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Conquering the blank page: report writing for the LA

 

Why?

 

Our fact sheet gives details of why, and some information about how, to write reports. While there’s no legal obligation, there are pragmatic reasons- your report is your shield from potential prosecution. s437 of the Education Act 1996 is not to be taken lightly.

 

If you are contacted by the local authority (LA) for an informal enquiry, we advise you to respond by sending a report.

 

The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to format or submit a report (EHEDGLA,6.12), we all do things differently. Here you will find ideas and tips that have helped other parents in your position to write successful reports, from the first report right the way through to court evidence. You can include a philosophy, and we would advise you do, but it isn’t necessary and you may still be in the early stages of developing one.

 

A competent Elective Home Education (EHE) officer or caseworker, will have training in their legal remit, their legal limits, and have experience or knowledge of multiple forms of education within the UK and from around the world. That might include state schools, Montessori, Froebel, Waldorf Steiner, Reggio Emilia, and individualised approaches created by parents. Sadly, they are a dying breed, if they ever existed at all.

 

So, rule #1 is don’t assume your EHE officer has any experience in education at all, and certainly not in alternatives to the National Curriculum. You will need to spell things out carefully so that they have no excuses for misinterpreting or misrepresenting your provision.

 

 

Understanding what is wanted.

 

You are providing evidence, by submitting a report, that you are educating your child according to the legal definitions in both statute and precedent (case law, more on that in the coming months). Mostly, that means ensuring you prepare them for adulthood in the community you are part of, rather than the ‘mainstream’, but also ensuring your child doesn’t miss out on access to reading, writing, and arithmetic as the key literacy and numeracy skills. It must all be appropriate to the age, aptitude, ability, and special needs of the individual child.(EA ’96.s7)

 

What is it that they think they need?

 

Whether you use a school-like structure or not, the report itself can be structured to demonstrate how you ensure your child has access to experiences that promote those literacy and numeracy key skills. They are the two biggest points of contention that LAs are likely to pursue in terms of wanting ‘detailed information’ (EHEDGLA, 6.5) and ‘progress expected and achieved’ (EHEDGLA, 6.12).

 

It is ironic that a ‘statement of intent’ is not enough but ‘expected progress’ is considered necessary. So, despite the fact that LAs often ask for them, don’t give ‘plans’ as they are a statement of intent, and there’s no requirement to have any anyway (EHEDGLA parents guide).

 

Where to start?

 

To better understand how you can express your approach confidently a few definitions are in order, they help to keep things clear.

 

  • Detailed: having many details or facts; showing attention to detail; marked by abundant detail or by thoroughness in treating small items or parts; the small features of something that you only notice when you look carefully; accurate; specific

 

  • Progression or progress (uncountable): the process of developing or moving gradually towards a more advanced state; the process of gradually improving or getting nearer to achieving or completing something; to move over a period of time to a stronger, more advanced, or more desirable state; development; advancement; improvement

 

  • Progression or progress (countable): a number of things that come in a series

 

  • Expected: regarded as likely; anticipated; likely to happen or be true; predicted; normal; conventional

 

  • Achieved: successfully bring about or reach (a desired objective or result) by effort, skill, or courage; to succeed in finishing something or reaching an aim, especially after a lot of work or effort; to carry through (as a process) to completion; attain; accomplished; gained

 

They will often talk about assessment too; conversation is a valid way to ‘assess’ your child’s progress, you do it all the time. It may not be written down by the child, we all know that young children especially, dumb down their expressed thoughts to what they can spell if they think someone else will read it. So to get at the heart of a thought process, conversations and spoken questions are the most efficient way to see where your child is at in their thinking. In academia, it’s called a viva, a spoken exam in the living voice; so if it’s good enough for a Ph.D. it’s good enough for you.

 

There is also recorded work, but please don’t send samples as they do not belong to you they belong to your child. Respect their rights to privacy in their written correspondence, for that is what ‘work’ is, correspondence with you, a friend, an imagined audience or simply themselves, UNCRC article 16.

 

When describing your education consider all of the definitions and be clear about which interpretations you are using in your own mind, that will give a stronger voice throughout your writing. The clearer the report, the fewer excuses the LA can come up with for deeming it unsuitable without giving you specific information- which you can then expand upon giving more details if necessary.

 

The length of a report depends on a few things. Mostly it depends on the LA and on how long you have been home educating, whether you  have written reports before for them, and whether they are reasonable. It also makes a difference if this is your first report, if it’s the response to an s437(1)  notice to satisfy, asking for a revocation of an SAO under s442, or if the child has an EHCP.

