Choice

Our MP Neil Carmichael appeared on tv today talking about home education. In his constituency there are three times as many families home-educating their children as there are in the nearby city of Bristol. It was suggested by Mr Carmichael that parents in rural areas are more likely to want to educate their children themselves than those in urban areas. He repeated his view that choice is the most important aspect of education policy.

I don’t know that it is the case that more people in rural areas want to home educate, or why that should be, but what Mr Carmichael also pointed out is that his constituency, Stroud, has a large population of “alternative” families. Is he referring to the Steiner community? I think so, in large part.

Today I was talking to a teacher who has recently moved to Stroud and was surprised at the number of families in the area who are or had been home educating – far more than she had encountered before. I know of two families who have begun home educating after becoming disillusioned with Steiner – so even though they have seen the faults with a school based on anthroposophy they still cannot bring themselves to send their child to a normal school, despite the fact that we are fortunate enough to have excellent schools in our area.

I have a theory about the reason for some of the home educating families in the Stroud area; the large number of Steiner kindergartens means that many families will have absorbed the popular Steiner myth that mainstream education is pure evil. Literally. It is considered “Ahrimanic” in Steinerland. All of us who have sent our children to normal, non-Steiner schools are “hapless” (in the words of Richard House) mistaken unfortunates in their opinion. We do not realise the evil influences to which we have subjected our children; team sports, music (except recorder and violin) computers, tv, non -biodynamic apples – all of it is detrimental to our children’s’ development, they say.

So what do these parents do when it is time for their little one to go to school? Although Independent Steiner school fees are low compared to other private schools, they are still prohibitive for many parents (unless they happen to work for Camphill, in which case it’s free). So they decide to home educate in order to keep their child away from the Ahrimanic influences.

The teacher I spoke to today mentioned that in the States the reason parents home educate is religion; they do not want their child infected with the views of those from different faiths. They wish to indoctrinate their child with their own faith. That is not usually the case here in the UK.

The Steiner method of spreading the myth that any education that is not Steiner must be inferior is a religious reason in a way; in order for parents to believe this fallacy they must have undergone a form of conversion to the creed of anthroposophy. It is not a rational idea, as the many successful and “rounded”school leavers in Stroud can testify.

The tv interview today highlighted the fact that there is currently no way of reliably assessing the quality of home-education children are receiving, and that the problem of helping those who are being deprived of their right to a satisfactory education needs to be addressed.

Mr Carmichael is often to be found emphasising the importance of science and technology in education, and he should take the trouble to find out whether the education children in his area are receiving is of a satisfactory standard, whether that happens to be in a Steiner school or at home.

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33 comments

  1. Helen

    I would not argue with the choice parents have to home educate, but it certainly needs proper assessment, which until today I assumed was in place.
    The case in the news headlines over the last few days of the Jehovah’s Witness family who have been arrested for removing their seriously ill child from hospital and going on the run to Spain, illustrates the fact that children have rights – irrespective of the religious views of their parents – to education and medical treatment.

  2. Simon

    Is the assumption that state officials have your best interest at heart a type of religious belief also?

    My children have the right to eat healthy meals prepared in a hygienic environment. As restaurants are assessed on the quality of their hygiene shouldn’t my kitchen be assessed for suitability also?

    And yours of course.

    • Helen

      Is this your way of saying “but you’re religious too…”?
      My kitchen has been inspected as I have a food hygiene certificate btw :-)

      • Simon

        Well it certainly seems to be taken on faith.

        A food hygiene certificate you say… so your place of residence has one, I guess if you eat at family or friends you expect them to have one too?

        • Helen

          Not at all! But what is your point?
          There are ways of measuring whether children are getting an adequate standard of education – only today Ofsted have apparently found some inspectors to be substandard and dismissed them. Every child has a right to a decent education, and if they do miss out they may never be fully compensated.
          Sorry if you are offended by my remarks about home education – I must admit I have difficulty understanding why some people do this, although it may well be that some children benefit from it if the parents are particularly skilled and inspiring.

          • Simon

            “What is your point?” The point is very simple. I have a kitchen in which I provide meals for my family, my children have the right to eat healthy foods in a hygienic environment. Should I have a regular inspection to ensure my kitchen is up to standard?

