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Guidance on improving LEAs: Ethics

Page history last edited by starkfamily1@... 13 years, 10 months ago

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The foundation of the relationship.


Local authorities talk these days about themselves as ‘service providers’, and us as their ‘clients’. They used to be seen as ‘public servants’, which places a very different emphasis on the relationship because with the former we may be mere passive consumers of whatever is on offer, whereas with the latter, we are their masters, and they exist to serve us. This means it is perfectly legitimate to tell them what we want and expect within existing statutory and budgetary constraints. This change in language obviously suits an institution with ambitions to place itself over us, rather than at our disposal, but apart from the policing duties it always had, it does so without any constitutional or statutory change. The change is entirely a cultural one, and therefore our legitimate business as citizens to determine, and not theirs to impose from the top down. Therefore we may need to remind them that they are still public servants, regardless of how unfashionable the term may have been engineered to become.

The above is important because it will colour how we approach the law.

In particular it allows all parties to understand that a proper context for understanding the law is that a reasonable interpretation by the client group, (masters) should be favoured in so far as it is reasonable, and does not prevent the LA from carrying out its duties, properly understood. By that is implied no unwanted ultra vires practices. A recent idea has been sneaked into the culture of the idea of ‘stakeholders’, meaning interest groups. One LEA in their submission to the DfES in response to their consultation on guidance for LEAs on home education, actually had the effrontery to describe parents as ‘other stakeholders’ in the lives of (by clear implication) the state’s children, going on to recommend on this basis against consulting us at all. Such outrageous usurpations even where not made so explicit, may none the less be implicit in the culture of many LEAs, and is encouraged by government, which shares these ambitions over us. It may be important to pick up on this sort of undercurrent, and where it is found, to make it explicit and disallow it. To fail to do this may result in fundamental underlying assumptions going unchallenged, and if that is the case they can be virtually guaranteed to resurface and reassert at some point. Neither the government, nor the local authority are stakeholders in the lives of my children. They belong to themselves.


Advice given to individual home educators has quite rightly pointed out that an LEA may ‘get away with’ an interpretation of the law that is less favourable than ours, and that the courts may, if matters ever got that far support the LEA in sustaining practices, such as monitoring for example, that have no statutory basis, but may or may not be successfully argued for. What is being addressed here is a different situation in which at the level of policy and practice of the LEA, we are bidding for them to adopt our interpretation of the law. They don’t have to of course, but they may do, and we can do things that may encourage them to see it as at least as much in their interests to do so, as not. If we can do that, then given that it is only the LA that would take a home educator to court for say resisting monitoring, if we had already persuaded the LA not to do adopt such a practice, then the situation would never arise for the home educator in the first place. And that is what has been established in Milton Keynes where there is no routine monitoring or inspection, either in their policy, or in practice. Because our interpretation of the law is reasonable, and I would argue, more reasonable than the other one, Milton Keynes acts within the law, fulfilling its proper statutory duties, and responding properly to the legitimate needs of its ‘masters’.


Core principle:


There is one core ethical principle that whatever the situation, should never be compromised, and that is that we are all bound by the law. That applies to home educators, local authorities and central government equally. Despite the delusions of some LEAs over the years, only parliament can change the law, and it must do so in the properly constituted ways, which must include public consultation, the subject of another document, but where the same core principles apply.

This is an ethic that if not subscribed to, will inevitably have bad consequences. If someone is negotiating away some fundamental freedom that matters to someone, doing so will incur that person’s justifiable wrath. Even if it doesn’t, we have no right to place avoidable burdens and loss of liberty on future generations. The only circumstances in which this could be done would be where by common consent some overriding good, or the prevention of some overriding harm can be demonstrated to justify the sacrifice of the freedom in question. This is something that should be assented to only when all other possible avenues have been exhausted. The justification must be real, demonstrable and unavoidable. The government would say that ‘child protection’ is such an overriding consideration, which most would assent to, but it still behoves it to do what it will not do, and that is argue convincingly for the sacrifices it is demanding.


Where the law is by and large favourable to our freedoms, all being bound equally by the law is in fact a strength with which to go into a meeting with the LEA. The meeting cannot be billed as a negotiation in which a small group represent any larger group, and have any mandate to do deals with the LEA. The job is primarily to gain acceptance of a favourable but sustainable interpretation of the law informing policy and practice. To be able to tell the LEA that you have no mandate, nor could anyone have a mandate to make compromises over existing freedoms in law is to force them to accept that they are as equally constrained in what can be done as we are. Giving in to home visits for example cannot be on the agenda at all, since you can’t give them this even if you wanted to, and they can’t insist when the law is clear on the point, and even the government are telling them this.


cont: leverage and exampled arguments

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