 

We would advise the following as a guideline:

  • short (1-2) (reasonable LAs and new to HE within a few weeks, written previous satisfactory reports so this is un update);
  • medium (3-5) (first report to LA after establishing HE, LA expressed specific concerns about previous reports, EHCP);
  • long (from 5 pages upwards) (first report or if concerns rasied about for a child with an EHCP, for s437, s442 and court proceedings)

 

There are many approaches to education; no one is considered to be more lawfully ‘correct’ than any other. As long as you adhere to the principles of s7 of the Education Act 1996 you are educating lawfully (more in the coming months).

 

 

Explaining your education

 

 

 

 

As an overall structure to either consider or actually write your report, you can use a framework such as the following as it covers most things you may need to write about at any stage of enquiry.

 

  • intention, approach or philosophy
  • desires for outcomes, your endpoint
  • child’s own desires,
  • additional or special needs and EHCP overview
  • education overview, including a timetable if appropriate
  • outline literacy
  • outline numeracy
  • outline other subjects
  • outline projects
  • outline experiences, days out, one-off trips
  • physical opportunities, inside and out
  • social opportunities, clubs, meets and groups
  • resources

 

An Education Philosophy (ed. phil) or an overview of your approach is a good place to start your report. How you make decisions about education as a family is a fundamental part of the freedom in home education and often forms the basis for the rhythms and routines you develop as a family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can tell the reader whether you are formal or informal; if have a structured, daily timetable or flexible timetable with regular weekly activities. Do you operate on a parent-led, child-led, flexible, or democratic framework? Is there a particular curriculum approach you use or did you create your own?

 

Talk about your child or children individually. Cover what your child’s strengths, passions, aptitudes, abilities, and skills are. They are unique, and the person reading it should get a sense of who they are so they can see that your provisions are tailored towards them. Also, give the child a voice here. What are their aspirations and desires for now and the future? If they are older it’s possible to show that what you do is towards your child’s adult aspirations, but it will only make sense to the reader if they know what that is. What careers or jobs are there already out there for their passions? What pathways are there to these careers that you have found?

 

If your child has any additional needs that require you to approach things differently or provide extra provisions for SEN, and especially if they have an EHCP, then list and explain here. If your child has an EHCP you can insert here or somewhere else a table that takes all of the needs statements in section B and sets them against your provision.

If you have a daily timetable with slots for specific subjects or topic times, then include it here. If you operate a more flexible approach then a rough timetable, am, pm, evening and weekends, can demonstrate the continuous nature of your provision. Include any regular venues attended if a person directs/provides learning opportunities, any weekly groups and meetups, or the ‘home time’ you leave blank for self-directed activities. For example, the library reading club, the local gallery talks on art and design, talks at the museums, the bird watching club monthly lecture. Also include any tutors you use regularly, but do not give personal details without permission, even if the LA ask.

 

Most people are familiar with the notion of a curriculum, and mostly in the form of a subject based approach such as the National Curriculum. You can read more on the topic of curriculum here, however, consider structuring a report to explain using a subject based or similar framework even if you do not educate that way, it makes things much easier for the reader.

 

Handling different approaches

 

Subject based

 

Often, if you do a subject based approach, you can select, cut and paste from the National Curriculum the descriptions from the Programmes of Study (PoS) and say which resources you used and the activities you did with outcomes. That shows what you have covered in ‘detail’ using the state language for education. It does not mean that you followed the NC as if you were in school, it means you have covered the PoS described in it, which is not the same thing.

 

Equally, you can use the wording of any online programmes or books you use such as workbooks, as they often have useful titles and subtitles that can help you structure your report. You can list resources used for each subject, providing links to online programmes or taking a photo of the cover of the books used if you don’t want to write them all out. Don’t send samples by photograph, the LA are not entitled to see them, they are your intellectual and personal property.

 

Project/topic/problem-based

 

If you do a project, topic or problem based approach then you can title the project and explain ‘what the children did’, with some details and examples of what they learned.  You then have a choice about how you explain their achievements and progress.

  • You could say what the outcome was of the project as a whole or;
  • you could subdivide into ‘subjects’ and say how the project contributed to learning in each of the areas.

 

For example, it is fairly simple to explain how your topic on ‘washing machines’ can be broken down into skills that relate to subjects.

Art, science, maths, engineering: There may be various art techniques as they tried to draw the glass bowl; using acrylic paints and varnish to get the reflective look of a machine; draughtsman-like drawing of components would have a heavy use of measurement and maths with geometric construction. Perhaps the photographs required you to look at light levels and measurements of aperture to vary depth of field so you could post on Instagram.

 

English: there may have been the reading of manuals and technical language to understand what the functions meant which is English as well as engineering.

 

Science, maths, materials: The temperature of the water and how that relates to the fabrics; why can’t you boil wash your silks? Did you experiment with small pieces of knitted wool through the machine to see what happened them? Did you measure shrinkage?

