Press release issued today by the Scottish Home Education Forum
Dumfries and Galloway councillors are being asked to approve policy proposals that breach the human rights of home educated children and their parents and disregard government guidance, according to a national support and advocacy group.
The Scottish Home Education Forum has written to members of the council’s Children, Young People and Lifelong Learning committee in advance of a meeting on Thursday (29 November) to discuss a revised draft policy, pointing out a number of serious flaws that they say will render it unlawful.
The group has also written to the Scottish Government reiterating concerns it has raised in previous correspondence and recent face-to-face discussions about Dumfries and Galloway Council’s poor treatment of home educators.
A spokesperson for the Forum said:
Dumfries and Galloway Council’s revised home education policy is the latest in a line of shambolic attempts to infringe the rights of home educating families, many of whom have had no choice but to remove their children from school to guarantee their safety.
Any local authority policy must comply with overarching data protection and human rights legislation, yet this council appears oblivious to key court rulings that prohibit arbitrary interference in family life, and seem intent on perpetuating a hostile environment for a minority group whose choices and values they disapprove of.
This latest rights-busting policy blatantly misrepresents Article 12 of the UNCRC and applies an interpretation directly contradictory to that published on the children’s commissioner’s website. It also fails to comply with Article 8 of the ECHR and Article 16 of UNCRC. It also fails to acknowledge relevant case law, not least of all the named person judgment handed down by the UK Supreme Court in 2016, where it is made crystal clear that it is parents who are responsible for determining their children’s best interests unless the established threshold for intervention is met.
Demanding access to private family homes and refusal of consent to remove a child from the school roll unless parents waive their data protection and human rights is a very serious matter, which will inevitably come before the courts if the council is foolhardly enough to proceed with its ultra vires proposals. Local home educators will of course be within their legal rights to refuse to yield to unlawful demands that are so obviously based on prejudice.
Having now outlined the numerous legal flaws in our letter to councillors, we hope they will take notice, but it is concerning to see basic schoolboy errors, such as the persistent use of inaccurate terminology – ‘homeschooling’ as opposed to ‘(elective) home education’ – being made by members of a committee tasked with scrutinising education policy.
Under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 parents have the legal duty to provide education for children during the compulsory years, either by delegating to a school or by other means. An anomaly in the law means the local authority must consent to the withdrawal of a child from a council school, which is an administrative formality that does not apply in all circumstances and councils may not unreasonably refuse consent.
In order to prevent abuse of power by councils “holding children hostage”, statutory guidance was included in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools (Scotland) Act 2000, which all local authorities are required to adhere to.
Dumfries and Galloway Council remains hostile to families who opt for home education, say local parents who regularly share information about local authority policies, attitudes and behaviour on local and national networks. The Scottish Public Servces Ombudman (SPSO) recently upheld a catalogue of complaints by home educating parents against Dumfries and Galloway Council, which was forced to issue an apology for misusing their personal data and breaching their human rights. Other complaints are said to be in progress which implicate several public and third sector bodies in unlawful data sharing in defiance of the landmark named person ruling.
Research conducted by the Scottish Home Education Forum earlier this year found that the increase in home educating numbers was largely being driven by the failure of schools to meet the needs of children with additional needs, epecially autism, chronic health conditions and severe anxiety issues.