Below are the minutes of Home Education Scotland’s Annual General Meeting for this year, which was held online via Zoom on December 11, 2023, at 9.30am.
Present: Lucy Dolan, trustee; Jenny Hall; Mark Nixon, convenor; Charlotte Smith, trustee; Emma Stephens, trustee.
1. Welcome and apologies
Mark Nixon, convenor, welcomed those in attendance. No apologies were forthcoming.
2. Convenor’s report 2022
[note. Due to ill-health, the 2022 AGM did not take place. This has been communicated to OSCR, and our records are in the process of being updated accordingly. The 2022 report, written for that AGM, is given here.]
This, our second full year in operation, has been a challenging one, although we have been able to maintain much of our core work. Just prior to the 2021 AGM, we lost one of our more active trustees, which left a hole in our capacity to maintain relationships with local authorities.
Unfortunately, the individual who had put himself forward to become our Treasurer – a position we have always found difficult to fill – pulled out of consideration, and with no other person willing to step into the position, I took on the role, effectively in name only. Without someone in post with the skills necessary to fulfill the role, we remain limited in what we can do to raise funds. We did, however, recruit three new trustees at that AGM, and I would like to thank Angela Prosser, Charlotte Smith, and Emma-Lou Stephens for volunteering to come on board. Each brings their own experiences to the role of trustee, which will be valuable moving forward.
Much of our continuing work has involved consulting with the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate over the now much-delayed new Guidance. Regular meetings have been maintained, and we have continued to provide real-life case studies exemplifying how the current Guidance operates in practice. In March, the draft Guidance was published. While it was not as bad as some members of our community worried it might be, regrettably it failed to reflect anything that we and other home education groups had been saying. None of our recommendations have been taken up, and in some areas, the Guidance has been made worse. In a subsequent meeting, we made it clear that, should this draft become the new formal Guidance, then we are likely to see a deterioration in relationships between Local Authorities and the home educating community, a deterioration that serves nobody, but especially our children.
The Scottish Government opened a consultation on the draft, and we encouraged home educating parents and home educated children to contribute to it. Unfortunately, the consultation added to our concerns. It included leading questions that represent a direct attack on the needs of our children, and a lack of curiosity about home educating families’ experiences. The Scottish Government’s analysis of, and response to, the consultation will be published in the new year, and we will see then how far they are willing to change tack and to listen to the community.
Unfortunately, 2022 saw the failure of our attempt to ensure that qualifying home educating families would receive the Bridging Payment promised by ministers to all low income families. COSLA remained steadfast in opposing the inclusion of our community, and the SG chose not to instruct COSLA corporately or Local Authorities individually to provide payments to our families. It remained available for LAs to provide payments if they wished to; unsurprisingly, the vast majority chose not to. Local campaigns within some Council areas continue to push on this, and we hope to see success.
Late in the year, we were invited to put forward a representative to sit on the Parents’ Consultative Group of the Hayward Review into Scottish qualifications and assessment. This was in response to the SG coming to the realisation that the SQA prevents home educating families from accessing Scottish qualifications, forcing Scottish children to take English, USAmerican, or other qualifications instead. As convenor, I took on that task, and was able to express our community’s particular concerns to the members of the Review. The other members of the Consultative Group were shocked to hear of our children’s exclusion, and all expressed support for change. As 2022 closes, that Review remains live, and we will continue to provide input.
I would like to express my continuing thanks to the current trustees, which include Lucy Dolan and Vida Colvin alongside Angela, Charlotte, and Emma-Lou.
3. Convenor’s report 2023
This third year of our being in operation has continued with some of the same challenges that we experienced last year. We still do not have a properly appointed treasurer. As convenor, I am nominally in that position, but without the skills or knowledge to act in that capacity, we remain unable to raise funds or manage a bank account. This is a significant problem with our SCIO registration, and I believe that we have to reconsider whether we want or need charity registration at this time. We have also lost two trustees during the year, Vida Colvin and Angela Prosser, although I am pleased to see that we have received interest from a few home educators in coming on board, and I hope that we are able to reinvigorate HES.
The long process regarding the redrafting of the National Guidance by the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate continues, although perhaps it doesn’t. In February, the SG’s analysis and response to the consultation was published. There were no surprises. The SG continues to find ways to ignore the views of our community, and the response showed once again that the needs of children and parents/carers in our community are not at the forefront of their minds. It would appear that there will be very little change to the draft guidance as published, which I find very worrying indeed. We, along with SHEF, met with the team working on the guidance in March, but very little came of it. As for the publication of the individual and institutional responses to the consultation, we were not surprised to see the usual suspects misrepresenting the law, and traducing our community in the furtherance of their own interests, but we were also gladdened to see many individuals and organisations standing up for our community’s rights. We await further developments. Nine months has gone by with nothing heard from the Guidance Review team. Given the SG’s new focus on reforming children’s education, and the plan for a new Education Bill, I suspect that we are once again on the back boiler, unless the SG plans to ambush us through the new Bill. Given that we were assured at the beginning of the Guidance Review process that the SG would not be changing education law at all in the foreseeable future, we must await their plans.
