Memorandum submitted by Barry McKeown

 

As a parent planning to home educate my daughter, I wish to submit my feelings on the recent review and hope these will be factored into your inquiry.

 

I have many concerns with the way the review was conducted and the conclusions drawn, centred primarily on:

 

        Admission (by implication of contacting local authorities for more evidence) that more data is required and that the review is not properly evidenced and supported

        Scant attention to the potential cost of registering children, forming and reviewing yearly plans, conducting house visits and providing support and resources for what could be anything from 20,000 to 80,000 (estimating here at 50,000)

        No mention of the huge potential for false positives and the potential harm of imposing a testing regime on home educated children not for their benefit, but to satisfy an inspector

        Recommendations being made despite there being little evidence of their proportionality

        A review panel lacking the very people it is about and claims to help - home educating families. Also a lack of people who have researched home education other than from a school perspective

        The impact on the large number of families educating autonomously despite their success

        Misleading and selective use of quotes, with an emphasis away from the many thousand of home educating families who responded

 

 

1. Badman is now approaching local authorities asking for further evidence to support his findings. Surely the review he submitted was intended to give the findings of his research and make recommendations based on a thorough appraisal of the statistics and information available? To now seek more evidence (only after being taken to task), and being allowed more time than everyone else to present new information, suggests his initial review was not sufficiently robust, and that Ed Balls should have accepted his recommendations instantly suggests a flawed process. Aside from this being a questionable way to conduct research, it means yet more costs (and the figures from local authorities have already been collected by home educating parents).

 

2. The review began amidst claims of child abuse, or potential child abuse, among the home educating community, with suggestions of hidden children. In fact, children not attending school are by that fact alone very noticeable, and much 'home' education in fact takes place out in the community - museums, parks, local clubs and groups, libraries etc. Badman himself concedes a lack of evidence of activities such as forced marriage. Badman asks (in section 8.2) whether abuse is disproportionately high within the home education community, and rather misleadingly answers his question by observing that the number of home educated children known to social services is disproportionately high. The two are clearly not the same thing, a child may be known because they were previously attending a school but have de-registered, or because of a SEN statement, or because a neighbour has been unaware of the legality of what they are doing. There is, in fact, compelling evidence (see the analysis of FoI requests here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2) that home educated children are at much less risk than their school-going peers (and this before one adds the abuse within schools).

 

3. Little has been made of the potential cost of the recommendations, with suggestions that the work will be done within existing infrastructures and cost little. This seems unlikely - if one assumes 50,000 home educated children, this represents 50,000 registrations, (with more each year), 50,000 yearly plans to be written, assessed and approved (and some form of end of year appraisal for individual children designed and implemented. Also 50,000 home visits to children across the country. Differences of pedagogical viewpoint or the difficulty of families continuing an autonomous approach with the need for yearly planning may mean an influx of people accessing the school system. And for families who continue to home educate, there will be the cost of providing exams, resources and funding (currently home educators claim nothing). There have been estimates that this will all cost in the hundreds of millions. To introduce an expensive system of registration and monitoring when no need for this has been demonstrated, and at a point when cuts in educational budgets are being tabled, seems illogical and I, like most parents, would rather see resources targeted where they are most needed.

 

4. The review panel was notably bereft of people with real experience of home education, seeming to consist of people who are very knowledgeable on school education, child protection, IT-based learning and so on - in other words people who seek to engage with home educators, not the home educators themselves. I do not understand why there were no parents involved, no Education Otherwise, no children from the HE Youth Council,. Nor any of the noted researchers suggested to Graham Badman such as Alan Thomas, Paula Rothermel or Mike Fortune-Wood. It seems to be a review about us, rather than for us or with us.

 

5. Many home educating families use an autonomous approach where the child's interests are paramount, and their approach to learning looks quite unlike the school model. There is one-to-one attention, learning can happen anywhere at any time, through reading, purposive conversation, and enabling children to meet their learning needs. In a school setting much time is taken up with administration and classroom management, and there is a need for written work to track progress. For a home educated child these factors are not needed. Despite discussion on this topic with home educators Badman feels he is unclear on the potential of autonomous education (it is, after all, a big leap from the school model), but despite saying it may be the 'ultimate opportunity' for a suitable education and more research is needed, nonetheless recommends drawing up a yearly plan, making this approach impossible. Also, each of these individual plans (at what level of detail?) would need writing, agreeing to, and thought put into how each child would have their year's learning assessed. How would one test all these students? What would one deem to be failure or success? Many children at school do not pass tests, and in any case what should be assessed is the provision, not the uptake. The recommendation may seem fine at first glance, but does not withstand scrutiny.

6. Parents, if they delegate their duty for the child's education to a school, will want schools to provide evidence of progress and outcomes so they (the parents) can be sure an educational package is being delivered - the schools are accountable to the families accessing their service; if the parent(s) fulfill this educational duty themselves the aforementioned accountability does not make sense.

 

7. Badman selects quite carefully from the submissions to hand to support his thesis, rather than weighing them fairly before drawing conclusions. For example a lengthy quote is given from the Church of England; they are not experienced in home education, falling foul of common misconceptions, yet are given more space than families with years of experience. Also, the quote from the Church of England implies they feel change is required to the current system. However, elsewhere in their submission they say they are "not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education".

 

 

8. It is proposed the child be interviewed alone and be 'allowed to exhibit' their attainments; aside from this being unnecessary when the educational duty is the parents', not the State's (as per my previous point about schools being assessed for the benefit of those accessing that service), this rides roughshod over the children's rights Badman refers to. The question is not whether I would allow my daughter to exhibit her attainments (although I see no reason why she should, and certainly no reason why she should be compelled to), it is whether she chooses to exhibit her attainments. If she chooses not to exhibit herself for a stranger's satisfaction, it would seem to me contrary to her rights and freedoms to compel her to do so. We do not agree with Badman that there is a dichotomy between the rights of parents and the rights of children. We do not, here, have a 'right', we have a 'duty', the duty to provide a suitable education, and it seems a travesty if the UNCRC is in fact being used to impose red tape upon children, rather than empower them as one would have hoped.

9. It is admitted in the review that the practice and understanding of the law regarding home education varies between local authorities. Many families feel their authorities have acted ultra vires, others have a positive relationship with local families. It would seem clear that more training and awareness is needed, rather than legislating on the basis of the authorities with a higher concern rate.

 

September 2009