Halloween has just passed and it strikes me as a good time to talk about one of the Home Educator's greatest fears: the Local Authority.
The fact is that the Local Authority doesn't actually have any authority over home educators: we aren't required to see them, we don't have to submit our work for their consideration, we needn't, in fact, have anything to do with them at all.
Similarly, the L.A isn't required to do anything either, unless they have reason to believe that a home educated child is not, in fact, receiving an education.
So why worry?
The problem is that not all L.As are aware of this.
If you read the Home Education section on a few L.A websites you'll find that while some go to the trouble of mentioning that all their services are entirely voluntary, others will state that they "require" Home Educating parents to inform them of their intentions, submit an outline of their plan for education, meet with their representative every few months, or follow other, entirely imaginary, requirements.
One L.A even states that its purpose is "To get home-schooled children back to school", which is hardly encouraging to the home educating parent.
Some L.A representatives take things even further.
There have been cases* of L.A representatives demanding private interviews with children, threatening to call social services unless a deregistered*** child was returned to school, actually calling social services with fabricated complaints****, and repeatedly turning up on the doorstep uninvited and unannounced, demanding a meeting.
So it's hardly surprising that when home educators talk about the L.A everyone gets a little nervous.
Part of the problem is the Badman Review.
Badman made a lot of recommendations about home education: he wanted us to be required to register our plans, to submit to regular interviews, to allow our children to be interviewed in private, and quite a few other things as well*****.
In fact none of these recommendations were followed, the review found they were unnecessary, and that should have been the end of that.
Unfortunately many L.As took these recommendations to heart, and although none of them were eventually passed into law, they tend to act as though they were.
Add to this the fact that while one representative may be perfectly reasonable another one may not and you can see why things can get a little scary.
Some home educators avoid the matter by simply not telling the L.A that they are home educating.
Others jump through all their hoops out of fear of threatened reprisals.
Others send terse letters informing their L.A that they will be home educating, they know the law, and they want nothing more to do with them thank you very much.
In each case, sometimes all is well, sometimes problems arise, it all depends you see.
In the case of deregistered children things are even harder as parents cannot avoid telling the L.A and, in addition, have to deal with their child's erstwhile school which, again, may be perfectly reasonable or may take things very badly indeed.
Since we don't have to deregister our daughters from anywhere, and aren't required to tell anyone that we are home educating, it may seem strange that we intend to inform our L.A.
The thing is: we don't want to hide away.
We aren't ashamed to be home educating, we think it's the best plan for our children, we don't want home education to be a secret, furtive thing.
And then, the more people who do keep quiet, the less people are seen to home educate, the more it will seem like a strange, freakish thing, the choice of hippies and religious fundamentalists, not something that normal people do.
Yes this is still us I'm talking about.
So, hippy or not, we will stand up and be counted.
We will write a nice, polite letter.
We will allow an occasional visit.
When they come we will give them tea and perhaps even a biscuit.
If our representative is too pushy we will be diplomatic, we will, in as friendly a way as is possible, let them know that we understand what is and is not required, we will not allow things to become heated.
We will still give them the biscuit.
Hopefully all will go well
*I'm not going to go into detail here, these are things I've heard from the often quite scared people in question, they're personal stories and even if I had permission to share them I wouldn't really like the idea.**
** Yes, I know my footnotes are usually funnier than that.
*** Deregistered: officially removed from the school system, it sounds impressive but you just have to write a letter.
**** Fortunately the social workers in question soon saw that there wasn't a problem but it was a terrifying time for the parents and children, and it wasted the social workers' time.