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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 16:57 GMT
New moves over home education
There are moves to build bridges in the sometimes acrimonious relationship between education authorities and people who teach their children at home.

A leading education welfare manager has apologised for stating wrongly that a child, who died from natural causes, had been subjected to abuse.

Jenny Price, general secretary of the Association of Education Welfare Managers, said she regretted that the information, published in good faith, had been incorrect.

And, having had complaints from home educators, Mrs Price says it is clear some education authorities "do not fully understand the home education ethos".

She says her association wants to improve the relationship.

She has renewed a call for a review of the official guidance to local education authorities (LEAs) on their dealings with people who educate their children at home.

The biggest organisation representing home educators says it has been trying unsuccessfully to discuss the issue with LEAs, and feels a meeting with the association might be a good way forward.

'Concerns'

The error was made in a letter from Mrs Price to the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, saying the Children Bill was an opportunity for the current guidance to be reviewed.

It is very clear that there is an enormous gap between home education and LEAs
Jenny Price
Association of Education Welfare Managers
It described home education "as a situation where children may be at risk" and passed on some of her members' concerns.

One of those referred to a child being removed from school "then subjected to child abuse".

The family was not identified but it emerged that the case to which she was referring involved a child who had died - from natural causes, it was later established.

"We ... would want to withdraw that particular statement and at the same time apologise for whatever distress we may have caused," Mrs Price said in a new letter to the Department for Education and Skills.

She says it is "very clear that there is an enormous gap between home education and LEAs and indeed some of the letters received have suggested that my letter of good intention may have exacerbated this tension."

This was never the intention.

Ethos

She says the law places "a safeguarding responsibility" on LEAs for all children.

We would welcome approaches from education welfare officers
Home educator Jill Fisher
"The current arrangement for LEAs in respect of home education have in too many cases created barriers between parents and LEAs and it is on this basis that we wrote to Margaret Hodge."

She says her members look to the department to review current LEA guidance about home education then to support them "in establishing realistic working processes in what is undoubtedly a sensitive area".

"We accept the comments that in some areas LEAs do not fully understand the home education ethos and would be very willing to take whatever steps necessary to improve this understanding," she says.

Meeting

The biggest UK organisation representing home educators is Education Otherwise.

Its former chair, Jill Fisher, is co-ordinating its response to the government's moves to tighten up child protection legislation.

She told BBC News Online: "Education Otherwise has been actively trying to engage LEAs in dialogue on home education issues for some time and would welcome approaches from education welfare officers - or anyone else within the LEAs involved with home education."

She said a meeting with Mrs Price's association might be a useful way to pursue that.

She could see why LEAs wanted guidelines, because at present there were none.

But anything coming from the Department for Education and Skills should encourage "an understanding of and respect for the great diversity of ways in which people home educate - and acknowledge that parents do have primary responsibility not only for children's welfare but also for their education."

Child protection fears were a red herring.

"If an education welfare officer has any kind of child protection concern about a home-educated child they should do the appropriate things and go to social services," she said.




SEE ALSO:
Home education child abuse fears
02 Mar 04  |  Education
Fixed penalty truancy fines begin
27 Feb 04  |  Education
Parents told they can do better
20 Oct 03  |  Education
'Poo picking' beats school
11 Oct 02  |  Education
Not missing but learning at home
06 Feb 02  |  Education


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