Today, a home educating mum in Portsmouth has taken one step further toward challenging Portsmouth City Council’s (PCC) draconian and unlawful attitude toward home educating families.
What is this about?
PCC has the highest number of S437 notices (in proportion to home educated children) issued of any local authority in England at 40.22%, compared to an average of just 2.01%. This is not by a little, not even by a bit more than seems reasonable, but by such a significant amount that it is simply not credible to believe that they are justified.
These notices lead to School Attendance Orders (SAO) being served, which if not complied with, result in criminal prosecution of the parent.
In fact, PCC has served proportionately 20 times more section 437 notices and nearly 30 times as many SAOs than the national mean figures.
Why does this happen?
PCC refuses to accept an education report by a parent, insisting that a report will not suffice regardless of how extensive or thorough it is. PCC will settle for nothing less than copious amounts of samples of school style work, seeking to destroy the very value of home education. In doing this, PCC not only breaches its own policy, but also breaches Government guidance.
We may well ask why PCC does this and the answer is that Education Otherwise does not know, but what parents tell us is that a culture of bullying and lack of respect for parents permeates PCC and that this manifests itself in wholly unreasonable conduct toward home educating families.
What has happened?
A group of courageous home educating families have stood up against PCC’s demands under threat of criminal prosecution and a barrage of SAOs. The home education community supported them by raising in excess of £36,000 to bring a case in Judicial Review (JR) against PCC.
One courageous and incredibly determined mum has made he JR application to the Court, in the face of great personal, financial risk.
The stages to bringing a JR include seeking permission from the Court and application for permission is considered on paper. That application was refused.
What has happened today?
Following refusal, our heroine instructed the fabulous team at Irwin Mitchell solicitors and the superb David Wolfe QC to renew the application at oral hearing. What that means is that the application gets looked at by another judge and Counsel (barristers) for both sides to present their arguments. This took place today.
David Wolfe was excellent (of course!) and clearly presented the case to a judge who was actively listening, rather than just hearing.
The Court has given permission for the case to be heard at full hearing.
What does that mean?
A date will be set for the Court to have a full trial (Court hearing) of the case and to consider the application. Our heroine will be able to give evidence as will witnesses to support her.
The defendants (PCC) will also present their case and the Court will consider the evidence and make a decision on the application.
What will the result be?
If our heroine wins the case, PCC will have no choice but to change their policy and to act more reasonably in future. Not only that, but every single local authority will have no choice but to act reasonably, as if they do not do so, there will be a clear legal precedent that will find them in the wrong.
If the case is won, Education Otherwise would expect the DfE to update Guidance to clarify what information any local authority may ask for. In short, every parent benefits.
If in the unlikely case that our heroine is defeated, she will nonetheless have achieved clarity that allows every parent to know just what is expected of them.
Education Otherwise is proud to support the team behind the case and the brave mum who has brought it.