Memorandum submitted by Mark Dennison

 

The following summarised points are made in this submission to the Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families on:

 

The Badman Review suggests legislation which gives local authorities disproportionate and unnecessary powers, given the lack of evidence that such powers are needed.

Of particular concern is the right of entry to homes and private interview with children, and the open-ended grounds for denying home education.

The powers suggested could easily be abused in situations where there is a legitimate difference of opinion between local authorities and parents.

The proposals would result in a diversion of local authority resources away from specific families where their input is needed, in order to police many innocent families.

There is also a real danger that any compulsory curricula would become more and more prescriptive over time, and negate many valid advantages of home education.

 

 

1. I am a home-schooling father with three young children. My wife cares for and teaches our children on a daily basis, while I am at work. We are committed Christians, and choose to teach our children at home as we feel that this offers us the best opportunity of raising them to have a happy, fulfilled and useful life. It is our aim to fully deliver the five outcomes of the 'Every Child Matters' program.

 

2. When we started home-schooling about 5 years ago, we voluntarily registered with our local authority. We have always enjoyed an excellent relationship with our home school inspectors, and have received very good reports. However, the content of the recent Review of Elective Home Education by Graham Badman is of great concern to us.

 

3. Mr Badman states (section 1.5, page 3) that he recognises that it is "Parents not Government that bring up children" and claims that there is nothing in his report which sets out to contradict this. I do not believe that this is the case. Without there being evidence for any systematic problem with the outcome for the children involved in home education, the Government still seems to be uncomfortable at the thought of not being fully in control. Even if the intentions of this report are innocent, it is unwise to provide the Government with unnecessary powers which could be used against parents simply on the basis of a legitimate disagreement.

 

4. The form of registration that is proposed by the Badman Review might be better described as an annual licence to home educate! If the main concern is to be aware of those children who are being home educated, the existing ContactPoint program will provide this (as acknowledged in the Review in section 6.2, page
22).  The review claims that further registration as suggested will 'complete the picture' and 'offer further evidence of their wellbeing and educational progress'.  In practice, the suggested scheme for registration could allow any hostile local authority personnel to deny home education where they are in disagreement with the parents.  I find the suggested Recommendation 23 on page 32 particularly disturbing, as the possible reasons to be considered unsuitable for home education
include the catch-all 'anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education'. 

 

5. Where there is a conflict in ideas between parents and local authority personnel over issues of educational priority or content, it should be the parents who are free to decide in the best interests of their children. The same is true over many moral issues, and even those relating to parental style. There is a very real danger that local authority personnel with different opinions to the parents, will be able to use the proposed powers to interfere with the valid choices of parents. There are a significant number of local authorities where the internal culture is strongly opposed to home education, and perhaps Christian home education in particular, and in these cases it would be particularly damaging to introduce these new powers. As Christians, we are concerned that even our Christian beliefs and attitudes could lead to condemnation in the eyes of some, despite the difference of opinion being a valid one. The law should be careful to define the boundaries of local authority personnel and not grant blanket authority in the hope it will not be misapplied.

 

6. In order to ensure that an education is 'suitable and efficient', Mr Badman proposes on page 18 that local authority officers should have the right of entry to the home, and the right to compulsory interview of children without parents present. It is also intended that this would satisfy the officers that the child is safe and well. However, I believe that existing systems are adequate to deal with these issues and any increase in powers to achieve these goals should be proportionate and in accordance with evidence of the need. In the absence of compelling evidence, the measures are entirely disproportionate. Normally such powers are reserved for specific situations where there is reasonable suspicion that there is a danger of abuse. As a result of the report, the Government proposes to apply these measures to every home schooling family - creating a culture of 'presumed guilty until proven innocent'. The amount of resource that would be required to unnecessarily police thousands of innocent families can only result in diversion of resources from where they are actually needed.

 

7. In the area of curriculum, there is also a danger of being overly prescriptive.  We have chosen to be structured and disciplined in our approach: we invest in excellent resources and the local authority inspectors have always been pleased with the results.  However, it would be going too far to impose a curriculum, which on general past experience would become more and more prescriptive over time. Many legitimate advantages of home education would be lost if a compulsory curriculum was allowed to dominate.

 

8. In summary: whilst we recognise that local authorities have responsibilities to intervene where no education is being provided or where there is reason to suspect abuse is taking place, there is no excuse for introducing excessive measures which are not justified by the evidence. Mr Badman sometimes begins a section by stating that he respects the choices of parents, but then goes on to propose legislation which gives the Government the opportunity to remove these choices. A development such as this should be of concern to all British citizens who value our liberty, not only those in the elective home education community.

 

August 2009