The Draft Policy as outlined is concerning enough, but doesn't arise out of nowhere. The current situation is one of deep mistrust between home educators and the Boards. Given this we believe that the draft policy would be used to bully and intimidate their way into homes, and to insist on parents complicance with unlawful requirements.
Trust starts with the Boards accurately representing their legal powers and duties; while they continue to lie to us why would we want to invite them into our homes!? Trust them to make crucial decisions in our childrens' best interest?
The experience of home educating families throughout Northern Ireland is very mixed. Stories of Board contact range from them being supportive, through misrepresenting the law, to outright harassment. Many parents are so concerned about putting their families at risk that they are unwilling to attend focus groups, or submit responses to the consultation for fear of becoming 'known'. We have asked parents who home educate in Northern Ireland for their experiences, which we are collecting together on this page to provide a backdrop to the Boards' proposals.
There are many examples of intrusive or unreasonable demands by representatives from the Boards:
- In some cases parents have been asked repeatedly about how the child is socialising, rather than about what the child is learning. In one instance the representative from the Board pushed the family for the child to attend Sunday School in order to socialise.
- Some parents have been quizzed about their own academic qualifications.
- On occasions Board representatives have been quite insistent on meeting the children at home, or having the family show or send samples of the children's work. One family showed the Board samples of academic work but the Board ignored this and simply wanted to talk about getting the child back into school.
- Parents have also been asked for timetables showing which subjects are studied on different days, without any indication that the board accepts and understands different methods of home education which need not involve traditional academic subjects and schedules.
Some schools and some Boards don't seem to understand the process for taking a child off the school roll:
- One family had to explain to the school how to process the paperwork for removing the child from the school roll and then didn't hear from the Board for nearly three years before a visit was requested.
- In another case the school didn't want anything to do with taking the child off the roll and advised the parent to contact the Board directly instead.
- Another family found that the Board wanted to scrutinise and approve all aspects of their home education - which they were also told should comply with the National Curriculum - before the parents were "allowed" to deregister, and the Board reported the family to social services for "non-compliance."
Families who have not been pushed for contact have also had mixed experiences and are often uncertain of their position:
- One family told the Board that their child wouldn't be starting school because they would be home educated. The parents haven't been asked to attend any meetings or fill in any paperwork.
- In another case a health professional informed the Board that the child was home educated and the sole contact with the Board regarding this child was a brief conversation a few years ago. The parents weren't told what they could expect from the Board in terms of future contact so they have no idea whether they have been left alone on purpose or whether they have been overlooked.
- A third family has not taken up a school place and has never heard anything from the Board. The parents are extremely relieved as the representative from the Board who deals with home educating families does not have a good reputation.
Current forms used by the boards:
Note that the 'application' to educate at home is shared so far by the SEELB and BELB (other forms yet to come in). These reflect the information received during the active phase of the consultation. Further developments and information can be found here.
- SEELB (rendered into word to protect the identity of the family who passed it to us - numbering errors are in the original) the Board themselves sent this (visit form here) in response to my request - in the first a timetable is requested, hours per week to be detailed. The child's opinion is to be recorded, home visits and access to the child are requested, and the child is asked to sign. The second is far more basic and simple.
- BELB - Application Form HEP1 (pages 13 and 14) and Monitoring Form - including evidence of progress, detailed requirements for ICT support, opinions to be recorded on how 'well maintained' materials are. A relevant FOI response which details training for officers, the way that assessments take place and the guidelines used is now avaliable.
- SELB - information for parents , is somewhat better than the above. Still requires the parent to submit an education plan for assessment, mention of the child's opinion when moving from school to home, mentions various ways of providing evidence (good), and doesn't require ongoing monitoring.
- WELB - pretty basic, emphasises home visits
- NEELB - have no policy but informed me that they have procedures. The full notes have been sent to the NEELB and they've had an opportunity to ask for any changes or additions.