Memorandum submitted by Stop the UK Government Stigmatising Home Educators Facebook Group

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


We reject the Badman report and its recommendations in their entirety

 

The statistical basis of the report remains opaque, evidently to ministers and Badman himself as well as to the public.

 

Mr Badman's request to LAs for supplementary data (September 2009) is methodologically flawed.

 

The opinions of large institutional stakeholders with vested interests have been given undue weight in the report's creation.

 

Case Study: constitutional and legal implications of Badman's recommendation 2

 

 

This submission has been drafted collaboratively by representatives of the 'Stop the UK Government Stigmatising Home Educators' Facebook Group, a group created in direct response to the Badman process, which currently has over 2000 members.

 

 

1. Introduction

 

When writing to Local Authorities with a request for supplementary evidence of Home Education safeguarding and education quality concerns, Graham Badman stated that 'most of my recommendations have not been challenged, reflecting the strong evidence base'.[1] We wish to state categorically that we challenge every Badman recommendation: the statistical basis for his conclusions is seriously flawed, as is the weight given to the opinions of large stakeholders with vested interests and little or no expertise in home education. The recommendations proposing increased levels of support and resources for home educators cannot be widely supported by the HE community we represent since they remain the 'carrot' to the licensing and monitoring 'stick'.

 

Below, we summarise our objections to Recommendation 2 as a representative illustration of our concerns about the whole report; we are willing to give oral evidence to the committee concerning the rest of the recommendations.

 

 

2. The statistical basis of the report

2.1 Baroness Morgan launched the review on the basis that 'concerns had been suggested that Home Education could be used as a cover for abuse'.[2] Although the review did not find any evidence of this, recommendations were made on the basis that a disproportionate number of home educators are known to some LA Social Services departments (paragraph 8.12).

2.2 At a press conference, Badman extrapolated from his data the claim that 'home educated children [are] twice as likely to be known to social services', allowing 'known to social services' to become conflated with 'at risk of abuse' in the minds of some of the journalists present. He did not inform the journalists that this allegation was based on data from only 8-16% of LAs and was vulnerable to self-selection bias. The 'twice as likely' figure made the headlines, naturally without the caveats.[3]

 

2.3 AHEd[4] volunteers have subsequently obtained the relevant data directly from 129 LAs (23 refusing to answer). It shows that home educated children are proportionally less likely to be at risk of abuse than the general population.[5] After AHEd made this data available online, Dawn Primarolo wrote to some home educating families who had expressed concern to the DCSF over Badman's 'twice-as-likely' claim. In her letter she enclosed a copy of a DCSF working paper analysing the data from Badman's self-selecting 25 LAs plus some details of the 4 Serious Case Reviews which had previously been referred to as 'high profile cases' (which proved to be children already known to be at risk and who were failed by child protection services). This working paper 'was a background analysis of information provided by local authorities. The conclusions of the Review did not depend on this evidence, and it was therefore not published as part of the Review.' [6]

The DCSF working paper makes a further caveat that the data and analysis upon which Badman's 'twice as likely' claim was based, had '... undergone limited quality assurance and does not meet DCSF standards for publication of statistical data'. [7] However, on the same day as the letters from Primarolo were received (9 September 2009), Mr Balls was engaged in a live 'web chat' on www.mumsnet.com, repeating that the proposed changes were necessary because: 'There have been high profile cases of 'home educated' children who have been very badly neglected. Graham makes clear that this is a small minority, though disproportionately larger among home educated children.'[8] On the contrary, Badman proved that in some LAs a disproportionate number of EHE children are known to social services. Even the Minister, whether deliberately or mistakenly, persists in conflating 'known to social services' with 'at risk of neglect or abuse'.

 

 

2.4 Graham Badman has now appealed to LAs for more evidence "to strengthen [his] statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust." [9] One might inquire why data which is considered by the report's author to be neither extensive nor robust enough for scrutiny by the CSF Select Committee was used as the basis not only for a press briefing but, presumably, for aspects of the report itself.

