To my mind at the time, they were there to do a job, and I didn't foresee any problems (other than maybe nervousness in preparing for them to visit - which I considered would probably be less stressful that an Ofsted inspection at school). However, I have changed my mind as I became aware of more of the surrounding issues. Bearing in mind I am still very definitely a novice (so apologies again to those who have studied this area in more detail than me), a few things have become clearer...
One of the reasons that Home Edders are so reluctant to make themselves known to the LA, is that there is an alarming tendency amongst many officials, to assume that Home Edders are much more likely to be involved in child abuse. This has no foundation in reality whatsoever, and there are plenty of studies out there that have shown this to be the case... take this Guardian article as an example. Most of us have read enough scare stories about Social Services having the power to remove children who they consider to be 'at risk', and unfortunately since we personally started our Home Ed journey in April, we have already become aware of a few cases where the removal of children was attempted, apparently purely on the basis that they were home-educated. No wonder home educators are worried by intereference on any kind of official level.
Also, there are no clear guidelines for Educational Welfare Officers (the most common title for those employed by the LA, but they are often given other names) on how to deal with home educators. In fact, it very much depends on where you live, as to whether or not you are in a 'good' LA. Fortunately for me, the reputation of the two EWOs in our area is a really good one - they are both in favour of Home education (shouldn't that be a basic job requirement?), and they are really encouraging when they do visit, from all accounts (I haven't met them yet). Sadly though, there are plenty of LAs who appear to employ EWOs mistrustful of and even aggressive towards home educators. And yet they still want us to have them in our homes? Legally, there is no need AT ALL to accept a home visit. The legal requirement of the LA, according to sections 437 to 443 of the 1996 Education Act is that
"437. - (1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education."... which basically means they only need to approach us if they have reason to believe a suitable education is not being provided. Simply home educating as a choice should not in itself be cause for concern. So why do they generally insist that Home Edders have to have a regular visit from them to inspect our facilities, plans, achievements etc? (this is standard LA practice - I've seen the websites). For more information on the law regarding Home Education, there is an excellent website here.
For me, I think I was so brainwashed into accepting the need to answer to a higher authority, that I saw nothing strange in the people "in charge of education" wanting to come and make sure that I am educating my children properly. But having been privy to some really thought-provoking (and at times heated) conversations in the HE community, I have myself been educated (again!). The plain fact is, it is the PARENT's responsibility to ensure their child(ren)'s education - whether that is by sending them to school, or otherwise (eg Home Ed). It is NOT the government's responsibility. Why then as a nation are we so happy to accept power-hungry petty bureaucrats assuming control of a role that is our unique privilege as a parent?
So, I have been on another 'journey' - from a place where I had no problem letting inspectors come round & check up on us (after all, I have nothing to hide and am planning on being rather proud of what my children have achieved!), to a place where I have no intention of disclosing anything to any 'authority' unless requested. There are some Home Edders who feel that it would be letting the side down to accept a home visit at all, as legally, all I need to do if approached by the LA is write a letter stating that I am taking my children's education seriously & providing them with stimulation to learn by means of a variety of resources - and (they say) the more people who accept home visits, the more it encourages the LA to carry on with their tactics of intimidation. I don't think I would go that far myself... I can see their point and am sympathetic, especially if they have had a bad experience personally with their LA, but I also feel for the few people who haven't the confidence to 'go it alone' - and IF (it's a big 'if') they have a good, supportive EWO, it could make their HE experience so much better. I guess I'm just not comfortable telling other Home Edders what they should do - but I know what I will do, and that doesn't involve having an LA visit!
Basically, where I am at right now can be summed up by a statement I made to another HE newbie who asked in a forum the other day why she shouldn't make herself known to her LA:
I think that there is no more need to invite the LEA to be involved in my children's education than there is to invite the Social Services to be involved in my children's upbringing. If they NEED to come round, I have nothing to hide, and would hope to be courteous (unless they got hostile) - but why would I invite them?
I have nothing against working with the LA in the future when I have a bit more experience under my belt - but my purpose in doing so would be to educate them! As more and more parents are becoming disillusioned with the education provided by the state, wouldn't it be great if Local Authorities were on our side, aware of the law and happy to support and empower parents who choose to educate their children themseves? That's only going to happen if we work with them. However, let them interfere with my children? No thanks.
PS As I finished writing this entry, I came across another great blog post on why not to accept LA visits, so will share it here