Contact with the Boards

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The Boards ceased to exist on the 31st March 2015 but until a centralised policy is passed we will continue to see variation and inconsistency between the approaches of the different regions. A highly contentious policy proposal was released in 2014 but was subsequently abandoned and work is underway on new Guidance.   HEdNI are currently hopeful that this new guidance with be constructive and legally accurate, we expect a consultation in the Summer of 2017.

We are seeing more consistency slowly develop but the historical comments below may have a bearing on the approach you recieve.

The current standard first letter recieved from EA regions appears to run as follows:

"Dear xxx,

The Education Authority has received correspondence dated xx/xx/xx stating that you have begun to educate your <son/daughter>, xxx at home.

You may be aware that whilst it is your right to electively home educate, the Education Authority also has a statutory duty under the 1986 Education Order to ensure that all children of school age are in receipt of an education that is suitable for their age, aptitudes and abilities.

It would therefore be helpful if you would provide the Education Authority with evidence showing how you are providing efficient full time education to xxx.  Such evidence may include (for example) diaries of educational activities, samples of work, projects or assessments.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely..."

We are pleased that the letter no longer pushes for a home visit or implies that you must meet with them, however there are two serious problems with the wording:
1. The letter mis-states the law.  Nowhere in law is the EA given the duty to 'ensure' that any child receives an education - the duty to ensure that a child receives an education is placed on the parent by Article 45 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.  The duty of the Education Authority is set out in schedule 13 of the same Order - they must make enquiries if it appears that a suitable education is not being provided.  
2. The letter asks for evidence and the wording suggests this is a legal requirement.  Actually there is no such requirement.  Enquiries such as this are informal (according to the DCSF Guidelines for Local Authorities, drawing from the judgement in Phillips v Brown (1980)):
“2.8 - Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so."
The first enquiry should be explicitly informal.  Otherwise it is effectively a Notice under Sch13 and therefore the EA may be interpreted to have commenced legal action, disregarding the presumption of innocence - if this were the case then parents would require legal advice.

Information on the legal duties of parents and the Boards can be found here.  You are not obliged to invite them into your home, meet with them or fill in their forms.  You should respond to all communications from your Board, address any concerns and keep accurate records of all interractions and correspondance, as well as minutes of any meetings of telephone calls.  

In addressing any concerns or responding to an informal request for evidence you can use the format you feel most appropriate.  You may find it useful to send them an educational philosophy giving details of your approach, instead of meeting them or using a particular form.   Advice on drafting this can be found here:
Bear in mind that these refer to English legislation rather than Northern Irish, this has the same wording and effect under different titles.  Check our legal section for the correct titles before you send anything.

We believe that the advice offered by other parents is invaluable for home educators, however please remember that your peers cannot be held liable for the advice they offer.  Make your own decisions and never hesitate to seek proper legal advice.
__________________________ Older Information:

After you have deregistered with your child from school, or otherwise come to the attention of your Board, the approach you may receive varies.  We believe that the touchstone should be the DCSF Guidelines for Local Authorities given that N.Irish law on home education shares wording and history with the equivilient English legislation.  These guidelines are now referenced by the SEELB's initial letter (below), but some Boards dispute their relevance.

These are the policies and processes as described to us by each Board, last updated according to Freedom of Information data in December 2014. 
  • South Eastern Region/SEELB now use this intitial letter, which is pretty good; it references the DCSF guidelines and makes it clear that the enquiry is informal.  They then use this form for visits.  We are told they no longer use this form, so please let us know if you see it. 
  • Belfast Region/BELB - Application Form HEP1 (pages 13 and 14) and Monitoring Form - including evidence of progress, detailed requirements for ICT support, opinions to be recorded on how 'well maintained' materials are.  A relevant FOI response which details training for officers, the way that assessments take place and the guidelines used is now avaliable. The Belfast Region has stated that a response to an informal enquiry does not amount to 'satisfying' them under he 1974 Pupil and Attendance Regulations, which is good- see he Northern Region for details
  • Southern Region/SELB information for parents , is somewhat better than the above.  Still requires the parent to submit an education plan for assessment, mention of the child's opinion when moving from school to home, mentions various ways of providing evidence (good), and doesn't explicitly require ongoing monitoring.  We believe SELB use the BELB's HEP1 form, which is a concern.
  • Western Region/WELB - pretty basic, emphasises home visits 
  • Northern Region/NEELB - we are deeply concerned about the attitude of the NEELB, who appear to believe that legal proceedings are automatic against all home educating parents contacted by them - read this article for details.  Farcically it appears that there is no informal contact with this Board.  Since the Board now swiftly follows the initial letter up with an automatic appointment we advise swift action, and immediate consultation with a solicitor.
Bear in mind that any particular Board's policy on elective home education is not legally binding, it is simply their interpretation and approach.  The NEELB for example assures us:

"... so as to enable the Board to determine that a child is receiving efficient full time education subject to their age ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs they may have, parents should provide evidence of how they are providing such which may include (for example) diaries of educational activities, samples of work, projects or assessments.  This would assist the Board in evaluating the suitability of the ongoing provision. The Board will make a decision as to the suitability of the provision by reference to the substance of the information provided rather than the actual format in which the information is furnished."
correspondance with Mr McCurdy Chief Executive 11/02/15 (italics mine)
Be aware of the recent use of a rather obscure regulation Statutory Rules for Northern Ireland, 1974, Number 78, regulation 14:
"14.  In every case where a parent satisfies a board that his child is receiving efficient fulltime education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude otherwise than by attendance at school, the parent shall continue so to satisfy the board at intervals of not less than twelve calendar months, during the period in which the child is receiving his education otherwise than by attendance at school. "
According to our legal advice the above regulation would be triggered only by the issuing of a formal notice to satisfy, but it has been recently argued that an apparently informal visit triggered an ongoing monitoring scheme.  

Make sure to clarify that any information given is on an informal basis and does not trigger this regulation, unless they are proceeding formally - in which case we would recommend seeking legal advice.

Feel free to contact us for advice on drafting letters or otherwise responding to your ELB.  We can offer peer support and if necessary refer you to suitable legal advice.

We believe that the advice offered by other parents is invaluable for home educators, however please remember that your peers cannot be held liable for the advice they offer.  Make your own decisions and never hesitate to seek proper legal advice.