.

 

3. Methodological Flaws in Mr Badman's request for Supplementary Data

 

3.1 There are significant problems with the data Badman is now asking LAs to capture for him.[10] Any data he obtains from voluntary responses will contain a self selection bias and the data recorded cannot be viewed, statistically speaking, as being representative of the picture across all LAs. Some questions continue to invite LAs to misunderstand their duties - for example, it is irrelevant how many children a LA staffer considers to be receiving an 'unsuitable' or 'part-time' education; what is relevant is how many school attendance orders have been issued in the LA, since judgement that a child is not receiving a suitable education remains the responsibility of the courts. The category "Number not cooperating with monitoring so no assessment can be made" depends on each LA HE department's view as to what constitutes non-cooperation. Under current legislation, families do not have to accept visits from LA staffers. However, some LAs acting ultra vires may view this as 'non-co-operation' and record it as such.[11] Badman's data set will thus include children about whose educational provision the LA holds a subjective opinion. It will also include children whose education has yet to be assessed in the section 'Total number of EHE children not known to be receiving a 'suitable' education', together with those about whom there are educational concerns. These data categories are manifestly open to subjective categorisation bias at a local level and Badman's ad hoc questionnaire, to be completed in record time, will result in data which illustrates most clearly the wide variations in LA attitudes towards HE and differences in reporting conventions.

 

 

4. Issues in the Treatment of Review Submissions from Individuals & Big Stakeholder Organisations

 

4.1 In August 2009, the DCSF released a summary of the response rates to the public consultation questionnaire. 12% of respondents represented 'other organisations', including LAs (only some of whom were directly working with Home Educators) and those working with children in some other capacity (including 3rd Sector). It is Home Educating families who will ultimately be the 'clients' of the system envisaged by Badman, and who have expertise in the theory, practice and law of home education. One might have expected considerable weight to be given to their views in shaping the system. However, Badman quoted from only two of the 1418 responses by home educating parents. Badman was dismissive of responses from HE families in general, bewailing the lack of a distinct, representative voice. No doubt this made it difficult to synthesise the views of HE families. However, since such a synthesis was crucial to achieving a fair and balanced review of the situation, it should have been undertaken.

 

4.2 If, as Ms Primarolo has suggested, we remove the 'compelling evidence' of the 'collected data and SCR' from the equation, the rationale for the licensing ('registration') and monitoring proposals rests largely on the opinions of the 60% of LAs who responded to the questionnaires (only 8-16% for the in depth questionnaire), plus large organisational stakeholders at least one of which, the Church of England, is actively involved in providing school based education. None of the large stakeholders have expertise in the theory and practice of elective home education. Their vested interested and institutional prejudices were not acknowledged by Badman. Most large institutions, whether state run or 'third sector', are naturally in favour of institutional interventions. It is also important to consider the mind set of those who work in Childrens' Services departments. Social workers are immersed, in their working lives, in the misery of dysfunctional and unhealthy families. Their view of family life is significantly biased towards intervention.

4.3 The large stakeholders quoted in the review are mistaken about:

a) the nature of home education: some stakeholders saw home educated children as being hidden, denied contact with anyone outside their immediate families[12] and

b) the nature of school based education: Badman quotes submissions which characterise schools variously as 'safety nets'[13] ('safety nets' so safe that there is a need to install CCTV on the premises and employ bouncers?), as environments uniquely enabling children to mix with children from other faiths, different cultures, and different socio-economic backgrounds (a nave view given the system of school catchment areas, and the entry requirements of faith schools), and as being the only place one can learn about different religions.[14]

 

 

4.4 Some of these large stakeholders are unwilling to disclose their submissions to the public, although they were drawn on for the review (and appear to have been instrumental in Badman coming to the conclusion that the current system is unworkable). For example, the NASWE (National Association for Social Workers in Education, whose submission was not quoted, but alluded to in the review [p.29]) have refused to disclose their submission. The NASWE representative indicated that, although they would be willing to discuss the submission face to face, the location of the meeting would be stipulated by the NASWE and the individual concerned would not be allowed to make any recording of what was said at the meeting.[15] The opinions on which Badman based his report are thus withheld from those who will be directly affected by it.

