Home educators in Scotland, have given a cautious welcome to the statutory guidance released today by the Scottish Executive.
Jennifer Laing, spokesperson for the national home educators’ association, said:
We welcome the fact that the Scottish Executive has taken on board many of the issues we raised following the disastrous first draft, which can only be described as a gross insult to home educators in Scotland. Rather than improving relationships between our community and local education authorities, it effectively destroyed our trust overnight.
It has now taken more than three years to get a reasonable, hopefully workable, document out of the Executive. We congratulate the Education Minister, Peter Peacock, for having the courage to admit that his department got it terribly wrong in the first instance. However, only time will tell whether it will achieve what it has set out to achieve, and we will reserve judgement until we see how it works in practice.
Although a number of councils have consistently demonstrated their commitment to improving relationships by working with local home educators and support groups, we still hear on a regular basis from families who report unacceptable treatment at the hands of education authorities. It is therefore reassuring for these families to know that they can now expect some degree of consistency across Scotland.
Responding to critics who described the Executive’s second draft as a “cave-in”, Ms Laing added:
We have frankly been appalled by the reaction of some councils and organisations, who have stooped to alarmist innuendo and smear tactics to suggest – without a shred of evidence – that home educators are more likely to abuse their children. Thankfully, the Scottish Executive did not bow to the ignorant prejudice of vested interests, but chose instead to listen to reasoned arguments from the home education community.
First issued in draft form in December 2001, the initial guidance document drew overwhelming criticism from home educators, who attacked it as a “bullies’ charter” and warned that it would be open to legal challenge for seeking to override both human rights and data protection legislation.
Many education authorities and children’s organisations agreed that it was unworkable, and the strength of feeling from the home education community was such that they predicted “untold damage to relationships between home educating families and education authorities” – the opposite effect to what the guidance was designed to achieve.
A campaigning coalition – Freedom in Education – was formed, which sought to raise awareness of the measures the Executive had proposed in order to “track down and harass a minority group of law abiding families”, and demanded the document be scrapped and re-written.
At the same time, an unprecedented number of MSPs from all parties signed a parliamentary motion censuring the Executive for its failure to adhere to assurances given during a parliamentary debate during the passage of the Standards in Scottish Schools Act 2000.
In the face of universal opposition, the Executive entered into further discussions with the home education community, eventually agreeing to re-write the document from scratch and re-issue it for full consultation.
Commenting on the final guidance, Alison Preuss, co-founder of the national home education charity in Dundee in 1996, the Scottish home ed online forum in 1999, and the UK-wide children’s rights network ARCH in 2001, said:
Our charity was originally established in order to address the information deficit which existed for home educators in Scotland, and to provide support for the many families who were experiencing ‘postcode prejudice’ when exercising their legal right to educate their children out of school.
Eight years on, our volunteers are still supporting families whose treatment at the hands of education officials is nothing short of outrageous. Despite the rhetoric, diversity still appears to be a dirty word for too many education authorities, and it is gratifying that the Scottish Executive has at last taken steps to curb the most blatant abuses of power.
The guidance can be found here:
And the consultation report can be found here: