Memorandum submitted by South West Surrey Home Educators Group

 

Summary

 

The conduct of the review

Timing - asking for an evaluation of "the effectiveness of current arrangements" so soon after new guidelines were published and before the implementation of ContactPoint defies logic.

The terms of reference - ECM outcomes are aspirations for government not requirements for children.

Seeking additional evidence after publication - an indication of predetermined outcomes

 

The report recommendations

General - focusing on only 4 recommendations does not mean the others are alright

Recommendation 1 - Licensing not registration and a total reversal of the legal responsibility for education

Recommendation 2 - Would make autonomous and child led education illegal

Recommendation 7 - A violation of the human rights of children and families

Recommendation 23 - An invitation to personal and establishment prejudice and bigotry

Recommendation 24 - The power to discriminate based on #23

 

Our recommendation

Set aside the report, its conclusions and recommendations

 

Introduction

 

We are members of a regional group of home educating families living in and around South West Surrey.

 

The conduct of the review

 

1.1 With the DCSF Guidelines on EHE published in November 2007, the latest Statutory guidelines on CME in January 2009 and ContactPoint not even operational how could LAs possibly be expected to make an informed assessment of "the effectiveness of current arrangements" at the beginning of this year? Wouldn't a more rational approach have been to allow them at least a few months, if not a couple of years to use the powers and implement the guidance which they had only just been given before asking how well it was working? There was no public outcry, no media demands for home educators to be licensed and controlled. Why the rush?

 

1.2 It is not the duty of government to 'ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated' or any other children. The ECM outcomes were created to guide government in the provision of services. A serious case of 'Mission Creep' has seen these reasonable aspirations morph in documents like the terms of reference for this review into impossible targets which children are required to meet. Nobody can possibly 'ensure' that every child is healthy, with the very best that medical science has to offer there are many diseases and disabilities which cannot be cured. The other outcomes suffer similar problems when they meet the real world, they can NOT be ensured.

 

1.3 Compounding the basic problem with focusing on ECM is that the common sense meanings of each outcome have very little to do with the aims and measurements listed in the ECM framework. For example 4 of the 5 aims under 'Enjoy and Achieve' require school attendance, clearly making them inapplicable to home educated children.

 

1.4 There has been, from the moment this review was launched, a strong and widespread suspicion that the outcome was already decided. Studying the report and investigating the evidence upon which it was meant to have been based has only strengthened this impression. The DCSF now allowing Mr Badman to go looking for more 'evidence' to present to this committee would appear to remove any doubt that the entire exercise was a sham. We have absolutely no confidence that the current Consultation will be any more meaningful.

 

The report recommendations

 

2.1 In the limited time and word count available we will focus only on those recommendations which are the most obviously problematic and which the DCSF are keen to implement with no delay. Contrary to Mr Badman's recent comments this does not mean that we agree with the others, there simply isn't the space here to deal with them all.

 

Recommendation 1

 

2.2.1 [Registration should be renewed annually.] Registration 'renewed annually' with LAs having the power to refuse permission is not registration, it is licensing. This is significant because home educators objecting to 'registration' can easily be branded as paranoid and unreasonable.

 

2.2.2 [Those who are registering for the first time should be visited by the appropriate local authority officer within one month of registration.] A general duty on LAs to make contact within a specified period is not unreasonable, however an obligation to visit is not only problematic from the point of view of the family (see 2.3.1) but places a major resources burden on LAs. An unworkable caseload every September is almost a foregone conclusion.

 

2.2.3 [Local authorities should ensure that all home educated children and young people already known to them are registered on the new scheme within one month of its inception and visited over the following twelve months, following the commencement of any new legislation.] See 2.3.1

 

2.2.4 [Provision should be made to allow registration at a local school, children's centre or other public building as determined by the local authority.] Registration (application for a license) to be made in person. What possible justification is there for this? Unless it is intended to be a humiliating experience or just inconvenient it's hard to see why this has been included.

 

2.2.5 [When parents are thinking of deregistering their child/children from school to home educate, schools should retain such pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days so that should there be a change in circumstances, the child could be readmitted to the school. This period would also allow for the resolution of such difficulties that may have prompted the decision to remove the child from school.] Where the school has failed to deal with problems there may be some benefit in a period of mediation with the LA involved, if the parents wish it, but shouldn't such a service be offered to any parents having problems rather than waiting until they threaten to home educate?

 

2.2.6 [At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.] This recommendation is simply unworkable. It would make child led and autonomous education absolutely impossible. Mr Badman suggests in the body of his report that Autonomous Education should be the subject of research yet this recommendation would effectively eradicate it at a single stroke. Child led learning has no planned outcomes other than that the child will learn whatever they choose to.

 

2.2.7 [Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to

meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.] So does the plan need to be presented at the time of registration or within 8 weeks?

