Memorandum submitted by Berkshire Home Education Group

 

Inquiry into the DCSF-commissioned review of elective home education

 

As the Berkshire Home Education Group we urgently ask you to object to the recommendations made by Mr. Graham Badman in his Review of Elective Home Education and to those made in the government's subsequent consultation.

 

We ask you to do so because Mr. Badman's Review presents no ground to support any of the proposed changes in the status quo. Mr. Badman

 

1. Bases his recommendations on the assumption that home education might be a cover up for child abuse and/or forced marriages. However, nowhere in his report does he support this assumption with hard facts and the 'evidence' he does present appears to be faulty or untrue.

2. Has carried out his investigation in a scientifically and methodologically unsound way.

3. Fails to give an accurate description of the current law governing home education in England.

4. Inaccurately states that local officials are limited to informal methods of seeking remediation, although a comprehensive system of checks and balances is already in place.

5. Inaccurately claims that English home educators are presently governed by the most liberal laws among peer nations.

6. Proposes a method of compulsory assessments of home educated children that violates the Human Rights Act of 1998 and Article 8 of the ECHR.

7. Proposes a method of home visits as a means of evaluation of the suitability of home education which fails the four standards for proper assessment: validity, reliability, impact, and practicability.

 

Ad 1)

Mr. Badman laces his Review with thoughts, opinions and suspicions instead of objective, measurable data. When he does present 'evidence' for the possibility of abuse, it appears to be misleading, faulty or untrue. The fact that Mr. Badman has suddenly felt the urge to ask local authorities around the country for more information, underlines the poor quality of his investigation.

 

Ad 2)

In terms of methodology, we have several complaints.

The questionnaire used was suggestive, subjective and unbalanced.

The experts consulted during the review, portrayed no expertise regarding the issue of home education. Their input is therefore questionable.

Consulted home educators received a rather limited questionnaire with very different questions from the 'experts'. The conclusions Mr. Badman made, based on the different questionnaires, are consequently invalid, biased and unbalanced.

 

Ad 3)

Both the objectivity and the professionalism of the Review are called into question by its failure to fully describe the complete operation of current law.
Section 7 of the Education Act of 1996 provides the legal framework for home education in England.
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-
(a) to his age, ability, aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."
Badman claims that the terms "efficient" and "suitable" are not defined. This is true with regard to the statutory language. However, English courts are quite capable of interpreting and applying these terms with common sense.

 

Ad 4)

Section 437 (1) of the Education act imposes a duty on "a local education authority" to give notice to any parent "if it appears that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education."
Officials may issue a notice to parents requiring them, within 15 days, to demonstrate that the education their child is receiving is in fact suitable. If the school officials are not satisfied with the response, they have the ability to issue an attendance order, forcing the child to attend a school designated by the officials. The parents may ask for a lawful alternative school placement. However, there is no lawful option to simply continue a program of home education that had been found to be wanting.

The law permits parents two paths to seek review of the attendance order:

Administrative review. Under Section 442, a parent may request the local authority to remove the attendance order on the grounds that suitable education is being provided. If the local authority refuses to remove the order, the parent may appeal to the Secretary of State who is given wide discretion in fashioning a course of action for the child in question.


Judicial option
. A parent may refuse to comply with the attendance order. This is an offense which may be prosecuted under Section 443. Parents may raise an affirmative defence in such a prosecution. A parent will be exonerated if "he proves that he is causing the child to receive suitable education otherwise than at school." Upon such a judicial determination, the attendance order would be vacated.

Thus, effective means are clearly available to pursue home educating parents who fail to provide a proper education for their children.

Ad 5)

Mr. Badman writes: "International comparison suggests that of all countries with highly developed education systems, England is the most liberal in its approach to elective home education." He then mentions Germany, "most European countries" (without elaboration), and New Zealand.
The omission of the United States is curious when it comes to the subject of home education. There is little doubt that more children are being homeschooled in the United States than in the rest of the world combined. By comparison, the Badman Report discloses that there are between 20,000 and 80,000 children being homeschooled in England. The United States Department of Education estimates that there were between 1,277,000 and 1,739,000 being home educated in 2007. Independent researchers place the number even higher.

 

Just as in England, the United States cannot provide a precise count of the number of children being home educated. If the implication that the inability to enumerate home educated children was an indication of educational failure, it should have become apparent by now in the United States. The numbers are simply too great for the problem to be hidden.
The Education Act of 1996 is similar to some of the older American home education laws. Some states are more lenient than the English system, and some have more specific requirements. None differ greatly from the general approach of English law that parents should be trusted and authorities are empowered to intervene in the extraordinary case.

Therefore it is inaccurate to suggest that England is the most liberal in its approach to home education regulation.

Ad 6)

Badman's key recommendation is that local authorities should be given the power to:

Compel entry into the homes of families engaged in home education.

Separate the child from his or her parents.

Interrogate the child both concerning his or her wishes and to satisfy the interrogator that the child's education is "suitable."

This approach flies in the face of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Article, protecting the privacy of both family life and the home, has been made binding on the United Kingdom by virtue of the Human Rights Act of 1998. No reservations to this Article were made at the time that the United Kingdom became a party to this treaty. According to the Human Rights Act, it is unlawful for any agency of government to violate these protected rights of privacy.

 

Ad 7)

There is serious doubt that local authority representatives would be qualified to evaluate the effectiveness of a home education program. There are significant differences in the methods and strategies of successful home education and those employed in institutional schools.

Besides, any form of assessment (including testing and measurement) is generally required to meet four professional standards for accuracy and reliability.

A clear statement of these standards is found in a publication by the British Council describing certain examinations for English proficiency:
Examinations must be designed around four essential qualities: validity, reliability, impact, and practicality.

Validity is the extent to which a test can be shown to produce scores which are an accurate reflection of the subject tested. Evaluators who have neither professional expertise nor in-depth study of home education are unqualified to make valid assessments, for example.

Reliability concerns the extent to which assessors can be depended upon for making decisions about the candidate. Subjective assessments of children cannot produce results that have any semblance of national consistency, accuracy, or fairness.

Impact concerns the effects, beneficial or otherwise, which an examination has on the candidates or other users, whether these are educational, social, economic or political, or various combinations of these.

The impact on the child must be considered. When a strange adult appears in the home with the announced purpose of questioning the child separately and apart from his or her parents, a considerable degree of anxiety can be anticipated, especially if the child's future depends on the stranger's views of his answers.

Moreover, the long-range impact on the child's view of a free society is severely damaged. This is a high-stakes venture with almost no chance of producing results that would survive the other measures of assessment for validity and reliability.

Practicability can be defined as the extent to which an examination is practicable in terms of the resources needed to produce and administer it." For one, the costs for implementing the Badman method of home interrogations would be staggering.

Mr. Badman's recommendations for a method of assessment fail all four of the criteria outlined by the British Council.


In short

Mr. Badman's Review into Elective Home Education provides no acceptable basis for change, nor is there ground for widespread alarm concerning the well-being of home educated children. Both Mr. Badman's and the government's recommendations are premature and disproportionate.

We, hope that the Committee will reject the Review, its recommendations and the government's consultation on the basis of the above.

 

September 2009