The Scottish Home Education Forum has today (10 March 2020) published its findings from an in-depth investigation of local authorities’ policies, practices and relationships with home educating families in Scotland.
Drawing on data from freedom of information requests to all 32 councils, an online survey of home educators and a review of forum discussions, ‘Home Truths’ is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of home education in Scotland.
The research was prompted by escalating concerns from home educators about the quality, accuracy and accessibility of information and advice offered to parents by local authorities.
It follows the forum’s 2019 report of home educators’ experiences of the health visiting service and its 2018 survey of reasons for children being in home education, and confirms the continuing growth in home educator numbers as reported by local authorities.
Although the current national statutory guidance on home education has been in place for 12 years, ‘Home Truths’ highlights vast disparities in local policies and widely differing approaches by assigned officers, sometimes even within the same authority, which has resulted in both a postcode and postholder lottery for families.
The report identifies a number of key issues, including the exploitation by councils of a legal anomaly that applies only to the withdrawal of children from state schools for elective home education.
It also refers to the “weaponising” of home education by some former partners to exert coercive control over parents with day-to-day care of children, and describes an “embedded culture of home-eduphobia across public services”.
The forum makes 16 evidence-based recommendations for improvements to the statutory guidance, which the government has promised to update later this year.
Forum co-ordinator and report author, Alison Preuss, said:
“Home educators in Scotland are calling time on councils who routinely place barriers in the way of families seeking to exercise an equally valid educational option for their children, often after local schools have failed to meet their needs.
“Most are failing to get basic terminology right – no matter how often they are reminded to use ‘home education’ and not the American ‘home schooling’ – and many wrongly believe that parents need ‘permission to home educate’, which has never been the case and demonstrates profound ignorance of the law.
“A worrying number do not even know the parameters of compulsory education age and none have received dedicated home education training from experts in the sector.”
Some local policies were described in the report as “wishful thinking interpretations” of the law, which places the duty to educate children firmly with parents, and in many cases, statutory guidance had been misrepresented to justify abuses of power, including breaching data protection and human rights laws.
Published policies were said to be rarely predictive of good or bad practice as experienced by families, although several councils received consistently positive reviews, notably North Lanarkshire, Moray and Edinburgh. Others were very poorly rated by home educators, despite having seemingly compliant policies, with Highland coming in for especially harsh criticism.
Home educating families and allies – many of them on low incomes or unpaid carers – have crowdfunded the printing and distribution costs for the forum’s summary report, and local members will deliver copies to councils and other service providers in the coming weeks, along with invitations to take up the offer of training from home education experts.
In the light of the forum’s latest findings and lack of action on the part of regulatory bodies or government to address issues raised in previous reports, a new national organisation – Home Education Scotland – has been launched to coincide with the report’s publication. It promises to “take a more proactive role in challenging the discriminatory treatment of a law-abiding minority community by public and third sector services.”