History

Our Dealings with Lancashire’s Local Authority

2008 – 2009 Home educators in Lancashire were hopeful that the Council’s Task Group would herald a better relationship with the local authority.In 2008 Lancashire CC announced a task group would be set up to look into EHE. Local home educators were invited to a meeting to discuss their views. The report was published early in 2009 and included many recommendations including:

Regular meetings should take place between LEIS and home educators in order to facilitate a positive relationship and exchange of information within a group forum setting.

At first local HEers were told to wait for the recommendations to be implemented, then they were told to wait until after the Badman review was finished. The HE parts of the CSF Bill were finally dropped on 7/04/10 and we believed there were no longer any obstacles to prevent the LA setting up a forum group with local HEers.

June 2010 A group is formed with the aim of liaising with the LA. It is open for any home educator in Lancashire to join.After not hearing from the LA and following discussions on the various HE lists in Lancashire, our group was formed.
It is clear from the lists that the move is appreciated by many local families.
As a starting point we looked at the LA’s Protocols and Procedures document.
July 2010 On 3rd July the group wrote to Maureen Davenport, Head of LEIS (the dept which included EHE officers at the time), to introduce the group, ask about the forum and send our comments about the LA’s Protocols document. The letter included the following attachments:

Sept 2010 After not receiving a response from Mrs Davenport, the group decided to send a formal complaint to Helen Denton, Executive Director for Children and Young People, about the LA’s EHE Protocols document and the attitude shown by LA officers towards home educators on some occasions.Here is the complaint sent on 30th September :

Dear Mrs Denton

I am contacting you on behalf of a group of home educators in Lancashire who wish to work more closely with the LA (in line with Rec. 1 of the EHE Task Group’s Report).On 3rd July we wrote to Mrs Davenport, CCed to yourself, about the EHE team’s Protocols & Procedures document.On the 12th July I confirmed with Angela Jerstice that it had reached Mrs Davenport as we had not even had a courtesy acknowledgment of receipt. After nearly three months we have still not heard anything from Mrs Davenport or her department.

The EHE Protocols & Procedures document does not comply with current law or with the National EHE Guidelines published in 2007. In fact, it didn’t even refer to the most recent legislation when it was signed off in 2008 by the Head of LEIS.

We appreciate that things are difficult for the LA given the current financial situation . Would you consider saving time & money in both correcting and implementing your EHE policies by simply adopting those used by Milton Keynes which fully comply with current law and the National Guidelines ?

Please consider this to be a formal complaint about Lancashire County Council’s EHE Protocols & Procedures and the attitude shown by LA officers towards home educators on some occasions.

Oct 2010 We received a response to the complaint from Mrs Davenport which produced different versions of the ‘same’ letters.On the 8th October we received two letters from the LA; one dated 9th July in response to our initial email, the other dated the 4th October answering part of our formal complaint. It did not include the attachments mentioned so we emailed Mrs Davenport to request them.A couple of weeks later, after having to pay for excess postage (thanks LA), we received ‘copies’ of the earlier letters along with their attachments. The letters raise questions about the LA’s filing procedures; one had a different date on it, the other had been re-worded. Although Mrs Davenport states that the Protocols doc is not out-of-date, the copy she sent is different to the version on the LA’s website but has the same date – how is anyone meant to know which is the correct version ?
The pupil registration section has been corrected but the rest still does not comply with current legislation and guidelines.In a phone call, Maureen Davenport, Head of LEIS, has confirmed:

  1. they don’t carry out CRB checks on parents – not what her officer told the Safeguarding Children Board
  2. new referrals don’t get passed to CME – not what their own guidance for schools says
  3. from January they’ll have a dedicated EHE department
The DfE contacted the LA about CRB checks being carried out on HE families.The DfE have been in touch with Lancashire LA about the CRB checks.The LA claim the misunderstanding is because they advise HE parents to ensure tutors have CRB checks.Perhaps they need to re-read what their EHE officer told the Safeguarding Board:TM asked if there are any checks made on the family and home circumstances.AR advised that there were, home visit are made within the first month and parents are engaged to work through any difficulties. A CRB check is also made as well as a check of agency records with regard to any adults in the home;

We have contacted Nick Gibb about our concerns in the hope that the DfE will follow this up with Lancashire LA.

Perhaps Lancashire County Council should be talking to their EHE team to find out what is going on.

