The Authorities

Since deregistering our boys from school in 2010, all my contact with our local authority had been positive. I took the approach that the authorities have their job to do and we have nothing to hide, so we would respond to their enquiries and accept their visits. I had an education welfare officer on my doorstep unannounced a week after taking the boys out of school. She came in and I offered her a coffee. She had a look round, gave me a few websites and left. Later, we had a letter from Staffordshire asking us about our intended provision for the boys and there followed two visits, 12 months apart, both of which were positive experiences. The first gave me quite a confidence boost because our visitor was so positive about home education, and the boys enjoyed having the opportunity to show off all their work to someone who was actually interested in it. The second visitor in July 2011 was a former headteacher, new to the job, and she spent several hours with us talking about home education and asking lots of questions, which was quite tiring but, again, positive. On both occasions, the reports they produced said that our educational provision for the boys was 'exceeding expectations'.

I expected a visit a year later, but didn't hear from the Staffordshire authorities again until just before we moved away in the spring of this year. I assumed this was because of funding cuts and because our family had not presented any concern. We were clearly low priority which was fine with us because, whilst the authorities have their job to do, they do not offer any support to home educators. Anyway, since we were leaving Staffordshire, I contacted the Elective Home Education (EHE) Department by email to tell them that we would no longer be in their area so they could remove the boys from their register. I figured, once we had settled in our new location, I could decide if and when to inform our new city authority of our presence, but I know that home educating parents are not obliged to do that. I thought we could spend some time getting settled into our new home and networks first, and also find out from other home educators about our new authority and how they operate, whether they are open, friendly and supportive, as I know people's experience of their local authority varies tremendously up and down the country. I was a bit surprised to get a reply to my email from our contact at the EHE department in Staffordshire asking for our new address. She said she would then be able to remove the boys from the Staffordshire register and hand us over to her counterpart in our new location so that they could contact us and offer support. Now, I know she was just following procedures and doing her job, but I decided not to reply to that request just at that moment, in the midst of our moving chaos. So, imagine my surprise, when I received a phone call a few weeks ago from the EHE person in our new city. He had been given my phone number by Staffordshire, which annoyed me. Now, I could perhaps understand information sharing if there was concern about our children's welfare, but we have always accepted visits from the local authority, and concerns have never been raised. Why then the information sharing, without our permission?

Caught on the back foot by this phone call, I gave this chap our new address when he asked for it. When he suggested arranging a visit, I explained that it was the summer holidays, we were going away, we were about to have some building work commence on the house, could he perhaps call again in September and we could talk about a visit then? Reasonable request, I thought. And he accepted that. We were even more surprised then last week when he turned up on our doorstep at 9.00 prompt on an August morning, unannounced, introduced himself and, looking at his diary, said he thought he had an appointment with us that day. Er .... no. It was embarrassing, and rude actually. I didn't like it because it made it look as if there had been an appointment made and we hadn't got a record of it. But it simply wasn't true. It upset me. Why can't the authorities just be honest and up front? OK, he needs to tick a box on his paper to say he has heard about these home educated children, newly arrived in the city, and he has seen them. Child protection. Safe-guarding. Why pretend to be offering support which they are not? It makes ordinary families out to be suspicious and a cause for concern, and it feels uncomfortable. My husband said he has his job to do, and parents can be good at lying, so they have to play a game. What a sad state of affairs. Every time I think of the local authorities and feel cross about it, I try to remember a shocking local case of parental abuse and that little boy's face. I try to remember why they have to behave as they do. But it still isn't right, is it? It's a sad state of affairs.

And to finish the story, today we received a letter informing us that this man has arranged to visit us in October. Of course, we can refuse the visit if we want to. That is within our rights, but having spoken to the department on the phone today, we will just go ahead and have it. I mean, as I said, we have nothing to hide and, I hope, everything to gain by showing our local authorities how learning happens outside of classrooms, by opening their eyes again to the possibilities. The letter informs us "As you know the People Directorate is responsible for monitoring Educational Provision". Well, no, we didn't know actually. The People Directorate? Well, we looked them up and they do have a responsibility .... for safeguarding. Actually, everyone ought to know that it is parents who are responsible for the educational provision of their children under law, whether that provision be in school or otherwise. Here endeth the rant!

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