CHANGES could be on the horizon over how children are home educated across the country.

The Department for Education (DfE) has just concluded its consultation on proposed changes to the home education guidance.

The consultation, which was in two parts, aimed to call for evidence on issues such as registration, monitoring and support for home-educated children and their families, as well as wanting opinions on its new guidance.

The draft guidance has caused uproar among home educators across the country, who view the contents as ‘damaging and draconian’. They also believe their views and interests have been sidelined in what they regard as a flawed and biased consultation process.

The petition, from 77 residents of Taunton Deane, is one of a record 300 petitions from parliamentary constituencies across the country including neighbouring constituencies of Bridgwater and West Somerset, Weston-super-Mare, Wells and Somerton and Frome.

The petition asks the House of Commons to urge the Government to withdraw proposed new draft guidance to local authorities on home education, which they say infringes human rights and would prevent home-educated children getting the personalised education they need.

Caroline Ellis, co-chair of Taunton Home Education, said: “The DfE has produced deeply-flawed draft guidance designed to placate a group of local authorities which has been lobbying for greater oversight of home education.

“The ‘consultation’ the department issued appears to be only for show since officers are already quoting from it as if it were law.”

Members of Taunton Home Education gathered in Vivary Park on Wednesday, July 18, to protest the changes.

The issues with the new guidance surround the powers of local authorities over families who decide to home educate their children.

The local authority would have the power to force parents to send their children to school if they deemed necessary.

A DfE spokesman said in the guidance: “Local authorities have no formal powers or duty to monitor the provision of education at home. However, it does have a statutory duty to make arrangements to enable it to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education.

“The simple fact that a child is being educated at home does not mean that he or she is not receiving a suitable education. However, in order to fulfil their section 436A duty, local authorities are entitled to make informal enquiries of parents to establish what education is being provided, and in fact have a duty to establish arrangements for doing this.

“The local authority is therefore likely to make such enquiries if it becomes aware that you are educating a child at home or may be doing so. As parents you are under no legal obligation to respond, but if you do not, the local authority may well conclude from the absence of any response that it appears that your child is not receiving a suitable education, with the consequences which can follow from that.

“Some local authorities will ask to see the child at home or in another location, as well as seeing examples of work done. As parents, you are under no legal obligation from education law to agree to such a meeting or to produce specific evidence but you should consider carefully the reasons for not doing so, what is in the best interests of your child, and what is the most sensible approach.”

If a home education parent fails to satisfy the local authority that their child is receiving a suitable education, and the local authority considers that he or she should attend school, then the local authority has a legal obligation to serve parents with a school attendance order, which will name a specific school and require parents to register them. Failing to do so would be a criminal offence.

Some parents see this as too much interference from councils and are calling on Government to bin the current consultation responses, and to start again, including them as consultees.

Miss Ellis added: “This proposed new guidance could be imposed in the autumn without any democratic process or scrutiny and yet it would encourage unlawful data sharing between agencies, encourage local authorities to prescribe what and how home educated children learn and pressure families into allowing access by officials to their children with threats of extreme enforcement measures.

“If this guidance is introduced, precious resources could be wasted harassing law-abiding families. If there is money to spare it would be better invested in our cash-strapped schools, special educational needs provision and children’s services.

“Home educators are united in our opposition to these appalling measures.

“We are calling for the draft guidance to be binned and for Government to talk to and engage with us before bringing forward new proposals.

“We are also demanding an easy way for parents to get redress when local authorities overstep their powers, something which happens with alarming regularity.”

The new guidance also states there is no clear definition of ‘efficient’, ‘full time’ or ‘suitable’ education.There is also no requirement for home education parents to have specific qualifications, have specialise premises, give formal lessons, or to teach the national curriculum.

The Taunton-based home education group praised Rebecca Pow for taking the petition to Parliament.

The MP for Taunton Deane said: “As the Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane, my door is always open to hear my constituents’ views and to understand their concerns.

“I have met with a number of home educators since being elected, who have raised a number of issues with me which I have then passed on to the relevant authorities.

“I was pleased to be able to hand in the local petition which is one way, through our democratic system that people, rightly, can get their voices heard.”

Concerned parents now have to wait for the DoE to publish its documents or respond to the petition.