Nov 2010 We wrote to the Council’s Complaints Appeal Panel requesting that we proceed to the 2nd stage of the formal complaints procedure.We submitted a council’s complaints form on the 4th November. In it we asked them to not only look at the things mentioned in our original complaint but also included our concerns about their internal handling of documentation.The complaint was emailed to the council’s complaints dept (oce@…) and copied to Helen Denton and Bob Stott, Director for Universal and Prevention Services.We were later sent confirmation that Bob Stott had received the complaint. When we asked whether he was handling it or someone else his PA replied:“I acknowledged your e-mail on behalf of Bob Stott. I am not sure who is dealing with your complaint but will see if I can find out and ask them to contact you direct to update you on progress.”
Four members of our group met with Bob Stott and 2 members of his staff.Whilst everything was going on with the complaint we’d also been trying to meet with the LA to address the many other issues not mentioned in it such as families being door-stepped, the restructuring, etc.After our request to proceed with the complaint, Mr Stott agreed to a meeting on 29th November.When we arranged it we stressed that it was to discuss these other issues and not the complaint.At the meeting it became very clear that Mr Stott and his team only wanted to discuss the complaint, they all had copies of our submission for Stage 2 in front of them, they were evasive about other issues such as the restructuring and left us with the feeling they would not be truthful with us.It was very clear that they’d only met with us because of complaint but did not want to listen to anything we had to say.
Dec 2010 Bob Stott wrote to us following our meeting.He also issued another version of the Protocols document, still full of errors and still contradicting what they said at the meeting regarding initial referrals from schools.
Yet another delay due to a mix-up by the authority with our complaint.In trying to chase up what was happening to our complaint we discovered it had never been entered into the system.No one at the LA or council has yet provided an explanation as to what went wrong.This has caused the 2nd stage panel meeting to be put back until March, almost 9 months since we first contacted the LA and nearly a year since Badman’s recommendations were laid to rest.Is the LA ever going to set up the forum group as recommended by the council’s task group ?
Feb 2011 One member of our group has been trying to get information about the new structure.EHE now comes under the same department as CME, a move we voiced concerns over at our meeting.We have been trying to establish which staff will be involved with EHE and emailed Francis Molloy on 4th February but she has not yet responded.This lack of information, coupled with the fact that local families have not been informed of the change, is another indication of the LA’s attitude towards working with parents.One thing is clear, the behaviour of the EHE officers hasn’t improved. In fact, some reports we’ve had imply they’re getting worse – not a promising start for the new regime.
March 2011 Our papers have been submitted and we’ve received the LA’s.Now just got to wait for the panel meeting on the 28th March.The LA’s submission still doesn’t say whether they are committed to working within the law and current EHE guidelines.Instead they have only answered a few points of our complaint but not the main point that their policies and procedures are at odds with current law and guidelines.It misleads about the timeline, implying that we did not request to proceed to the 2nd stage of the process until after our meeting with Mr Stott.It also claims they acknowledged errors in the Protocols document which, as the paperwork clearly shows, Mrs Davenport statedwas up-to-date.
Surrey have announced a complete re-write of their EHE policies to bring them in-line with current law and national guidelines.It’s a pity Lancashire didn’t produce a task group report like Surrey’s.Their’s includes recommendations such as:

  • Rec A: That a three month consultation takes place on the draft EHE policy attached to this task group report as appendix A.
  • Rec E: That the EHE team offers home educating families a ‘menu’ of support options, including one option where families can choose to not receive direct advice or support from the Council.
  • Rec I: That the EHE team … explore the possibility of establishing HE ‘link’ schools that would be willing to take private candidates for exams.
  • Rec R: That a leaflet is produced to specifically advise anyone with a child with SEN who is considering home education.

This is what we’re hoping for with Lancashire.

April 2011 Success !The Council Complaints Panel have upheld our complaint.Their response letter instructs the LA to give the updating of their EHE Procedures some priority, to begin consultation about changes after Easter and for the document to be completed by September (more on the reasons for this later).

The Directorate have agreed to review all their documentation including the Parental Agreement Form.One concern we still have is about the attitude of LA staff.

The Panel called for more training for officers but that won’t deal with the attitude problems higher up. If the Directors within Children’s Services don’t change their views, training their staff will be of little benefit.

At least now, if the LA still refuse to change their ways, it leaves the door open for families to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman and for our group to formally complain to the Secretary of State.

The Government is listening to home educators.During the complaint hearing, the LA representatives wanted to delay changes to the EHE Protocols until September when changes to the Pupil Registration Regulations were due to come into effect.

These changes were to be implemented by Statutory Instrument and would affect the ability of parents to de-register their children on demand.

We were previously unaware of these changes as the relevant consultations had not taken place.

Home Educators objected and the Department of Education have now backed down on the proposed changes which would have been at odds with the primary legislation that acknowledges parental duty to choose the place of education.

May 2011 Graham Stuart blasts Lancashire LA in Parliament.Graham Stuart, Chair of the Education Select Committee, has hit out at Lancashire’s EHE policy during a debate in the House of Commons.

Both the video (from 4:17) and Hansard are available on the Parliament website but here’s what he said about Lancashire in reference to the Badman report:

“The Lancashire local authority, in one of the most egregious examples, states:

 “Lancashire Officers will take the lead on this because they have the responsibility to ensure the safety of all children as well as to monitor the quality of education received by children educated at home.”

That is a nice one, neatly conflating the issues of safety and home education. No one has yet arrived at my house during the summer holidays just to check up on the safety of my children, who are, after all, spending months at home with me. Who knows what my wife and I might get up to, or what the younger or older sister might do? Who knows what visiting relatives might do? What we need are visitors from the local authority, just to make sure. I do not want people such as the director of children’s services in my local authority to lose a moment’s sleep because they feel that they are not pursuing every possibility of intervention to cover their own backsides and telling me how I should run things in my own home. That is precisely what the local authority suggests should be done in the case of home-educating parents, who deserve its intervention no more than the rest of us.”

The document continues:

 “Thus, when a practitioner or professional becomes aware that a child is being educated at home, they should use local information sharing arrangements to help the Lancashire Authority to fulfil both its duty to be confident

so it has a duty to be confident now:

 “of the well-being of the child and its duty to assure the quality of the education provided.

That, too, is not true. As far as I can tell from one evening spent looking at their websites, council after council is entirely misrepresenting the legal position, and I hope that the Minister will put that right.”

Thank you Mr Stuart.

How can the LA justify doorstepping innocent families?

In early May a family was doorstepped by CME the day after the LA became aware that they were home educating.

We wrote to Bob Stott asking for a full explanation but are still waiting for a response.

Meanwhile the family have had a reply from Susan Robinson, CME coordinator, who wrote in her email:

It is very difficult to draw the fine line between safeguarding and intruding on a family’s right to privacy as the County does have a duty to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education. There are certainly many contradictions within the laws, especially between education law and family law.

Perhaps she needs reminding what Graham Stuart said in Parliament about such comments from LAs:

“Barnsley MBC will need to be satisfied”—in other words, the council will need to be satisfied—“that a child is receiving suitable education at home, and the Assessor”—these people are even called assessors; who do they think they are?—“will ask to meet with the family in order to talk to the parents and to look at examples of work and learning.”

That is beyond the law. I want the Minister to confirm that he will make sure that local authorities no longer produce misinformation like that and use it in order to abuse their power over families.”

and also:

Mr Stuart: Before I give way to the former Chair of the Select Committee, I must deal with the point on which I disagree most with the Hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). She has done what Badman did, and what the former Secretary of State did under the previous Government, which is to conflate child abuse with home education.

Education and welfare are two separate things. Contrary to what Graham Badman stated in his report, and failed to substantiate in the Select Committee, there is no evidence that home-educated children are more subject to abuse than children in general. When there is a risk, local authorities have all due powers to intervene, and so they should. When such evidence arises, the authorities can and should go in to ensure the protection of the child.

However, we cannot have the suggestion that home-educating families are linked to a problem of abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is important to nail that fact. We must not do as the previous Home Secretary did, which was to smear the reputation of home-educating families by suggesting that there is a problem, because there is no evidence for that.

Failing that there’s always his comments (in the section) above about Lancashire’s own EHE policies conflating safeguarding with education.

June 2011 Education Scrutiny Committee meeting and socialisation.

At a meeting to discuss the SEN Green Paper and in response to a question about funding for home educated children with SEN, Sally Riley, Head of Inclusion Services chose to not answer the question.

Instead she stated that, in her view, many home educated children with autism are too protected in the home environment and cannot develop their socialisation skills.

It’s a pity the council accepts officer’s personal opinions as a statement of fact. LA officers need to appreciate how social the EHE scene is within Lancashire. There are activities/events available for all ages and abilities across the county every day.

Continued Silence from the LA.

The Complaints panel ruled that the LA should give the EHE review and consultation some priority after Easter.

