Memorandum submitted by HERA (Home Education Research Association)
HERA (the Home Education Research Association) is a Consultee listed in Annex B of Graham Badman's Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England (the Report), and held a telephone consultation with Mr Badman on 2 April 2009.
HERA strongly believes that the conduct of the Review and the Report itself are riddled with serious and far-reaching flaws that invalidate the Report Recommendations and any DCSF action taken upon them, including the 11 June 2009 Consultation that the DCSF launched simultaneously with the Report.
The Report's recommendation are not supported by the evidence gathered in the Review.
There is no data to support the alleged need for immediate and urgent reforms to EHE safeguarding. Mr. Badman virtually concedes the insufficiency with his last minute attempt to supplement his data.
The Report fails to give attention to the problem of schools coercing parents to deregister truants and other "problem" students.
The views of stakeholders and consultants were mischaracterised in the Report and in notes of meetings that informed it.
The Report improperly disregarded extensive home education research that undermines its conclusions and consistently finds that home education is effective and safe.
The Review Panel lacked EHE expertise.
The Review questions treated stakeholders inequitably.
The repeated EHE consultations are inequitable and improper; the Report anticipates more.
The recommendations that LAs enter every EHE home and question children apart from their parents disregard enormous legal and policy implications, and amount to significant change in the relationship between families and the state.
The Report fails to account for staffing shortfalls for additional work, imposition of new duties without training for them, enormous financial cost, and destruction of trust between LAs and home educators.
1. Evidential basis of recommendations
1.1 Lack of supporting data
1.1.1 Ed Balls' 11 June letter to Graham Badman unquestioningly accepted "all the recommendations in [Badman's] report that call for urgent action to improve safeguards for home educated children," and launched an immediate consultation on some recommendations. Mr. Balls continued:
You make a compelling case for immediate and urgent reforms to ensure all home educated children are known to and monitored by local authorities, and that there is a proportionate focus on ensuring these children are safe. . . .
[W]e are also concerned about evidence presented to you by LAs and others which details a significant number of cases where there are -- or have been -- safeguarding concerns about home educated children.
1.1.2 But the Report does not show evidence of "a significant number of cases" of safeguarding concerns about home educated children, or any urgent need for immediate reform. The proposed changes are disproportionate to any theoretical EHE safeguarding issues .
1.1.3 The Report shows no evidence of significant abuse. But it gives the opposite impression. Badman acknowledges he found no evidence that home education was used to cover forced marriage, servitude, or trafficking other than in isolated cases. (1.3)
1.1.4 He then asks: "If there is abuse of children within the home education community, is it disproportionally [sic] high, relative to the general population?" (8.2) The answer comes later (8.12), where the Report acknowledges finding only a "small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature."
1.1.5 However, the following statement masks this finding:
...on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population. (8.12)
1.1.6 This statement talks only about children "known" to social care. The fact that children are "known to children's social care" is not correlative with being subject to safeguarding concerns. Many EHE children are known to social care because there is a relatively high incidence of special needs or other disabilities. Some EHE families are reported by neighbours or others who are biased against home education or mistakenly believe it is illegal. Such families are "known" but in no sense present safeguarding issues.
1.1.7 Yet Mr. Balls cites this misleading statement to support a supposed "urgent" need to change regulations relating to EHE safeguarding. The negative portrayal of elective home education as more likely to be linked with abuse has been widely and erroneously documented in the media, by charities such as NSPCC, and by Baroness Morgan.
1.1.8 Evidence gathered by Action for Home Education (Ahed) under FOI requests to all local authorities confirms that the impression this misleading statement gives is wrong. Undoubtedly Ahed's submission to the inquiry will provide statistical evidence showing that EHE children are in fact much less likely to be abused than children in the general population (0.67% in the EHE community, versus a 1.30% national abuse rate for children).
1.1.9 It seems Mr. Badman is aware that the evidence he found does not support his conclusions. On the eve of inquiry he belatedly requested permission to "strengthen my statistical evidence . . . so that it is more extensive and statistically robust." This virtually concedes that the evidence in the Report fails to support his conclusions, and thereby invalidates the recommendations premised upon them.
1.1.10 The recommendations were made without evidentiary support and no after-the-fact scramble can remedy that. The call for "urgent action to improve safeguards" is unfounded. The pending consultation should be rejected.
1.1.11 Nor was there evidence that the proposed scheme of registration, home visits and questioning children would prevent or ameliorate abuse even if it had been found. (8.2, 8.12.) A brief bi-annual visit from someone the child does not know, may not trust, and might feel presents a threat to home education and family security, is unlikely to lead to confidences concerning abuse, but may well impose harm upon young or vulnerable children.
1.2 Coerced deregistration
1.2.1 The Report gives short shrift to the one current significant issue relating to home education. HERA is aware that increasing numbers of local authorities complain that schools are forcing parents of truants and other "problem" pupils to deregister, threatening prosecution if they fail to do so. This is not elective home education, but coerced deregistration. It is not properly a home education issue, but rather an abusive practice by schools.
