HE and the LEA

This is Cambridgeshire specific, so does not apply to the country as a whole, where many LEAs have very different approaches. To find out if you are come under the Cambridgeshire LEA click here.

On the whole, the majority of HEors in Cambridgeshire would say that they currently have a very good relationship with the Local Education Authority (LEA). Historically, this has not always been the case, but over the last 12 or so years, both the Cambridgeshire Local Authority (LA) and the Cambridgeshire HEing community have been working very hard to improve things.

It is often estimated that about half of all HEors are ‘unknown’ to the LA (no official stats on this as, by definition, if you are ‘unknown’ you can’t be counted; by ‘unknown’ we mean not on the LA’s register of children), if this is you, then you may very well never come into contact with the LA throughout your whole HEing experience. Of those that are ‘known’, contact with the LA will generally be minimal, usually just once a year via an online form.

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What to expect from the LEA when you de-register

When you initially deregister from school, you should hear from the LA within about a month via a letter. The school is legally obliged to tell the LA that you have pulled your child out of school and that you plan to home educate. The LA will then send you a letter asking you to confirm that you are indeed HEing and what provisions you have in place for this.

If you do not hear from them, it is possible that they have not de-registered you. As long as you have proof that you have handed in your deregistration letter (how to de-register<link>), you will be fine, but if you do not, you could find yourself in a position where your child is being investigated under ‘Children Missing Education’. Don’t panic, this is extremely rare, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Some chose to register themselves with the LA to make absolutely certain that they are ‘known’, and some may see it as an act of liberation from a school that they feel did not meet their needs or was actively detrimental to their child’s development. Either way, you do not have to contact the LA, you can wait for them to contact you.

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‘The Offer’

Part of the Cambridgeshire LA building positive relationships with the HE community has been them putting together something called ‘the offer’.

To be honest, it should be very clear and simple to understand what this offer is, but despite years of being told about it, I am still somewhat hazy on what it actually entails. 

From what I can make out, it appears to be marketing speak for the LA getting in contact with people who have just come out of school and double checking in a gentle way that people are leaving school because they want to and not because they are being off-rolled or bullied out of the system, and if they are choosing HE as a positive option, i.e. of their own freewill and because they really want to, the LA will say ‘fine, thank you for telling me’ and then step back and leave them alone. 

For those that are being pushed into it, the LA will act as a mediator between the family and the school and try and get all the resources etc in place to help a family through the situation. 

How is it an ‘offer’? I hear you ask. No idea, sounds like a procedure to me rather than an offer, but what would I know, I’m just a mother.

So why the marketing speak? To sell the idea to other government officially people as evidence of managing a situation.

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The Online Elective Home Education (EHE) Form

The online form came into being in the autumn of 2019. Prior to this, it was just a paper form that you had to fill in and send back in the pre-paid, self-addressed envelope. 

You had to complete name, contact details etc. but outlining educational provision was optional. Alternatively, you could provide information in a format of your choice.

The online form is not so flexible, and is distinctly different in tone (no idea why – I have asked the LA, but am yet to hear anything back). You have to leave an answer in ALL boxes in order to submit it. 

The questions are…

  • Why are you home educating?
  • How will you or how do you ensure that your child engages with the learning opportunities provided?
  • What are the aims of the educational approach that you have adopted?
  • How do you or how will you ensure that your child develops basic skills?
  • What approach do you or will you take to monitor the impact and progression of the education being provided?
  • Please give details of the learning resources that are available for your child’s education, e.g. books and equipment.
  • Which library/resource centre do you use?
  • Which local sports facilities do you use?
  • Which type of educational visits do you undertake?
  • What opportunities are there for your child to enjoy social contact with other children?

As the law has not recently changed, you are under no obligation to fill in these questions, so some opt to just put a dash or ‘choose not to say’ in the boxes. This, however, may give the LA reason to believe that you are not making adequate provision for your child, and so it is possible that they could follow up with asking for more formal evidence of the education you are providing for your child. 

The LA currently has absolutely no legal right to make a home visit to you (https://www.home-education.org.uk/legal-home-visits.htm). This is protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

“everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”

(European Convention on Human Rights guide to article 8: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guide_Art_8_ENG.pdf). (Before you complain, it is not me with the innate sexism in depicting the typical human as being male, but that of our law makers… who incidentally are overwhelmingly male – who’d have thought?) [This is a separate body from the EU and so despite Brexit, this should remain in place for the foreseeable future.]

