Scottish Consumer Council report upsets COSLA

The Scottish Consumer Council’s report has caused a fair stooshie!

Councils ‘failing’ home educators (BBC)

Scottish local authorities have been accused of putting “barriers” in the way of families who choose to educate their children at home. 

The Scottish Consumer Council (SCC) said some councils had demonstrated “we know best” attitudes towards parents and were guilty of “harassment”.

However, its research has prompted a fierce reaction from local authorities, who accused the SCC of issuing a “flawed report”.

The SCC said it based its report on a postal survey of councils and discussions with home education organisations.

It alleged that the number of children being educated at home in Scotland may be more than 10 times higher than the official figures. This would mean 4,000 children undergoing teaching at home as opposed to 300.

The SCC said that many home learning families had not told local authorities of their decision because they were not confident that councils would act in their best interests.

The report pointed to:

  • Poor advice and information given to parents
  • Inflexible attitudes by local authorities
  • Authorities exceeding their powers in relation to the monitoring of home education
  • A lack of good practice

SCC chairman, Graeme Millar, said: “Some local authorities have a disgraceful ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude and some behave in ways that can only be described as unacceptable harassment of consumers. It is a fact that parents sometimes find that home education is the most appropriate for their children. They should not face barriers such as we have found in our report.”

Danny McCafferty, education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), said he had yet to see the report but that the SCC should have approached the organisation before it was produced.

He said: “First, it appears that the SCC have ignored the rights of children by focusing on the views of parents. Children are also consumers. Second, both central and local government policy is focused on social inclusion. Local authorities are being encouraged, for example, to ensure that as many children and young people as possible with special educational needs receive their school education in mainstream settings. The SCC appears to take a one-sided view which is not only unfortunate, regrettable and unhelpful but based on a flawed perspective of the issues.”

Councils bite back on home learning (TES Scotland editorial)

The Scottish Consumer Council was accused by local authorities this week of producing a report on home education that is unhelpful, one-sided, unbalanced and flawed.

They claimed authorities place barriers in the way of parents exercising a legitimate right to educate children at home. This includes referring cases to children’s panels on the grounds that pupils are being kept off school, giving out misleading information, insisting on routine checks and making unreasonable demands.

Graeme Millar, the council’s chairman, commented: “Some authorities have a disgraceful ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude and some behave in ways that can only be described as unacceptable harassment of consumers.”

But Danny McCafferty, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it was a pity the SCC had not taken the trouble to speak to Cosla officials. Mr McCafferty accused the council of elevating the rights of parents above those of children.

But he rather reinforced the report’s contention that some authorities have a philosophical opposition to home education when he asked: “If children are having difficulties at school, the important task is to sort out those difficulties. Is taking children out of school, and in so doing imposing a sort of social exclusion, the best way to prepare children for the pressures and problems they will face in adult life?”

Jackie Welsh, the consumer council’s policy manager, retorted: “There is nothing in Mr McCafferty’s remarks about being sorry for the heavy-handed way the authorities have treated parents. We agree that the interests of parents and children have got to be balanced, but parents are concerned about children’s rights too.”

The report suggests as many as 4,000 children are being educated at home, way above the official figure of 300. Ms Welsh says this was deduced from an estimate by the parent support group Education Otherwise that there were 50,000 such children in the UK.

The report is based on a postal survey completed by 27 of the 32 education authorities. The consumer council urges councils to let parents see reports written about their children and make sure the information provided about home education is impartial. It also wants the Government to review the role of local authorities in home education.

The SCC hopes its findings and recommendations will influence the Scottish Executive as it prepares national guidelines on home education. Local authorities will be required to “have regard to” the guidelines, one of the provisions in the education Bill.


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