1.2.2 It may be that substantial numbers of these children, who are not electively home educated, are known to social care. Because they were registered these children are known to LAs, and existing provisions suffice to identify them. No added safeguarding is needed. However, this problem needs to be addressed, and stopped, with schools. The Report acknowledges that it received evidence concerning this problem (6.4), but recommendation 15 on this issue was not among those deemed urgent.
1.3 Misrepresentation of stakeholder/consultants' expressed opinions.
1.3.1 The Report was premised not only upon improper "evidence," but upon mischaracterisations of stakeholder/consultants' views both in the Report and in internal notes of meetings that informed it. This includes comments by HERA.
1.3.2 The Report quoted the Church of England to indicate significant concerns about the well-being of EHE children (4.8). However, the Report omits the Church of England's conclusion, which suggests the opposite:
"We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of HE."
1.3.3 Similarly, the Institute of Education made four pages of recommendations to the Review and stated its satisfaction with existing legislation. The Review ignored this response.
1.3.4 In HERA's teleconference with the Review team, we stressed the need to provide a firm, research-oriented evidential basis for any proposed changes to the current EHE guidelines and safeguarding procedures. We suggested that enforced visits to EHE children, with demands to perform or demonstrate educational levels and achievements, could be very damaging and detrimental to well-being, particularly for SEN or bullied children.
1.3.5 The Review team's initial 'notes' of our meeting overlooked the first point and recast the second point to suggest we said that "child demonstration could work in some instances." We learned of these misconstructions of our conversation when, after an FOI request, the Review team released their notes for us to check. The report had, by this point, been published. Corrections we requested were made, but the damage had already been done.
1.3.6 We know that other organisations received similarly inaccurate 'meeting notes', including Autism in Mind (AiM), The Sauer Consultancy Limited and others.
1.3.7 The Report included extensive quotes from agencies stating concerns, but nothing from the many submissions that addressed these concerns or the pros of home education. The Report merely, rather dismissively, says: "In addition there were of course detailed responses from elective home education organisations" (4.9).
1.3.8 Approximately 1500 home educators responded to the consultation. The report quoted only three. One, with a highly gifted child working at degree level, was subject to ridicule and sarcasm for suggesting that the Local Authority visitor would be not be "on my child's intellectual level" -- the Report failed to mention the child's gifted status (4.3). This selective choice of quote serves to denigrate home educators as arrogant and lacking in objectivity and is unacceptable in a public report.
2. Inadequacy of literature review
2.1 HERA is very familiar with world-wide EHE research. HERA emphasized to the Review Team the need for a firm, research-oriented evidential basis for any proposed changes to the current EHE guidelines and safeguarding procedures. We were assured that a full research literature review was undertaken. We were surprised at the insubstantial support offered for the recommendations in the Report, and further concerned when the Review's Literature Review was published pursuant to a FOI request.
2.2 The Report dismisses the existing research, and the Literature Review ignores significant pieces of peer-reviewed academic research, including a well-known Phd thesis; smaller studies by the same author are dismissed. HERA forwarded the team two peer-reviewed academic papers, published in internationally recognised academic journals, one of which contained a substantial literature review. It is impossible to understand the Review team's failure to notice the breadth and depth of quality research that exists, both within the UK and further afield, but it is easy to see how a careful reading of this body of research would have undermined the basis of several of the Review's recommendations.
2.3 Mr. Badman simply said:
I am not convinced by the existing research studies on the outcomes for home educated children both in this country and elsewhere. Although some (but not all) studies have found that home educated children outperform schooled children on a range of indicators, the results may be attributable to parental characteristics (e.g. better educated parents with higher incomes). (10.2)
2.4 In fact, EHE research consistently finds that home educated children outperform schooled children, regardless of differences such as parental education or income.
2.5 The Report ignores US research entirely. Yet the US contains more homeschoolers than the rest of the world put together, and the varied circumstances and regulations among 50 states give an ideal research sample to study. A recently published study (of 11,739 participants from all states) expressly compared homeschooler results to schooled results, and took account of socio-economic and educational status of parents, educational methods employed and regulatory factors. The homeschoolers scored 34-39 percentile points higher than schooled children on standardised achievement tests. None of the factors significantly impacted achievement levels. Low income children whose parents lack degrees still averaged in the 83-85th percentiles, well above school students' average. And "the degree to which homeschooling was regulated by state governments had no bearing on student test scores." http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray2009/2009_Ray_StudyFINAL.pdf
2.6 The Report refers to New Zealand to support a claim for the need for more regulation (11.1). New Zealand recently changed its policies to reduce regulation, after finding that regular inspections are not cost-effective, that concerns about safeguarding were unwarranted and that home schooling was low risk. http://www.ero.govt.nz/ero/publishing.nsf/Content/Review+Process+-+Homeschooling; see also http://www.blogcatalog.com/search.frame.php?term=ero+reviews&id=fb95c18fcbb62dcc6f757ddb5782951d.
