Back in 2010, the EHE department underwent an internal audit. After questions by the Chair of the Audit Committee at their July meeting we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the relevant documents and communications. It has been a real eye-opener for our group; none of us had anticipated how bad the duplicity is within the EHE department and we all expected better of the Internal Audit Service (IAS).
Terms of Reference
These were drawn up in consultation with the Head of EHE, allowing her the opportunity to suggest possible risks to consider and steer them away from genuine problem areas.
The Objective for the audit successfully combines EHE, CME and welfare:
‘To review the adequacy and effectiveness of the arrangements in place to record and monitor children missing in education or educated otherwise than at school, to ensure a child’s welfare is not at risk.’
Both this and the key risks overlook the fact that the LA has no duty to monitor home education. The practice of deciding the risks in advance of looking at the service is in itself risky. As many a research scientist knows, if you start an investigation with a predefined idea of what you’ll find instead of an open mind, you’ll probably miss the obvious which is staring you in the face.
Several issues were identified during the audit but not mentioned in the final report. This may have been because they weren’t covered by the defined risks but is surprising for issues which represent a genuine child welfare concern.
We now have clear confirmation that the LA not only knows and understands the bounds of its legal responsibilities with respect to home education but also chooses to ignore them. They acknowledge to the IAS that they have no legal right to home visits yet the template letters for parents do not give any alternative. The LA even goes as far as saying parents have to sign the Parental Agreement form which just is not true.
‘The parent is required to sign the contract.’
Parents are led to believe that visits are purely for assessing whether the child’s education is suitable yet safeguarding is a higher priority and they are also checking a child’s social skills. So what happens when they visit a shy child or one who has been traumatised by school and is frightened of teachers ?
‘At the moment, although the LA’s do try to see children in person for safeguarding reasons and evidence of work, we are only able to do this with the goodwill of the parents – we have no legal grounds to demand them.’
‘…decision being made about the suitability of the education provision and the social skills of the young person.’
It is unethical to assess an aspect of a child without the informed consent of the parents and appropriate consent of the child except when there are genuine safeguarding concerns. Parents are clearly not providing informed consent as the LA’s template letters show:
‘Now that you have elected to home educate (name/s). I would like to visit with you on (date) at (time) to discuss your arrangements.
I would encourage that (name/s) (is/are) also present at the visit, so that (he/she/they) can offer (his/her/their own) views about being educated at home.’
As the Chair of the Audit Committee has a pointed out, the LA are obtaining access to our homes by deception.
The IAS has questioned the level of assessments;
‘Whilst the council must intervene where it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education, it is questionable whether the council has taken an excessive role in the assessment process.’
but their recommendation is very vague:
‘The content of the DfE guidance for EHE should be reviewed against the current procedures in place within the council to ensure that the correct level of service is provided.’
An earlier draft of the report said to ensure that the Council are not exceeding the statutory responsibilities with regard to EHE. There is no explanation as to why this has been changed and weakened.
There is still confusion within the LA about current legislation. Some official LA policy documents use the 1995 Pupil Registration Regulations and not the 2006 ones which are very different. Lancashire’s CME guidelines, issued in 2010, actually quotes both sets of regulations on the same page. The IAS does not appear to have noticed or questioned this.
The CME Statutory Guidance is another area the LA either doesn’t understand or deliberately ignores. It clearly states that when a child is home educated the EHE guidelines should be followed. If the LA is informed by the parents that a child is home educated then CME has no further role. The EHE procedures and many flowcharts supplied show that cases are routinely referred to CME, contrary to the statutory guidance.
The IAS had all the relevant documents yet did not query why 19 EHE children were under referral to CME at the time of the audit. This situation is not helped by CME documents referring to the 2008 Statutory Guidance which is not an official document; it was a draft version, very different to the final one, put out for consultation yet is available on the Council’s website
Why, if there are safeguarding concerns about an EHE child, is the case referred to CME and not straight to the relevant service within the LA as detailed in the LSCB Procedures ? Not only will this result in a time delay, there is also a greater chance of the referral going astray. Again, a question the IAS should have asked.
