Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Cornwall LA- Experts at 'Cut & Paste' & 'Lie & Deny'

Now it's personal!!! (not that it wasn't before)

You may have read Maire Staffords blog post regarding tackling ultra vires practices within individual local authorities, which specifically picks up on an advertisment placed by Cornwall Council for an EHE Coordinator.
As this is my local authority I decided that I should add my voice to hers in admonishing them for their attempts to overstep their duties.

I had until now, despite being 'known' to the LA, hoped to fly under the radar as much as an autonomously educating family, who refuse to meet with the LA officer, can. So it was not without some trepidation that I sent this letter winging it's way via Email AND by Recorded Delivery ;)
FAO: Mr. John Heath,
(Principal Education Welfare Officer),
Cornwall Council,
County Hall,
Treyew Road,
TR1 3AY. 24th September,2009.

Dear Mr. Heath,

As a home educating parent in North Cornwall area, I wish to complain specifically about the behaviour of your EHE Co-ordinator for North Cornwall and more generally regarding Cornwall Councils approach toward home educating families.

The Cornwall Council Information for Elective Home Educators website states that;

No visit will take place unless you have agreed to one and an appointment has been made”.

However, this has not been my experience, in fact quite the opposite, I have frequently been exposed to the local EHE Officer engaging in ultra vires practices.

According to letters I have received from Mr. Hockley he has attended our home, without prior agreement from myself on several occasions and, further to this, arranged & attended a meeting, accompanied by two colleagues, at {a local council office} to which I had also not agreed and yet his report seems to indicate that I was expected to attend & that I was deemed as 'absent' from this meeting.

In my response to the initial 'informal enquiry', my report regarding the home education of my children, dated 1st September, 2008, Mr.Hockley had previously been informed that I would not be willing to engage in any further correspondence or contract with the Local Authority regarding the education of my children, I wish therefore to complain about the many letters from Mr. Hockley I have received since he received my report. I suggest that they are vexatious and that he is harassing me.

Please can you confirm at the earliest opportunity and in writing that you do not support such ultra vires practices?

I had no reason, until now, to suspect that my experience of a Local Authority employee toward a home educating family was anything more than an unfortunate personal experience of bad practice on the part of this particular Elective Home Education Coordinator. It has however been brought to my attention that this offensive and intrusive attitude and behaviour toward home educating families may in fact be one which is being promoted & encouraged by Cornwall Council.
This document:

describes the role of Education Welfare Officer for West Area as;
(to) “ ensure that children and young people who are electively home educated are receiving a suitable and efficient education and that they are safe and their welfare promoted”.

These practices go far above and beyond the Local Authority's duty in law.

It is not for the Local Authority to decide what qualifies as 'suitable' and 'efficient' but only to ascertain, through informal enquiry, that an education is taking place.

This document also asserts that the role of this Local Authority officer is to;

Monitor the quality of education for children who are educated at home.”

Once again, THIS IS NOT A LAWFUL DUTY OF THE LOCAL AUTHORITY, as is confirmed by Graham Stuart's Education Select Committee’s Chairman’s statement on Home Education Report which states;

As the 2007 Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities make clear, however, ‘local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis’ and are only required to intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.” (Education Select Committee’s Chairman’s statement on Home Education Report )

Further to this Mr. Stuart recommends that;
As local authorities do not have the power to demand access to home educated children and cannot insist on parents registering with them, the obvious and correct answer is for local authorities to improve their support for families so that more families make contact with them voluntarily. If they did this and made sure that they employed sympathetic staff who built good reputations, then the number of “unknown” children would be reduced. Such a positive approach would respect the primacy of parents in determining the education of their children and put the onus on local authorities to serve and support, rather than catalogue and monitor, families who home educate.” (Education Select Committee’s Chairman’s statement on Home Education Report )

Do you not think that it may be more appropriate for Cornwall Council to engage the home education community in a positive manner as suggested in Graham’s statement above?

The decision, when creating a job profile for role of Home Education Advisor, to make the opportunity available to individuals who are qualified merely as “mainstream school” teachers, only guarantees that you will employ the most unsuitable individuals for the post.

Experience in mainstream/special school. Proven record of excellent class teaching and behaviour management. Proven ability to teach a range of subjects at different key stages and to keep up to date with current initiatives in education. Proven ability to use ICT both personally and in the classroom. Experience of working with young people in an education setting. Good report writing skills” ( https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B23GNcZa7kQPNmRiNWZjYWItMmJkMy00MDIxLThkYmItNjQ0NDNjZjk1ZmQ0&hl=en_GB&authkey=CLCuvfsP&pli=1)

This list of preferred previous experience could probably not be further detached from most home education practice, particularly autonomous or child-centred styles, if you tried, so it would fail in attracting any individual who possessed skills which could be considered appropriate to elective home education and I therefore fail to understand how Cornwall Council could consider such an individual to be a suitable candidate to liaise with home educating families within your 'Elective Home Education' team'. It is, after all, unlikely that such an individual would be sympathetic to, or have a good working knowledge of, alternative educational ethos' and practice and is therefore unlikely to be familiar with, or understanding of, the many & varied learning styles engaged in by home educated students.
This Local Authority seems to behave as if it has a duty to harass home educators.
Please send me the regulations and laws that suggest that its representatives can insist on entry to the home and make annual demands for further information, even after an initial enquiry has been satisfied and the Local Authority has been clearly informed that further contact is not desired.

Please could you also inform me, at the earliest possible opportunity, of the measures Cornwall Council are taking to correct its literature & policies to abide by the law, as until this has been done, any efforts to create and maintain good relations with local home educating families will remain merely a Ballsian Delusion.

