HES corrects misleading council info

Our attention was drawn to a newspaper report on July 24 in which the Falkirk Herald newspaper repeated inaccurate and misleading information provided to parents by David Mackay, Head of Education at Falkirk Council.

HES Deputy Convenor Mark Nixon wrote to the Herald’s editor, offering a corrective.

The report has now been removed from the Falkirk Herald’s website.

We would like to encourage HES members and supporters to let us know about any inaccurate reporting on home education matters in Scotland’s press and broadcast media, so that we can submit corrections where necessary in order to help Scottish media outlets improve their coverage of home education and offer clear and accurate advice to their readers.

The full text of Mark’s letter:

Dear madam/sir

It is a shame that the Herald did not consult with the real experts on home education – home educators themselves – before publishing the erroneous ‘advice’ Falkirk Council’s Head of Education, David Mackay, sent to a parent recently. The article contains a number of inaccuracies.

Home education is not the only option available to parents concerned about arrangements for a return to school after they reopen in August. For example, they may request to ‘flexischool’ (send their child to school on a part-time basis while continuing to educate their child at home for the rest of the week), an option which the Scottish Government’s national guidance states should be considered on its own merits in all cases, with the parent’s wishes for their child’s education remaining paramount.

Moreover, serious concerns about health, including but not limited to there being a shielding member of the child’s household, should be treated as ‘reasonable excuse’ for non-attendance by the authority, with a place kept open at school ready for when it is safe for the child to return to school. That does not require ‘consent to withdraw’ in order to home educate.

If a parent does decide to home educate, however, it is incorrect to advise them that all parents must obtain consent to withdraw their child, as there are several exemptions. Most parents would need consent, but those whose children are, for example, entering P1 or S1 or who have moved into Falkirk district since the schools closed will not require consent to withdraw.

Additionally, if a parent does make a request for consent to withdraw, they do not need to “provide evidence” of a suitable and efficient education. The national guidance requires an ‘outline of provision’, and clearly states that neither detail nor evidence is required, especially early on in a child’s home education.

Nor is it required for the child’s view on home education to be provided to the authority, just as it is not required for the child’s view of schooling to be provided when a parent chooses to send their child to school. Elective home education and school education have equal validity in law, and must be treated equally.

It should also be noted that the child’s school has no part to play in the withdrawal process, and there is no need to contact your child’s headteacher to discuss home education prior to submitting your request.

Home education is a right (for which no parent needs to ‘apply’, as Mr Mackay suggests), and Children’s Services cannot unreasonably withhold consent. In the absence of serious extenuating circumstances, consent must always be granted. It is a shame that the impression is given in the article that the process need be difficult and that a decision could go either way when, in the vast majority of cases, receiving consent is a formality.

Nor should the process take up to 30 days, although it may and, in Falkirk Council’s case, often does. It should also be noted that school holidays should not be excluded from the quoted 30 days, as schools are not involved and education staff are still in their offices. For most children, the process should take no more than a few hours and it is noteworthy that a number of LAs in Scotland complete the process within a week.

I note that Mr Mackay used the term ‘home schooling’, which has no meaning or definition in Scottish education law or practice. The correct term is ‘home education’. Not only should ‘home schooling’ not be used in formal settings or by education professionals, it is also the case that it is actively opposed by the home education community as its narrow meaning does not adequately represent the pedagogical variety to be found in home educating families throughout Scotland.

Finally, I would like to recommend to parents considering home education, or just considering their options for when schools reopen, that they read the statutory national guidance on home education, which is available on the Scottish Government’s website. Indeed, I would like to suggest that Mr Mackay does the same, as it may help him to not give out erroneous advice next time a parent contacts him.

Yours sincerely

Mark Nixon
Deputy Convenor, Home Education Scotland

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