Memorandum submitted by a Home Educating Parent
1. With reference to the review into elective
home education in
· Institutional misunderstanding and prejudice
· Conduct of the review
· The recommendations concerning child protection
· The recommendations concerning education
· Why there has to be a range of alternatives to school
· Conflation of different issues
· Summary of the review
Institutional Misunderstanding and Prejudice
2. In the past home educators have quite often encountered misunderstanding and prejudice
from local authority personnel, some of whom seem to have been ignorant of the existing law. Not surprisingly, some home educators are sensitive to local authority personnel overstepping the mark.
It was with some relief then that the Guidelines for Local Authorities on Elective Home Education were published at the end of 2007 (a mere 20 months ago). Finally it would be possible for local authority staff to work to agreed guidelines and to be seen to be doing a good job. Finally it would be possible for local authorities and their staff to build good relationships with home educating families and their community. That was the hope anyway. At the time, the DCSF said:
"These guidelines represent our view on the best approach to balancing the rights of parents and the obligations of local authorities. They offer advice to parents, and advice to support
local authorities in carrying out their statutory responsibilities."
3. The ministerial foreword to the 2007 Guidelines which was signed by Jim Knight (then Minister of State for Schools and Learners) and Andrew Adonis (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools) reads as follows:
"Education is a fundamental right for every child and we recognise that parents have the
right to choose to educate their child at home rather than school. These guidelines have
been prepared to help local authorities manage their relationships with home educating parents.
Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive a suitable education. Where parents have chosen to home educate, we want the home educated child to have a positive experience. We believe this is best achieved where parents and local authorities recognise each others rights and responsibilities, and work together. These guidelines aim to clarify the balance between the right of the parent to educate their child at home and the responsibilities of the local authority."
4. But even here experienced ministers appear to misunderstand the law. To talk of parents having
the "right to choose to educate their child at home rather than school" is misguided and wrong; parents have a duty under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to secure the education of their children, it is a
duty as opposed to a right and is a duty that can be fulfilled in many ways. As a parent I am not wilfully exercising rights (perhaps regarded by some as being on a whim and not with serious intent, as I am not sending my children to school the same as everyone else), I am, in fact, conscientiously fulfilling a duty placed upon me by law to the best of my ability. Furthermore, I am actually offended by the lack
of discipline exercised in the former interpretation - the law is sufficient "as is" and in this respect there is no need in any way to claim educational "rights". It is a nugatory exercise and to talk of such is total nonsense. Whenever I have been visited by local authority personnel in the past it has never been to see whether I have been exercising rights, it has always been to see whether I am fulfilling my Section 7 duty. Neither do parents of schoolchildren talk of exercising their rights with regard to sending their children to school.
5. The whole of the review has been based upon this misunderstanding around supposed "rights", and the review's theoretical basis is therefore unsound.
Conduct of the Review
6. It was therefore with great astonishment and disappointment that I and other home-educating parents learned on 19 January this year that the Government had commissioned a review into home education on the basis of unsupported "concerns". However, it has to be said that many things that have happened since 19 January, have themselves been cause for "concern". Not least of which,
there was no-one on the "Expert Reference Group" who might be considered to have expertise in home education; i.e. none of the respected academics and authors in this field such as Professor Roland Meighan, Alan Thomas, or Paula Rothermel were included.
7. The review was precipitated by vocal concerns about child protection issues, which turned out
to be unfounded. During the review home-educating parents submitted freedom of information requests to local authorities to determine child abuse statistics for home education which they could compare with national figures. The results, according to local authority FOI figures, revealed that the rate of abuse within the home education community is less than half the rate nationally. Just why
the government and the DCSF could not have done this simple research themselves before they
went to the national press and set the review in motion would be very interesting to know.
The Recommendations concerning Child Protection
8. One might have thought the review would be evidence-based and that, having presented little or
no evidence for child abuse, the report would make appropriate recommendations. Unfortunately, this is not so.
9. Recommendation 7 is a proposal to grant local authority officers the right of access to the home
and the right to speak to each child alone if deemed appropriate in order to satisfy themselves that
the child is safe and well. There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin.
