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Mother wins two-year legal battle with council after taking her son out of school

A former City worker who was praised by David Cameron for her home schooling network has won a two-year legal battle with her local council after taking her son out of school.

Sophie Sotello, 46, withdrew her 11-year-old son Gabriel from school in west London’s affluent Chelsea borough in order to educate him at home.

Ms Sotello gave up her job as a manager at financial services firm Misys in 2000 when she withdrew her “musically gifted” eldest child from school because of concerns about the quality of music lessons.

She educated all three of her children – Luka, 20, Lydia, 17 and Gabriel, 11 – at home rather than in the traditional school system.

In 2013 she was invited to Downing Street and praised by David Cameron for her home education network and celebrated at a Big Society gala. But Kensington and Chelsea council issued Ms Sotello with a notice to return her son to school after claiming it could not be sure he was being properly educated at home.

She was convicted of failing to comply with the notice in March following a summary trial at City of London Magistrates’ Court and fined £1,020. But on Thursday Ms Sotello successfully appealed against her conviction at the Old Bailey after Kensington and Chelsea did not contest the case.

The borough’s lawyer, Sue Obeney, told the court that the whole legal affair could have been avoided 18 months ago. She said Ms Sotello had refused to “engage” with officers and there had been some “unfortunate threats and insults” in the past.

After one attempt to arrange a meeting, Ms Sotello had responded that her company would charge the council £5,000 for her to attend, Ms Obeney said.

An educational psychologist had since visited the family and provided a statement confirming that Gabriel was being provided with “suitable education”, she said.

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The appeal panel, headed by Judge Richard Hone QC, quashed the conviction and directed that the school attendance order should cease.

Outside court, Ms Sotello said: “I knew right was on my side. My kids learned to quote Churchill – If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

She said she took her oldest musically “gifted” son, now 20, out of school after he was “smacked on the wrist every time he touched the piano”. She went on to home school her daughter, now 17, as well as her youngest son.

Ms Sotello said she “had nothing against” the schools in Chelsea, but insisted: “It’s simply that school is not the right fit for every child.”

She argued that the case had affected her reputation, health, livelihood and community work.

Ms Sotello said she had a “co-parenting agreement” with her husband, a Sotheby’s deputy director, as they go through a divorce.

A spokeswoman for Kensington and Chelsea council blamed the legal action on Ms Sotello’s refusal to provide details of her son’s education. She said: “Some parents choose to educate their children at home, which is their right. When this happens we believe we have a duty of care to establish that the child is receiving a suitable education. In this case, despite many requests, the parent refused to provide details of the home education arrangements.”


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