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Meeting with your education officer: dangerous or wise?

Local Authority (LA) home education officers will often ask home educating parents to meet with them, they might ask for a phone call or perhaps copies of work. Home educating parents can be confused about whether or not they should meet, or how to provide information. Quite often, this confusion arises from the parent’s exposure to online narrative about the conduct of some local authority officers in some regions. Parents are also exposed to often inaccurate and sometimes positively aggressive or unpleasant material online, which can worry them.

It is a basic fact of human psychology that if are aggressive or unpleasant, people will feel less positively inclined toward you. If you call them names or generalise about them, they will not view you as a reasonable human being. Nobody would; why do it?

Education Otherwise is clear that children must always come first and we believe that home educating parents want to do what is right for their children. As a charity, we are legally required to provide accurate information and to act in a reasonable manner to support our service users. This article does just that.

 

What is the LAs duty?

It is always the duty of the parent to ensure that their child receives an education suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special needs which the child may have. Parents hold that duty regardless of where the child is educated. 

This does not mean that the LA has no duty in respect of home educated children, LAs do have a duty to act if a parent is not providing suitable education (Education Act 1996 s437). Legal precedent (you may know this as ‘case law’) has found that this duty to act gives the local authority the right to make an informal enquiry of the parent in order to ascertain whether its duty is triggered: 

 ‘Where an authority has a duty to take action in particular circumstances, it also has a duty to be alert in order to detect the possibility that those circumstances existThe most obvious step to take is to ask the parents for information. Of course, such a request is not the same as a notice under section 37(1) of the Education Act 1944 and the parents will be under no duty to comply. However, it would be sensible for them to do so.’  (Phillips v Brown 1980, QBD NO 424/78).

In addition, the Education act 1996 s436a provides a duty to LAs to establish if children are not receiving suitable education. This is not a duty to monitor home education, but the LA does have responsibility to ascertain that children are in receipt of suitable education. In order to do so, LA education officers contact parents to ask for information. The purpose of the enquiry is to assess the provision in a reasonable and proportionate way which can reassure the LA that the parent is doing a good enough job.

LAs usually ask for information annually. This is because in cases where a public body has oversight of any legal requirement, legal precedent has found it reasonable to check whether things are as they should be annually. If there are reasonable concerns about the education, it is likely that the LA will want to check more often than annually, but otherwise, it should not do so. This does not mean that information is ‘due’ annually, but that it is reasonable for LAs to ask annually.

 

Are local authority staff unreasonable?

Just like in any other cohort of people, there will be a normal distribution curve which can be used to describe individual home education officers. The majority do a good enough or better than good enough job and, of course, there are a few who are exceptional, just as there are a few who are far from that standard. They are human. At Education Otherwise we are aware of a tiny minority do not conduct themselves in a way that is supportive of children and families; those cases become widely known about rapidly and often colour the views of home educating families, even in local authority areas where the officers are good or excellent. That is plainly wrong.

Are LA officers untruthful, unpleasant or malicious? Of course not, in our experience the vast majority are doing a good enough, good, or exceptional job; after all, cohorts of human beings most usually fall into that normal curve. By recognising that fact, we allow those who are exceptionally good, or good to influence the tiny minority who are behaving unacceptably and help them to improve. 

 

Are home educating parents unreasonable?

We must remember that the same distribution applies to home educating parents. Just like in any other cohort of people, the majority do a good enough or better than good enough job and, of course, there are a few who are exceptional, just as there are a few who are far from that standard. They are human. This is a simple fact which means that some children may not be receiving a suitable home education. 

Do LAs give out hundreds of School Attendance Orders (SAO) without good reason? Rarely. In fact, fewer than 2% of children are subject to SAOs which, going back to our normal distribution, is statistically reasonable. Of course some SAOs are issued inappropriately but most are not and, if that happens, Education Otherwise will always support parents to challenge that issue in a professional and reasonable manner. 

We know from our communications with families that most families do not want to be in a war with their LA, most simply want to get on with home educating in a way which is best for their child. They are reasonable, supportive parents.

We also know, from our communications with families, that a great many are recently coming to home education, not through choice, but because the school system is not meeting their children’s needs. Those parents are often unprepared because they did not expect to be home educating. They often need a great deal of support to ensure that they can do the best for each child. Of course, those parents can obtain support through Education Otherwise or from some local and national home education groups. Others may need support from their LA. This is particularly so currently, with thousands of parents coming new to home education who are unaware of the support available from groups; most LAs signpost families to good and reputable support like ours.

 

Do parents have to meet with the LA?

The local authority may ask to meet with a family at their home or elsewhere and they are perfectly entitled to ask to do so. Parents can choose how to respond to LA enquiries and it is up to each family how they provide information to the LA, but they should respond in a meaningful way as, if they do not do so, the LA is entitled to consider whether it appears that education is unsuitable and to serve formal proceedings on the parent, which can lead to a school attendance order. 

Parents may choose to meet with their LA, send a report from an education professional, send a personal report, send copies of work or even, in a notable recent case, provide information through the medium of dance! It is a matter for the parent. 

 

What is crucial is that each parent does what is right for their family.

Each method of responding to LA enquiries has advantages and disadvantages, but some home education groups will warm parents that they should not meet the LA because it is selfish to do so. This is usually on the basis that choosing to do so is dangerous and has consequences for others. Of course, the consequence of increasing numbers of people choosing a specific approach is that it normalises the idea of doing so and that could cause parents who choose not to do so, to feel pressure to make the same choice. However, the primary duty of every parent is to act in the best interests of their own child, the secondary duty is to act in their own best interests and that is what a good parent does. 

Whether to meet the local authority officer, if they invite you to do so, is an individual choice. Education Otherwise listens to parents and we know that there are many reasons why a parent would prefer to meet the local authority officer whilst others would not. The following chart gives some of those reasons:

 To meet or not to meet weighing up the question

What if I choose not to meet with the local authority to discuss my home education?

It is up to the parent how they provide information and each parent must decide what is best for them. If you decide to write a report please do refer to our fact sheet on report writing which you can find here: https://www.educationotherwise.org/resources/fact-sheets/

Arents should always respond to any enquiry from your local authority. If you do not do so the authority could assume that your education provision is not suitable. 

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