Memorandum submitted by Bristol Home Educators

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

 

The following summarises our concerns about the conduct & contents of the review.

 

The terms of reference for the review are illegitimate.

 

The review was not independent.

 

The review & its recommendations conflate education, welfare & safeguarding issues.

 

Home education (HE) is seen as an anomaly, not as a valid, legal choice that parents choose to fulfil their duty.

 

Contributions to the review were misrepresented in its final report.

 

The review was heavily biased against HE & towards predetermined change.

 

Recommendations encompass a fundamental shift in responsibility for a child's education from parent to State.

 

Recommendations encompass a fundamental shift in the relationship between the State & home life.

 

The recommendations will not make children safer, and may make them more vulnerable to abuse.

 

The recommendations may prejudice people against legitimately choosing HE.

 

The recommendations are incompatible with some well-established, researched & proven educational philosophies.

 

 

 

BRIEF INTRODUCTION:

 

This submission has been endorsed by a group of Bristol home educators and their children. Between us, we have a wide and varied experience of HE & are dedicated to our duty to provide our children with a 'suitable' education. We are active members in a thriving, social & educational local HE network.

 

 

 

1. CONCERNS:

 

 

1.1 TERMS OF REFERENCE

 

1.1.1 BACKGROUND & RATIONALE

 

 

1.1.1.1 In recent years Government has made repeated attempts to enforce 'robust' systems on home educators through repeated policy reviews & consultations which are disproportionate to our situation or any risks to our children. The majority of outcomes have resulted in either the proposals being dropped, or modified significantly & have amounted to harassment of home educated families & a massive waste of public funds. These are taking up disproportionate amounts of time & energy. Conclusions from previous consultations have been that current legislation is adequate & where properly applied is appropriate & proportionate.

 

1.1.1.2 Mr. Badman is fully entrenched in the school system at a strategic level & has had a close working relationship with the DCSF in the not distant past (having had funding fast tracked from the DCSF while working as Managing Director, Children, Families & Education in Kent). He embarked on the review with predetermined assumptions, having publicly stated during its course that the status quo will not prevail & that changes will be brought about. He cannot be seen to be independent.

 

1.1.1.3 The DCSF states: 'Parents have a well established right to educate their children at home & Government respects that right. There are no plans to change that position.'

 

1.1.1.4 This statement is misleading by omission. Parents also have a well-established right as to how they educate their children. Their statement gives the impression that no major changes will take place as a result of this review.

 

 

1.1.2 The review will investigate:

 

1.1.2.1 'The barriers to LAs 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'

 

1.1.2.2 Overcoming barriers does not require new legislation but a common sense, professional approach by LAs & public agencies in implementing current legislation. On 12th March, 2009, Lord Laming , while speaking about his review of Children's Services, said that child protection reforms needed to help prevent tragedies like the deaths of Baby P & Victoria Climbie already exist but must be put into practice.

 

 

1.1.2.3 No legislation states that home educators must ensure the five ECM outcomes for their children. The DCSF website states, ECM objectives 'cover the universal services which every child accesses.' They are terms of reference for LA's to work within.

 

1.1.2.4They are NOT terms of reference or goals for any child to attain or be assessed upon. Government has no legal basis to investigate whether ECM outcomes are being met within the context of home education.

 

1.1.2.5 'The extent to which claims of home education could be used as a cover of child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and advise on measures to prevent this'

 

1.1.2.6 This term is illegitimate & is prejudicial against home educators. It's discriminatory to ask this question of home education when not asking it, for example, of all persons of certain ethnic/cultural origins, of all parents with children on school summer holidays or of all parents of preschool-age children. To do so would, of course, be ludicrous!

 

1.1.2.7 There is no evidence to warrant the investigation of this term. There have been many attempts to link high profile abuse cases to home education. None have stood up to scrutiny.

 

 

1.1.2.8 'Whether any changes to the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education are needed to support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners in ensuring all children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes.'

 

1.1.2.9 LAs are not legally obliged to monitor the standard of home education (HE). HE is part of family life; it is not a public body. Any 'monitoring' done is at the LA's discretion, without guidelines & is ultra vires. It is illegitimate to ask for information that LAs are not required to keep. It is more likely that LAs who are not in favour of HE will 'monitor' its provisions, biasing the investigation towards those in favour of legislating against HE as it stands.

 

1.1.2.10 There is no legal 'standard' for home education provision. There is a requirement that it be full time & suitable to the age, aptitude & any special needs of the individual child. This term suggests & endorses that the illegal monitoring of something that does not have to exist in law is taking place.

