Memorandum submitted by Ann Newstead


1. Executive Summary


1.1    The Review did not have time to consider all the areas covered by the announced terms of reference in anything other than a superficial way and the recommendations are therefore inaccurate and disproportionate as a result.


1.2    The Review's Expert Reference Group did not include anyone with expertise in home education and did not include any local authority EHE policy personnel.


1.3    The Review did not ensure that it received accurate and complete information about local authority procedures or practice - a task that was impossible in the short timescale.


1.4    The Review did not investigate the research available on the various aspects of home education pertinent to the ToR nor did it attempt any vigorous and statistically sound research of its own.  The recent letter from Graham Badman to Local Authorities appealing for more robust data is de facto an admission of this failing.


1.5    The Review did not collect any sound information on the practice of local authorities with regards to support of home educators, nor for those with children with special educational needs.  There was no attempt to establish budgets or spend in these areas.


1.6    The Report disproportionately refers to the interests and concerns of local authorities over those of home educators.  The stark differences in the language used in each case by the Author of the Report discredits the independence of the Review.


1.7    The recommendations for registration and monitoring as detailed by the Report would be extremely costly.  With no existing budget for home educators, and no new money forthcoming from the government, implementation of the recommendations would lead to a reduction in all service and leave no possibility of funding for to home educating families.


1.8    The Review failed to research and appreciate that all best practice within local authorities in engaging and supporting local home educators is based on voluntary engagement nor recognise the likelihood of this being destroyed by the compulsory nature of the recommended procedures.


1.9    Families with children with special educational needs are most likely to be negatively affected by the implementation of these recommendations.

1.10    The Report demonstrates a completely failure to grasp the principles of home education and in particular the established practice of autonomous - or informal - learning.


2. Introduction


2.1    I am a Trustee of Education Otherwise (EO), the largest home education support charity in England and Wales. I also serve on their Government Policy Group and Disability Group and in such capacity met Graham Badman twice during the course of the Review.  I am also Spokesperson for the Charity and have engaged extensively with the media on the subject of home education over the past three years.  I am responsible for the Charity's two websites, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter presence and through these engage regularly with the general public. 


2.2    I am the Kent Local Contact for EO and deal with at least three enquiries a week from people in the area looking into home education.  For the past four years I have run a local support group for over 260 families across Kent and South East London.  I have four children who are all home educated. The eldest two were deregistered from school four years ago.


2.3    I am part of a Working Group within EO which meets regularly with civil servants from the Schools Directorate at the Department of Children Schools and Families. This has included civil servants such as Iain Campbell and Penny Jones, as well as most recently Baroness Morgan and Diana Johnson.


2.4    I have met officially with local authority personnel from Bexley, Medway, Kent and Bromley over the past three years.  I helped train EWOs and schools liaison police officers in Bexley on the issue of home educated children and truancy patrols.  I have a long term working relationship with Tim Fox of Kent LA.  I meet regularly with the EHE team at Bromley LA, my own local authority.


2.5    In my various roles within Education Otherwise I have represented the charity and engaged with professional over the subject of home education at a variety of national conferences, Parliamentary events, and media engagements.  I speak on local radio across the country on a regular basis.


2.6  During the course of the Review I was responsible for organising a visit by the Review Team to the UK Home Educators Kent group that I run, at a venue in Bromley.  At this visit the team met with more than a dozen families and had the opportunity to engage with them and gather their views.  The families do not feel that their views are accurately reflected in the recommendation of the Report.


3. My Objections


3.1    The Terms of Reference for the Review covered three main very differing areas of expertise: education, welfare, and child protection. These three areas require different specialist knowledge and experience. If the recommendations went through, this would have a devastating impact on families as unqualified staff struggled to implement contradictory recommendations. As an example, child protection is a highly specialised field and interrogative interview techniques where the child is seen alone would be unacceptably invasive and counter productive outside this narrow area.

3.2  The Review team failed to assess the premise on which the review itself was launched.  The press release included a comment by the NSPCC spokesperson Diana Sutton which referred to "the view set out by the London (LA) Children's Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents' rights to home educate their children, the local authorities' duty to safeguard children and the child's right to protection".  Home educators challenged the London Safeguarding Board to supply the report and and evidence upon which this view was based at the time we became aware of it.  They were unable to supply the information and claimed that the member of staff responsible had left.

3.3 On the subject of home education being used as a cover for forced marriage, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee took oral evidence on forced marriage which suggested a link between the two.  Again, despite extensive research and requests by home educators, no factual evidence was found or presented to substantiate the opinion of that witness.  These areas should have been covered by the Review team.


3.4    The Review team put together a short list for the Expert Reference Group before undertaking any research.  Despite the subsequent suggestions made by EO and HEAS, there was no person on the Group with any expertise in home education.  It seems incredible that any Report could be taken seriously as independent, let alone robust, when there was no attempt to ensure a balance of expertise in the "sounding board" used by the team.  In fact there is evidence that the Reference Group did not in fact meet fully and not all members were consulted.  This leads to the conclusion that the Report was the work of one person's limited study and personal opinion.

3.5    The failure to include any local authority personnel with direct experience of LA home education policy and practice on the Group was significant.

3.6    The Review's Expert Reference Group did not include anyone with expertise in home education and did not include any local authority EHE policy personnel.