            No need to apologise, I am not offended and it is gracious of you to admit you don’t understand why people do it. The house of commons education select committee looked into the matter in 2012. They found home educated children have better education outcomes than schooled children. They also found that there is also no evidence that they are in any way more at risk due to being home educated. So I would guess that my explain why people do it.

            By contrast the same committee found that many local authorities act “ultra vires” in their attempts to request access to home educated children, many of them requesting at least annual visits to verify an education is taking place even though there may be no concern that an education isn’t taking place. Contrast this to the the requirements on Ofsted to inspect schools with regards frequency. Schools would have to be flagged as a major concern in order to require an annual visit to be made by Ofsted.

            You won’t be surprised to hear there are home educators who also “have difficulty understanding why some people do this”. They of course are referring to sending children to school.

            I contend that there aren’t just “some” people who benefit from being educated out of school. I like to think most parents are particularly skilled and inspiring. They manage most of their parental duties without need for inspections, right? Also don’t underestimate the impact good parents have on education outcomes in school. Schooled children perform much better when their parents take an active interest in their education. Remove an overworked state employed teacher, the rigid bureaucratic nightmare that is the national curriculum and replace it with a teacher who loves the job so much that they not only will they do it for free but actually pay for the privilege. Add a “curriculum” that is tailored to the individual and it isn’t surprising why so many children succeed.

            Finally, and on a more sombre note; “There are ways of measuring whether children are getting an adequate standard of education”. Yes there are. As the law stands the only person qualified to make such an assessment is a judge. Many other state employees have tried to assume this position from the misguided presumption that they know when an education ISN’T taking place. Thankfully it is still left to judges to decide the proper question “IS an education taking place”. In home education land there is a world of difference between the two.

            • Helen

              Thanks, that is an interesting insight into home educating from a parent’s point of view. I do agree there must be parents who, like yourself perhaps, can provide a good education for their child, and I am glad to hear that the select committee found there are good outcomes. As I said in the post I think the reasons here are different from in the States where it seems there are many religious families who are home educating solely for the purpose of indoctrinating their children in their chosen “faith”.
              I admit this is not something I have done any research on. However I do know there are parents who have been put off state schools by the kind of opinions and Richard House and other Steiner people put out in order to make their system look acceptable, and it’s a shame if children are being denied the chance of going to the perfectly good schools we have in Stroud because of this.
              I have mentioned here before that I think parents underestimate their own influence on their children; they may choose Steiner for the stories, the artwork, the walks and the baking, but those are all things we enjoyed doing with our children ourselves, and we expected school to provide something different.
              Yes, children do better when their parents take an interest – that is plain to see, but I do not agree that most parents are skilled or inspiring or would make better educators than the teachers our children were fortunate enough to be taught by. We are both reasonably well educated but I would not see myself as having the necessary skill to home educate. Also I would rather our children had the benefit of influences from outside the home – not very confident in my own merits, in short.

  3. Jim

    Simon – of course the assumption that state officials have our best interests in mind is not a religious belief, though it does involve an element of faith ( or trust to use a less loaded term ). And of course it’s not clear cut as that assumption is also complicated by vested interests and the confusion between collective and individual best interests.
    So, parents do have the right to a say in their children’s education but it is not unqualified as the child also has the right to a good education. Determining where the child’s right is so infringed as to justify overriding the parent’s right is the difficulty, whether we are talking about home schooling or a school system such as Steiner. Any deficiencies in state schooling, real or imagined, do not alter that principle. I would defend a basically sound but occasionally struggling state system against a fundamentally flawed system such as Steiner’s any day.

    • Simon

      Actually Jim you compare the rights of the parent with that of the child. Let me be clear, the child has a right to be educated. There is no conflict or comparison necessary. No weighting of the rights of one vs the rights of the other is necessary. The law is pretty clear on this.

      The parents have a duty to ensure their child is educated. The right of the parent therefore is the right to carry out their duty, and that is it.

      As the law currently stands, if there is cause to suspect that an education isn’t taking place then the LA has a right to request evidence. This right is itself caused by a duty on the LA to intervene “if it appears that an education isn’t taking place”.

      That is the law in a nutshell. As parents we have a duty to ensure our children are educated, and a corresponding right to ensure that we carry out that duty. Local authorities have a duty to investigate cases where it appears that a child isn’t being educated, and a corresponding right to request satisfaction.