 

2.2.8 [As well as written guidance, support should encompass advice from a range of advisers and organisations, including schools. Schools should regard this support as a part of their commitment to extended schooling.] Not that there should be a statement and plan in the first place, but the imposition of schools into the equation, usually after they have failed the child in question is almost beyond belief.

 

2.2.9 [Where a child is removed from a school roll to be home educated, the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child's achievement to date and expected achievement, within 20 school days of the registration, together with any other school records.] We consider it naive in the extreme to believe that a school which has failed a child to the degree that their parents have chosen to home educate can be relied on to provide an honest and objective assessment of their progress and potential. Isn't there just the slightest chance that such records might be doctored to make the school look better? They are certainly unlikely to admit that the school has an unresolved problem with bullying or that they have failed to meet a SEN statement.

 

2.2.10 [Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually.] Again this is licensing not registration.

 

Recommendation 2

 

2.3 [That the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes 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, should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum that would allow children and young people educated at home to have sufficient information to enable them to expand their talents and make choices about likely careers. The outcome of this review should further inform guidance on registration.] This recommendation along with the requirement for planning and outcomes (see 2.2.6) will make Autonomous Education totally impossible. The review utterly failed to produce any evidence that home educated children do less well academically than schooled children. In fact all research in this area shows the total opposite, probably why Mr Badman dismissed it all out of hand. Our definitions of suitable and efficient work very well. There is not a problem here that requires government intervention.

 

Recommendation 7

 

2.4.1 [That designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home] Mr Badman suggests that a government employee be given rights that the police don't possess, to demand access to a private residence without due cause. To violate one of the most basic human rights of totally law abiding families, 'just in case'. It almost defies belief that any explanation should be needed of why this is deeply and profoundly wrong.

 

2.4.2 Mr Badman appears to know the seriousness of what he's suggesting as he chose to preface his report with a quote from Isiah Berlin. "The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament" If a value is ultimate how can its sacrifice ever be anything other than a dreadful tragedy, a crime against humanity? Exactly what 'ultimate value' does he suggest we should sacrifice our privacy and natural parental duties to?

 

2.4.3 [That designated local authority officers should have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.] If LA education officer have any concerns about a child being "child is safe and well" these should be passed on to the appropriate department and any investigations carried out by trained social workers. Under no circumstances is it appropriate for anyone not fully trained in this area to be given this kind of access to any child. It is a violation of the family's right to privacy and a violation of the rights of the child. Further it is massively open to abuse allowing a LA officer to ask leading questions, wilfully misinterpret answers and even flat out fabricate 'reasons' revoke the license to home educate.

 

2.4.4 [That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.] Compounds all the problems with Recommendation 1 by removing any element of choice on the LA side. No professional judgement is to be allowed forcing hard pressed Children's Services departments to waste considerable resources checking up on families which they have already determined NOT to be 'a problem'

 

2.4.5 [That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.] What will happen when a child declines this 'generous offer'? Anyone who knows anything about children will see the danger in asking them to perform like trained animals, they have a nasty habit of refusing. Is this really meant to be an offer? Read in conjunction with the main body of the report it is clear that parents will be expected to force their children to comply or risk having their license to home educate revoked.

 

Recommendation 23

 

2.5 [That local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children's social care, on such grounds as alcohol or drug abuse, incidents of domestic violence, previous offences against children,

And in addition: anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education] A duty to inform is in itself not a problem but with it comes the implication that parents will be prevented from choosing how to educate their children based upon anything that someone employed by the LA or other agency has decided is grounds for concern. This recommendation has raised very real fears about prejudice against single parents, the disabled, the unemployed, religious minorities, in fact it's hard to think of anyone who could not potentially be barred from home educating on some pretext. We know of one LA officer telling a new home educator that she would not be able to home educate successfully because single parents just can't manage.

 

Recommendation 24

 

2.6 [That the DCSF make such change as is necessary to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds. In addition local authorities should have the right to revoke registration should safeguarding concerns become apparent.] If there are safeguarding concerns about an individual family or child these should be addressed as safeguarding concerns. Refusing those families the right to home educate won't make the concerns go away, school attendance is not a panacea. If a family needs help they need help, whatever the educational path they choose.

 

Our recommendation

 

3.1 In light of the many flaws in the DCSF-commissioned review of elective home education it is our recommendation that its conclusions and recommendations be set aside.

 

3.2 If the government has concerns about the educational attainment of home educated children and chooses to discount all previous research in this area it should commission sound research of its own before contemplating any changes to legislation.

 

3.3 Safeguarding and welfare are separate issues which are not specific to home educated children. We feel that current legislation is fit for purpose for all children and recent high profile abuse cases were the result of insufficient funding, poor local practice and human fallibility.

 

September 2009