3.7    Many home educators have successfully managed the task that the Review should have undertaken itself, and have - through extensive FOI requests - collated accurate data on LA procedures and practices.  If the Review had included a proper, statistically sound and compulsory collation of accurate data, I respectfully suggest that the recommendations and whole tone of the Report would have been very different.


3.8    Graham Badman dismisses in his Report the evidence collected by many researchers over many years in several countries on the outcomes of home education as a satisfactory educational process.  Instead, he appears to base his recommendations on limited, flawed, self selecting evidence and his own personal opinion.  This cannot surely be the foundation on which primary legislation of this country can be formulated.  Translating this into any other area of policy - especially one relating to either a minority community or the area of education - would be inconceivable.


3.9    Graham Badman was obviously affected by the experiences that families of SEN children shared with him during the course of the Review.  Despite this, there was no attempt to collect any sound information on the practice of local authorities towards such families.  I am the parent of two autistic children and we are precluded from having access to diagnoses, facilities and equipment that would otherwise be available to us.  The anecdotal evidence that Graham was supplied with should have led to a review of LA practice within the area of SEN.  Where this was not possible within the timescale he was given, he should have asked for an extension.

3.10    No hard evidence was collected with regards to the support of home educators - or lack of it - by local authorities.  Once again, it showed a favouring of the interests of a few local authorities who have been pushing for change, and took no notice of best practice of the majority of LAs who are working with their local home education community to establish a voluntary relationship that provides for innovative ideas for ways in which support can be offered despite the lack of any budgetary provision by central government.

3.11    Not only do the recommendations negatively affect home educators, but the whole Report caused considerable distress and anger amongst the community by its bias.  An examination of the language used shows reasonable and rational phrasing when referring to local authorities, and emotive language when selectively referring to home educators.  The tone of the Report is clearly unbalanced.  Provocative and irrelevant comments are made throughout, aimed at home educators.  One example is the quote in 4.3 " one from the LA [local authority] would in my opinion be on my child's intellectual level or they wouldn't be working for the LA." which was taken out of context of one family's explanation of the ridiculous suggestion that someone from the LA would be able to assess their own child's achievements where that child happened to be particularly gifted and talented.  The quote is suggested to represent an extreme or unbalanced view as it is countered by what is stated as "the more measured" second quote.


3.12    Since the publication of the Report I have discussed the recommendations for registration and monitoring as detailed by the Report with two local authorities in some depth.  Both of the EHE personnel I have spoken with believe that the implementation of the recommendations will be extremely costly.  In both areas it would necessitate the taking on of additional staff, organising additional training, and a huge increase in administrative burden.  LAs have no separate budget at the moment for home education and indeed the placement of personnel with EHE responsibility varies hugely from LA to LA.

3.13    As the government made clear when the Report was published that no extra money would be provided in connection with these recommendations, I sincerely believe that implementation of the recommendations without funding will lead to a reduction across the board in services provided by local authorities.  Instead of allegedly leading to greater protection for children, these measures could directly be responsible to putting children at risk. in all service and leave no possibility of funding for to home educating families. The much publicised shortfall in social workers to meet the existing workload would in itself suggest the necessity for further funding.


3.14    The teams from EO and HEAS, as well as many individual home educators, all provided Graham Badman with examples of best practice by local authorities.  Despite this, there was a significant failure to research this positive area and to take the lessons from it back into recommendations within the Report.  All best practice is currently based on voluntary relationships.  This respectful position has led to a greater understanding on the part of some LAs of home education, and therefore directly improved the situation for many children and their families.  In direct contrast, the fear and distressed caused by the publication of the Report has led to very many families withdrawing their voluntary relationship with their LAs and has set back relationships many years.  My own local authority, Bromley, has evidence of this and has experienced this withdrawal by families already.


3.15    As the parent of two SEN children I believe that these recommendations will have a direct, negative affect on many families in similar situations.  My own children would not be able to cope with the compulsory home visit and being seen by the LA personnel alone.  The Report suggest that  "if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs" they may be seen in the company of another adult - not the parent or home educator.  This recommendation does not explain on whose judgement the assessment of being vulnerable or having needs would be based.  Many families who home educate may not have a formal diagnosis for their child as this is often prohibitively expensive for them to do (being outside the system and therefore not eligible for diagnosis on the NHS). 

3.16    In addition, many autistic children do not trust anyone beyond their parent or carer and therefore it would be impossible to find another person with whom they would be comfortable.  Beyond even that, some children would not tolerate meeting a stranger, even in their own home and in the company of another trusted adult, where they perceived the person to be a threat - which is how many of them fear anyone associated in their mind with "school".  LA personnel would need to have specialist SEN training over and above safeguarding, welfare and educational training and experience required to carry out these monitoring recommendations.

3.17    The Report demonstrates a completely failure to grasp the principles of home education.  Despite personally asserting to many home educators he met during the Review that he "got" autonomous home education, Graham's recommendations for the provision of a yearly forward plan, measurable outcomes, and "exhibition" of progress, shows that he did not in fact grasp even the basics.  The opportunity was provided to the Review team to refer to Dr Alan Thomas's extensive research in this area, but it was not taken up.

4.    Conclusion

4.1    I am deeply distressed by the inability of one submission to cover the detailed flaws in, and objections to, the Review and its Report.  I am relying heavily on the outstanding passion and knowledge of our community to make alternative submissions that cover the required points in a depth that I cannot.

September 2009