Response to the Consultation - Educational Freedom

Educational Freedom

Comments from the Educational Freedom response.

"The ELB draft policy on EHE does not fit with existing law, it is ultra vires.

The interpretation of the almost identical law that exists in England and Wales has been altered to suit what the draft policy seeks to achieve. It appears that the policy is attempting to set down rules and regulations without going through (due) parliamentary process. It selects parts of law that supports its aim and ignores other parts that disagree:

- With reference to the amended version of Schedule 13 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 SI 986/594 the draft policy misinterprets by stating 'where it appears' that children receive an education instead of adhering to the correct phrase 'if it appears' which indicates the need to see clear evidence of a failure on the parent's part before the duty to act kicks in. The policy appears to use an older version of the legislation before the amendment in 2007.

- The draft policy also mentions Article 44 from the same legislation which refers to schooled children (pupils) and has no relevance to home educated children.

- Article 45 of the same legislation is used within the draft policy to bolster the board's duty to ensure that home educated children receive an education. It refers to the duty of a parent and has nothing to do with the board. To introduce routine inspection and monitoring of home education is at odds with the general presumption of innocence. Compliance is assumed by law.

- The Supplement to the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs 2005 para 5.37 states that parents, including those with children with SEN, have a right to educate their children at home.

- Taking the child's opinion is the duty of the parent's, not the state's. The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, art 3  refers to Family Court proceedings. If this legislation is the basis for the draft policy stating the wishes of the child to be sought 'where appropriate' it has been used inaccurately.

Not only does it seek to create (or continue to seek) a permission and monitoring system it also places an emphasis upon safeguarding which is
inappropriate. To assert that a child who is home educated is immediately a child 'in need' is unsupported by law. The draft policy makes the assumption
that schools are the protectors of children's welfare and without that protection those children may be at risk. This goes against statistics which
prove the opposite (FOI gathered by NI home educating parents). Home education is a legally sanctioned option and not a valid concern.

The draft policy sets down unnecessary procedures to be followed for Elective Home Education:

- asking for a discussion with the principal whereas The Statutory Rules for Northern Ireland 74, Number 78 clearly state that the parent should simply notify the principal before deregistering.

- It gives no understanding of a period of deschooling which is good practice, allowing the child time to move from the culture of formal school to that of home education and which is a guideline followed by the rest of the UK.

- The procedure described in Schedule 13 assumes that it is an automatic one, applied to every case. This procedure only comes in when there are real concerns and not when a parent decides to home educate, requires a period of deschooling or denies entry to the home.

- There are no grounds for compulsory visits. If there were, the ELB would have more power than the PSNI.

- Assessing the home is a pointless exercise. The policy writers appear to misunderstand that a home education does not take place only within the home but at any time and anywhere the child happens to be.

- The policy indicates a code to be used by the school during a delay between deregistering and when home education begins. This is in conflict with The Statutory Rules which allow for no delay between the point of deregistration, the issuing of Form SA1 and the removal of the child from the register.

- An annual review is not required before changing the educational provision for a child either in formal school or in home education.

There is concern about the phrase 'appropriateness of programme' as the word 'programme' indicates rigidity and is the antithesis of home education. It is clear that home education is perceived as 'school at home', an entirely different approach whereas home education is flexible, there being many approaches including autonomous, unschooling and reactive among others. Neither these valid forms of learning nor the ability of the learning style to change with the needs of the child are reflected in the design of this policy. Current legislation does not require a programme to be formulated.

A child with SEN is required to show 'progress' yet nowhere else in the policy does it state that a child without SEN needs to show such. This is clearly discriminatory.

This policy appears to have been created without suitable research of good practice within modern home education. There is lack of knowledge about home education and the flexibility of its various styles. There is misinterpretation of current legislation and invention of procedures not supported by law. There is misinformation within it which will only serve to confuse NI parents deciding to home educate. Its compulsive tone will only fuel distrust towards ELBs. It is not fit for purpose.

It is our recommendation that the policy be scrapped. That a true and accurate research be done on home education within Northern Ireland as it is practised today. And the home educating communities across the province be involved from the very start of the consultation."