Despite asking for a timeline and details as to what it would entail our group had heard nothing from the LA. Eventually, Mr Stott wrote stating that they will let us know when the consultation begins and that it would not include any meetings between LA and home educators.

This is inconsistent with the LA’s usual consultation process. In fact his letter even implied that home educators not known to the LA would not be allowed to respond.

The behaviour of some EHE officers appears to have worsened.

Many families across the county have commented that the EHE ‘support’ officers are becoming much more demanding, with the level of information deemed acceptable in previous years is no longer considered enough.

We don’t know whether this is due to the change of staff or a change in departmental policy since the restructure. Either way, the LA’s demands go way beyond the DfE’s EHE guidelines.

Job Advert for EHE Support Officer.

The LA put out an advert for a job as an EHE officer.

They rate knowledge of the national curriculum and experience of working in an educational setting as more important than knowledge about home education in its many forms. Only qualified teachers can apply.

The post will involve … assessing provision and quality assuring judgements regarding provision.

The LA has clearly not taken onboard our comments about the LA having no duty to monitor home education!

July 2011 Conflation of Education and Safeguarding.

In our most recent email from Bob Stott he is still insisting that safeguarding is a role for EHE officers:

You state ‘Education and safe-guarding must be kept as separate issues’ – but in reality as a local education authority we are required to make arrangements for ensuring that the functions conferred on us in that capacity are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.Consequently, the work we undertake within the EHE team is carried out within that context.

Mr Stott’s paraphrasing of the law misses the point that the law refers to functions carries out by the LA, e.g. in its schools, it has no bearing on activities carried out by normal citizens.

LA policy decisions need regulating by the legal department to ensure such misunderstandings don’t become accepted in policy.

Council’s internal audit of EHE.

In another twist to this saga, the EHE department was audited for the year 2010/11, the year our complaint was dealt with. The summary audit report states:

The council has a statutory duty to identify children resident in Lancashire who may not be receiving a suitable level of education, and to make arrangements to safeguard and promote their welfare.

There is no such duty in law. Surely the audit team should have checked that such claims by the LA are true?

The Chair of the Audit Committee queried the report’s statement and the Chief Auditor was due to investigate further. We have submitted a Freedom of Information request for the complete EHE audit report and the Chief Auditor’s subsequent findings.

Aug 2011 What Consultation ?

It will soon be September; start of the new school year and the deadline for issuing the new EHE Protocols document yet the LA has still not announced any consultation.

We’ve received the EHE Audit documents and they raise more concerns about what actually goes on within the EHE department.

The Council has released the EHE Audit documents in response to our freedom of information request.

At this stage we haven’t had chance to study them in detail although there are clear concerns.

One document, written by Cllr Chapman, Chair of the Audit Committee, sums up the main points.

See here for more information about the audit documents.

It seems a strange coincidence that our complaint, both 1st & 2nd stages, didn’t make it into the Council’s system until after the audit was complete. The EHE Department were fully aware of our official complaint from September 2010 yet the audit makes no mention of it.

Oct 2011 Good news: we have a consultation.

Bad news: it’s unbelievably bad – badly planned, badly organised & badly executed and that’s before looking at the document itself !

On the 5th October families on Lancashire LA’s EHE database started receiving letters informing them the EHE consultation had finally started.

Within days they received new letters clarifying how to find it on the Council’s website.

For some reason the LA had decided not to publish the consultation on the usual pages, i.e. News or Current Education Consultations, although they have now, after our comments, added it to the
Have Your Say page.

It was left for our group to ask local press to help advertise it to the wider community.

Many families then found they could not open the documents so the LA was asked to make them available in other formats.

Initially the deadline for responses was 24th October.

For some, that gave less than 2 weeks to read and comment on a document that has taken the LA months to produce. Even within our group we’ve struggled to get through it; EHE families rarely have much spare time and this document needs a lot!

Thankfully, Bob Stott has at least listened to one of our requests and extended the deadine until 30th November which has resulted in yet another letter being sent out. Given the time they’ve had to plan this consultation it would be reasonable to expect the LA to have got the fundamentals sorted out.

What to say about the Protocols document…. erm, it’s hard to know where to start. Anyone got a shredder?

Nobody expected the draft document to be right, we all expected it to need some tweaking.

What we didn’t expect is for it to be so bad that it’s virtually impossible to suggest how to put it right. It needs scrapping and starting again from scratch.

Please visit our forum for discussing the document in more detail.