The Hayward Review published its final report in June. Many of the recommendations, if enacted, should help our children access qualifications. Through representation on both the Parents and Carers Consultative Group and the Young Person’s Consultative Group, we were able to express our community’s frustration at the continuing and unaccountable exclusion of our children from the Scottish qualifications system. The Scottish Government has been considering the findings of the Review, and we have to wait to see if the Review’s promise that the qualifications system should work for all learners, not just schoolchildren, is realised through the SG’s new Bill. When the Bill is published, we should be ready to make representations, if necessary, to Parliament and to the Government as part of our years-long battle for inclusion.
I would like to thank our trustees, Emma-Lou, Charlotte, and Lucy for continuing with HES, and I look forward to welcoming new members at the AGM and in the next few weeks.
4. Election of new trustees
Jenny Hall was unanimously elected as a trustee.
Trustees reported that there are other individuals who have expressed an interest is serving on the management committee, and that discussions are ongoing with them. The constitution allows for the appointment of members of the management committee at any time, not just at the AGM, and we hope to recruit more members during 2024.
Action: Charlotte Smith and Mark Nixon to continue discussions with prospective trustees; all trustees to seek out possible recruits
5. Charity status and structure going forward
The convenor opened a discussion on the issue of charity status. Points in favour of ending registration include: no matter how active the association is, if there is no fundraising / financial activity, OSCR will record the association as inactive on their public records; additional requirements imposed by OSCR rules on the trustees which are not necessary to the core activities of the association. Points in favour of continued registration include: the status that it offers; the extra work that would be involved should a future management committee wish to begin fundraising and need to re-apply for SCIO registration.
During the discussion, the following points were raised:
a. Charity status is not required in order, for example, to be consulted by the Scottish Government or to carry out any of the association’s core activities. However, charity status can help members of the public have more trust n the organisation.
b. Small-scale fundraising is possible without the need for charity registration.
c. Having the association recorded as ‘inactive’ on their website may lead members of the public form the impression that the association is not carrying out any activities beyond fundraising.
d. Gaining charity status is a cumbersome process, and to withdraw from it now would mean that a future management committee wishing to regain charity status would have a lot of work on its hands, so perhaps it is better to retain registration so that it is easier for a future management committee to pick up a major fundraising role.
e. The association has struggled to recruit and retain trustees, and the additional burden of work placed on trustees work by charity registration takes time from already pressed trustees, time and energy which is better served carrying out the core activities of the association.
f. There is no requirement of the constitution to register as a charity; registration had been pursued by the founding team due to their intention to engage in fundraising, but problems with opening a bank account during the pandemic caused a delay; before that was resolved, the treasurer had had to resign for personal reasons, and we were unable to recruit a replacement; as a result, fundraising has not happened.
g. When HES was founded, it was very much seen by its founders as playing a role of opening discussions with, and building relationships with, the Scottish Government and Local Authorities, and to represent the perspectives of the community to the press. Although these activities can attract a small financial cost, they do not require large-scale fundraising.
After a lengthy discussion, it was unanimously resolved that the association will deregister as a charity.
Action: Mark Nixon to contact OSCR to begin the process of deregistration.
Tasks for the year ahead:
Mark Nixon proposed that early in the new year, once we have a confirmed team for the year, we will meet in order to discuss the work to be carried out and allot tasks to the members of the management committee, and then meet regularly in order to keep in touch on how things are going. Unanimously agreed.
Action: Mark Nixon to set out six meeting dates, starting in January and continuing every two months for the rest of 2024.
(i) Website and email hosting (Emma-lou Stephens). When the association was first formed, fundraising was expected. As a result, a decision was made to pay for web hosting at cost. Trustees volunteered to pay for hosting out of their own pockets on the understanding that in due course the association would take over funding web hosting. As that has not materialised, those costs have become burdensome. It was resolved to close the website and move entirely to social media platforms. Lucy Dolan noted that we already have a gmail account which can become the main email address if trustees were happy with that, and it was agreed to migrate to gmail use.
Action: Lucy Dolan to begin the process of migrating files to social media platforms and to gmail.
7. The meeting was closed with thanks from the convenor to those in attendance.