It presupposes that home educated children are hidden; it starts from the premise that home educators should be suspected of child abuse and so recommends laws to treat us as child abusers; it requires no evidence of wrongdoing; it presupposes that a child would confide something very important to a stranger; it is a breach of civil liberties and probably of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights; it is not good child protection practice to interview children alone; and it may actually put our children at risk from any local authority staff who come to children's work for the wrong reasons.
10. Recommendation 7, if enacted in law, would set a dangerous precedent. It would mean that
there is not one law for everyone as regards child protection and all manner of anomalies would arise. Logically, it would be difficult to argue against the same provisions being brought in for other sections
of society; namely, young children below compulsory education age, children outside of school hours and on school holidays, and children excluded from school. It would not stop with home educators.
In very short order it would include all families and thus all children. It would mean that all parents would be constantly under suspicion with all the consequences that that would entail for society.
The Recommendations concerning Education
11. One might have thought the review would be evidence-based and that, having presented little or no evidence for home-educated children growing up to be a problem to society or of being hampered educationally later in life, the report would make appropriate recommendations. Unfortunately, this is not so.
12. Recommendations 1, 6, 7, 15, 18, 23, and 24 together constitute a registration scheme with
the following characteristics: annual registration which allows the local authority to refuse or revoke registration on safeguarding grounds; the trawling of other agencies for information about the family (including a catch-all clause that refers to anything else which may affect their parents' or carers'
ability to provide a suitable and efficient education and which will, no doubt, be misused); the development of a plan within the first eight weeks; compulsory home visits and the right to speak
to each child alone (as explained above); the clear expectation of planned outcomes; regular monitoring and testing in order to judge efficiency and suitability; guidance on registration and on planning, as well as support from a range of advisers and organisations (including schools), but also
to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education if children have educational or behavioural issues in school; and possible commissioning of the "monitoring and support" of home education through the Children's Trust Board. In addition, recommendation 2 adds
a fixed curriculum to the above.
13. Recommendations 1, 6, 7, 15, 18, 23, and 24, if enacted in law, would set a dangerous precedent.
At present, as explained above, it is the duty of the parent under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to secure the education of their children, it is a duty as opposed to a right, and is a duty that can be
fulfilled in many ways. At present there is no monopoly, many forms of education are recognised as equally valid, and it is possible and may indeed be highly desirable for parents to exercise choice.
If one form of education does not suit a particular child (and the child is struggling to learn or progress) the parents are correctly fulfilling their Section 7 duty if they choose to follow another which suits their child better (and arguably they may be in breach of their Section 7 duty if they don't do this). If, on the other hand and as proposed by the recommendations above, the state takes it upon itself to dictate the aims, form, content, progress and/or quality of home education it will be restricting choice and creating a near monopoly in which certain forms of education and learning are permitted and others are effectively outlawed. The registration scheme as proposed (and everything associated with it) is a clear, direct and continuing threat to educational freedom and educational diversity. Having once started to interfere, it will be almost impossible for the state to backtrack from this position and families will lose their current educational freedoms.
14. There are families and children who would undoubtedly suffer as a direct consequence of
the review and the restricted choice inherent in its recommendations. The Government need to be adequately forewarned that they will themselves be causing difficulties, and maybe even harm, to some families and children and not (as the DCSF insist) helping them.
Why there has to be a Range of Alternatives to School
15. The reason why there has to be a range of alternatives is that not all children are the same, not
all families are the same, and individual circumstances are not the same for all. Nor do all children learn the same way. Consequently, those for whom school is not a success and is not working well need an alternative. Additionally, those families for whom school is not what they want for their
children or who are deeply sceptical about its benefits also need an alternative. You cannot simply
say to parents: you have no choice. This is not an option in a free, civilised and compassionate society.
16. It is no secret that there are certain groups in particular who need the alternative (and sometimes the safe haven and sanctuary) of home education for their children and this is a vitally important area the review has neglected. These groups include, but are not exclusive to, the following:
· Children who have been bullied in school.
· Children who have special educational needs or behavioural difficulties.
· Children who are, or are in danger of becoming, school phobic.
· Children who are threatening self-harm or suicide because of school.
· Children whose parents have philosophical or religious reasons for wanting to home educate.
· Children who are not thriving in school.
· Children for whom there is reason to believe home education may be more beneficial.