      If it is determined, therefore that someone must regularly oversee a home educating parent, without due cause being first required, in other words without the requirement “if it appears that an education isn’t taking place” then hopefully you can see that the parental duty has been effectively removed and instead placed on the body responsible for overseeing the education.

  4. Jim

    I have to agree with Helen’s comments above. My own experience with a son was that I had a balance of arts and science interests that I think were influential but his needs and abilities went far beyond anything I could provide. There may be parents would could meet such needs but I suspect they are rare and would have nothing to fear from a fair inspection regime.

    • Simon

      I can’t imagine anyone would have anything to fear from a “fair inspection regime”. But what if it isn’t fair? Who decides, ultimately, what is fair?

      • Jim

        Well, as I said earlier that’s the problem. We don’t have perfect systems and never will. But that’s no reason to resort to complete nonsense. I’m not saying that is what you propose because I don’t know. But some do.
        We come back to the difficulty of deciding between individual and consensus when both are fallible.
        Tough isn’t it? And it’s precisely that assumption of infallibility that is repellent when dealing with cults such as Steiner and others.

        • Simon

          Can you explain what you mean by “complete nonsense”? It was you who stated that [parents] would have nothing to fear from a fair inspection regime. I agree with the principal, but who decides that the regime is fair?

          I suspect you don’t fully comprehend the principle that making parents responsible to the state (via inspection) necessarily means that the state is ultimately responsible for a child’s education instead of the parent. Is that what you are proposing?

          Put another way: The child has a right to an education, who in your view should ultimately be responsible for ensuring the child receives the education: The parent or the state?

  5. Jim

    The nonsense I had in mind was Steiner education but it would apply equally to cults such as Scientology or the sort of religious fundamentalism that denies education to girls. And I did not say that no one would have reason to fear a fair inspection – only that those able to provide a good home education would not.
    The main issue is not actually about education at all but the balance of responsibility between individual and state. And as that has been a major debate for thousands of years do you really expect a simple black and white answer? But ultimately yes, I would say that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the child is educated just as it is to ensure the child is adequately cared for.
    You seem to see “the state” in purely negative terms as something oppressive and external and I know it sometimes behaves that way. But it’s also just another word for “all of us”.

  6. Helen

    Environmental Health inspected my kitchen because I was baking cakes for a café, in case you were wondering (someone asked me).

    Simon – I think school is a way of making sure children don’t disappear out of sight in society, and making sure they have opportunities. So although as you say there are parents providing a good education, it is a worry if there are not adequate checks to make sure other children are not missing out.
    You indicate in your third comment that you chose to home educate because of the failings you perceive in state education – overworked teachers and a curriculum you disapprove of. Would I be right in assuming that some independent schools may have been more acceptable to you?
    I have to say we did not encounter these problems, and I feel gratitude to the teachers who worked hard and in some cases with devotion for each child to achieve their potential.

    • Simon

      Helen,

      The point about baking is very simple: Why did you only get inspected when baking cakes for a cafe? Why have you not been inspected since, surely it is possible that you are not maintaining adequate hygiene standards and that your children could suffer as a result? And while we’re at it…..

      See the question is where does it end?

      Ultimately your presumption about the need for school is, fundamentally where you and I differ. You said “I think school is a way of making sure children don’t disappear out of sight in society”. In short you think that if a child isn’t attending school and is not “known” to the authorities then there is the possibility that there is something amiss. The fact is that in the vast overwhelming majority of cases where something is amiss, the children are already “known” to the authorities.

      Regards my reasons to home educate. I simply visited 13 schools in my local area, I found 1 school where I felt my child would receive a suitable education. The headteacher of that school was retiring, it was his final year so a new headteacher would be in place when my child attended. I decided that I couldn’t be certain that the new headteacher would maintain the existing ethos of the school so I decided to home educate as a kind of “wait and see” approach. I would have had no objection to independent schools on principle if that was your question, my only criteria being the suitability of the education provided.