 

 

5. Constitutional and legal implications of Badman's Recommendation 2

5.1 Badman's Recommendation 2 rejects the long standing tradition that parents are responsible for ensuring their children receive a suitable education, proposing instead that the State should mandate a 'sufficiently broad and balanced and relevant' curriculum. He suggests that the State define 'a "suitable" and "efficient" education in the light of the Rose review of the primary curriculum, and other changes to curriculum assessment and definition throughout statutory school age. Such a review should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act'.

5.2 Many home educators reject the idea of curriculum-based learning entirely. Many others reject the idea of a curriculum sanctioned by the State - escaping the National Curriculum and its ideology is a large (and legitimate) part of our choice to home educate. Badman's recommendation 2 threatens to remove parental choice about educational approach and philosophy from all except those wealthy enough to afford private schools.

 

5.3 Badman misunderstands the ECM agenda - it is intended as a mechanism for providers of State provision to measure that provision, not as a mechanism for measuring the attainments of individual children, nor the interactions between family members. Home Education is completely outside the remit of the state-school based Rose review.

5.4 Who will determine the 'breadth, balance and relevance' of an education? Different content, pacing, philosophies, and styles will be relevant, balanced and suitably broad for different children at different times. Indeed, an LA staffer's 'breadth and balance' might be our children's 'unfocused and diffuse'; their 'relevance' might be irrelevant to a particular child's ability, aptitude and special needs. Fashions in school education are short lived, and we run the danger here of home educators being constrained by laws which reflect the current fads of school educators and others with vested interests (the interventionist technology-based ideals of BECTA spring, not altogether surprisingly given the thrust of Badman's Recommendation 12, to mind). This is a question of philosophy more than methodology, although we are uncomfortable with LA staffers invested in, for example, the current 'synthetic phonics' fad having power of veto over those of us educating children for whom synthetic phonics are an obstacle rather than an aid. Even within UK schools, the State philosophy of the National Curriculum is rejected by those following Montessori and Steiner approaches, not to mention many independent schools, both traditional and 'alternative' (such as Summerhill).

 

5.5 The case law tradition in this area is strong. LA staffers may not like it that their ideal of a 'suitable' education is shared neither by home educators nor the courts, but this is because their understanding of 'education' is too school-based and narrow-minded. School-based education is so varied and experimental that there can be no agreed model of what constitutes a 'suitable' education within schools - certainly not that it should be 'broad, balanced and relevant' - , much less an agreed model for home education, in which one finds: one-on-one instruction as the norm; constancy of primary educator; no top-down restrictions on what, where, how or when something is learned; highly flexible hours and schedules; access to wider community at all times, etc. These add up to a form of education so flexible as to be unique to each individual child partaking of it even within the same family. It cannot, and should not, be pinned down to a blanket concept that attempts to encompass all UK education provision.

 

5.6 All education systems are imperfect. The idea that the perfect curriculum, or the perfect type of curriculum, can be defined by State employees and then imposed on home educators, is naive and potentially very damaging. The courts do not define narrowly what a suitable education is because such a thing cannot satisfactorily be narrowly defined. Replacing 'suitable' with 'broad, balanced and relevant' simply replaces the existing terminology (with a tradition of interpretation within the courts) with new, untested and ideologically narrow terminology. Further, if the state defines a minimum standard of education with which all children are to be provided, it opens itself up to the potential of numerous and expensive law suits from parents whose children's schools within the state sector have failed to meet the state's own minimum standards. It invites court action in cases where LAs force parents, against their wishes, to send their child to a school which is failing to provide that child with a suitable education, or forces parents to teach in their home in a manner incompatible with the age, aptitude and ability of the child. In such cases, the LA employees will be guilty of forcing parents to fail in their section 7 duty and are thus vulnerable to prosecution. These were crucial considerations in the decision of the province of Ontario not to define "satisfactory instruction" (The Ontario Education Act, section 21(2)a requires that children of mandatory school age receive "satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere")

 

5.7 Any change to the law defining the education which must be provided to all children affects not only home educators but also children educated in private schools and state schools. Neither of those sectors has been consulted in any way.

