In the first of an irregular series of posts entitled “When official websites get home education wrong”, vice-convener Mark Nixon highlights legal inaccuracies on mygov.scot, Scotland’s online public services portal.
This website has been wrong for a long time, and despite repeated requests from home educators and home education organisations to correct the errors, they have failed to do so.
In just seven substantive sentences, we can find a litany of errors, misinformation, and incorrect terminology.
1. “You have a right to teach your child at home rather than sending them to school.”
You have a right to educate your child at home. Teaching is not mentioned in the law and guidance relating to home education. That’s what they do in schools.
2. “If you choose to do this, your council will check from time to time that your teaching at home is of a high standard.”
The local authority may, if they are aware that you are home educating and if they wish to do this, ask for an annual update of your provision. It is not a “check”, and there is no requirement for them to do it. Most home educators are not known to their local authority, and so are never asked to do this. Some LAs only do it every couple of years. Some don’t do it all. If they do request an annual update, you are required to respond. Note, however, that you do not need to provide copy of work or any other evidence of work completed. It is not a test of your child’s education, let alone a test of your “teaching”; it is an update of what you are providing.
3. “Your local council should be in touch with you at least once a year to see how you’re getting on.”
There is no requirement for them to do this, and there is no legal power to do it more than once a year, so “Your local council could be in touch no more than once a year” would be better.
4. “If your local council believes your child is not being taught to a good standard it can issue an ‘attendance order’.”
The correct phrase is “being provided with an efficient and suitable education”, not “being taught to a good standard”. This focus on ‘taught’ and ‘teaching’ is perhaps the least accurate element in the mygov.scot advice. There is no requirement to teach your children, and you cannot be judged on it.
5. “An attendance order means that your local council has given an order for your child to attend school.”
…it’s a lengthy process, parents have the right to respond to the intention before an order is granted, and parents have a right to appeal. According to recent FoI requests made to all 32 local authorities in Scotland, attendance orders are extremely rare. Only three LAs are known to use them, while some LAs said that they would never use them. Of the five confirmed AOs in 2018/19, one was issued in error to a child above school age who is studying at college!
6. “If your child goes to a council school you have to get consent from your local council to take your child out of school and start teaching them at home.”
…not all parents will require consent to withdraw. It is correct to say “goes to school” – a child that is registered at a school but never attended does not require consent to withdraw – but it needs making clearer that, for example, if your child is between primary school and high school, they will not require consent. You need consent if your child is attending the school from which you wish to withdraw them, not just “a” school. You also don’t need consent if you are moving to another council area. Oh, and there’s that “teaching” terminology again…
7. “If your child needs extra support while you’re teaching them at home, known as ‘Additional Support for Learning’, you can ask your local council to assess what extra help your child can get at home.”
…your council is not required to provide any support and, unfortunately, they generally don’t. If the Scottish Government genuinely wish Scotland to be “the best place in the world to bring up a child”, as they claim, they could require councils to provide proper ASN support. Here’s hoping…
8. And then we get to the ‘Advice about Home Education’ section.
Education Otherwise does not operate in Scotland, and has not done so for many years. Schoolhouse is moribund, and no longer provides advice or adequate support to home educators.
The correct places to seek further advice are the Scottish Home Education Forum or, if you are on on Facebook, Home Education Support Scotland. Both provide excellent support and advice from experienced home educators.
Home Education Scotland, meanwhile, will continue to provide support to the home education community at a campaigning and policy level.