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Truancy Patrols two

Page history last edited by Clare 10 years, 9 months ago

A case study of the British government’s application of the Orwellian ‘memory hole’.

This account traces the history of home educators’ representations to parliament upon recognising that we would be oppressed when encountering truancy patrols conducted under the powers contained in the Crime and Disorder Act. It has been a brutal lesson in the uselessness of ministerial assurances and government guidances that are widely ignored, and of the necessity for our rights to be safeguarded in legislation.


As the Crime and Disorder Bill progressed through parliament, in the summer of 1998, home educators realised that new powers to stop and question all school age children in public during school hours would inevitably oppress home educated children and their families, for whom no school hours or dates apply, and for whom there is therefore no time when being out and about for their own purposes is legally preventable. We feared that LEAs would inevitably misuse encounters with home educated children to ‘register’ them, for which there is no legal requirement. We also feared that home educated children and/or their parents would be disbelieved by officers conducting these patrols when they said they were home educated. We feared the net result of the operation of these powers, conducted in widespread ignorance of the very existence of home education, would result in a de-facto day time curfew on home educated children, seriously curtailing their legitimate freedoms to be out and about in the world where much of their education takes place.


Despite the best efforts of home educators, our worst fears have been realised, and this oppression has been widespread and commonplace. The following is an account of how assurances given to us by the minister were written into the Home Office guidance on the conduct of the new powers, and how they were subsequently written out, and the very abuses we feared replacing them as ‘best practice’.


In denying home educators specific mention of exclusion from these powers in the Act itself, the minister, in June 1998, chose instead to include them in the Home Office guidance:


Lords committee by The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home

Department, Mr. Mike O'Brien. Quote from Hansard:


 :'' "Many children are properly and lawfully educated at home and the provision

would not apply to them. A child who is not a pupil at a school cannot be

absent without authority from it. There is no need, therefore, for an

amendment. The power is to be used only with respect to children who are

absent from school without authority."


He also stated:


"The Home Office and the Department for Education and Employment will,

after consulting local education authorities and others, put forward

guidance for the police and local authorities about the operation of the

provisions. That will be an important safeguard."


So there is no problem for home educators since the new power simply doesn’t apply, and the guidance would be our promised safeguard properly informing those on the ground.


Meanwhile, back in the real world…. It was a few years later when this author’s family were rudely and threateningly treated on two occasions by these patrols, that I discovered as a result of our official complaint about our disgraceful treatment, that officers are only ever verbally briefed for five or ten minutes before an action, and that they never read guidances at all. There also appeared to be no mechanism by which the safeguards contained in the guidance were transmitted to those conducting the briefing. The guidance might as well not have been written for all its worth in preventing ignorance of even the existence of the home educated as well as their routine mistreatment.


As if this scandalous state of affairs were not bad enough, by November 2003, it was discovered, quite by accident that the DfES had published a so called summary of this HO guidance 14 months earlier in September 2002.


This document, at the time of writing can still be found, 3.5 years later at:



It still contains the same dead link to the HO guidance document of which it was supposed to be a summary. This was brought to DfES attention when it was discovered at the time, and no help or redirection to correct the original link has been made, then or since.


The following is the core assurance taken from the original HO guidance which home educators worked hard to procure:


"4.21 Local procedures should take account of possible contact with such

home-educated children and it should be emphasised that they are not the

target group for the new power. The power can only be exercised in

relation to registered pupils of compulsory school age absent from school

without authority; it does not apply to children who are lawfully educated

at home. No further action should be taken where children indicate that

they are home-educated - unless the constable has reason to doubt that

this is the case."


This reference is absent from the DfES ‘summary’, and in its place are a couple of references merely mentioning the existence of home educators, but careful to avoid any actual guidance as to their treatment:


"* police officers are aware of categories of children who may have a

justifiable cause to be out and about during school hours, especially

home- educated children and excluded pupils (see section 6 below); "


"Police Officers will need to be aware of valid reasons for registered

pupils and other children and young people being out of school during

school hours. These include: * home educated children who may or may not

be registered at the LEA;"


And that's it! The guidance fails to guide the LEA at all, leaving it up to them to determine what to do about such encounters. More of a negation of the purpose of a guidance it is hard to imagine.


But the guidance does in fact guide by reference to another document:


There is a valid link however, to a report on the conduct of truancy patrols:


The full URL direct to the document is still valid 3.5 years later:




A copy of the report on the Truancy sweeps carried out in 82 LEAs

throughout May 2002 is available on the Department's website at:

www.dfes.gov.uk/schoolattendance. The report contains examples of good



Ah, so this is where we will find the good practice towards us described in the home office guidance, in which "No further action should be taken where children indicate that they are home-educated".


Oh dear:


There are no specific references to home educated children whatsoever!