      • Helen

        The food hygiene is just an aside of course! I just thought it was funny you had asked that particular question…

        Either the schools are unusually poor in your area or you are looking for something different to what most parents want for their children. I would guess the latter, and there is nothing wrong with that. But why on earth would you object to “the state” for want of a better word taking steps to make sure you are not depriving your child of an adequate education? It sounds as though you are doing a good job with enthusiasm, so you would probably be only too pleased to demonstrate the way you are handling it.
        I wonder if people like yourself who find state education unacceptable have had a miserable experience themselves and are worried their child will suffer in the same way? That’s understandable if it is the case, but really, unless a child has special issues, I can’t see there is so much wrong with primary or secondary education that anyone would want to keep their child away from it. There may be deficiencies in certain areas but these can be compensated for in the home.
        The exception I can think of is where the only available schools are “faith schools”, and that is now becoming a real problem in this country where new ones are opening all the time. To have to send your child to a school where reason takes second place would be very bad. I think I would move house.

        • Simon

          “why on earth would you object to “the state” for want of a better word taking steps to make sure you are not depriving your child of an adequate education?”

          I believe this is an alternative form of the question “If you have nothing to hide then why worry?”

          Do I really need to answer this? I guess you wouldn’t object to the police searching your property without cause? The local authority having access to your e-mails so that they can verify you are living alone and are in fact entitled to that discount on your council tax?

          I’m sure I could cherry pick many examples and find one where you would say “ahh but no, that is taking it too far, there is no need for that” and there would probably be a correlation between that instance and your own personal circumstance. In short I contend that you hold this view mainly because you don’t home educate and that on the whole you can’t understand why people don’t send their kids to school.

          The nub of the argument is this: We both have a legal duty to ensure our children are educated. Whereas you believe that “There may be deficiencies in certain areas but these can be compensated for in the home”. I believe that in order to get a suitable education for my child there should be no deficiencies in all areas.

          You also believe that “school is a way of making sure children don’t disappear out of sight in society”. I’d contend many LA’s who step outside the law share that very viewpoint and want children right where they can see them. Do you honestly believe a yearly visit is adequate to stop a child from disappearing out of sight? Some people suspect the ulterior motive behind these visits. I wonder if you can work out what that might be?

  7. Jim

    Simon – sorry, I hadn’t seen your 9:45 comment before responding above. It makes your position much clearer. I suppose the practical difficulty is that unless the LA inspects pre-emptively how will they know a child is not receiving an education? If too much time passes before discovery will the child be able to catch up?
    Such inspection can be sensitive or heavy handed, and maybe some inspectors regard home schoolers as a nuisance so tend to the latter.

    • Simon

      It is my duty to drive responsibly and within the law. How can the police know that I haven’t broken the speed limit during a journey today unless I am able to provide evidence to them to show otherwise?

      It is my child’s right to be brought up without being abused. Unless my child is subjected to regular medical checks by a qualified practitioner how can we be sure I am not abusing my child?

      You see Jim, in all areas of the law, there is a presumption that the law is being followed unless indicated otherwise. Why should my duties with regards to my child’s education be any different?

      It seems you are very sensitive to the possibility that a home educator will not be providing a suitable education yet seem to accept that some inspectors may be heavy handed in their inspections. Assuming an inspection is “heavy handed” how would you think a child’s education might be affected?

      • Jim

        I find your argument inconsistent. You appear to be saying that we have a duty to do x and the state has the right to intervene if we fail to do x but has no right to take reasonable steps to find out whether we are. That makes no sense.
        If I understood correctly I think you said earlier that the LA checked up on your home schooling every year. If so that hardly seems intrusive, particularly as the child’s needs will change significantly over that period and a home schooler doing well one year may not be able to meet the needs of an older child. Do you object to that?
        I’m not “accepting” that inspectors might be heavy handed, merely recognising that it might happen. If it does then it is not acceptable – the objective should be to support whether that is by reassuring that all is well, offering help with any concerns or ultimately by getting the home schooler to recognise if it is not working.

        • Simon

          I find my argument entirely consistent, whether it is driving a car or child abuse there is a presumption in law that individuals do not have to prove their innocence. Your view on education is that the presumption should be opposite that I should prove I am within the law.

          I thought I had stated clearly the current law with regards home education. It is entirely consistent with other laws in that I DO NOT have to prove my innocence. In short, no I do not have to be “inspected” because there is no reason to suspect I am breaking it.

