Home educators are not abusers

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Alison Preussis co-founder of the Schoolhouse Home Education Association

The brutal murder of schoolgirl Danielle Reid (in late 2002) was a case that shocked the nation. Although concerns had been raised about her welfare while a pupil at an Inverness school, no action was taken. She was already dead when her mother claimed she had moved to England. By the time the "cavalry" arrived, it was too late.

Since the Scottish Executive is currently reviewing its home education guidance, it was not unexpected that Danielle's murder might be exploited as a twisted justification for labelling home educators as likely abusers.

This is deluded and profoundly insulting to parents in general, who are still trusted to look after their children at weekends and in the holidays.

For countless pupils, school has failed to deliver a suitable education or a safe environment, yet these same finger-pointers blindly defend a system in which 70 per cent of children report having been bullied - that's child abuse to you and me.

Using the tragic death of a schoolgirl to smear caring parents seeking to remove their children from an abusive situation is, frankly, obscene. But rational arguments have all failed, so only blanket defamation remains.

Home-educated children have consistently been found to do better than their schooled counterparts, academically and socially - disproportionately so when they come from less affluent backgrounds.

The law is clear: parents have the legal right to educate their children by means other than schooling. Only those whose children have attended a state school require local authority consent to remove them, not to home educate per se, and such consent may not be unreasonably withheld. Home-educated children who have been formally withdrawn remain visible in their communities and known to their authority - they do not disappear overnight, as Danielle did.

As the executive recognises, there is no evidence to link the bona fide practice of home education with child abuse, and those who persist in implying otherwise should go back to school where gratuitous insults are common currency. Few will be fooled by such desperate attempts to divert attention from the failure of schools to ensure our children are kept safe.

Outcomes for looked-after children are also inarguably dire, and children's services are in crisis due to chronic underfunding.

The Scottish Consumer Council has reported inconsistent practice by many councils and recommended a change in the law to allow for consent on written notification by parents choosing home education, as is the case in England and Wales. It would be sensible if councils were required to grant consent within two weeks, and for school-related difficulties to be recognised as a reasonable excuse for a child's interim absence.

It should not take another bullying-related suicide before parents are lawfully permitted to remove their vulnerable children from school to be home educated. Meanwhile, lessons should be learnt from the tragic case of Danielle Reid - a schoolchild known to be at significant risk, but for whom help never arrived.

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