What there are, are references to children "not on a school roll" which obviously includes all the home educated:


"If the young person was not on a school roll, EWOs would normally contact

Admissions after the sweep to ensure that progress was being made on the

individual's case. One authority carried a list of young people known to

be excluded or off-roll during a truancy sweep. Any young person claiming

not to be registered could be cross-referenced with this list. One LEA

would follow up the young person with Social Services and check the

Student Support Service's missing children list. Another LEA also

mentioned conducting home visits if necessary. The possibility of finding

young people who had fallen out of the education system was seen as a

positive spin off of the sweeps."


Which is about as far away from the minister’s assurance as it is possible to get that home educated children are not pupils, therefore this power does not apply to them, and “The power is to be used only with respect to children who are absent from school without authority”


Note also the disgusting assumption of guilt until proved innocent, and by a means incapable of doing so: Any young person claiming not to be registered”…….. is to be routinely disbelieved!This is a total inversion of the minister’s assurances, the constitutional presumption of innocence, and the need for suspicion to be reasonable. Is this the state’s idea of child protection? It looks more like institutionalised child abuse, and that is certainly how it is often experienced.


Under: 'The approach':


"If not on school roll - sweep personnel carried a list of pupils out of

school, checked details against list/name and address taken, contacted or

referred to Admissions, took young person home, followed up through Social

Services, carried out a home visit if needed."


There is nothing to prevent these actions from being inappropriately applied to us, in fact it is a clear incitement to do so. The assumption that the LEA will possess all names and addresses, or acquire those it does not have in these encounters is now explicit, whereas the fact that this will not be the case was clear in the original HO guidance.


Under: 'Other follow-up conducted with pupils':


"If a young person was vulnerable, hard to reach or not on any school

roll, they were referred to Behaviour Social Support Service."


"If a child was not on roll this would be followed up by an EWO,

admissions would be contacted, home visit made and family given advice,

referred to SEWO and admissions."


By now the distinction that the home educated child is not a pupil within the meaning of the act, and not the subject of these powers at all, has ceased to exist. They are simply “missing children”, and indistinguishable from any child “fallen out of the education system”. Needless to say home educators tend not to see their children in such a criminalised context of neglect or worse, and bitterly resent the system’s seemingly determined blindness to our valid existence, except in so far as the consequences of such blindness seem calculated to oppress us.


Four years and five months was the length of the ‘best before date’ on parliament’s assurances. Not only were they torn up at this point, but the very abuse they provided ‘important safeguards’ against were being held up as best practice. Clearly the minister was wrong when he assured us that “there is no need, therefore, for an Amendment” It is a mistake home educators are keen not to have to repeat.


The length of this report on the truancy sweeps is 13,627 words, whereas the HO guidance, slipping down the back of the filing cabinet is 4,080, so saving the busy officer reading time, (who doesn’t read guidances anyway), would not seem to be the motive behind DfES publishing their own so called 'summary'. That motive appears unstated and a mystery, apart from getting rid of the inconvenience of having to take into account the existence of home educators of course.


Eighty-two LEAs contributed 'best practice' to this report, and not one of them it appears had anything to say about how they treated the home educated they encountered. It is scarcely believable that not one of those eighty-two LEAs ever encountered a home educated child during their truancy sweeps, while during this same period, news of these encounters was flooding in to the home educator’s online forums. In fact not a few home educators realised that their own encounters fell within that sample of LEAs in the report.


So from us not being ‘the target group’ of these actions, encountering us is now instead a "positive spin off of the sweeps". In this way, a power originally stated to be for one purpose is extended into areas assurances were given it would not not be. Those assurances were worthless from the outset, as practice on the ground was never as promised, and guidance simply took another four and a half years to endorse what appears to have been intended to be ‘best practice’ all along. During all that time home educators fought a hopeless rear guard action, both locally and nationally to address this new source of officious and illegal harassment in their lives.


That this was deliberate, is finally demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt if we move forward to the present, and take a look at the current guidance, and whether it has restored those important safeguards as requested.


We are now in April 2006, and the original Home Office guidance that fell down the back of the filing cabinet in September 2002 has finally made it right down to the incinerator at the bottom of the memory hole as expected. The DfES have since revised their guidance at least twice, but despite the 2002 version still being where it was in 2002, it now has a new version to compete with it, dated September 2005 and entitled “TRUANCY SWEEP EFFECTIVE PRACTICE AND ADVICE” This gives the game away completely..




Following an all too familiar format for this type of document, this one starts off promisingly, before rapidly deteriorating:


“The Act requires parents to ensure that all of their children of compulsory school-age are educated. They must ensure that the education meets each child’s needs but they do not have to send their children to school. If they wish, parents can arrange for their children to be educated out of school, for example, at home.”


Just to get government to a point of publicly admitting that ‘school is not compulsory’ has been a history spanning decades, and includes having once taken them to law over that misrepresentation.


1. “It is important that all of those involved in a truancy sweep, are aware of, and understand, the basic practicalities of the sweep before it takes place. These include:…………..


· ………..reasons why children may not be in school, especially those who are not registered, for example, children who are home educated;”


So far so good. At least we exist again, albeit in a document harder to find than the 2002 one which contains no actual guidance on how to treat home educators. But then home educators and their organisations did complain at the time to DfES about this omission.