If you continue to not provide any evidence, they may contact Social Services under the belief that you are not fulfilling your legal obligation to meet Section 7 of the education Act:

“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him/her to receive full time education suitable –
(a) to his/her age, ability and aptitude, and;
(b) to any special educational needs he/she may have, “

(http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/section/7)

If you ever start getting to that stage of enquiry (and it is extremely rare), anecdotally it is often said that the standards of what constitutes a suitable education is no longer defined by the parent, but starts to mirror school requirements and criteria. Obviously, this can be really problematic if you are following an autonomous education, so should you be unfortunate enough to be in this situation, you really need to start turning to the national HE forums for advice (HE links<link>). Most just avoid all of this and fill in the form. It is time consuming but makes for an easier life.

If you DO wish to fill in the online form, you can go into as much or as little information as you like. For those following a more formal style of education, this is fairly straight forward. For those who are following an autonomous approach, or similar, it can feel really daunting, so the best advice is to nick someone else’s answers… https://www.home-education.org.uk/resources-edphils.htm – as these are a complete educational philosophy, you have to adapt to fit the form or phone the LA saying you would like to send a complete ‘ed phil’ in instead of form filling.

Once you have completed each question, it is worth saving the answer either for child number two/three/four etc. or for next year. It will save you a lot of time in the long run.  

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Voluntarily Registering with the LEA

You are under no obligation to register with the LA if your child is below school age (the term after their fifth birthday), has never been to school or is new to the area.

In past years, particularly when there was significant political hostility to HE, most families worked on a cat and mouse basis with the LA, only confirming they were HEing when they were caught. Over recent years, more have come forward to voluntarily register with our local LA. This has been most pronounced since the Cambridgeshire LA took a much more hands-off approach to HE.

Why are people voluntarily registering? 

  • Funding: The Cambridgeshire LA have put aside a small pot of money to help HEors fund GCSEs. This is limited to a maximum of £300 per student, when taking exams in year 11, which really doesn’t go far when you are trying to fund 7+ GCSEs, but as some smalltime grocer once said, ‘every little helps’. However, the student must have been registered with the LA for two years previous to the exams, so registered in year 9 or below. – There may be funding for those that come out of school in years 10 and 11, but I suspect it is very much on a case by case basis, so it is probably best to talk to the LA before removing a student from school at this stage (link at bottom of page). 
  • Exam centre: Students registered with the LA are able to access St Peter’s School (https://www.stpetershuntingdon.org), in Huntingdon, as an exam centre, and at a lower cost than other exam centres. The choice of exams offered is limited, as are the exam boards, but any choice is better than no choice.
  • Libraries: HEors that are registered with the LA and use the Cambridgeshire libraries (https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/libraries-leisure-&-culture/libraries/) are allowed to take out more books than the average person.
  • Information: The LA will occasionally send out letters giving information on vaccinations, awards HEors are eligible to sign up to, such as NCS, and other bits and bobs that get sent out to the children that attend state schools.

So why are some still not voluntarily registering?

  • Some feel that they would then be ‘watched’ and are more likely to have their chosen style of education scrutinised.
  • Some hold political and philosophical views that leave them thinking that to register your child with the state is to say that the child is the responsibility of the state rather than the parent.
  • Some want to stay under the radar as they think it is only a matter of time before the state start controlling how and what HEors teach their children – while they remain ‘unseen’ by the state, their rights cannot be revoked.
  • Many don’t feel they need anything the LA has to offer – “what’s the point?”.
  • Some never get round to it – they don’t really ever give it much thought and other jobs are always much higher up the To Do list.
  • And for others, it just seems more hassle than it is worth to fill in the forms year on year.

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Becoming known to the LEA Without Registering Yourself or Coming Out of School

For us it was the doctors, but it can be any medical professional. Family, friends and neighbour might also pass your details on or it can come through social services (sadly, it is not uncommon for well-meaning people to confuse HE with child abuse, so they phone up social services who are then under obligation to investigate, but they very quickly realise the call for what it is, class the call as a ‘malicious complaint’ and leave you alone, however they will have passed your details on to the Elective Home Education team of the LA). 

If you have come out of school, it is the school’s job to immediately inform the LA. You don’t have to do it, but you do have to confirm you are HEing when the LA eventually catch up with you.

Once you are ‘known’ to the LA, however it may have happened, you cannot chose to become ‘unknown’, which ultimately undermines any concept of voluntary registration, and maintains a relationship of tension between the HEing community and the state.

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Learning and the LEA

By law you are required to fulfil section 7 of the Education Act:

“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him/her to receive full time education suitable –
(a) to his/her age, ability and aptitude, and;
(b) to any special educational needs he/she may have, “

(http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/section/7)

If your child attends a school, it is assumed (via Ofsted reports) that your child is getting an appropriate education through the school. If you home educate, it should be assumed you are providing this very same appropriate education, unless there is evidence to the contrary – just like people assume parents do not beat or neglect their children unless there is evidence to the contrary. However, some LAs feel this is not the case (guilty until proven innocent, if you will), and as a result, some can be quite heavy-handed in checking the level of education provided.

