A local authority may not require families to allow inspectors to enter their home. Paragraph 3.6 of the DfES guidance to local authorities says "parents are not legally required to give the local authorities access to their home"
However some families may prefer home visits. Offering a home visit as one option among many is therefore acceptable.
It should be borne in mind however that this is someone's prvate home and not an institutional setting. First impressions are crucial to any long term relationship between families and the LA. Overbearing or unfriendly attitudes at this point will certainly have a lasting effect upon that relationship.
While some home educators are happy to allow home visits by LEA staff, most opt not to.
Local authorities should bear in mind that many families find home visits highly stressful and should bear in mind that an attempt to force entry into a home can be seen as threatening and intimidating.
Just because a family acquiesces to LA demands or expectations of a home visit does not mean they are happy to have them. Many do not realise that home visits are optional, many LA's do not tell families that home visits are optional and others imply that while they are optional the LA will draw negative conclusions regarding the family should they exercise this right.
Families should therefore be given:
Duty to monitor:
There is no legal duty for LEAs to routinely monitor home educators. Section 437 of the 1996 Education act says that in the first instance all an LEA needs to ask itself is whether there is no reason to believe that no education is taking place. If the answer to that question is yes, then they have dispensed their duty in law.
There is no requirement in the first instance for the LEA to determine the quality of the education. Only if the LA have reason to believe that no education is taking place do they have a duty to look further into the families provision (1996 education act section 437).
Witnessing the visit and supporting the family
Home visits are used by LAs as part of the process leading up to the issuing of a School attendance Order and as such may form part of their submission to a court should the family oppose the order. Therefore, families will sometimes ask friends or experienced home educators to be present during the visit. Some families even record the visit. Local authority staff should be prepared for such eventualities.
Access to the child:
Neither is there any routine right of access to the child, paragraph 2.12 of the DFES guidance to local authorities points out that section 175(1) of the 2002 education act does not "give local authorities the powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children"
When may the local authority gain access to a child:
"The local authority may insist on seeing a child where there are grounds for concern (section 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989). However such powers do not bestow on local authorities the ability to see and question children subject to elective home education in order to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education." paragraph 2.15 of the elective home education guidelines for local authorities.
'Grounds for concern' need to be specific to that child and not general concerns such as 'We (the LA) have not seen him/her for a number of months.
Safe and well visits:
These have no basis in law as they are simply routine 'fishing' exercises where no existing reasons for concern are outstanding (see above). A refusal to allow home visits should not form the basis of a referral to social services. Such a referral may be regarded as malicious and form the basis of a complaint under the European convention of Human Rights article 8 (See below)
Local authorities may find themselves the subject of proceedings under several different pieces of legislation if, they harass families by insisting on unjustified home visits after the family have refused them.
Article 8 of the European convention on Human Rights (The right to a private family life) might well form the basis of a complaint in law
Anti harassment legislation may also form the basis of a criminal prosecution for repeated 'cold calling' of families without lawful good reason.
Evidence and being heard:
Local authorities should consider that monitoring inspections could result in a court appearance and criminal charges being brought. Therefore the parents have at the start of the procedure, the same rights as any defendant in a criminal hearing. In other words the LEA has a duty to allow the parents to present and to fully consider statements, evidence or beliefs in any reasonable form the parents wish, including in the form of paperwork.
© Mike Fortune-Wood 2011