 

6. Conclusion

 

The Badman recommendations have been put forward in no small part in response to the concerns of a minority of LAs who find, for whatever reasons, the current legislation and guidelines uncongenial. The recommendations also rely on the opinions of large stakeholders, with vested interests and institutional cognitive bias for large institutional interventions. The 'twice as likely' safeguarding issue has been handled shamefully, both in terms of the research methodology and in the way it has been communicated to the public. The DCSF now seems uncertain whether the recommendations are based on the 'safeguarding evidence' or not. By calling for supplementary data, Badman acknowledges his current evidence base to be flawed, but the new call fails to address the methodological problems present in the collection and manipulation of the first set of data.

 

In the review, Badman cited exemplary LAs which he felt were working within current legislation and guidelines to provide adequate support to home educated children and their families. In doing this he showed that the current legislation and guidelines are by no means unworkable, as he subsequently concluded. He noted a wide variation both in the 'problems' with Home Education reported, and the quality of the support for Home Education provided by different LAs. Despite noting these wide variations, he did not choose to investigate the reasons why these variations exist, although that could have led to better understanding of the dynamics of the relationship between LAs and Home Educators. This could, in turn, have led to the development of best practice under existing law and guidelines, from which some LA's, currently acting ultra vires, would derive considerable benefit.

 

Both evidence and experience show that forced registration and monitoring of home-educating families is a waste of taxpayers' money. Some jurisdictions that had established monitoring procedures for home-educators are now rethinking these policies in light of their costs and lack of benefits. Chief Review Officer Graham Stoop of the New Zealand Ministry of Education wrote in February 2009 that reviews of home educators are not efficient or effective. New Zealand will be eliminating these mandatory regular reviews this year.[16]

 

Badman's Review is so flawed methodologically that it cannot constitute a proper basis for legislation. If Badman's recommendations are enacted in law, the resulting damage to home educating families, not to mention the massive constitutional implications for the relationship between the State and the family, is in significant disproportion to the benefits envisaged even by Badman's most ardent supporters.

 

September 2009



[1] Letter sent to LAs by Graham Badman on 17/09/09: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/ last accessed 20/09/09

[2]DCSF press release http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0013

press converage Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1123182/Home-schooling-cover-child-abuse-sexual-exploitation.html and The Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article5549380.ece all last accessed 20/09/09

[3]Three complaints (reference 092880, 092908 and 097822) have been submitted to the Press Complaints Commission about Press Coverage of the Review, see report in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/11/home-education-parents-face-tighter-regulation

The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/children-educated-at-home-more-at-risk-of-abuse-1703220.html

The Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6480288.ece

[4]http://www.ahed.org.uk/

[5] http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2

 

[6]Letter to Master Peter Williams; copy available here http://www.facebook.com/board.php?uid=45453211491#/topic.php?uid=45453211491&topic=11564

[7]Quoted from Working Paper from DCSF based on the raw data which Badman received from LAs in the course of conducting his original review. Can be viewed here http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/badman_review_of_home_education#incoming-41308

[8]Mumsnet archive chat (http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_live_events/820977?reverse=1)

[9]Letter from Graham Badman sent to LAs dated 17/09/09 http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/

[10] See both Graham Badman's letter to LAs and Supplementary Data Spreadsheet to be found at this link to the DCSF website http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/

 

[12] paragprah 8.6

[13] paragraph 8.9

[14] paragraph 4.8

[15] NASWE info@naswe.org- To Louise Thorn (Contact From Website 11/07/2009 08:19:20)

 

[16] http://hef.org.nz/2009/no-more-ero-reviews/