It appears, from the evidence we have seen, that the IAS got its information from the EHE and CME departments. Surely, in order to be independent, they should have obtained national information from the Government’s websites. This would ensure they had current legislation, statutory guidance and any guidelines that have been issued. It would also reduce the risk of emotive documents which have no relevance to the audit, such as a report into Khyra Ishaq’s death, being included.
In early April 2010, before the audit began, the section of the CSF Bill which included the Badman recommendations for home education was dropped. For some reason the LA still furnished the IAS with various documents concerning the Badman report. The only recommendation to be introduced, the ability to claim Alternative Provision funding for certain EHE situations, was announced by the Government in November 2009 and reiterated by the coalition shortly after the General Election. Lancashire LA has decided to not make use of this funding.
The IAS asked the EHE team about children’s access to CAMHS.
‘There are no links with LEMS or CAMHS as such ….because the child has to be on roll to receive this support, any involvement with these agencies that the child has ceases when EHE is opted for.’
So access to an NHS service is withheld from a small group of children who can benefit from it just because they are not in school.
The IAS, despite highlighting the relevant lines in the EHE guidelines and SEN Code of Practice about the LAs responsibilities for children with statements, has not taken this further despite it very definitely being covered by the audit objective. Perhaps they would have acted differently if they had been aware of the AP funding.
On a similar note, the IAS has highlighted the section about officer training in the EHE guidelines:
‘LAs should organise training on the law and home education methods for all their officers who have contact with home educating families.’
When they asked the EHE team about relevant training they were told:
‘The EHE Support Officers are trained LEIS teachers who are contracted to EHE. The teachers receive in service training which include child protection and safeguarding training.’
There is nothing here specific to home education. The IAS decided that the training is appropriate so no further actions are necessary. Home educators who are tired of being assessed by teachers with limited knowledge of educational methods outside of the classroom would beg to disagree.
Another example is CRB checking of private tutors. The EHE guidelines, as highlighted by the IAS, recommend LAs help by performing checks for parents. The LA confirmed that it does not help in any way and the IAS let it drop. This appears to be at odds with the LA’s usual stance regarding child welfare.
Most of the issues with the final report were covered in a document sent to the IAS by the Chair of the Audit Committee, Cllr Chapman. Internal emails show that although the IAS agrees with some of his points, a Senior Auditor has demonstrated prejudice in the comments she has added to the document which have no evidence to support them.
On conflation of education with safeguarding;
‘Ok for families that effectively home educate their children, but most this does not apply to most cases.’
on home visits;
‘No power to do so but does help families’
(97% of the responses to our survey said they got no benefit from contact with the LA)
and that age-old question which ignores the basis of the British legal system;
‘How can the authority intervene if they do not have the necessary information to do so?’
We strongly recommend you read Cllr Chapman’s comments.
Our Formal Complaint
The EHE team were first notified of the audit in March 2010, it began in May and the Final Report was published in December. During this time we submitted our formal complaint about the EHE department, primarily concerning its procedures. The IAS were not made aware of our complaint and there is no mention of the audit in either the LA’s complaint paperwork or the Panel’s report. The LA has wasted a lot of time and money by not informing ourselves and the complaints panel that they had already agreed with the IAS to review their procedures to reflect the DfE EHE Guidelines.
We were never given a reason why our complaint was not entered into the official system until our third attempt on 15th December, after the audit was out of the way.
Here are some of the EHE Audit documents and follow-up reports:
- Final EHE Audit Report 2010
- Comments on Audit Report by Chair of Audit Committee, annotated by a Senior Auditor
- Terms of Reference
- Lancashire’s CME Guidelines and Practice, 2010
- Audit Evidence Part 1
- Audit Evidence Part 2
- Audit Evidence Part 3
- Audit Evidence Part 4
- Audit Evidence Part 5