A mother who wants to permanently home-educate her children has launched a High Court challenge against a ‘bullying’ local authority which she claims is trying to force them to go to school.
Christina Goodred, a member of the Portsmouth Home Educators Group (PHEG), believes Portsmouth City Council is acting unlawfully by saying her children should be in school despite the parents meeting home-schooling requirements.
This does not refer to parents who are educating children at home because of the pandemic, but to those who permanently do not send their children to school.
Ms Goodred has now instructed solicitors Irwin Mitchell to investigate her concerns and to apply to the High Court for a judicial review to challenge the council’s policy and how it applies it.
The PHEG, a group of home-schooling parents, said the council had treated some parents as ‘criminals’ for choosing not to send their children to mainstream schools. It has raised more than £30,000 towards legal costs.
Parents who questioned the local authority were being issued with legal warnings including School Attendance Orders, the group added.
Christina Goodred believes Portsmouth City Council is acting unlawfully by saying the children should be in school despite the parents meeting home-schooling requirements. Pictured, Daven Primary School in Congleton on February 14, 2021
Home education in England explained
In England, education is compulsory, but sending a child to school is not.
This means that parents have the right to teach their child at home.
Parents do not need to be a teacher or have educational qualifications to home-educate.
They are not required to follow the national curriculum, and a child does not have to take exams like SATs, GCSEs or A Levels.
But parents do have to make sure their child is receiving a full-time education.
WHO NEEDS TO BE NOTIFIED IF A CHILD IS HOME-EDUCATED?
If a child is at school, the parent must write to the head teacher to ask for their name to be removed from the register.
The head must accept if the parent is taking their child out of school completely.
But they do have the right to refuse requests to flexi-school (home-educating part-time, and sending a child to school the rest of the time).
If a child is not yet at school but parents been offered a school place that they no longer want to take up, they must formally remove their child’s name from the register.
In all of these cases, there is no obligation for parents to contact the local authority.
WHAT HOME EDUCATION EVIDENCE DO PARENTS HAVE TO PROVIDE?
If children are withdrawn from school, it is likely the local council will want to discuss the parents’ plans for providing a home education.
This can be through a home visit or a meeting outside the home, or written evidence such as a report.
Parents do not have to provide evidence about how they are educating their child, but if you refuse, there is a risk that council will assume that they are not providing a suitable education.
In this case, they can serve a School Attendance Order, compelling a parent to send their child to school, with a fine if they do not.
DO PARENTS HAVE TO BE INSPECTED?
Unlike schools, which are inspected by Ofsted, there is no legal obligation for home-educating families to be inspected.
However, in practice, many local councils do monitor home-educated children.
If the council wants to inspect the provision being made for a child, they will make what is known as an informal enquiry.
Parents have the right to refuse to let them monitor, but if they have concerns about a child’s welfare or the education they are getting they can issue a School Attendance Order.
Portsmouth City Council told MailOnline that it was aware of 269 families in the city who are home-educating their children on a long-term basis.
Of these, 18 per cent received a formal notice last year that the council needed information from them to demonstrate that they are providing suitable education for their children.
Ms Goodred, who owns a business with her husband and spends her evenings doing admin work, spends the school day educating their children and taking care of their baby.
She said: ‘Having to deal with Portsmouth City Council whilst pregnant and during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unneeded stress. It’s taken the magic of home education away from our family these last eight months.
‘We have had threats of legal action in an attempt to force us into sending our children into school.
‘We believe there has been bullying, scare tactics and threats, with the possibility of being made a criminal, simply for trying to provide the best opportunities for our children.
‘All we want, as parents, is what’s best for our children, just like schooling families.’
Alison Jeffery, Director of Children, Families and Education at Portsmouth City Council, told MailOnline: ‘We absolutely recognise the right of families to take the option of educating their own children.
‘Equally, under the 1944 Act parents have a duty to provide a suitable education and the local authority has a duty to ensure that they do.
‘We ask for evidence and the majority of families provide that evidence. Without evidence we cannot carry out the role which national guidance asks us to do, to ensure the education is suitable.
‘Ofsted and other national organisations are on record expressing concern about the rise in the numbers of children who are educated at home and the difficulty of establishing whether children are getting the education they need.
‘In the past we have found that some children have not been receiving suitable education. Given the impact on the life chances of those children we cannot afford to be complacent about this.’
Portsmouth City Council previously said it has ‘a statutory duty to ensure that children across the city are receiving a suitable education whether on a school register or being educated at home’.
Ms Jeffery previously said: ‘This is about families who choose to permanently home-educate as opposed to those who are supporting their children with their school’s remote learning during the pandemic.’
Group admin member Vicky Campbell, a qualified teacher, said the authority had refused to accept more than 50 pages of evidence that she was providing a suitable education for her son.
She told the Portsmouth News: ‘We cannot understand why – at this time of national crisis – Portsmouth City Council is choosing to use their limited resources to attack our community, rather than offer support to our children.’
Another parent, Kayleigh Barton, previously said: ‘Portsmouth City Council refuse to answer questions and will not be specific about what is unsatisfactory, they simply keep demanding more.’
PHEG spokeswoman Wendy Charles-Warner said: ‘We believe that Portsmouth home-educating families have the interests of their children at heart and educate them according to the legal requirements.
‘Where families don’t do so, proper procedures are in place for the council to use and it must do so in a legally compliant manner. It has failed to do so.’
Erin Smart, public law and human rights expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘We understand that many parents take the decision to home-educate due to the flexibility afforded to them.
Ms Goodred has now instructed solicitors Irwin Mitchell to investigate her concerns and to apply to the High Court for a judicial review to challenge the council
‘This flexibility is protected by legislation and guidance but, unfortunately, Christina believes the council in this case is not following this appropriately.
‘We hope to ensure that the local authority’s policy is amended to reflect what we believe to be the correct legal position and that this will allow families to home-educate their children, as permitted, without these added pressures and burdens.’
Home education charity Education Otherwise said it was supporting the ‘extremely important’ legal case.
It said in a statement: ‘Portsmouth City Council has repeatedly served criminal process on decent and law-abiding families in the city.’
Secretary Wendy Charles-Werner said the court case was based on the council’s ‘failure to provide any detail of concerns’.
She said the council had declared that parents’ ‘written reports do not provide enough evidence of a suitable education’, which contravened national guidance.
The charity added: ‘The… parents have tried all other means of seeking reasonable conduct… but Portsmouth City Council has continued to act in ways that the barrister considers potentially unlawful.’