What Happens When Parents are Made Enemy of the State

A homeschooling community’s strength in face of a legal battle against the authorities.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When Portsmouth City Council (PCC) took the law into their own hands they ruffled more than a few local feathers. UK home educators have joined arms in a legal battle against the overzealous authority.

PCC issued local home-educating (HE) families with, “legal threats … ordering them to send children to mainstream schools.” In the year up to October 2020, Notice to Satisfy (s437) letters landed on 137 doorsteps. That’s over half of Portsmouth’s HE community!

Does that mean that 50% of Portsmouth’s home-edders aren’t receiving an adequate education? Absolutely not!

The Goalposts Were Moved

In April 2019, PCC adopted a heavy-handed approach that goes against National Guidance. Demands were made on parents for a curriculum, marked and dated work, and home visits. Failure to meet these demands was met with s437 letters, some of which progressed to School Attendance Orders (SAO).

UK law states that a curriculum isn’t compulsory; many HE parents don’t follow one. And lessons outside the classroom are the get your hands dirty type. You know real-life experiences. They’re not paper-based. How do you put a mark and date on that?

In compliance with LAs, HE parents provide detailed reports outlining their education provision. PCC no longer accepts these. Families qualified by PCC as “providing adequate education” are now told their provision is unsuitable. The delivery of education hasn’t changed. So, how does that work?

Oppressed for Not Fitting the Mould

I haven’t yet come across a HE child who wasn’t bright-eyed, full of curiosity and passionate about learning. They thrive; developing at their own pace without limits or glass ceilings. What of maths, English and science? Fundamentals tend to come easy when their real-world application and value are understood.

Portsmouth home-educators are being oppressed. Why? Because they don’t fit the mould that PCC wants to squeeze them into. A mould that looks similar to that of the current school system. One that many HE families would like to avoid at all costs.

Word is out, more local authorities (LA) are testing the waters with similar heavy-handed approaches. If we allow one LA to go unchallenged a precedent will be set. All eyes will be on the battle that ensues between Portsmouth HE community and PCC.

The UK HE Community Stands Strong Together

Portsmouth HE community has been backed into a corner. Their only option is to start legal proceedings against the local council. In January 2021, families across the UK raised £4700 to pay a QC barrister with HE expertise. He confirmed that the LAs actions are unlawful and that there is a strong legal case.

On 5th February 2021, Portsmouth HE Group received a short response to their Letter Before Action. PCC refused to change their Elective Home Education policy. The HE community was left confused and uncertain about PCCs intentions moving forward. A judicial review is now filed.

Nationwide, the HE community is showing absolute solidarity. In response to Portsmouth HE Group’s call for help, £20K was raised in little over half a day! Last time I checked, donations had surpassed £28.5K. Portsmouth HE Group is well on its way to raising the £40K required for legal and court fees. You can follow their progress here.

There is an Innate Distrust of Parents in Society

In the UK, HE increases year-on-year. Between October 2018 and October 2019, numbers rose by 7,105 in England alone. The number increased significantly in 2020. The total number of HE children in England is estimated to be 86,335. Up 10% from the previous year. Were PCC’s actions the result of a knee jerk response to the rising number of HE children? Maybe.

But it’s more than that. The Chief Executive of PCC accused HE parents of misleading the LA about their provision. The grounds for this presumption are unclear. There seems to be an innate distrust for parents in society — not just HE parents. It’s assumed that external authority, the state and schools, know what’s best for our children.

That’s not necessarily true. But that’s another conversation (don’t get me started!). HE parents are doing their damned best to raise well-rounded and valued community members. There’s little to no support from LAs, financial or otherwise, yet we continue to do an amazing job.

Yes, LAs have a duty to ensure children’s wellbeing. To make sure that every child receives a good education. But if you’re searching for society’s vulnerable children here, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree. As LAs focus on criminalising innocent parents, the real vulnerable children are missed.

A Final Thought

Parents will continue to exercise their right to educate their own children. But PCC’s proposed one-size-fits-all model falls short. When will LAs start to work with the HE community rather than against it? Stop trying to suppress us and instead try embracing us. We’re all fighting for the same cause: the rich and varied education every child deserves! That education shouldn’t be forced into one mould.

Thank you for reading. Home educator or not, I’m sure you’ll agree our rights are precious. If we don’t take a stand together we face losing them.

Disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of the HE community or Portsmouth HE Group. Opinions are my own.

Past dietitian | Present home-schooling mum and writer | Future sage | Gaining wisdom through experience and reflection.

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