          I’ll copy paste what I said previously:

          “As the law currently stands, if there is cause to suspect that an education isn’t taking place then the LA has a right to request evidence. This right is itself caused by a duty on the LA to intervene “if it appears that an education isn’t taking place”.

          That is the law in a nutshell. As parents we have a duty to ensure our children are educated, and a corresponding right to ensure that we carry out that duty. Local authorities have a duty to investigate cases where it appears that a child isn’t being educated, and a corresponding right to request satisfaction.”

          Hopefully you can see that unless the LA has reason to suspect an education ISN’T taking place then there is a presumption that it is. What I have mentioned in regards to LA’s is that they often act “Ultra Vires” in requesting an inspection without reason and then using a refusal as justification to request a child be placed in a school. The Government issued guidelines for LA’s in respect to this action: “Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home
          education on a routine basis.” Unfortunately for home educators these government guidelines are routinely flouted by LA’s. If the police attempted to stop & search an individual without reasonable grounds the officer responsible would be disciplined. LA’s don’t just ignore this, they positively act against it.

  8. Jim

    Assuming your reading of the law is correct, and I’m not questioning it, then it is the law which is at fault and I fully support the LA in attempting to ensure that home schooled children are receiving a sound education. Though as I said earlier this must be in a supportive and not an aggressive way.
    Maybe you have had bad experience with inspectors which puts you off but I’m afraid it’s coming across as a narrow legalistic argument about your rights and not so much about the child.
    I feel a persistent refusal to allow a reasonable request for inspection is a perfectly good reason for suspicion. My question remains – given that a home schooled child effectively disappears how without inspection would suspicion arise?

    • Simon

      I am not at all surprised that you are ignorant of the law with regards children’s education. Despite it repeatedly being explained to you that the only right a parents has is to carry out their legal duty to ensure that their child receives a suitable education, you seem convinced that there are other rights which may conflict with this. There is no other right above and beyond the right of a child to be educated and that right is the duty of every parent. If you decide to send your children to school, you fulfil your duty, alternatively if you provide an education yourself, you also fulfil that duty. It is a common misconception for example that Ofsted inspections are purposed in order to satisfy the state that a child is being educated. They are not. They have two purposes:

      1) Due diligence. In effect ensuring state resources are allocated efficiently.
      2) Informing parents. In effect reassuring parents that their (the parents) duty to educate their child is being fulfilled by sending them to the particular school.

      In other words they are not carried out to inform the state, rather to inform the parent.

      The question you raise about suspicion is very curious. When you say the child “effectively disappears” from what are you implying that they are disappearing? It seems an odd question and if I might add, one that seems loaded.

      • Jim

        The LA has a duty to identify children in its area who are not receiving a “suitable education” and in pursuit of this duty it has the right to request information informally from parents. True, the law imposes no obligation on the parent to provide such information but the courts have upheld the view that failure to do so provides grounds for the LA to serve a formal demand for evidence. Failure to respond to this can in turn lead to a school attendance order.
        Do you object to this in principle or is it just your view that LAs sometimes go about things in an unnecessarily aggressive manner?

        ( sorry Helen – we’re a bit off the Steiner topic here )

        • Simon

          Jim can you identify the source of your information, my guess is that it ultimately comes from one of the LA’s (or their agents) who have been identified as acting Ultra Vires. The interpretation you have given certainly contradicts the following, taken directly from the Education Act 1996 Section 437 (1): “If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education…they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education”.

          Government guidance to LA’s is that “Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. Also as I have pointed out the government guidance to LA’s is “Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.”

          As to the idea that failure to respond is grounds for suspicion, again this is an interpretation by LA’s and is factually incorrect. The case law in question was Philips v Brown (1980) and government advice again to LA’s (that many of them ignore) is this:

          “The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a
          request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so”

          Now I can’t embolden particular phrases but I draw your attention to the following in that paragraph above:

          “if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education”

          “Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries but it would be sensible for them to do so”

          As far as I am aware not acting in a “sensible” manner is not grounds for criminal suspicion as you have alluded to. The requirements in Law are quite specific, LA’s must have grounds to make enquiries, refusal to respond to enquiries is not grounds for making such enquiries. It seems superfluous to some that the law has to make it clear that failure to respond to enquiries is not sufficient grounds for making such enquiries, but I guess even some people can’t understand it even when it is spelled out to them. An analogy is that a police officer arrests someone as a suspect for a crime and the justification for the arrest is that after being arrested the suspect refused to answer any questions. Hopefully even you will now see how ridiculous that is.

