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Guidance on improving LEAs, approach:

Page history last edited by starkfamily1@... 17 years, 3 months ago

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How and when to approach the LEA


Strategically, there are opportune moments to approach your LEA, if say for example they are proposing a new policy that needs to be voted on in a full council meeting to approve it. This was the case in Milton Keynes, and we discovered the new policy by fortuitous accident by happening to notice it listed in their monthly ‘forward plan’, published on their web site. There is a statutory duty for LAs to publish forward plans therefore delegating someone to keep an eye on the council web site may prove an invaluable heads up to approaching trouble, and once set up may be only the work of a few minutes once a month. Needless to say, they hadn’t bothered consulting home educators (as ‘stakeholders’ to use their speak) on their new plans for us, a point we made when we turned up to the council meeting to object to the policy! They are obliged to consult, so this was an embarrassment to them.


Key staff changes may provide an opportune moment to seek to improve relations with the incomer, who probably won’t want to inherit a poisoned chalice, and be only too keen to meet and establish themselves and make their mark.


However, it should be possible to approach an LEA cold at any time, or perhaps in response to an immediate crisis affecting home educators, where the LEA is becoming increasingly officious and interfering.


If the LEA are reluctant to meet with a deputation of local home educators to discuss problems you have with their behaviour, then as a last resort ‘strikes’ have been effective in the past in highlighting a catastrophic break down in relations, resulting in a collective withdrawal of cooperation. But they shouldn’t be reluctant, and such a last resort should not be needed since there is an expectation by OfSTED that the LA will actively seek to promote good relations with local ‘client’ groups as they like to regard us these days. This may be worth spelling out to a reluctant LEA, and conversely, a complaint to OfSTED is always an option. You could also call on your local councillor or chair of Education Committee.


Probably the best approach to any such reluctance would be to point out that they are under a legal obligation to take us seriously:


Under s10 of the Children Act 2004


10 Co-operation to improve well-being

(1) Each children's services authority in England must make arrangements to promote co-operation between-

(a) the authority;

(b) each of the authority's relevant partners; and

(c) such other persons or bodies as the authority consider

appropriate, being persons or bodies of any nature who exercise

functions or are engaged in activities in relation to children in the

authority's area.

(2) The arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the

well-being of children in the authority's area so far as relating to-

(a) physical and mental health and emotional well-being;

(b) protection from harm and neglect;

(c) education, training and recreation;

(d) the contribution made by them to society;

(e) social and economic well-being.

(3) In making arrangements under this section a children's services

authority in England must have regard to the importance of parents and

other persons caring for children in improving the well-being of children.


So they have to promote cooperation between us as we come under

s10(1c), and again under s10(3). Clearly an LEA cannot fulfil that legal obligation placed on them by aggressively dictating terms to us, ignoring our submissions to them and threatening us with ‘court’ as some do, and it may be necessary to remind the more hostile LEAs that this is required of them.


Before meeting with the LEA, the opportunity to do so should be advertised to the whole local group regardless of any organisational affiliation or membership, so that the resulting self-selecting group can not be considered to have imposed itself, and of course to maximise the collective skills brought to the table.


A group of from three to half a dozen local home educators is ideal as a deputation. You will probably want to meet beforehand to set your agenda for the meeting. If you don’t have an agenda, you may find the LEA assuming theirs. They may do so anyway, so it may be important to let them know ahead of any meeting that you have an agenda.


We should not be afraid to be strongly assertive with the local authority where necessary, and to do so is not aggression, merely robust and honest exchange between equals. This is no place for deference. Our initial approach with Milton Keynes was of us turning up at their council meeting a bit mob handed and shouty rather than calmly assertive, but it didn’t matter. As it turned out we were pushing against an open door, and they dropped the unwanted new policy of three home visits a year like a hot potato, their principle alarm deriving from the prospect that their policy might be in breach of the then new Human Rights Act.


Robbed of their policy, Milton Keynes were naturally keen to meet with us to discuss a policy that didn’t enrage us. From the very first meeting they were so relieved that we weren’t going to keep on shouting at them and could be reasonable, that good relations in which trust was gradually built, was not made in the slightest bit difficult as a result of our initial angry invasion of their council chambers. The truth is that local government, like national government are all too used to upsetting their ‘clients’. They do it all the time, so clumsy are they at imposing on or neglecting all sorts of groups. The idea that we must be nice and polite, and ‘start from where they are at’, and lead them gently and persuasively to a better place is mere childish projection, and not true. It is also patronising to assume them to be incapable of taking on board new ideas. Worse than that, if where the LEA is starting from is a bad place, this is absolutely not where you want to start from! Start from where you want to be.


The fundamentally hostile culture of LEAs that is as old as LEAs, may not prove to be immutable. In Milton Keynes we were surprised by how relatively easy it was to persuade them of better ideas. This taught us that what appears to be a hostile LEA, for example on the basis of a hostile policy, might not be. It may simply be reacting stereotypically without much thought or conviction. There was one sticky moment when one officer got stuck with the idea that they had to see for themselves that the education was efficient, etc. otherwise how could they know. I only had to mention ‘the presumption of innocence’ for his difficulty to visibly evaporate on the spot by thus pressing the appropriate button reminding him of the constitutional principles being usurped by these recent notions. These ideas are not by any means dead amongst decent people, and may be easily revived. But it won’t always be this easy with every LEA and every officer. Some will be constitutionally bullies – authoritarian personalities who enjoy lording it over others. But if we assume that this is who we are dealing with merely on the basis of a hostile policy or existing practice, then we may risk insulting them, and maintaining an unnecessary antagonism. Even where you suspect that that is who you are dealing with, having forbearance and giving them the benefit of the doubt for as long as is reasonably sustainable may result in you ‘breaking through’ to a different quality of relationship with them. This is where personal maturity and confidence is important. If you ever find yourself thinking in terms of ‘I wonder if we can get away with this’, then you are still thinking like a naughty child in relation to a parent, and not establishing the relationship of equals. We are not getting away with anything by claiming living our lives by our own lights, they are in so far as they interfere with our liberties without justification.


continue: Ethics

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