Scottish Government upholds freedom of choice in education

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Scotland’s national home education organisation Schoolhouse has welcomed the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to upholding freedom of choice in education in an unequivocal response to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by Lothians Green MSP Robin Harper.

Scotland’s national home education organisation Schoolhouse has welcomed the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to upholding freedom of choice in education in an unequivocal response to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by Lothians Green MSP Robin Harper. [1]

Commenting on written answers from the Scottish education secretary Michael Russell, a Schoolhouse spokesperson said:

“Schoolhouse is grateful to Robin Harper for once again raising awareness of some of the issues faced by parents in Scotland who are, or may be contemplating, elective home education for their children.  Despite definitive statutory guidance having been in place for well over two years, too many parents are being routinely misinformed by their local authorities.

“We welcome the  Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting choice in education, as enshrined in our primary legislation. We further welcome the education secretary’s reminder to local  authorities of their duty to adhere to the statutory guidance on home education which was issued following a comprehensive consultation exercise and clearly sets out the respective rights and responsibilities of parents and councils .”

Frustrated by the inconsistency of information on home education from councils across Scotland, Schoolhouse has allocated a dedicated page on its own website for each of the 32 local authorities in order to facilitate access to  local policies and contact details. [2] Despite using the Freedom of Information Act to request that councils supply details of policies, information for parents and named contacts for enquiries about elective home education, not  all replied and some were unable to produce the information requested.

The Schoolhouse spokesperson continued:

“The law is perfectly clear: parents have a duty to provide their children with a suitable education, either by sending them to a  council run school or ‘by other means’.[3]

“Local authorities have a duty to provide school places for children whose parents choose to delegate their responsibility, and they are further required to ensure that the school education they provide is ‘directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential’, all the while taking account of each individual child’s views. [4]

“Local authorities are accountable to parents on behalf of their children, not the other way around. It is therefore disappointing to note the ongoing reluctance of some public servants to provide parents with accurate information about the law relating to home education in Scotland, or even to direct them to the government’s guidance which makes it clear where the responsibility for children’s compulsory education lies.”

A review of elective home education in England, which was commissioned by the previous UK government in 2009, was shown to be deeply flawed and its controversial recommendations  were thrown out in their entirety by the UK parliament prior to the general election. 

Schoolhouse has recently criticised Labour MSP Duncan McNeil over remarks he made following the tragic deaths of the three Roggi children who were being schooled at home.  McNeil had suggested that home schooling laws had left them ‘vulnerable’ and cited statistics which have been discredited by professional analysts.  McNeil also falsely claimed that the law had recently changed in England. (5)

Notes:

(1)  Parliamentary Questions tabled by Robin Harper MSP and answered by Education Secretary Michael Russelll MSP:

S3W-35640 – Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green) (Date Lodged Friday, August 06, 2010): To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on elective home education.

Answered by Michael Russell (Wednesday, September 01, 2010): The Scottish Government considers home education to be a key aspect of parental choice in determining how their children are educated. We recognise the legitimacy of that choice and that home educating parents make that choice in the best interests of their children.
In our statutory guidance on home education, as well as setting out the legislative framework, we offer advice on the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and home educating parents and encourage home educators and authorities to work together to develop trust, mutual respect and a positive relationship.

S3W-35641 – Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green) (Date Lodged Friday, August 06, 2010): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to review the statutory guidance on home education that was issued in 2008.

Answered by Michael Russell (Wednesday, September 01, 2010): The guidance has been well received by both local authorities and home educating organisations. We routinely keep all such guidance under regular review to ensure that it is accurate and up to date. However, we have no plans to review or revise it in any significant way.
  
S3W-35642 – Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green) (Date Lodged Friday, August 06, 2010): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it will take to remind local authorities that they should have regard to the statutory guidance on home education when formulating local policies and procedures so that accurate information for parents and details of named contacts in relation to home education are included in council literature and easily accessible on council websites.

Answered by Michael Russell (Wednesday, September 01, 2010): Authorities should be well aware of this statutory guidance, section 5 of which focuses on the importance of good practice in terms of the provision of clear contact information. General reminders are perhaps less effective than more targeted ones in circumstances where it comes to our attention that practice may need to be improved. As a general principle we expect local authorities to be constructive, courteous and open when dealing with home educators as with all other individuals and groups.

(2) Scottish Local Authority pages on the Schoolhouse website
 http://www.schoolhouse.org.uk/links/local-authorities

(3) Education (Scotland) Act 1980, section 30
  http://www.opsi.gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1980/cukpga_19800044_en_6#pt2-pb3-l1g49

(4) Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, section 2
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2000/asp_20000006_en_1#pb1-l1g2

(5) Schoolhouse press release:
http://www.schoolhouse.org.uk/home-ed-in-the-news/schoolhouse-slams-%E2%80%9Cgrave-robber%E2%80%9D-msp-over-riggi-remarks