There is no definitive measure of suitability as each child is different. An LA can only really challenge your definition of suitable if there is reasonable grounds to suspect you of complete and total educational neglect, as it is really hard for them to prove ‘unsuitable’. 

Sometimes an LA will ask for an ‘educational philosophy’ (examples of which can be found at: https://www.home-education.org.uk/resources-edphils.htm), which is just a statement from you saying your general approach to learning. Occasionally, they ask to look at examples of your child’s work, but currently, in Cambridgeshire, as mentioned above, we get an annual letter and online form from the LA asking if we still HE and how we plan to go about it for the year.

This gives you a huge amount of freedom as an educator to follow any style you see fit, which can be liberating for some, but petrifying for others.

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The Cambridgeshire HE Forum

Since about 2008 the Elective Home Education (EHE) team of the Cambridgeshire LA have been attending HE meetings approximately once a year. The meeting is organised by the HE community, but the venue is paid for by the LA, who are invited to attend. No names are taken at these meetings and so the EHE team have no way of knowing whether you are a registered HEing family or not. The purpose of these meetings is not to get more children known to the LA, but is a chance for the community to anonymously ask questions of the LA and for the LA to share information back to the HE community. 

Over the years, this has been invaluable in helping to build up understanding between the LA and our community. It has allowed the LA to have a far greater insight into how HE actually works, the problems we face and helps to dispel any preconceptions and prejudices they have had about us both as individuals and as a community. The LA have occasionally brought their own speakers in too, including careers advisers and representatives of the NCS, so that HEors can access the same information that is available to those who attend school.

Since these meetings have started, we have been able to go some way to address issues such as lack of exam funding and exam centres, but on these types of things, there is still a lot further we need to go, and we can’t do it without the LA or them without us. 

Dates, times and venues of meetings are advertised on the local HE platforms.

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Continuing Distrust of the LEA

Some feel that even communicating with the LA through the HE forum is asking to have our rights as HEor diminished. This is not possible as the LA do not make the law, they can only carry out their jobs within the confines of the law as it stands. (If you fundamentally disagree with the law, or are concerned that our rights as HEors are at risk, there are a number of HE forums that are worth signing up to (see links below)). 

If they do start over-stepping the mark, as has been known in many other counties, it is generally considered that we can use these meetings to hold them to account as a community, rather than as individuals having to fight our own corner. As stated earlier, the LA are not in any way able to chase up the names, addresses and children of those attending.  

Some feel that the LA are trying to buy the HE community through offering services such as extended library time and money towards examinations. To an extent this is true, the LA would like as many children registered with them as possible, but for those that are registered, whether they like it or not, these can be very beneficial things that can help them on their HE journey enormously. 

There is also the concern that collective contact with the LA undermines the autonomy of the individual family. However, the Cambridgeshire LA are made constantly aware by the Cambridgeshire HEing community that there is no one individual HE spokesperson, we all speak for ourselves, and so no collective decisions can be made, only suggestions on what the LA could do to make HEing in Cambridgeshire an easier journey. 

Registering children is a massive bone of contention within the HEing community, with many strong and passionate opinions. Compulsory registration is considered inevitable by many, but there is still a thriving group of HEors who continue to fight this and monitor the actions of government officials, law makers and LAs (see links below). As it stands, registration is compulsory for some (those that have attended school or have had their details passed on to the LA regardless of the family’s wishes) and not for others. There is no option to deregister yourself, which completely undermines the concept of ‘voluntary’ registration. It is an inconsistent system that is constantly being scrutinised by all interested parties at all levels. As a result, it is very likely that some changes will be made to the system at some point, but when is anyone’s guess in these very strange, and fast-changing times. 

The biggest fear is that HEors will either have to follow a state-constructed curriculum with constant monitoring or that they will lose their right to HE entirely. Given the government’s current financial situation following on from 10+ years of austerity, the after effects of Brexit and having to wade its way through the decimation of the world economy following on from COVID-19, neither of these options look financially feasible in the near future given that it is estimated that there are 50,000 odd HEors in the UK. However, given that it is illegal in other countries, and attempts have been made in this country before to try and regulate the world of HE (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badman_Review, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/328186/Review_of_Elective_Home_Education_in_England.pdf, http://edyourself.org/articles/badman.php), many will continue to keep an eye on the situation and are prepared to come together should a counter lobby campaign be needed.

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Links

Cambridgeshire LEA

Sites 

Forums

Facebook

Yahoo

Most of the Yahoo and email groups have shut down in favour of Facebook, but there are still a couple still standing, albeit with minimal traffic.

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