November 28, 2014
'Irresponsible' education cutbacks attacked by Burnham councillor

A Burnham-On-Sea parent and town councillor has this week accused Somerset County Council of a "dereliction of duty of care to children" following cost-cutting changes to its home education policy.

Helen Groves, right, says the "irresponsible and ill-considered" policy changes have potentially major implications for children.

The changes will see parents who educate their children at home no longer having frequent periodic visits from County Council education staff.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council explained the changes: "As of September, due to the significant financial challenges facing the council, we changed our support on Elected Home Education (EHE) and all parents were sent a letter. This explained that we would only be meeting our statutory requirements and no longer conduct general visits."

"The statutory requirements are a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children – including children who are home educated; and ensuring parents are providing suitable education for their child of statutory school age and considering the use of School Attendance Orders to ensure they do."

"Therefore, the County Council will only contact families if we are advised that the EHE is not happening or is unsuitable. We would stress that if a parent exercises their right to EHE then they are solely responsible for that education."

The cutbacks have concerned several parents in the Burnham area, including Cllr Helen Groves, who told "I have been contacted by several parents of home-educated children in the Burnham-On-Sea area over the course of the last month in regards to their concerns about the policy changes of Somerset County Council."

"Whilst the overwhelming majority of parents who choose to home educate are acting in the very best interests of their children, it is an area in which there has never been very much monitoring or support."

"Many parents make this difficult decision in response to issues of bullying within school environments where there is no reasonable alternative possible. Whilst supporting the rights of parents to make the decisions they feel are necessary for the wellbeing of their children, I am horrified that what little system of checks and supported was provided."

"An initial visit and a quarterly visit thereafter to offer support/guidance and to ensure the statutory requirement that the home educated child is receiving at least the minimum of 12 hours of education of some form per week has been withdrawn."

"In my view, this is a dereliction of a duty of care towards these children. Not only may this leave parents and children within this situation struggling, but it creates situation of unacceptable risk."

"The County Council Statement that it 'will only contact families if we are advised that the EHE is not happening or is unsuitable' fails to recognise that the previous system may well be the only outside contact for a child at risk and without that contact there are inadequate safeguards for these children."

"Whilst the overwhelming majority of parents who home educate are loving parents motivated only by a desire to help their children and their right to do so should be protected, it is unacceptable to ignore the risks of serious harm occurring in rare instances, as in the case of Khyra Ishaq."

"I sincerely hope that Somerset County council will recognise this is an ill considered policy and will address it quickly because no child should have to pay for the error, be that through their basic right to education not being met or worse."

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