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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Child plans worry home educators
boy writing at desk
It is thought thousands of children learn out of school
Home educators say government proposals to protect children in England could have the opposite effect.

They say official suspicions about home education might deter parents from seeking medical help when they need it - thereby putting their children at risk.

The biggest UK home educators' organisation, Education Otherwise, is setting out its concerns in its formal response to the consultation on the Children Bill.

The co-ordinator of that, Jill Fisher, said one of the things the government proposed was to lower the threshold for information sharing between agencies.

It would go from "a suspicion of significant harm" to just "a cause for concern" - which was just someone's opinion.

"Any professional can share any information with any other," she said - including material about a parent that might have a bearing on the child.

This could remove patient confidentiality, for example if a parent had a history of mental illness or drug dependency.

Medical records

The problem for home educators was that many felt the authorities were suspicious of them anyway.

We fear that some might see home education in itself as a 'cause for concern'
Jill Fisher
Education Otherwise
This was not paranoia, Mrs Fisher said.

The attitude had been exemplified in a letter sent to the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, by the Association of Education Welfare Managers, talking about home education as a situation where children may be at risk.

"Therefore we fear that some might see home education in itself as a 'cause for concern'," she said.

"So in theory they could look at my medical records."

As a result, she argues, a parent might be less likely to go to the doctor when there was a problem - for example, if they were depressed - for fear of being labelled.

So, paradoxically, children might be put at risk by the very mechanism designed to protect them.

On file

And there was no mechanism for removing a record of concern.

"Once someone has said there's a cause for concern, if they decide there isn't a problem there's no way of erasing that - so there could then be a permanent record saying there was a cause for concern."

That would show up in any future inquiry - implying there had been a problem more than once.

Some good has however come out of the row between home educators and education welfare managers prompted by their letter to Margaret Hodge.

People who do teach children out of school left the association's general secretary, Jenny Price, in no doubt about their outrage at the suggestion they might be harming their children.

She has acknowledged some local education authorities do not understand the home education "ethos".

As a result, meetings are being arranged to discuss the concerns home educators have about the attitudes shown towards them by some authorities.

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