In conclusion, I wish to state that the home education community in Cornwall should be able to go about their lawful duty to provide an education to their children without harassment from council employees and should not have to waste their precious time tackling ultra vires practices. However, the outrageous attempt by the last government to licence & monitor home educators based upon the contrived & agenda based 'Bad Man Report', galvanised home educating families across the UK into forming many strong support & information sharing networks. Therefore, policy based impositions by Cornwall Council upon the freedom of home educators, individually or en mass, will be met with strong disapproval & resistance from those of us who, both within the county & across the country, are prepared to fight for our Rights in Law.

Ultra vires practices of Local Authority officers, across the UK, are now being databased at http://www.theartofsurvival.co.uk, however, you will be pleased to hear that details are also kept of Local Authorities who are working within the law and which of those make efforts to engender good relations with the home educators in their area. Thus, there is always opportunity for a Local Authority to salvage it's reputation with home educators, by improving its working practices.

With Thanks for Your Kind Attention and in Anticipation of Your Prompt Reply,
Yours Sincerely

Mrs. L. Sherwood.
(Home Educator).
Cc: http://maire-staffordshire.blogspot.com/2010/08/cornwall-county-council-tackling-ultra.html
Today I received this response:

So, to break it down... the first two paragraphs Mr.Heath dedicates to telling me that, despite my assertions (& the supporting evidence I have in writing from the officer involved) that his EHE coordinator HAS attended my property without my agreement, he believes that "our accepted policy & practice for liasing with Home Educators in Cornwall" has been followed.

Then he further supports this pushy, ultra vires orificer by informing me that other HE families gave 'testament' to THEIR relationship with Mr.Hockley "when they were part of a focus group looking at safeguarding in Cornwall last summer".


Much of the rest of the letter is a 'cut & paste' jobby from the LA's policy documents... however I noted with (outraged) interest that...

  • the LA maintain a 'register of pupils being educated at home' 
  • there are two references to Education Otherwise... in it's capitalised, brand name form, rather than in a non-capitalised paraphrasing form from the Education Act.
"-Encourage, consult and develop relationships with local Education Otherwise groups."
"The LA does want to encourage, consult and have dialogue with home educators and do involve Education Otherwise support groups in Cornwall"
I suppose I should be grateful for Mr. Heath having answered questions I never asked, such as "Are you in cahoots with EO?"... "Do you value the opinion of home educating groups or individuals who are no affiliated with EO?"... or "Are home educating familes already subject to compulsory registration with this LA for which there's no choice to opt out?"... unfortunately, for him, he does not provide the information I did specifically ask for... which means I guess that I will have to keep on asking until I do get a response ;)

There has been, over the last few weeks, much talk of new guidelines for LA's regarding home education, which are currently under construction by the powers that be & their minions.
Many home educators wish to know whether there will be mention of a 'voluntary' registration scheme, the concern being that, if so, this will be a gateway to 'compulsory' registration eventually. Further to this is the issue of LA's classing home educated children as CME (Children Missing Education), which it would seem, thanks to contradicting government guidelines, they often do.

In the mean time those who would seek to forward their own agenda for home education have been ingratiating themselves within certain circles and making moves into positions of influence. Unfortunately it seems that some of these people are not in favour of protecting the rights of all home educating families to be free from governmental interference where it's not warranted & wish to push a 'one size fits all' model.

Other recent sentiments I have heard expressed, both online & in real time, have been that since the EHE parts of the Education Bill were successfuly deflected many home educators do not feel that another drawn out fight with government is worth their time or effort, believing that the case has already been made and that the new government, particularly the Conservative faction who supported scrapping the EHE parts of the bill, does have their best interests at heart.....

I have much to say about these attitudes/beliefs that are being touted... but i think that deserves a blog post of its own... (see next post) however, I must state that I believe that both personally & generally, nationally & locally, the fight to protect freedom in home education is far from over. :/

If anyone would like to express their views here regarding the correspondence from Cornwall Council or ideas for a response your comments would be most welcome, as I intend to send yet another lengthy letter to them quite soon. :)
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Ruth said...

I'm wondering if they think you failed to respond to a letter - their policy does say that if they don't get a reply, they'll just turn up. If that was the case, it would explain part of their smug insistence that they're following their own rules.

jilly_uk said...

"however, I must state that I believe that both personally & generally, nationally & locally, the fight to protect freedom in home education is far from over. :/"

Me too and anybody who believes we are safe and don't have to worry about these new 'guidelines' are seriously deluded. We have to remain vigilant at all times and keep the pressure on LA's who are acting Ultra Vires. We also have to educate the home edders who are being fed bullpoo by others and being encouraged to register when there is no need.

Clare M said...

Your letter was excellent and it is disgusting, though unsurprising, that he has ignored your questions and lazily cut and paste the dept's policy.

I would send a shorter reply, reiterating your questions in a numbered list. This gives him another opportunity to answer before you take it above his head and to your MP. The local ombudsman should be interested in money being spent on ultra vires activity.

The trouble is that these people are protecting jobs they have invented for themselves at our expense. It will be very hard for him to agree with our perspective without indirectly admitting that virtually the whole team of EHE officers are an unnecessary expense.

Anonymous said...

on page 3 he states that they would require confirmation in writing that you accept an appointment; so do they have this? if not, then they have already disobeyed their own rules (as liars would). Ask for proof, perhaps even get legal letter, insinuating corruption, malpractice, intimidation and lack of transparency.
unity is power (sadly, that was the motto of an Apartheid government)...a nation stood up to this.

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