This is where government clearly reveal their preference that we do not exist, and indeed the logic of the operation of truancy patrols always required that there be no legitimate exceptions to its operations. This it now engineers:




2. Not all children are registered at school but this does not mean that those doing the sweeps should ignore any issues that they encounter during the sweep. Nor does it mean that they should not be attending education that has been arranged for them. The reasons why a child might not be registered at a school include:


· home education;


Nor does it mean that home-educated children should be attending education that has been arranged for them at the time of the truancy sweeps, but the implication that they should is inescapably intended in this carefully crafted statement.


If there could be any doubt as to this intention, the next relevant statement removes it decisively, and explains why this has to be:


Children educated outside the school system


3. Home educated children and others educated outside the school system are not the target group for truancy sweeps. Often, these children are educated outside traditional school hours and access other local services such as libraries and PE/sports facilities as part of their education. Therefore, home educated children are likely to encounter truancy sweeps.


It is not always necessary to confirm a child’s status as home educated but there will be occasions when officers will need to do so. Although legally not required to, some families do register with their local authority as home educated and are given accreditation. This enables easy discussions between home educated children, their parents and those carrying out the sweep. Local authority officers can also telephone their colleagues to confirm children’s status if they doubt a child’s status.


Home educators are not stupid, and we know very well the meanings that are intended to be conveyed by carefully crafted words that lie by omission or intended inference.


The first paragraph, ironically by now, re-states that we are not the target group, while at the same time making it perfectly clear that if our children are not engaged in education related activity such as attending the library, sports facilities or ‘other services’, the second paragraph provides the framework for pursuing doubt based on this spurious limitation. It is also a clear inference that merely being in a shopping centre or place where a truancy sweep is being conducted is enough by the criteria here to give rise to suspicion as to status. So home educated children may not be the target group for these sweeps, but they have been cleverly manipulated into not being allowed out during school hours unless engaged in what the LEA would recognise as legitimate educational activity. This is a clear incitement to breach their human rights, and makes a mockery of the minister’s original clear assurances. The original words can still be found, or most of them, but their meaning has been subtly negated and obscured, and not surprisingly it has taken more words to do so than was taken to make a clearer and more honest statement of the true position in the original guidance. Education Otherwise specifically requested the reinstatement of this paragraph, and this meaning inverted mangle would appear to be the hostile response.




Even reference to the fact that home educators are not bound by school hours is in there, but its corollary that there is no obligation only to be pursuing education during school hours, is carefully obscured, and the opposite meaning held forward.


The statement concludes with fresh intimidation to ‘volunteer’ for registration and carry ID in order to avoid the bad time those without will inevitably receive. There is no available check as to status, so to imply that there is, is a clear incitement to disbelieve the child whose parents have not ‘voluntarily’ registered him/her with the LEA. The word for this is bullying, and that’s child abuse!


In law education is the responsibility of the parent, not the state (1996 Education Act s7). A distinction the citizen could be forgiven for not being aware of, but not the government, which seems determined to usurp this responsibility.


Home educators know from bitter experience exactly what meaning hostile LEAs will take from these carefully crafted words, and it is clear to us that so did their author. They are nothing less than a deliberate, calculated incitement. It’s a clever piece though; precisely because it is written in such a way as to allow for different meanings to be taken from it. The perpetrators of this piece of doublethink can defend their words by pointing out that it does state that we are not the target group, and that we are often educated outside school hours, and that our interpretation was never intended. But it is only necessary to put their new version up against the old, and to know the true situation, and the intended inferences are clear. This dastardly manipulation of the minister’s assurances would be worthy of Goebells.


If this new culture of the police state, and children’s curfew cannot be enacted without doing this kind of violence to the human rights of legitimate groups in society, most especially children themselves, then perhaps this is a clue that it should not be being pursued at all.


In conclusion, I would like to say to government: We read the book too you know. We took it as a warning; you seem to have taken it as a blueprint to further perfect.


‘It exists!’ he cried.


‘No,’ said O’Brien.


He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O’Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O’Brien turned away from the wall.


‘Ashes,’ he said. ‘Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.’


‘But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.’


‘I do not remember it,’ said O’Brien. ……………


………….‘There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,’ he said. ‘Repeat it, if you please.’


‘“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,”’ repeated Winston obediently.




Neil Taylor – home educator


Comments (2)

OrganisedPauper said

at 12:21 pm on Jul 17, 2007

I think that trying to engage the DfES/DCSF about truancy patrols is like banging your head against a brick wall. I do however feel that this is a worthwhile thing to take up with the Police. The power lies with them and yet the only guidance in circulation is from the DfES which totally sidesteps one of the basic tenats of English law, the pressumtion of innocence. We are allowing the DfES to tell the Police what to do with the powers they have!

OrganisedPauper said

at 12:24 pm on Jul 17, 2007

correction: presumption not pressumtion. Couldn't find a way to edit my comment to correct typos.

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