Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Local Authority: Friend or Foe?

I haven't done a generic post for ages, but recently in a Facebook group a new home educator asked a really important question: why we (the HE community) have to refuse LA visits.  I waited until I had enough time to write a decent answer as it's an important topic and one that many people gloss over but don't always fully understand.  The responses were that it was helpful, so I wanted to write it down here so that I could find it again the next time the subject comes up - which it does, often.  So here is my explanation of why the HE community generally seem so resistant to LA involvement:

Firstly it must be said that every home educator has a choice - nobody HAS to refuse - or indeed accept - a visit from the Local Authority.  It is true that there is a lot of emphasis on refusing visits within the Home Ed community - this is mainly because those with experience have seen too often how most Local Authorities do not understand their remit and send out letters requiring visits and making other demands that overstep what is legally required of them.

In law, HEors currently do not have to register, do not have to be monitored, do not have to have our plans and education officially approved.  This is because parents hold the legal responsibility for the education of their children.  Schools are monitored etc because parents have delegated their authority to then so somebody has to check that they are fulfilling that responsibility.

Unfortunately, society has become so brainwashed into thinking that school is the norm, that we just assume somebody else is in charge of educating our kids, and what we do must be evaluated by them.  The truth is, we are legally responsible for ensuring that our children receive a suitable education.  The LA's remit is simply to step in if they have reason to believe this is not happening and only then can they ask for evidence.  Only when they are sure that a child's education is being neglected can they take steps to send them back to school, but this is very rare, because what constitutes a suitable education is flexible enough to cover most educational philosophies.

The UK is pretty unusual in leaving the duty of care in the parents' hands where it rightly belongs, but even so over the years home educators here have had to fight government attempts to erode our proper freedom (there is another such attempt in the House of Lords at the moment).  Part of this fight has been to resist Local Authorities who are conditioned towards standardisation, monitoring and form-filling, and who assume a heavy-handed duty of care that is legally not theirs.  Therefore new HEors who have just deregistered their children are usually encouraged by the HE community to resist filling in LA forms or having them visit, to take time to deschool (get school-based assumptions about education out of their thinking) and understand better the implications of handing over our parental rights and freedom to an organisation.

Many new HEors are inclined to go along with LA demands because of not wanting to rock the boat, and because of advice from some who have had visits which seemed to go well.  However generally unless there is a specific reason for wanting the LA's input (such as single parents with an ex-partner who is anti-HE, or non-nationals needing help with visa renewal), most seasoned HEors (and I myself) would recommend refusal, at least to begin with.  Veteran HEors have been liasing with Local Authorities for many, many years to educate them (it is shocking how many do not appear to know or follow their legal remit), and establish clear boundaries, so it is always wise to consult the local HE community before engaging with the LA on any level.

For anyone reading this as a new HEor or without a clear reason to welcome LA visits, my best advice is to make sure you understand your legal rights and responsibilities (link here), then write a polite letter briefly explaining that you understand the law pertaining to Home Education, that you have all the support you currently need locally and nationally (Facebook is a great place to start), and either briefly outlining any plans you may have, or - more likely - explain that you are having a settling-in period while you investigate options, available resources etc, and that you will contact them in six months with a more coherent plan, which just needs to include resources (internet, library, local HE groups, any curricula), and a VERY brief overview (1-2 paragraphs) of what your HE has looked like so far, including your child(ren)'s deschooling process, especially if there were problems in school that took time for them to recover from.

Hopefully this has been helpful to new home educators, those wanting to explain why they advise refusal, and anyone else generally interested.  As always I'm really happy to answer any further questions - feel free to comment below!

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