Personal Response from Sarah Dickinson to the Consultation

"I support the adoption of these guidelines because I believe they will encourage good practice in the EA and enable parents to insist on fair treatment.  

The process for addressing concerns is the most important part of the guidance for parents, it is essential that it is clear and legally accurate, and that EA staff are properly trained in its implementation.

However, I am very concerned by the number of references to the UNCRC and the ECHR which are sprinkled throughout this document.  It appears that they have been added out of a general feeling that it is always good to get a mention of Rights in to a document, no matter the context and no matter what effect it will have.  

The effect of these references, if they are not put in their proper legal context, may well be to encourage EA staff to assess the education that parents are providing against their own ideas of what is empowering or child-centred.  

The introduction states that:

“Education must be child-centred, child-friendly and empowering, with its goal being to strengthen the child’s capacity to enjoy the full range of human rights and to respect the rights of others.  Education should empower children by developing their skills, learning and other capacities, human dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence.”

As a parent and educator I certainly aspire to these things, in fact I would argue that the education I provide is uniquely suited to promoting these aims for my own children, however I have absolutely no faith in the ability of an EA officer to comment constructively on this.  They lack the expertise, experience and legal standing to make any sort of judgement.

None of these aspirations is defined with a view to its application to individuals, because it cannot legally be so applied, and therefore any use of the principles in this context will be necessarily idiosyncratic and subjective.  Such judgements will harm children, and the most vulnerable will be worst affected.

Domestic statute and case law provides us with a clear statement of the duties and powers of both parents and the EA.  This is the only body of law which can or should be applied to home education.

The EA has a duty under international law not to act in such a way as to undermine the effectiveness of the rights enshrined in the ECHR and UNCRC.  This duty is best met by adherence to domestic law, not by bringing their own interpretation or eccentric theories of application to Treaty Rights.  Misapplication of these rights will ironically undermine the effectiveness of children’s rights – and not only their right to education."