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Tories back freedom to educate at home

AS supporters of home education became the latest group to take to the streets in the name of freedom yesterday (Thursday), the Tories revealed they intend introducing a bill to bring the law in Scotland into line with that in England.

Parents marched to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for "freedom in education" in what was largely a protest against plans to strengthen local authority powers over children educated at home.

The draft guidance, issued just before Christmas, suggests that councils should chase up children by using birth registers, health visitor records, nursery enrolments and household surveys. This has enraged home-educating parents who have labelled the move a "bully's charter".

The Scottish Executive wants council officials to have access to homes, currently denied, because local authorities have a duty to act if they feel a child is not receiving an appropriate education.

Brian Monteith, the Tories' education spokesman, who will introduce the Bill, condemned "this apparent encouragement to local authorities to seek out and monitor all home educators, especially since using the data involved could well be in breach of human rights and data protection legislation".

The Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition had disregarded the "inclusive" approach it said it would take, Mr Monteith said.

The Bill will attempt to convince MSPs that parents need only notify headteachers in writing of their intention to pull children out of school, as is the case in England. The head is then obliged to inform the education authority in 10 days and take the child's name off the school register.

In Scotland, parents require the consent of the authority, other than those in independent schools, those moving from P7 to S1, those who never registered for school in the first place and those who move from one authority to another.

Jackie Turner, a spokeswoman for yesterday's marchers, who educates her three children at her Edinburgh home, said the Executive's plans would entrench the "lottery" faced by parents, depending on where they live. "Some authorities act very reasonably while others take months and months to give their consent, often putting parents through highly inappropriate hurdles in the process," Mrs Turner told The TES Scotland.

"Meanwhile, the child must remain at school which is very unsettling and unfair."

Mrs Turner said the Executive's draft guidance, if implemented, would force the reasonable authorities to become more draconian while allowing others to continue obstructing parents' wishes.

The "freedom in education" campaign believes it is preserving parents' wider rights to have children educated in accordance with their wishes. Mrs Turner also believes that the Executive's desire to monitor home-educating families in line with state school criteria has implications for the curriculum in all other alternatives to state education.

The Schoolhouse Home Education Association estimates there are around 5,000 children being educated at home by their parents. The Executive's official figure, however, is 350 - "in which case," Mrs Turner commented, "I've probably met all of them twice."

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