          In short your summary of the legal position is incorrect. The law says an LA has to have grounds to suspect that an education isn’t taking place. It reaffirms the notion that failure to be registered in a school is not justified grounds in and of itself. Only when there is a valid reason for suspecting that an education isn’t taking place can LA’s make informal enquiries. A refusal to respond to such enquiries is not grounds for suspicion that an education isn’t taking place. The suspicion must come before the enquiries.

          In short if your question is would I object to an LA acting “Ultra Vires” then my answer would be “yes”. The action I would take is to encourage them to stay within the law.

            • Simon

              Let’s put it this way Helen, before my child was of “compulsory school age” he was able to read, write and do basic maths. From what I have been told, that wouldn’t sit well with a Steiner school ethos, although I have to admit there wasn’t one available to me so I never felt the need to research them fully.

              If you are wondering how I came upon this post it is probably that you mention “home education” and “Neil Carmichael” in it so prominently. Your MP has recently attained chairmanship of the Education Select committee. As you can imagine a home educator making a basic search is likely to come upon your post (it was in the first half dozen).

              Your views on home education were what pulled me in.

  9. Jim

    Sorry about the delay in replying – grandfatherly duties take precedence.

    The key issue seems to be whether the LA has any right to make informal enquiries in the absence of any prior evidence. You seem to rely on a narrow reading of the statute law to say no. But the case law, Phillips v Brown, indicates yes.
    The judge made it quite clear that the LA was entitled to make informal enquiries and depending on the response, or lack of it, to consider whether this was evidence of possible breach. It could then serve an order requesting evidence. I’ve looked not just at LA guidance but at a number of websites supporting home education and all seem to accept that the case law is clear. You seem not to.

    What the LA cannot do is insist upon home visits, prescribe the form in which evidence should be provided, require that the evidence be endorsed by an education professional and so on.

    • Simon

      No need to apologise, I agree entirely with your priorities.

      I’m not surprised you would get that point of view if you took your advice from LA’s. Whilst the schism between some members of the home education community is beyond the scope of our discussion let me just say that some home educators who run websites which you might advocate as “supporting home education” are in fact run by people who provide advice to LA’s and are paid for doing so. As one notable home educator put it “they seek to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds”.

      I do accept the case law and the case law was quite clear. Assuming the LA had reason to suspect an education was not taking place then it should make enquiries. Failure to respond to these enquiries would of course re-inforce the original suspicion, and Phillips V Brown agrees with this notion. But the suspicion must first exist. Since Phillips V Brown the government has continued to provide advice to LA’s. Here are snippets of advice taken from the Gov.uk website on advice to LA’s (Where the government advice is emboldened I have capitalised the emboldened phrase to achieve the same effect):

      Local authorities should acknowledge that learning takes place in a wide variety of environments and not only in the home. However, IF IT APPEARS that a suitable education is not being provided, the local authority should seek to gather any relevant information that will assist them in reaching a properly informed judgement.

      If it appears to a local authority that a child is not receiving a suitable education it may wish to contact the parents to discuss their ongoing home education provision

      Who is a Child Missing From Education?
      All children of compulsory school age (5 – 16 years) who are not on roll at a local school, or being educated at home or at a private school.

      Phillips V Brown is an appeal against a prior judgement by a magistrate. In the prior case the magistrate levied a fine against Mr Phillips for failure to comply with a school attendance order made by the local education authority under section 37(2) of the Education Act 1944.

      Mr Phillips contention was that the attendance order was not justified because the local authority did not have reasonable grounds to suspect an education wasn’t taking place. Rather than get into what seems like a to and fro of the legal arguments it would be simpler if we could just agree that if what you say is correct then the magistrate would be justified in his fine. In that regard we can just get down to the nitty gritty as it were. Did the judge agree with Phillips or the magistrate? I’ll let you work it out for yourself (that’s what I ultimately did):

      “On the facts of this case the learned magistrate should have applied his mind to the question of whether it could properly have appeared to the LEA that the parents were in breach of their s 36 duty and whether it could properly have been of opinion that it was expedient that [the child] should attend school and I answer the questions set out in the case stated accordingly. The conviction will be set aside and the matter remitted to the learned magistrate for further consideration should the LEA wish him to do so.”