1.1.2.11 Parents are NOT 'partners' in the education and welfare of their children; they are the SOLE proprietors of that position. Agencies only have legal duties where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a parent is failing in their legal duty.

1.1.3 REVIEW METHODOLOGY

 

1.1.3.1 'Map existing practice & consider the effectiveness of different practice....in monitoring home education from an Every Child Matters perspective.'

1.1.3.2 There is no right or duty to monitor home education for anything, not least ECM issues. It is unacceptable to conduct a review on terms which seek to identify best practice of something which is illegitimate.

 

1.2 CONDUCT

 

 

1.2.1 'It is unacceptable that so many people have had to make FOI requests to get at the evidence unpinning paragraph 8.12. We still await the evidence.

 

1.2.2 Deadlines were given to all parties for representations to be submitted to the review. On 18 September, months after the review was published, the DCSF granted Mr. Badman extra time to gather evidence for the Select Committee Inquiry into his report. He has requested additional information from LAs only. Not only is this practise highly dubious, giving additional weight to LA's already disproportionately high influence, but it also indicates that his conclusions as to the outcome of the review were predetermined & that he'll go to any lengths to 'prove' them. There should be no need for more data if, as Mr. Badman states, LA evidence 'provided persuasive evidence for change.' The DCSF is granting Mr. Badman special privileges while dragging their heels in responding to outstanding FOI requests from home educators.

 

1.2.3 No home educating parent was on the expert panel. This does not tally with a Government that wishes to listen to the public and empower them.

 

1.2.4 There were no home-educated children on the panel (who could be more 'expert'?).

 

1.2.5 The panel was heavily weighted on the side of the education system & 3rd sector agencies. There was scarcely anyone with experience, proper knowledge or understanding of HE. Considering that HE was the topic of the review, it would have been more appropriate for the balance of influence to have been reversed.

 

1.2.6 There is implicit prejudice in the selective, misrepresentative quoting used in the Badman Report.

 

1.2.7 One example: the report includes a lengthy quotation from the Church of England that expresses their concerns about HE. However, it fails to mention their overall conclusion:

1.2.8 'We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education. Where there are particular concerns about the children in a home-educating (family) this should be a matter for Children's Services.'

 

1.2.9 Nor does it mention their statement 'Prevention of abuse under the cover of home education seems to be the main reason for this review, & in making it so, has the effect of tarnishing the reputation of the many parents who choose to home educate their children....'

 

1.2.10 These omissions serve to deliberately misrepresent the views of the Church of England's views of home education.

 

1.2.11 Recommendations based on responses of only 25/159 LAs. Completing questionnaires was, unbelievably, not mandatory, considering the enormity of the subject. It's likely that LAs with 'problems' with HE would be the ones to respond. Considering the weight given to LAs input into the review, this makes it extremely biased towards their perception of HE.

 

1.2.12 Questions on the LA questionnaires were structured so as to give misleading data & were in some cases ultra vires.

 

1.2.13 'Total number of electively home educated children not known to be receiving suitable education' would include figures on children who may be receiving 'suitable education'.

 

1.2.14 'Number not cooperating with monitoring so no assessment can be made' is ultra vires.

 

 

1.3 REVIEW CONCLUSIONS

 

1.3.1The Review claims that:

1.3.2 "... on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented.... the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population."

 

1.3.3 This statement is misleading & implies that these children are at risk. Being 'known' does NOT equate to being at risk of abuse.

1.3.4 The review rightly points out that the number of parents opting for HE is unknown. Given that the size of the HE population is unknown, it is impossible to calculate the proportion. In effect, the statement is meaningless.

 

 

1.4 RECOMMENDATIONS

 

1.4.1 The review fails to make a strong case for its recommendations. There is little argument supported by review evidence. Where evidence is presented, there is an absence of critical analysis. Instead there is opinion. For example, the review says 'I believe ...' 16 times.

 

1.4.2 The recommendations are not logically consistent with the limited evidence.

1.4.3 The review says that many LAs are not performing adequately, but then recommends they have more powers. Without an analysis of why they are failing, this would seem an inappropriate measure.


1.4.4 The Review recognises the diversity of home educators, but fails to take this in to account in its 'one size fits all' recommendations.

 

1.4.5 The Review is inconsistent in how it treats research. It claims that the sample sizes for some studies were too small for its findings to be generalised to the whole population. Yet it quotes from a qualitative study on reasons why parents home educate (Hopwood,V.,O'Neill, L., Castro G. and Hodgson, B. (2007) The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study, DfES, Research Report 827) that is based on an opportunistic sample of 18 parents in nine areas; and references another small scale study (Kendall S. & Atkinson, M (2006) Some perspectives on home educated children, NFER) based on 21 interviews with local authority staff in 16 areas.

