Working from home

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Home schooling is never without its problems, and the latest findings show that, instead of it becoming easier for parents to choose to educate their children at home, some authorities are putting more obstacles in their way

Education authorities have firmly rejected a move which would make it easier for parents to educate their children at home.

The Scottish Consumer Council, which made the suggestion, claimed in a report that some councils adopted "a heavy-handed approach which can be intimidating to parents and, in some cases, their children".

Parents, the council believes, should be allowed to withdraw their child from school for home schooling simply by notifying their education authority in writing. At present, children have to remain in school until permission is granted, which can take several weeks.

Douglas Sinclair, the chairman of the SCC and a former local authority chief executive, said the right to home educate was "a fundamental entitlement of every parent" which required a "positive partnership"

between families and their council.

"The findings of this research demonstrate that, in many cases, this positive partnership is not being developed," he said. "Many of these problems appear to stem from the way that the initial request to home educate is handled."

But Charles Gray, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said the report "does not adequately emphasise home educators' responsibilities as part of a positive relationship that allows local authorities to discharge their own responsibilities".

He said they had "strong concerns" about allowing parents to withdraw their children on written notification, or within a particular timescale: "We agree that requests should be dealt with as quickly as possible, and with positive engagement between parents and local authorities, but this approach does not allow flexibility for what can be complex circumstances."

Home Based Education: towards positive partnerships, is based on a survey of local authorities and case studies of home educating families. It found wide variations among the authorities and said this can "foster suspicion and lead to increased tension between families and council staff which, ultimately, can be damaging for children".

Schoolhouse, the organisation which campaigns for the right of parents to teacher their children at home, was not surprised by the council's generally upbeat view of home education. The report was produced "in association with" Schoolhouse, but a Scottish Consumer Council spokesman said its role was simply to help identify home educating parents prepared to relate their experiences: "The report is the SCC's."

Published last Friday, the report, the final day of the Scottish Executive's consultation on its review of home education. Official figures suggest that 700 children are educated at home, with the highest numbers in rural areas such as Argyll and Bute, Highland and Perth and Kinross.

The SCC urges the executive to clarify the legal role of local authorities about the ongoing contact they should have with families, develop information on home education for parents which would be used by all authorities and support education officials to develop good practice on home education.

Any contact authorities have with home educating families should be one of considerable sensitivity, with some officials suggesting children could be at risk of abuse.

Taking the parental view, the Scottish Consumer Council urges the executive to "strongly dissuade" councils from inferring such concerns without supporting evidence, and from taking a child protection approach in general to families who want to home educate.

The reviewed guidance "should clearly state that local authorities have no automatic right of access to children who are home educated," the report declares.

See full report atlwww.tes.co.ukscotland

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