      • Jim

        But you are raising precisely the “pre-existing evidence” requirement that the judge rejects. He seems to make it quite clear that the LA is entitled to make informal enquiries and to form a suspicion ( or not ) based on the response ( or lack of one ).
        As you say, it was an appeal case, so the judge was not finding that the LA had acted wrongly but merely that the original magistrate had made an error – specifically that he had held that the LA had sole responsibility for deciding it had grounds for suspicion and that it was not open to him to consider the matter. So it was only on this basis that the earlier judgement was set aside and the case referred back to the magistrate for reconsideration.
        As it appears that Phillips lost contact with the child shortly after ( relationship breakup? ) this never happened so who knows what the outcome might have been. The magistrate could have required Phillips to provide the evidence the LA requested and might have upheld the SAO or might have held that a suitable education was indeed being provided.
        It should be noted that the appeal judge is critical of Phillips throughout and plainly regards him as bringing trouble on himself by unreasonable lack of cooperation.

        • Simon

          Jim can you tell me where I stated a “pre-existing evidence” requirement? Normally For a police officer to make a stop & search (s)he must have a reason for doing so, if in the course of the search a knife is found on the person then that is evidence of a crime. The law does not require evidence for the search but it does require just cause. This means that the police cannot simply stop people in the street and conduct a search on them WITHOUT the pre-existing just cause The same is true of children’s education. There must be cause to suspect, this could be in the form of evidence, but I have never made the claim that it has to be in the form of evidence.

          In considering Phillips v Bown the judge simply states that he is not saying the LA’s should do nothing and that he requires the magistrate to consider whether there was a pre-existing grounds for suspicion. If he were to reject Phillips defence (that the LA had no grounds to make the request because they had no reason to suspect) then he would simply say so.

          “He seems to make it quite clear that the LA is entitled to make informal enquiries and to form a suspicion ( or not ) based on the response ( or lack of one ).”

          I guess on this point we shall have to agree to disagree, you seem to think the Judge makes it quite clear. I don’t, I believe if the judge wanted it to be quite clear as you say then he wouldn’t have said the following:

          “The most obvious step is to ask the parents for information. … In this context there is no reason why it should necessarily accept the parents’ view – opinions differ on what has to be done in discharge of the duty”.

          If as you say it was quite clear that the LA could ” form a suspicion ( or not ) based on the response ( or lack of one ).” then why state “opinions differ on what has to be done in discharge of the duty”. If opinions differ then it is not quite clear is it?

          Whereas what I contend is quite clear is that “Assuming the LA had reason to suspect an education was not taking place then it should make enquiries. Failure to respond to these enquiries would of course re-inforce the original suspicion, and Phillips V Brown agrees with this notion. But the suspicion must first exist”

          In other words it is quite clear to me what happens if there is a pre-existing suspicion. But where this is not the case AND “If parents give no information or adopt the course adopted by Mr Phillips of merely stating that they are discharging their duty” then “the LEA will have to consider and decide whether it “appears” to it that the parents are in breach of s 36” and “opinions differ on what has to be done”.

          If as you say the judge was ruling that the LA was entitled to make informal enquiries before forming a suspicion then the appeal would not be upheld as Phillips case was based on the fact that the LA had no reason to make informal enquiries (and the subsequent actions that followed as a result of his failure to respond). You seem to conflate that the judge sending it back to the magistrate to consider whether there was reason to “suspect” means he agrees that the LA had reason to suspect. In that case the judge would be pre-judging the magistrate. It is an odd way to interpret the law if I might say so.

          • Jim

            Simon – you’re right, I meant pre existing grounds for suspicion.

            As for the rest all I can say is yes, you’re right – I’m wrong, all the LA legal departments are wrong, all the home education support sites are wrong and, as you say, in the pay of the LA ( or was it the CIA? ). You alone are marching in step.

            I’m now more sceptical of home education than ever, but rather better informed so thank you for that, but further discussion is clearly pointless.