17. Alternatives to the school model of education have always existed and these alternatives and
their philosophies are recognised and well-documented in academic circles, both nationally and inter-nationally.
Conflation of Different Issues
18. A disturbing aspect of the review has been the way in which child protection and welfare issues have not been kept clearly separate from educational ones. It was evident in the way in which the review was announced on 19 January; in the letter from Mr Badman to the local authorities on the same day; in the review questionnaire to local authorities; and in the recommendations of the review.
19. It appears to be the "Every Child Matters" agenda that is driving the conflation of these issues.
The ECM outcomes include both educational and welfare items, which in turn means that it will soon become harder to discriminate between educational and welfare issues, with the obvious danger that
a perceived failure to provide a suitable education could be construed as, or escalated into, a welfare issue when not really so.
20. This whole situation might be slightly less serious if Mr Badman didn't express himself in terms
of "ensuring that all children are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes". He does
this in his letter to local authorities dated 19 January and in both review questionnaires. Moreover, recommendation 2 of the report proposes that the current statutory definition of what constitutes a "suitable" and "efficient" education be reviewed and that this review should take account of the
five ECM outcomes. The problems inherent in this approach to ECM are very well explained in the submission to the review by the Family Education Trust (the submission is enclosed) which is well worth reading in its entirety and includes the following:
"Our understanding of the Every Child Matters outcomes is that they are intended to help
local authorities establish priorities in terms of policy development, and not to be used as targets for individual children. We are concerned that to apply the outcomes to individual
home educated children in a way they are not applied to children in school is to misuse them."
"In his letter to Directors of Children's Services and Lead Members for Children and Young People, Mr Badman appears to be labouring under the misapprehension that local authorities are responsible for 'ensuring that all children are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes'. However, as we observe in our response above, while local authorities are responsible for 'safeguarding and promoting' the welfare of children, they have no duty to 'ensure' it and, even if they did, it would be completely outside their power to do so.
The local authority personnel who 'feel that they are not able to ensure that all home educated children are able to [achieve the five ECM outcomes]' are therefore demonstrating a failure to understand the law and the limitations of their role. This suggests that the entire review may rest on a false premise."
21. I agree with the Family Education Trust completely. If in the ECM literature "promote" becomes "ensure" (or if it is interpreted as such by local authorities), the ECM agenda becomes a serious erosion of parental responsibility. If this happens, it becomes a matter of immediate and vital concern,
not just to home educators and potential home educators, but to all parents. For it would then be the
state arbitrarily dictating outcomes for all children - pushing out of the way any goals or ambitions
the parents themselves may have for their children or individual children may have for themselves. I believe that for this to become in any way the norm in society would be catastrophically wrong.
22. Amongst other things, Mr Badman was asked by the Secretary of State "to investigate if and how
far children who are educated at home are able to achieve the five outcomes" and in the Terms of Reference to "investigate the barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children and advise on improvements to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children". The first part of this seems not to have been investigated as there is no research detailed in the report. The second part, as the Family education Trust have suggested in the quote above, may rest on a false premise.
Summary of the Review
23. In summary, the review:
· Was precipitated by vocal concerns about child protection issues, which turned out to be
· Was also precipitated with the aim of investigating ECM outcomes for home educated children, which it seems not to have done.
· In its Terms of Reference, appears not to understand that the law and the limitations of local authorities' role in regards to ECM.
· Is based upon a misunderstanding around supposed "rights", and its theoretical basis is therefore unsound.
· Did not include respected academics and authors with a knowledge of home education on
its "Expert Reference Group".
· Neglects the interests of children who, for a wide variety of reasons, need an alternative to school and school methods.
· If enacted, completely overturns recently published guidance from Government to local authorities.
· Conflates child protection and child welfare issues with educational issues.
· Proposes to grant local authority officers the right of access to the home and the right to
speak to the child alone. This is a dangerous precedent and a civil liberties issue.
· Proposes a registration scheme which will restrict choice and deny educational alternatives to many children who desperately need them. This is a dangerous precedent that will prevent some parents fulfilling their Section 7 duty and will undermine parental responsibility.
That the review can be summarised in such negative terms is extraordinary and shocking. It should not be used as the basis for legislative change.