Archive for September 2010

Government Responds to Home Education Petitions

17/09/2010

Yesterday, I added a page to this blog reporting a letter from Michael Gove stating that the Government had not yet considered what changes to make to the law concerning HE. You can find it here.

Today, I received two emails from Number 10, telling me that the Government had responded to two petition I had signed on their web site. I did this quite a while ago – both petitions closed on 6 June this year. The text of the petitions and the government’s responses to both can be found on this page and on this one.

The first was signed by 5,658 people and the government’s response reads:

Parents have the primary duty to ensure that their child receives a suitable education and home education is a well established alternative to school which allows them to fulfil that duty. Where a parent opts to educate their child at home rather than at school, they must provide their child with an education that is suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have.

Guidelines which set out the legislative position and the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and parents in relation to home educated children is available at – http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/elective/.

The Government respects the right of parents to home educate their children and we appreciate the strong views held by both home educators and local authorities. As you will appreciate, we have not yet been able to consider in detail our approach to home education and whether or not any changes to the existing arrangements are required.

The other petition received fewer signatures, 862 in all. The government’s response to this one unsurprisingly echos that to the other:

You have petitioned to uphold the freedom of choice parents enjoy in the UK regarding home schooling by rejecting Graham Badman’s proposed compulsory registration of home educators.

The previous administration put forward proposals to legislate for a registration and monitoring scheme for home educating families. These were removed from the Children, Schools and Families Bill, prior to the General Election.

We are currently considering priorities within the Department for Education, including our approach to home education, and whether or not any changes to the existing arrangements are required.

Of course the important sentence in both are the final ones. No commitment either direction, but as this government have previously said (here) they are aware of strong arguments from both sides!

Whilst Department of Education remains as undecided as it was yesterday, they do not rule out changes, therefore my message remains the same. I believe the HE community must not go to sleep thinking the danger is past. There is still plenty of work for us to do, not least in making sure that the underlying forces behind Badman’s review, will never again have an opportunity to say that the State is the only guarantor of child welfare.

Big Brother is still watching!

15/09/2010

Channel 4 may have pulled the plug on their infamous “reality” programme Big Brother, but an army of child protectors are still at large in council offices across the land!

Isabelle McCullough

Mark McCullough of Glentham and his seven year-old daughter Isabelle Photo: RAYMONDS (Daiy Telegraph)

Yesterday and today the media have been reporting on the case of Mark McCullough who received a letter from Lincolnshire County Council threatening him for allowing his seven-year-old daughter to walk unaccompanied 20 metres to their home from a bus stop. The letter said that it was a “child protection issue” and that they would take action if the family did not make other arrangements. The matter was brought to their attention by a concerned bus driver.

The BBC reports:

Denise Carr, the county council’s head of transport services group, said: “As a responsible authority, we have expressed our concern that a seven-year-old is standing on a busy road alone each morning, and then crossing the road unaccompanied after school.

“The bus driver should not be expected to leave a bus full of young children alone to escort the pupil safely across the road.

“As the pupil was also left standing by the roadside on a cold morning without warm clothing, we have raised our concerns with the girl’s parents, following discussion with the school.

“Safeguarding is the responsibility of everyone, and where we become aware of anything that compromises the safety of a vulnerable child or adult, we will take steps to address it.”

Home educating families are all too familiar with with the sentiments of that last paragraph; it is the mind-set of Directors of Children’s Services across the land.

Today, the Council has backed off and admitted that its letter may have been heavy handed. Here is a further quote from the BBC:

Debbie Barnes, assistant director of Lincolnshire County Council’s Children’s Services, said: “The safety of children is the responsibility of everyone and where a member of staff brings a situation to our attention where the safety of a child or adult is compromised, we must react.

“NSPCC guidance states that children under eight should not be out alone; in this instance, a seven-year-old girl has been standing unaccompanied on a roadside and left to cross the road by herself.”

She added that “with hindsight we accept the letter could have been phrased better and we have no intention of going down the child protection route or court action” and that the council would like to sit down with Mr McCullough to discuss the issues.

Different attitude, same mind-set: parents cannot be trusted, it needs Big Brother from the Council to keep children safe. It also seems that the NSPCC is now regarded as the defining authority on child safety.

You can find further reading on these pages: BBC 14 Sep., Daily Telegraph 14 Sep., BBC 15th Sep. & This is Lincolnshire 15t Sep.

Now the reason I started this post was not because I had read the story, but because this morning’s edition of Today on BBC Radio 4, followed up its report on this story with a discussion between Anastasia de Waal, from the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, and Julia Margo, of the think-tank Demos, on the responsibilities of parents and the state over children’s welfare. At the moment it is available on iPlayer here.

This discussion should be compulsory listening for every family and especially any home educating families who think that the election put Badman and Balls’ ideas in the grave. It needs listening to more than once because hidden in there is some criticism of the approach of social service departments, but on the whole all those involved in the interview had no problem with the idea that local authorities can be trusted far more than parents. The interviewer gets the ball rolling with the question:

Who should be in charge of children when they are not in school?

Anastasia de Waal is perhaps more cautious than Julia Margo, but for both it is not really about if but how the State should watch over parents. Margo quotes Finland, Norway and Germany as good examples of  State oversight, but this is tempered by criticism of how Social Services in the UK often fail to relate constructively with parents. However, as is said in the discussion, “the bottom line is the welfare of the child”, and it is assumed without question that the State knows best!

Ed Balls may never again be Education Secretary, Graham Badman may never be employed by the present Government, but the ongoing vision of making children safe by enfolding them firmly in the arms of the State is deeply embedded in the mentality of most LA staff and it will not go away without a fight!

It seems that Michael Gove has not yet decided his policy on home education (see here), so there is still a need for the HE community to keep their MPs (and peers in general) aware that we are not child abusers.

Debbie Barnes, assistant director of Lincolnshire County Council’s Children’s Services, said: “The safety of children is the responsibility of everyone and where a member of staff brings a situation to our attention where the safety of a child or adult is compromised, we must react.

“NSPCC guidance states that children under eight should not be out alone; in this instance, a seven-year-old girl has been standing unaccompanied on a roadside and left to cross the road by herself.”

“Start Quote

It’s only a quiet, little country road – you could sit there all day and maybe see 20 or 30 cars…”

End Quote Natasha Fegan Father’s partner

She added that “with hindsight we accept the letter could have been phrased better and we have no intention of going down the child protection route or court action” and that the council would like to sit down with Mr McCullough to discuss the issues.