2.7 The achievement of home educated children makes sense. The Report acknowledges the "considerable body of research that points to this conclusion -- parental attitude, support and expectation are the key determinants of educational success" (1.5) -- even for schooled children. Yet the Report willfully disregarded the considerable and consistent research that shows how well this principle applies to home education, and instead appeared unjustifiably to apply Mr. Badman's personal views and biases to the analysis of and recommendations for home education, .
3. Composition of the review panel
3.1 Of the eleven Review panel members, nine appear to have no particular EHE expertise. We understand that Prof. James Conroy, one of two members with any EHE experience, did not attend any of the review meetings.
4. Inequitable treatment of stakeholders
4.1 Different sets of questions were provided to Local Authorities and to other stakeholders responding to the Review. Home educators and home education organisations were provided with 6 questions, while Local Authorities had 26. The questions differed significantly in scope, with home educators having little opportunity to comment on LA support/adequacy of service provision.
5. Repeated consultations
5.1 The current consultation is the third on the same area of concern in less than two years. New EHE guidelines were issued after extensive consultation in 2007. http://tinyurl.com/m3qu5f. The Report indicates that further research is needed, with respect to autonomous home education (10.1) and outcomes of home education (10.2). Mr. Badman acknowledges that "should the recommendations in this report be accepted, these matters will demand and receive further attention" (10.4), and already anticipates the need for additional "changes in guidance in due course" (11.3).
5.2 Repeated consultations contravene the BERR Code of Practice on Consultations Criterion 5: "Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees' buy-in to the process is to be obtained." http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf.
5.3 The alleged "urgent need" to rush through changes to home education safeguarding, via the pending consultation, does not exist.
5.4 The 2007 consultation concluded that there was no case for significant change. It remains unclear on what basis a further review, two consultations and a new set of recommendations are warranted. The recommendations have not been subject to scrutiny for constitutional implications, efficacy, proportionality, targeting and cost. It is injudicious not only for Mr. Balls to have accepted them in their totality, but also for changes to EHE safeguarding guidelines to have become part of the draft legislative programme before the consultation(s) have reported their findings.
5.5 The Report concludes that current procedures are inadequate, but neither recognises nor discusses what they are. The Report reads as if LAs have no options other than to "address the situation informally" (3.7). It disregards the current legal procedures under which LAs can obtain school attendance orders if they feel a home educated child is not receiving suitable education. The Guidelines, the implementation of Contactpoint, and SAO procedures provide all that is needed for LAs effectively to address home education. Rather than the unjustifiable burden of an ongoing series of consultations, and rushing to impose costly changes that are not justified by the evidence, DCSF should work to train local authorities with respect to home education and follow the current Guidelines and SAO procedure.
6. Disregard of political and legal implications
6.1 The Review disregarded the likely constitutional change that its recommendations would instigate.
6.2 The recommendation of a compulsory annual registration scheme amounts to a significant change in the relationship between families and the state. Under existing law, parents -- not the State -- decide where and how a child is educated. Parents are responsible for providing a suitable education under Section 7, 1996 Education Act, by school attendance or through home education.
6.3 The proposed registration process amounts to a licence, where the parents must apply to the state for a licence to home educate, and renew the licence each year. By licensing, the State would assume responsibility from parents for determining the nature of children's education, by giving permission and imposing State-determined criteria. Therefore, if any educational provision should be found unsuitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, regardless of the educational setting, the State would be held responsible. This could have a potentially enormous impact on State as well as home educational provision and has massive cost implications where schools are considered not adequately to have met specific children's needs.
6.4 The proposals that local authorities should enter every EHE home, and question children separately from their parents, grant local authorities a power that not even police or social services have. Granting intervention into the family home with no reasonable suspicion, demanding that parents show they are not abusing their children, and interrogating small children apart from their parents, represents an enormous change and an unjustifiable intrusion into the family. The recommendations undermine parental sovereignty and set natural and legal responsibilities of parents as opposed to their children's rights, but they are interdependent parts of a whole. This sort of massive policy shift would have implications for all families, not just home educators. It must not be slipped through without national debate, in the guise of amending rules for home education.
7. Disregard of practical implications
7.1 The Report and the Consultation fail to anticipate the serious practical problems that would arise from the recommendations, including staffing shortfalls for the additional work imposed, lack of training to do that work, and enormous financial cost. The administrative and cost burdens would, perversely, make it difficult or impossible for LAs to provide meaningful support or benefit to home educating families.
7.2 The Report stresses the importance of trusting relationships between LAs and home educating families (5.5) Yet the recommendations, repeated consultations, insistence upon home visits and questioning children apart from their parents, virtually assures that relationships will be far less trusting, and perhaps irreparably damaged, if these recommendations are adopted -- particularly in consideration of the fundamental flaws that underlie the Report.