Councils bite back on home learning

THE Scottish Consumer Council was accused by local authorities this week of producing a report on home education that is unhelpful, one-sided, unbalanced and flawed.

The council claimed authorities place barriers in the way of parents exercising a legitimate right to educate children at home. This includes referring cases to children's panels on the grounds that pupils are being kept off school, giving out misleading information, insisting on routine checks and making unreasonable demands.

Graeme Millar, the council's chairman, commented: "Some authorities have a disgraceful 'we know what's best for you' attitude and some behave in ways that can only be described as unacceptable harassment of consumers."

But Danny McCafferty, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it was a pity the SCC had not taken the trouble to speak to Cosla officials. Mr McCafferty accused the council of elevating the rights of parents above those of children.

But he rather reinforced the report's contention that some authorities have a philosophical opposition to home education when he asked: "If children are having difficulties at school, the important task is to sort out those difficulties. Is taking children out of school, and in so doing imposing a sort of socal exclusion, the best way to prepare children for the pressures and problems they will face in adult life?"

Jackie Welsh, the consumer council's policy manager, retorted: "There is nothing in Mr McCafferty's remarks about being sorry for the heavy-handed way the authorities have treated parents. We agree that the interests of parents and children have got to be balanced, but parents are concerned about children's rights too."

The report suggests as many as 4,000 children are being educated at home, way above the official figure of 300. Ms Welsh says this was deduced from an estimate by the parent support group Education Otherwise that there were 50,000 such children in the UK.

The report is based on a postal survey completed by 27 of the 32 education authorities. The consumer council urges councils to let parents see reports written about their children and make sure the information provided about home education is impartial. It also wants the Government to review the role of local authorities in home education.

The SCC hopes its findings and recommendations will influence the Scottish Executive as it prepares national guidelines on home education. Local authorities will be required to "have regard to" the guidelines, one of the provisions in the education Bill.

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