Autonomous Education and your Local Authority
In English law, education is 'suitable' if it is suitable to the child's age ability aptitude and SEN. This is set out in section 7 of the Education Act 1996. It would seem that a law lecturer called Daniel Monk is suggesting to some LAs that home education "should include a systematic approach to the learning of basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy" Monk 2009] 'because of case law'. Monk says this is "the implication" of a decision of 'the Court of Appeal'. However, Crown Court decisions are not binding or 'case law'. The Harrison case didn't go to the Divisional Court until 1982 and it was the lower court in 1981 which made reference to the systematic approach, not the Divisional Court (I have transcripts of both judgements) 'Allowing the child to follow its own devices' and 'time, chance and the inclination of the child' references are also from the lower court. More on Monk here
In any event, as explained here in 2001 by Jan Fortune Wood autonomous education should not be equated with 'laissez-faire parenting'
For the avoidance of doubt: 1/ the law does not presently allow for the imposition of a systematic approach on home education; 2/ the law would have to be changed in order to impose Judge Roy Ward's 1981 requirement; and 3/ I am not in favour of such a change.
The local authority is made up of individuals who might or might not have a view on autonomous education. If you are told you will only be acceptable to your authority if your home education is very structured, this information won't be based on a great deal of evidence, since by and large the authority doesn't encounter many self-proclaimed autonomous home educating families
We don't have sufficient data to be able to generalise about the authority's attitude to autonomous education and that while you are poring over letters for clues about the attitude of the authority, it's worth bearing in mind that many authorities use standard or template letters and forms which can be sent out by administrative staff, and that anything you receive may have been originally put together by someone in a different department or someone who no longer works for the authority.
If you receive a form from the authority asking you to give details on how you teach or plan to teach particular subjects, it doesn't necessarily mean that the authority has a fixed view of what constitutes education. Any paperwork you receive will most likely be in the standard form which is sent out to all families and the authority won't know that the form is inapplicable to you – and to other autonomous families - unless you give feedback to that effect.
As I have said on my page about educational philosophies, when a local authority first becomes aware that a child is out of school, the authority will probably contact the parent and ask for information about the education being provided for the child. It is debatable whether the family should respond to this initial request by "sending an ed phil and report" as is sometimes advised. It is also debatable whether this "informal enquiry" is actually required by law or is simply custom and practice.
If you are unable or unwilling to complete the form, and don't return it and don't give any feedback, or if you tell the authority what you think they want to hear, then you may be setting yourself up for further problems. It's not going to be easy if you simply don't give the authority any information whatsoever about your home education, though the law is clear that the choice of how you present the information is up to you.
Government Home Education Guidelines say: "Some parents may welcome the opportunity to discuss the provision that they are making for the child’s education during a home visit but parents are not legally required to give the local authority access to their home. They may choose to meet a local authority representative at a mutually convenient and neutral location instead, with or without the child being present, or choose not to meet at all. Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made.Where local authorities are not able to visit homes, they should, in the vast majority of cases, be able to discuss and evaluate the parents' educational provision by alternative means. If they choose not to meet, parents may be asked to provide evidence that they are providing a suitable education. If a local authority asks parents for information they are under no duty to comply although it would be sensible for them to do so. Parents might prefer, for example, to write a report, provide samples of work, have their educational provision endorsed by a third party (such as an independent home tutor) or provide evidence in some other appropriate form." Link
It might make more sense to think of questions or forms from your LA as a drop-down box with alternatives, where the final alternative is “*other”, followed with a box for you to say more, rather than as a compulsory multiple choice questionnaire which you are set up to fail because there is no box saying NONE OF THE ABOVE.
Government Home Education Guidelines state that families do not have to supply a timetable, follow a curriculum, work for a "school day" or provide "school at home" type conditions. In addition, home educated young people are not required by law to study for formal qualifications although some families choose to do so. Educational philosophies are useful because they comply with the law as far as information about educational provision is concerned without impinging on any areas which the family may not wish to share with the authority (such as access to the child or samples of written work). An educational philosophy is sometimes called an "ed phil."
At the outset, the authority should not be "judging" the parent's provision, but simply asking for some information. The authority does not require to be “satisfied” unless it appears that a child is NOT being educated. In response to initial enquiries, I personally think it makes sense to structure your response along the lines of an Educational Philosophy and Report, and to write a short paragraph (ie no more than a few sentences) on each of the following: "beliefs"; "resources"; "a few examples of belief in practice".
The parents' response to initial enquiries from the authority is not about "proof" or "evidence". The only exception is where the authority makes it clear that it has reason to believe the child is not receiving education. Simply having no information about home education is not in itself grounds for believing that the child is not receiving education, unless the parent has already been asked for information and has consistently refused. The Government Home Education Guidelines say "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."
The authority may consider it does not have enough information, and the Statutory Guidance makes it clear that the authority is permitted to ask for more from the parent. However, whilst the authority continues to ask for more, it will at some point have to decide whether it appears that a child is not being educated, since only at this point, should the authority send a formal notice under section 437, which could ultimately end in a School Attendance Order.
In some cases the authority would prefer to meet the family in person and/or to have some samples of the child's work, so to an extent anything you write about your home education may be rated less highly by the authority no matter how long or how academic or impressive your submission. But if you take into consideration the authority's preference for a face to face meeting or whatever, you should be able to tailor what you write so that the same boxes are ticked, in terms of painting a picture in words (or by literally sending pictures) of how your home education works in practice for your individual family, and if you should decide to go ahead with a face to face meeting, you have established the framework and the ground rules for any discussion and you can refer back to what you have written if the conversation strays off topic.
When you provide information to the authority about your home education, I would recommend briefly stating your beliefs and values, in terms of what is important to you as a family, because it sets the context for the child's home education. It should be remembered that your response to initial enquiries from the authority is not about "proof" or "evidence".
I personally would also recommend giving a few brief examples of how your home education works in practice. I have observed over the years that some families find it useful to keep a record for themselves when they first start home educating, to remind themselves of all that they are doing, but I would stress again, as I said in answer to the question about blogging, that this does not have to be shared with the authority.
Home education is recognised as efficient if it achieves what it set out to achieve, hence it is important for parents to set out what they are trying to achieve. Moreover, it is accepted in law that parents may have diverse philosophical convictions when it comes to their children's education. The Human Rights Act 1998 quotes Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights declares that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." There is an important case in European Law, Campbell and Cosans, where "education in accordance with the parents' philosophical convictions" has been defined as convictions being "akin to the term "beliefs" (in the French text: "convictions")and denoting views that "attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance."
A google search for examples of home education educational philosophies brings up the following:
The term "unschooling" - which has come over from the States - has gained enormous popularity in recent years. More unschooling links here