisable to reply.  You don't need to complete any forms - a letter should be sufficient - but don't forget to respond.

5.4 Some local authorities will ask to see the child at home or in another location, as well as seeing examples of work done. As parents, you are under no legal obligation from education law to agree to such a meeting (but see section below on safeguarding) or to produce specific evidence but you should consider carefully the reasons for not doing so, what is in the best interests of your child, and what is the most sensible approach. If you do not do enough to satisfy the local authority about the education being provided at home it may have no option but to conclude that the education does not meet the s.7 requirement.
Section 6.6 of the LA's guidance says:
6.6 Informal enquiries can include a request to see the child, either in the home or in another location. But the parent is under no legal obligation to agree to this simply in order to satisfy the local authority as to the suitability of home education, although a refusal to allow a visit can in some circumstances justify service of a notice under s.437(1).
Previously, it was always advisable to say no to visits, however, now a refusal to allow a visit can justify service of a notice.  As such, I think if your LA has asked/arranged a visit, I would reply asap to ask them if you could submit a report instead (that way you can keep everything in writing, as that is my preference) or if that won't be acceptable then suggest to meet in a neutral location such as a cafe or a library.  You are showing your preference to keep everything in writing, but are showing willing to meet if necessary.
If you do agree to have a visit from the LA, I would recommend having a HEing friend there too, to be your advocate and witness.  Whether you want them to take notes of the meeting, or simply be there supporting you, it's up to you.

Section 5.5 includes:
 Local authorities should be bearing in mind that, in the early stages, your plans may not be detailed and you may not yet be in a position to demonstrate all the characteristics of an "efficient and suitable" educational provision. You may want to ask the local authority for advice and support. A reasonable timescale should be agreed for you to demonstrate that all aspects of your provision in place, but this does not mean that there can be any significant break between the end of schooling and the provision of good education at home.
I'm a big advocate for deschooling - I think it is essential for all home educating parents, and useful for children who have been in school.  However, NEVER use that word with the LA.  They do not understand it or why it is important. Section 6.2 of the guidance for LAs shows their ignorance:
6.2 Families beginning home education sometimes state that they are entitled to a period during which the home education provided for the child may not meet the requirements in s.7 because they are still, as it were, building up the provision to a satisfactory level. Some parents may go further and describe this period as being necessary for ‘deschooling’. There is no legal basis for such a position. Any statement along these lines could be an indication that the child is not being properly educated.

So, do not use the word "deschooling" with the LA, ever.

Section 5.6-5.10 are all about what happens if the LA does not think you are providing a suitable education.  Hopefully, it won't ever happen to you, but the key thing to remember is to always reply and respond to their letters.

5.11 says:
This duty does not entitle a local authority to insist on visiting a child’s home, or seeing the child, simply for the purposes of monitoring the provision of home education.
Which is interesting when they've said way up there ^^ that the LA has no duty to monitor HE.
The rest of Chapter 5 is to do with the safeguarding role of the LA.

Section 5.13 says:
Your local authority’s published policy on elective home education may explain the circumstances in which the authority may decide that use of the Children Act powers is justified. The Secretary of State has no power to intervene in relation to unjustified use of these powers. In any event, parents should not be using home education as a way of preventing proper oversight of children.
The question(s) I have is:
If there has been unjustified use of these powers, who can we complain to?
Who is the ombudsman? 
If the Secretary of State has no power to intervene, who does have the power?

Section 6.1:
You will therefore wish to satisfy yourself by taking up appropriate references, and check that any private tutor has a recent Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) disclosure certificate.
Again, this is a personal thing, but needs to be said - self-employed private tutors cannot get an enhanced DBS check.  A basic one, yes, but as a self-employed private tutor myself, unless I get employed through a school or a tuition agency (which would take a large cut of any payment, so I don't want to) I cannot get an enhanced DBS check done on myself.

And the rest of the document seems quite sensible at a glance.

So, going back to my initial question, on the whole I do NOT think HErs need to do anything different. Keep home educating, to the best of your ability, according to your child's needs and interests (or age, ability and aptitude in legal speak).  You do not need to suddenly contact the LA or register if you are currently 'unknown'.  If the LA gets in contact, ALWAYS reply.  You can ask to keep everything in writing, but have to show willing to have a visit if they insist, however, the visit does not have to occur in your home, but could be in a neutral location such as a library or a cafe.

I hope that makes sense.

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