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Home-schooling parents crowd fund judicial review challenge against city council

A group of parents who permanently educate their children at home has raised £4,700 to try to take Portsmouth City Council to judicial review.

In a statement on fundraising website Chuffed, Portsmouth Home Education Group accused the council of “aggressive approach to home educators”.

It hoped to get initial advice from David Wolfe QC and this were favourable to initiate a judicial review.

The group said Portsmouth had “formulated a definition of suitable education which is not supported in law and seeks to compel parents to provide material that they have no right to demand, whilst threatening parents with criminal proceedings if they do not comply”.

Portsmouth had issued 137 ‘notices to satisfy’ in the year to October 2020; these give parents 15 days to satisfy the council that a suitable education is being provided, before potentially escalating to a School Attendance Order.

The group said this meant half of all known home educated children in Portsmouth had been issued with a notice.

It said: “Whilst this is currently a local issue, we are seeing the demands made by PCC and their appalling behaviour toward decent parents, spread nationally and we believe that we have an opportunity to stop it.”

Alison Jeffery, Director of Children, Families and Education at Portsmouth City Council, said: “We are considering carefully the request made by the Home Education Group for a change in our monitoring approach. We have also offered the group a meeting with the council's senior legal adviser to discuss the statutory framework within which we operate.

"We are aware of 269 families in the city who are home educating their children on a long-term basis (not just during the pandemic). Of these, 49 received a formal notice from us in 2020 that we needed information from them to demonstrate that they are providing suitable education for their children. This is 18%, not the 83% cited by Education Otherwise.”

Ms Jeffery added: "We absolutely recognise the right of families to take the option of educating their own children. Equally, under the 1944 Act parents have a duty to provide a suitable education and the local authority has a duty to ensure that they do. We ask for evidence and the majority of families provide that evidence. Without evidence we cannot carry out the role which national guidance asks us to do, to ensure the education is suitable.

"Ofsted and other national organisations are on record expressing concern about the rise in the numbers of children who are educated at home and the difficulty of establishing whether children are getting the education they need. In the past we have found that some children have not been receiving suitable education. Given the impact on the life chances of those children we cannot afford to be complacent about this."

Mark Smulian