Memorandum submitted by Mr Mark Field MP
I have been involved in the campaign to maintain the independence of home educators after meeting two constituents who educate their children at home. I made a speech on this issue in Westminster Hall on 9 June and tabled EDM 1785 to register concern about the recommendations put forward in the Badman Review into home education.
My home educating constituents have now asked that I express my concern about the Badman Review in response to the above inquiry.
I attach a copy of the speech I made in Westminster Hall which outlines the concerns of home educators about the Badman Review and its recommendations in detail. I would be most grateful if these concerns could be taken into account and seriously considered when the Committee examines the DCSF-commissioned review of elective home education.
1. Home educators fear the government is manipulating current anxiety over child abuse to intrude further into the sphere of home education when it has no legal right to do so.
2. Increased monitoring of home educators has the potential to affect the balance of power between civil liberties and state intervention; the matter of whether one is innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent; and the question of whether the state or parents have ultimate responsibility for a child.
3. The independence to pursue the choices right for any particular child at the speed at which that child wishes to learn is the cornerstone of home education. Home educators opted out of the system by and large because they have no confidence in the State. This independence and choice would be undermined if the government adopts the Badman recommendations.
4. Local authorities have become increasingly confused as to what is law and what is government guidance. Much of this confusion arises from the government's Every Child Matters agenda which conflates issues of education, health and welfare. Home educators believe the government is compelled to monitor them more closely as it has found it difficult to ensure the agenda is being applied by parents.
5. Home educators vigorously reject the attempts by government to mix concerns about child welfare into home education. They believe the government's concerns in this regard are in line with the misguided understanding that a child is safe when seen once or twice by a local authority. Once the proposition has been put forward that home education can be used as a cover for child abuse, home educators feel that the onus of proof has shifted to them to establish their innocence. The mixing of agendas betrays a misunderstanding of how home educators school their children. Much of the government involvement in this area has linked work on uncovering 'hidden' children to home education. In reality, very few children who are home educated are hidden as much of their education is conducted outside the home.
6. Whilst it is understandable that the government is concerned about child abuse, local authorities already have powers to get involved in a family when there are suspicions of abuse. The uncomfortable truth is that no amount of legislation will ever remove all risk. Given that home educated children are not proven to be at any greater risk, it is not appropriate to throw away the liberty of parents to choose how to educate, particularly as the government often fails to protect children when they are in the care of the state.
7. Home educators contend that they are far more likely to fulfil the government's Every Child Matters objectives than the state system. Home education is personalised, child-led and free of the detrimental effects of curriculum constraints, constant testing and standardisation. Home schooled children can learn autonomously, often spend more time on physical activity and can learn in an environment free from bullying and peer pressure. Studies have shown that regardless of socio-economic background, home educated children consistently outperform school educated children.
8. Monitoring is not a neutral activity and is likely to require tick boxes to ascertain whether a child is receiving a suitable education. While a seemingly harmless word, the definition of suitable is worryingly subjective. Formally defining 'suitable' for the purposes of a local authority monitor would impair a parent's ability to provide what they believe to be a suitable education for their child. Free range, autonomous learning does not look like schooling in the traditional sense and record keeping often becomes irrelevant in a home educating environment.
9. If a more formal monitoring system is implemented, it will come with serious cost and practical implications. Most local authority officials are already unaware of or confused by what is law and what is merely guidance when it comes to home education. For any monitoring to be worthwhile, staff will have to be trained. If no extra funding is forthcoming - a likely scenario in these difficult times - budgets allocated to ensuring the welfare of genuinely vulnerable children could be diverted to this area - a real waste and risk when the government has already stated that it is confident that most home educators are doing a good job.
I hope that these serious concerns will be taken into account by the committee. No doubt you will also receive a great deal of material from anxious home educating parents. Their interest in this inquiry should be taken as a measure of just how seriously closer monitoring would affect their lives and those of their children.
 Not published on the Committee's website. See HC Deb, 9 June 2009, col 216WH