 

History and sociology: The creation of the dolly, posser, the use of paddles in large Victorian wash houses. What about the social deprivation you found out about? The unfair, elitist and sexist ways that the poor and women in particular were oppressed. Did you write about how even now it’s mostly women who do the laundry in a family?

 

Recall the conversations that you had around the topic, or look back at lapbooks, notes, photographs, anything to jog your memory.

 

 

Expressing yourself when you don’t really like writing.

 

A table can look particularly professional and is easy to structure. If you find yourself wobbling at the sight of a blank page or waffling on and getting off the topic, try a table. It can be with the PoS, or with an appropriate subject description. This idea can be applied to any approach from schooling to unschooling, and if the LA are proving to be unreasonable it might be the swiftest way to stop them, or prepare for court. Your last report is likely to be the one the magistrates will read last and remember most.

 

Project ‘Bumble Bees’ using a STEAM + approach.

If you need to, you can easily expand on any of the statements above and give more details or in depth explanations.

 

Progress: different ways to demonstrate it

 

Parents often worry about demonstrating progress, especially if they are informally educating. Progress can be considered in two distinct ways to assist with this.

 

Progress can be a linear thing, from book 1a) to 1b), through a series then ‘progressing’ to Book 2 a) to 2b) and so on. This is typical of a series of formally structured written works and worksheets and is easily referenced either in the main body or as part of your resources list.

 

On the whole, it’s founded on the National Curriculum or similarly structured curricula criteria for assessment and relates more to having a set of measurable outcomes than it does to charting a child’s learning and developing understanding. Implicit in these series is the assumption that progress is made by moving along in a premeasured, predetermined way to a specific outcome. That does not at all suit many education models that do not have standardisation or that limit knowledge to testable features. In that case the other definition of progress is needed; to deepen knowledge.

 

The assumption that knowledge is gained in linear predetermined fashion only suits a structured or guided approach. One that uses child led exploration as it’s intended vehicle for learning cannot adhere to the same measures, because while the start of a journey is easy to see, there is often no specific destination, no set time frame and no interventions in order not to limit the outcomes! Demonstrating the depth of learning here is the important thing, and always consider the reader who needs to be guided to understand the individual journey.

 

‘Alex has been learning about sailing boats,’ is a singularly unimpressive statement. Alex did precisely what?

 

Model 1 of progress.

 

Alex drew a picture of a boat and labelled the parts. He successfully completed book 1 and 2 of the Dullsbourne book of boats and has progressed to book 3.

 

Model 2 of progress.

 

Alex was fascinated by the sailing boats at the common pond where he talked to the elderly gentleman for two hours and was able to have a little go at the remote control. At home, he painted pictures, designed and made a cardboard model of a boat he would like to make in wood, whilst telling us tales of his adventures in his new boat.

 

We gave him a budget then went online and bought all the materials. Once they arrived he immediately began to build ‘Freedom From Interference’. Along the way he encountered several problems with not having the right materials, tools or knowledge to complete the job just yet so we suspended the project. Instead, we went to see The Cutty Sark where he commented on the structure of the hull, and the water movement he thought would occur in both smooth and choppy waters.

 

On a day out to a harbour, he met another man called Alex, and talked to him for hours about boats and building his own boat to sail as fast as he could around the world. Alex, the man, suggested he could get a free sailing taster session locally and that he would need a lot of experience if he wanted to sail around the world that quickly. He also gave us a website address to look at.

 

Young Alex is now trying to understand the effects of salinity on drag and monitors daily Big Alex’s progress in the Vande Globe. Young Alex has been studying data to understand the meaning of the graphs and has a basic grasp of what the axis are, what the numbers are representing, what the lines are showing in terms of the relationship between the data sets. He can now explain to his granny the effects of wind direction on a modern boat compared to the Cutty Sark.

 

 

 

 

The physical and social elements are easier to explain. Walking the dog, throwing stones at the beach, climbing trees, cycling with friends, games at Scouts or Girl Guides, weekend adventures with Cadets. However, if your child is not a big group person and prefers their own company, then explain they prefer smaller groups and how you go about making sure they get the contact that is healthy and suitable to them.

 

Currently, you could create a Covid-19 adjustments statement in amongst the report or at the end as a separate add on and cover all elements affected by the lockdowns.

 

Rule# 2 . Can’t say this enough times: Spell check, grammar check, use the technology; read, reread, get your friends, neighbours, and even the friendly shopkeeper to read your report; if you can explain to the ordinary, reasonable folks that your provision is ‘on the balance of probabilities’, full-time, efficient and suitable to your child, then that should be good enough in a courtroom and certainly enough for an EHE officer.

 

It was rather an epic post, but it’s the most asked about topic by parents, and the one that so many are nervous about. So, get your sticky notelets, write the heading, write the questions, write a few sentences for each part, move it all around and you have yourself the start of an excellent report.

 

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