Home snoopers shown the door

18th July 2003 at 01:00
THE Scottish Executive has abandoned what one parent described as its "men up trees with binoculars" approach to home education after months of relentless pressure from parents, backed by opposition MSPs and SNP-led councils.

The Tories were also in the vanguard of resistance to the original proposals to give councils far stronger powers to check out parents who wanted to teach their children at home.

Parliamentary pressure has now paid off as ministers this week issued revised draft guidance which appears to bow to the concerns of the home education lobby.

In contrast, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council has again insisted that the original proposals offered more secure child protection.

Alison Preuss, spokeswoman for the Schoolhouse Home Education Association, welcomed the U-turn. "Starting from the position that the last guidelines were so appalling, the tenor is a lot more welcome," Mrs Preuss said.

Officials had appeared to take the advice of the home educators' lobby to start from scratch. Mrs Preuss said that the prime concerns were the additional powers local authorities would have to check parents on the assumption that they were doing something wrong. This was against human rights.

An Executive spokesman said: "The revised guidance aims to promote a positive partnership between both sides and takes account of concerns raised following the publication of the initial guidance. We have taken the time to get it right and we have listened carefully to those with a vested interest."

The Executive has conceded that parents should have an almost automatic right to withdraw their child from school without obstruction from the local authority. It also accepts that authorities should not be able to track down home educators through birth and health records or census data.

In a further concession, the guidance underlines that authorities should only intervene where they believe there is a real problem.

They will have to show they have serious concerns and justify them to parents before they enter homes. "It is no more likely that child protection issues will arise in relation to home educated children than school educated children," the guidance states.

But Eleanor Coner, convener of the SPTC, which has been at loggerheads with home educators, insisted that the protection of children must come first.

"There is the potential for children to disappear from the system. The original draft guidance was very sensible," she said. "There has to be a watchdog for the children."

Estimates put the number of children in Scotland educated at home at around 5,000, although the Executive originally put the figure at 350. This was hotly contested by home educators.

Leader, page 16

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