 

1.4.6 Recommendation 1

 

1.4.7 The requirement annually to seek permission from the LA to home educate removes parents' responsibility for providing children with an education 'at school or otherwise', instead placing that duty in the hands of the LA, who will delegate it to parents who they deem suitable (Recommendation 23). This makes home educators vulnerable to LA prejudice about different educational and lifestyle philosophies.

 

1.4.8 The recommendations erect discriminatory barriers to entry for those considering HE.

1.4.9 The requirement that parents complete plans and submit to visits within weeks of beginning to home educate will be an intimidating barrier to entry; many families take some time to establish the educational philosophy and style which will suit them.

 

1.4.10 The well-documented necessity for a 'deschooling' period after removing a child from school is not accommodated.

 

1.4.11 The proposal that 'schools should retain... pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days' makes it possible for schools to put pressure on families not to proceed with HE. It is unclear whether a child deeply unhappy at school would be forced to endure a further 20 days of it, or whether caring parents removing their children from a traumatic situation would be vulnerable to truancy prosecution.

 

1.4.12 The requirement to provide detailed plans of what our children will be learning in the next year, plans against which our children's attainment will be measured, is contradictory to the well documented and effective practice among home educators of child-centred, personalised, responsive, informal learning. Home educators whose patterns are more formal, following curricula and regularly producing 'educational product', are also unhappy at the lack of flexibility and responsiveness permitted by such a requirement.

 

1.4.13 Mr. Badman states that 'the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child's achievement to date and expected achievement... together with any other school records.' Apart from the potential for schools to provide false or misleading information, it is parents, meeting their duty to educate their child, who should be provided with all school records, not the State.

 

1.4.14 Recommendation 2

 

1.4.15 '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..... should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes...., should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum'

 

1.4.16 In case law, the definition of a 'suitable' and 'efficient' education is well established. Mr. Badman's proposals for a 'broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum' would not necessarily optimal for an individual child, and may well be incompatible during any given year with the self-directed path of an autonomously home-educated child.

 

1.4.17 Recommendation 3

 

1.4.18 'That all local authorities analyse the reasons why parents or carers chose elective home education' sees home education as an anomaly to be explained. Providing a child's education is the parents' duty & their reasons for choosing one of several valid routes are no business of the State! Reasons for choosing HE would only be the business of the State if HE were an inferior last resort, to be prevented wherever possible. We are afraid that this unwarranted assumption may underlie the Badman review, calling all of its findings into question.

 

1.4.19 Recommendation 7

 

1.4.20 The requirement to allow unknown LA staff into our homes, without probable cause, & to interview our children alone, without probable cause, fundamentally shifts the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family. It will make children confused & vulnerable to illicit approaches by adults.

 

1.4.21 In having the 'right of access to the home' and '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' so that 'officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well', education & child protection are conflated.

 

1.4.22 Educational provision can be ascertained through written correspondence; the explicit purpose of these compulsory visits would be to check for abuse. HE is an educational matter, NOT a welfare issue. It is inappropriate to consider welfare issues in a home education review. At any rate, Mr. Badman has admitted in his report: 'I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities....this view is supported by the Association of chief Police Officers.'

 

1.4.23 An abused child is highly unlikely to confide in a stranger on a short annual visit. Many abused children's suffering goes unnoticed at school for years, despite familiar adults seeing them regularly. Before moving towards legislation which treats home educators as particularly dangerous to children and which fundamentally infringes their civil liberties, it would be appropriate for the DCSF firstly to produce evidence that home educators are indeed particularly dangerous (Mr. Badman concluded that he had not found such evidence), and secondly to produce evidence that their proposed regime of surveillance would uncover such abuse. Someone who has been abusing their child since birth is unlikely to register them as home educated. Someone who deregisters their child from school under suspicious circumstances should be referred to Social Services by the school.

 

1.4.24 The proposed compulsory visits could be damaging to children - not only those with special needs, but any children who would prefer not to be scrutinised alone by strangers with the power to force them to attend school. It is often easy for those in the child protection industry to forget how much harm they do simply by investigating and invading the lives of innocent families.

 

1.4.25 These invasive powers will not be applied to the families of schooled children or to pre-schoolers.

 

1.4.26 Children learning informally would have their learning restricted (and thus damaged) by being forced to 'exhibit' to LA staff (who, at present, are almost all ex-teachers or ex-OFSTED inspectors, and thus are heavily invested in school-style learning).

 

2. OUR CONCLUSIONS:

2.1 The review reflects a fundamental ignorance of & bias against HE. Its illegitimate terms of reference should, in themselves, render the review null & void.

 

September 2009