Here’s a basic out-line of some of the issues:

1) Constant misquotes and paraphrasing of the law and guidelines throughout the document not only gives the wrong impression about the LA’s duties, it also gives incorrect information as to what is expected of parents.

2) Annual monitoring. Although the document acknowledges the EHE Guidelines state ‘LAs have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.’, it goes on to claim CME guidance tells them they must. That is incorrect, what CME guidance does tell the LA todo is to follow the EHE Guidelines, specifically the section about no regular monitoring.

3) The LA does not appear to understand what it’s actual duties are and what the different stages are for asking parents for information about their child’s education.

4) The SEN section is long, wrong and does not appear to be acting in the best interests of the child.

5) There is an implication of a Badman-style licensing system. Parents who, quite legally, refuse to comply with the LA’s annual monitoring will be removed from the EHE database and presumably referred to the CME team.

Missing documents.

One request the LA have refused is for the various documents and forms referred to in the draft Protocols doc to be made available.

There are 10 mentioned, plus the audit turned up various flowcharts, etc. used by the LA when dealing with EHE families.

Phil Halsall, Chief Executive of LCC, has said they don’t form an integral part of the consultation.

From the ones we have seen they clearly do form an integral part of the LA’s EHE procedures so what is the consultation about; the LA’s EHE policies and procedures or a review of their Protocols document ?

One of the forms, EHE 1A, was included in our Corporate Complaint and the LA agreed to review it. Also, the 2009 Task Group report recommended it should be “reconsidered, in consultation with home educators in Lancashire“.

As the form defines how much and what information EHE officers will ask home educators for it is difficult to see how it does not form part of the LA’s EHE policies.

We have had to resort to submitting a Freedom of Information request to get hold of the documents which is a stupid waste of taxpayers money by the LA.

Nov 2011 Success! The LA have agreed to hold a meeting.

Despite being adamant that the consultation would not include any open meetings, the LA finally saw sense and held one on 23rd November.

Over 30 families attended with many more saying they were interested but either couldn’t get to the venue or had other commitments.

Parents spoke about their past experiences of the LA and their concerns about the new document. The LA agreed to scrap the alternative documents used with the GRT community and to consult with home educators when they rewrite their supporting documents, e.g. template, letters and forms.

The LA’s summary of the meeting contains errors which we tried to correct but have not heard anything more.The deadline for consultation responses was extended again, this time to 2nd December.

Dec 2011 By the deadline, the LA had received over 80 responses but still intended to rush the final step.

The high number of responses shows the level of concern there is about the LA’s EHE protocols and practices.

Some submissions contained just a few lines, others had many pages.

We are very grateful to Ian Dowty, a Barrister with specialist knowledge of EHE, for providing his views on the draft Protocols document.

Originally the LA intended reading and considering the replies and then rewriting the document all within 10 days.

We were concerned that that was insufficient time and it would be too rushed so an on-line petition was set up asking the Council to delay the sign-off date.The petition received over 370 signatures within a few days and the Council agreed to postpone finalising the new document.

Jan 2012 Visit to Sheffield to find out about their practices.

In early January members of the forum group met Mike Snelson to discuss the planned changes to the protocols in light of the consultation.

Although there are some small positive signs there is still a long way to go.

He invited representatives of the group to join him and Frances Molloy on a trip to Sheffield to discuss the services they offer local home educators.

Unfortunately, the overall impression was that Sheffield LA are not as good as they claim with their EHE officer admitting that she puts pressure on families to accept visits and that it is more about covering her own back than benefitting the children.

Not a model we want Lancashire to copy!

Feb 2012 When is Lancashire CC going to show home educators any respect?

We had hoped that they were listening to complaints from families but it appears to not be the case.

Throughout all of this we have repeatedly said that letters must not be biased towards visits and that families must have a reasonable time in which to respond.

We have been made aware that they are continuing to send letters (which have been changed since October but not consulted on as was promised) which presume a visit will take place and only giving a couple of days warning.

Unfortunately these letters are being sent out to new home educators who don’t always know their rights.

In effect, the LA is abusing its position of trust with those families.

The new protocols are out and what an improvement!

Today the final draft of the protocols were published on the LCC website.

It isn’t perfect, it does contain errors and includes expectation of annual contact but is a massive step in the right direction.

We still need to wait for the Council to sign it off and then there’ll be work to do both in improving this document and ensuring any supporting documents are correct but the signs are extremely promising.

It’s taken 3 years to get to this stage but at least we’ve now light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you to all those who have helped us get to this point and to those at the LA who have listened.

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