Home front struggles

24th February 2006 at 00:00
In her letter last week, Ann Samuel Till of Education Otherwise berates Michael Russell for highlighting the appalling treatment of some home educating families in Scotland.

She also contends that few parents have problems in withdrawing their children from school to educate them at home, but offers no evidence to support that assertion.

Schoolhouse has conducted research over the past year to ascertain how the Scottish Executive guidance is working in practice, using the Freedom of Information Act, comparative data from users of our national enquiry service and the direct experience of our volunteers in supporting families in their dealings with council officials. This reveals a rather different picture.

Responses from local authorities have confirmed that many have done nothing to amend their policies and procedures, and the experience of families contacting Schoolhouse for assistance from all 32 local authorities demonstrates that the guidance is being selectively applied in some areas and effectively ignored in others.

The fact that politicians have had to be enlisted to support home educating constituents struggling with council obstructiveness, and the fact that 37 MSPs have already signed Robin Harper's parliamentary motion supporting an amendment to the primary legislation, is perhaps a further indication of the difficulties which still exist in Scotland.

No amount of "training", independent or otherwise, will solve the fundamental problem of the unreasonable withholding of consent by a minority of Scottish councils, which leaves families in Scotland vulnerable to legal proceedings - unless, of course, they happen to be affluent or desperate enough to move or temporarily enrol their children in a private school.

Indeed, local authority officers have consistently told Schoolhouse that meeting practising home educators on an informal basis is far more useful than any formal training; the provisions within the guidance are, after all, quite straightforward.

Michael Russell, whose comments were based on the direct experiences of families who have been brave enough to stand up for themselves, is thankfully no stranger to exposing injustice and should be congratulated for raising awareness of such an important issue.

I thank him on behalf of those home educating families in Scotland who are struggling to overcome hostility and prejudice as they seek to exercise a lawful educational choice.

John White Convener Schoolhouse Home Education Association

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