Dear Ms Diana R. Johnson,
I was interested to read your contribution to the commons debate on Home Education. I appreciate that you have only just taken on this ministerial portfolio, and wanted to give you my feedback.
"That system must be built on the highest standards of teaching, real choice for parents and pupils, and rigorous accountability. Home education is a vital part of that system."
In law, parents are responsible for the education of their children either at school or otherwise. Those who provide that education using money raised through taxation are doubly accountable, firstly to the children for whose benefit the education is provided, and secondly to the tax payer who has funded it. Home educating parents are only accountable to their children not to the tax payer and, while it is the duty of the LA to investigate on behalf of the children if they have reason to suppose that an education is not taking place, the parents are not and should not be accountable to the State or the tax payer in the way that tax-funded schools are and should be. Home education is NOT part of the state system of schooling.
"One is the right of parents to decide what is best for their children in their education and development. The other is the right of every child to receive a high standard of education in a safe, secure environment."
If you are going to invoke children's rights, you would do well to remember Lord Adonis's remarks about children's rights and education: http://www.freedomforchildrentogrow.org/Adonis_Judd_Oct13_2006_copiable.pdf and you would also do well to actually ask the children concerned what their preferences are, and then respect them. For example, 77% of them do not want compulsory LA monitoring or intrusion into their homes: http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/results-of-poll.html
"It would be a very small number of parents who did not want their children to be educated. It would be a very extreme belief or philosophy that made them follow that path, and the state would, rightly, have to take a view."
Would you be able to expand on how this might play out in reality, especially given the extensive literature outlining the efficiency and efficacy of autonomous home education? (I have sent you copies of Thomas and Pattison, "How Children Learn at Home" and Dowty, "Free Range Education" which may help to widen your understanding of the ways in which children can become educated; I hope and assume that you are referring to hypothetical evil parents who keep their children locked in cupboards for 14 years rather than to those who choose to educate their children in ways which are highly successful despite looking nothing like conventional education. And the legal framework is already in place to act where there is reason to believe that parents do not want their children to be educated).
"There can be no question but that we need to ensure that every child receives a good and safe education"
If that is the case then there is serious work to be done in the institutions for which you have responsibility -
"More than 360,000 children injured in schools each year
450,000 children bullied in school last year
At least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying
An estimated 1 million children truant every year
Treasury statistics show more than 1 in 6 children leave school each year unable to read, write or add up"
- before you consider violating the right to a private family life of a minority group whose dissatisfaction with the standards of safety and effective education offered by State schools has led them to reject the State institutions altogether.
"On the review, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is wrong to say that home education has been consistently under scrutiny since 2004. "
With respect, "In 2004 the DfES consulted on draft Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. These guidelines were shelved and in December 2006 the DfES told EO that they were introducing "light touch changes to monitoring". However in May 2007 the DfES reverted to its original plan and re-issued the 2005 draft guidelines to full public consultation. The revised guidelines, incorporating references to the Children Act 2004 and the Education and Inspection Act 2006, were finally published in November 2007" http://www.education-otherwise.org/Legal/Consultations/2007.htm
"In November 2007, we issued guidance on home education to local authorities, but clarity about roles and responsibilities has still not been achieved."
The clarity is there. The legal framework is in place. Now LA staff need to learn to act effectively within it. They say it is unclear because they don't like the law. That doesn't mean they are right morally or pragmatically.
"It is clear that further clarity is needed."
Perhaps a clear message to LA staff that they are expected to know the law pertaining to home education and to act within it? With full support of HEers prosecuting those employees who do not act within the law?
"They are also intended to achieve greater national consistency in providing suitable full-time education for all children"
Where is the legal, ethical or pragmatic basis for supposing that a nationally consistent education is something the government has any business imposing on all its citizens? You've tried this. It's called the National Curriculum. And it is in order to escape such consistency that many of us have rejected the State schooling system - because we can do better for our children. Consistency would be a splendid ideal if children were consistent in their ability, aptitude and SEN. They aren't. Each child thrives best on a truly personalised education and no government dictat is going to be able to encompass the needs of every child. Please leave us to educate our children as is best for them, not in a "consistent" form which enables LA staff to tick boxes easily.
This is a difficult area for those with little experience of education outside the schooling model. I urge you to make contact with home educating groups, as Graham Badman has done, and begin to understand how different from the conventional norm, but also how joyful and educational our lives are "through the looking glass". EHE is a very precious part of our culture - if you tread too heavily, you will destroy it.