The LA: Love them or Loath Them?

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

When I first started homeschooling, like many before me, I joined as many Facebook groups as possible, eager to listen to well-seasoned home ed parents, and to understand my rights and responsibilities. The first thing that stood out to me, was the fear and apprehension many parents faced as they awaited their 'dreaded' letter or email from the Local Authority, but more obviously, the apparent discontentment individuals felt towards the LA.

Just reading some of the advice and stories made me start to dread the day my Local Authority would get in touch. I geared myself for a fight. But a fight was not what I got...not from the LA anyway, but surprisingly, from other home educators eager to tell me what they thought of my decision to pass on information to the LA. Here's what I did (be kind, I'm entitled to do as I like just as you are, everyone's decision has to be personal to them).

I would say, 9 times out of 10, the advice I saw online was NOT to tell the Local Authority anything. The advice was that legally you didn't have to so why should you. Now, I understand that this resentment and sheer reluctance to cooperate must have been born from bad experiences, but surely not everyone's experience could be a bad one? It really did feel like an 'us and them' approach.

One of my children is not biologically mine and lives with us under a Special Guardianship Order. I decided early on, that when they contacted me, I would cooperate, but that I would not let them into my home. I couldn't afford to get into arguments with people simply by refusing to cooperate, only to be forced to send my nephew back to school if the LA got the social workers involved, which they could well have done. Although fostering and special guardianship parents can still home educate, these things don't always run smoothly so I knew it would be in my best interest to play the game.

I received a letter asking me to send in information about how I planned to educate my children, would I be following the curriculum, and how I would assess my children. I emailed across my timetable and went into detail about the kind of things I teach. The reason for this? Why not? I do teach my children daily to a lesson plan that I make, I had lots of information to give so why not give it? Surely leaving them with nothing to argue with would be for the best? I even sent over photographs which was a personal choice and told them about extra activities like swimming, karate, and cubs. I explained that I do not follow the curriculum but teach in our own way and that we put a lot of emphasis on life skills, nature, and the environment. When it came to assessments, I told them the only assessment I make is on my children's happiness.

I was polite, formal and to the point in my response. The response I got back some months later was this:

You have indicated that you are providing opportunities for Theo and Kaiden to study a range of subjects, and have a variety of learning resources to enable them to do so. Your own observations of their understanding and happiness are a good barometer for ‘assessing’ their progress; you will be aware that assessment happens formally and informally.

Thank you for the photos showing their timetable, learning space, and some of the resources that they access. It’s also great to see them engaging in some of their many activities. I really like the idea of touch-typing! Hopefully, they will also be able to resume their weekly educational trip, soon.

I can see from the photos that you have really embraced home education, and it is really positive to see such a good example of home education. Most importantly, Theo and Kaiden appear to be really enjoying their learning.

I will contact you again, in approximately 12 months. If there is anything that you wish to discuss in the meantime, however, please don't hesitate to contact me. (Followed by another email): As per my earlier email, your photos show a great education provision for Theo and Kaiden, which they are clearly enjoying!

I was delighted by this response, and relieved too, after building myself to believe I was going to face a David and Goliathesque battle. I could get on with homeschooling my own way and knew I wouldn't have the stress or anxiety of waiting for further letters, unannounced visits, or telephone calls. I shared my good news on one of the homeschooling Facebook pages, hoping to fill others that were worried about it with some peace of mind. But some of the comments back were truly shocking.

Whilst many people were supportive of my decision to put up the post and appreciated a good news story for a change, the majority were angry with me and took no shame in telling me so. According to them, as so many other people in different authorities, faced difficulties with their LA's no matter how good their home education plan was, I should not have cooperated with my Local Authority and instead, I should have banded together and stood as one with everyone else. I was told that sharing my homeschooling plan with the LA, would just encourage LA's to expect other home educating parents to cooperate in the same way.

It was the first time I had ever seen the home education community in such a negative light. These communities had always been so encouraging and so positive towards me and others, that I never in a million years expected such animosity. My post received a lot of attention and instantly, a battle was waged across the social network pages, my original post lost amongst people's personal opinions and arguments. This war waged on for weeks, my phone would ping with a new notification and in the end I just switched them off. Nobody was talking to me now, they were just thrashing it out with one another. Some people were banned from the page for their utter rudeness towards me and downright nastiness. Some were simply telling me what to do which flies in the face of the whole home education community in my opinion.

The general consensus amongst the angry was that I had single-handedly handed all LA's across the country, a weapon of expectation they could now use against all other home educators. I was point-blank told, I should not have cooperated. Some people contacted me privately to say they really appreciated my post and it had helped them feel more positive and less afraid of what to expect, but they felt they couldn't say so on social media in case they faced the same backlash I had. For me, it's a real shame that some members of a community that stands to fight for the freedom of parents to make their own decisions, actually felt they had the right to tell me what to do. Their comments made some people new to the community, leave the groups entirely and some even felt that home education might not be for them if the war with the LA was going to be as bad as many claimed.

I fully understand that there are Local Authorities trying to push their own agenda, operating outside of the law and that there is a real fear, that if they get their way, it could set a precedence for all other LA's. But is the answer really not to cooperate with any of them? If I'm completely and utterly honest, I can tell that the reason some home educators are so reluctant to cooperate, is because they are not home educating at all, and the fear lies in having to ask themselves if they are doing enough. I'm not saying that's true of the majority, just a select few. I don't expect everyone to have lesson plans and timetables like I do, far from it. I love the freedom I see many parents choosing for their plan, unschooling, and wild schooling and I try to blend some of that into my own approach.

At the end of the day, there must be a balance. It's a good thing LA's are there to check up on home educators, to make sure children who could be living in abusive situations, do not slip through the net. We are all guilty of accusing authorities of not doing enough when we've heard horror stories about abused children in the past. Making sure there are authorities who have children on their radar, and the ability to cross them off a list, if they think they are ok, means fewer children are likely to come to harm, or more importantly, it makes it easier to spot the ones that need to be spotted. This won't happen all the time, of course, mistakes will still be made. But imagine what would happen if we all had the ability to slip off into the crevices of our homes, hide our children away and never have to explain to a single doctor, dentist, or LA about their well-being? The number slipping through the net would become far more.

When it comes to your decision about whether or not to cooperate with your LA, ask yourself why you wouldn't. What's holding you back? Don't listen to someone else's horror story, do what's right for you. The law is on your side but sometimes it's best to only lean on those rights after there's a reason to need them. Sometimes giving a little, will get you a long way.

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