Factchecking official home ed sites

excerpt from myscot.gov

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 public services online 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.”

PARTIALLY CORRECT

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.”

PARTIALLY CORRECT

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.”

WRONG

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’.”

WRONG

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.”

CORRECT, BUT…

…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.”

CORRECT, BUT…

…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.”

CORRECT BUT…

…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.

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

Boys help with LA website

Two of the boys working with a graphic artist.

Three home educated sons of one of our trustees were invited by their local authority to visit its graphics department to help create and produce a home education resource webpage for their local council area.

This turned out to be an interesting and fun experience. The boys enjoyed learning how individual computer screens could be connected to give double on-screen workspace for one document. Helping with punctuation and flow, they seemed in their element.

The graphics staff were patient when the boys were comparing and choosing colours for icons. Keen that none of the resources they had gathered for the site were missed out, the boys reminded their mum and the education officer that one had been forgotten.

The boys said it was a good decision to take up the invitation, because they experienced what it felt like to have constructive input to a local authority webpage, and they gained respect for the work involved.

They also appreciate the council’s commitment to building new and respectful relationships with Home Educators.

Home ed has changed too

Millie enjoying drawing.

By convener Ally MacDonald

‘Home educators aren’t affected by lockdown,’ and ‘you do this already, you’ll be fine.’

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard these statements in the past few weeks. The answer is, as I explained on Radio Scotland last week, we are all in this together. Home education, as people regularly need reminded, does not look like hours spent at home ‘at the kitchen table’.

The only thing that makes this easier for us is that we are used to spending the majority of our time with our children, and many of us don’t need childcare, though many home educators work, fitting it in while children are at activities, or using grandparents, both of which are now largely unavailable.

So how has this affected us as a home educating family? My daughter has lost all her activities overnight; brownies, musical theatre, several sports clubs and music sessions a week. We have lost access to the community in which the bulk of our learning takes place – castles, museums, shops, parks, sports centres to name but a few.

My job, working as a childminder from home, stopped overnight too. We have both lost face-to-face contact with friends. We, like everyone else, are settling into a temporary new normal. So, what does our new normal look like?

After a couple of weeks floating along and seeing what happened, which wasn’t a lot and included a lot of arguing, we have both written to-do lists for the week, which we wouldn’t normally do, in an attempt to stir us both into action.

We are suddenly spending much more time together — my SVQ course has fallen by the wayside — and we have signed up to several new online learning programmes, which means far more screen time than normal. It is not all bad though — we have been able to catch up with friends overseas who we usually struggle to speak to due to conflicting schedules and time zones.

We are both falling into our natural pattern of getting up late and staying up late. We have completed several projects we haven’t had time to get on to, our garden is tidy, and the dog is well walked.

Millie having fun.

Lockdown
by Millie, aged 8

H ome workout
O. W.L.’s (lots of Harry Potter reading and activities)
M aking my own fun
E asy days

E very day
D oing Night Zoo Keeper and Prodigy

I n my pyjamas all day
N o one cares

L azy days apart from walking Rocky
O n Facetime with friends
C rafts and cakes
K neading pizza dough
D uolingo and French on Skype with friends
O n the trampoline
W orking on Pawprint badges
N o usual activities, but it’s not all bad

HES presents at adoption conference

By vice-convener Mark Nixon

In December 2019, Ally MacDonald (HES convener) and I attended Adoption UK in Scotland’s annual conference, which had the theme of ‘Thinking Differently About Education’. We were there at the invitation of AUK in Scotland to deliver a workshop for delegates – including adoption and fostering professionals, education professionals, and parents – on home education.

There was a great deal of interest in home education among the delegates, many of whom admitted that they knew very little about its practice or the law around home education in Scotland. Many told us that they see home education as a viable option for their children or the children that they work with but wouldn’t even know where to start or how to advise adopting or fostering parents.

It is noteworthy that these parents and professionals have in their care some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland, many of whom have additional support needs, and that it was because of these issues that they recognised home education’s value as an approach that can give a child the opportunity to receive a personalised, one-to-one education that can help them, in their particular circumstances, to reach their full potential.

After the workshop, we fielded dozens of questions about home education, and were approached by both social workers and education professionals about the possibility of providing further training in their workplaces and/or information resources for their colleagues both in their own departments and associated departments with which they work. We are now following up on some of those approaches. It is clear to us that while there is an obvious lack of knowledge, understanding, and training, that lack is acknowledged by many professionals, who want to become better informed about home education.

Part of HES’s raison d’etre is to support these state and third sector organisations to become better informed about home education, to be able to support home educating families better (when they want or need it), and to remove some of the prejudice that some services and professionals have shown towards home educators.

With a better understanding of home education, of why parents and carers choose to home educate, and of how we go about home educating our children, we think relationships between services / professionals and home educating families can become more positive and more fruitful for all involved.