Memorandum submitted by the Family Education Trust (Family & Youth Concern)

 

 

Summary

 

The terms of reference for the home education review reveal that the review rested on a false premise from the outset and failed to understand the duties of local authorities within the current legal framework and the purpose of the Every Child Matters outcomes.

A prior assumption was made that home educated children are particularly vulnerable and at risk of abuse.

The consultation document failed to set the review in any legal or historical context, made no reference to the elective home education guidelines issued in 2007 and omitted to identify the specific concerns that had given rise to the review.

The review questions were marked by a lack of clarity and definition, and betrayed an attitude of suspicion and distrust towards home educating parents.

The local authority questionnaire further betrayed a lack of an accurate understanding and good working knowledge of the current local authority guidelines on elective home education.

Very little reference is made in Graham Badman's report to the evidence gathered in the course of the review and where reference is made to evidence supplied, it is rarely substantiated.

There is no supporting statistical evidence for the claim that that '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'.

The report omits to give any breakdown of responses either to the six review questions or to the local authority questionnaire.

The report does not take account of the 'burden of consultation' in this area of policy when passing comment on the tone of responses received from some home educators.

No details are given of the international comparison of home education and there is no indication that the review took account of home education legislation in the United States.

The report does not supply any evidence to support its recommendations with regard to a compulsory registration scheme or routine monitoring of home education.

Resting on a flawed foundation and lacking a firm evidence base, Graham Badman's review of home education does not provide a sufficiently robust basis for legislation. The government should therefore suspend its plans to implement the report's recommendations and ensure the current legal framework and guidance is adequately understood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

For almost 40 years, Family Education Trust has conducted research on a range of issues with a view to promoting stable family life and the welfare of children. As an educational charity, parents frequently contact the Trust for advice on the options available to them with regard to the education of their children, both within the school system and 'otherwise'. The Trust actively participated in the process leading up to the publication of the home education guidelines towards the end of 2007, and both met and corresponded with departmental officials at that time.

 

The Trust has played an active role in relation to Graham Badman's home education review. In addition to making a detailed submission, it also corresponded with departmental officials with regard to the terms of reference of the review and the review questions, and met with Mr Badman on 24 March 2009.

 

 

Factual Information

 

1. The terms of reference

 

1.1 The terms of reference betrayed an inaccurate understanding of the duties of local authorities within the current legal framework on the part of Graham Badman and his team. The review thus rested on the false premise that local authorities have a responsibility to 'ensure' that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met. In reality, while local authorities are responsible for 'safeguarding and promoting' the welfare of children,[1] they have no duty to 'ensure' it and, even if they did, it would be completely outside their power to do so. The local authority personnel who felt that they were 'not able to ensure that all home educated children are able to [achieve the five ECM outcomes]'[2] were therefore demonstrating a failure to understand the law and the limitations of their role.

 

1.2 The purpose of the five Every Child Matters outcomes is to help local authorities establish priorities in terms of policy development, not to set targets for individual children. The five outcomes cover very broad areas and are capable of subjective interpretation, making them unsuitable as measurements of the achievement of individual children. We note that two of the outcomes relate to 'emotional well-being' and 'social and economic well-being', yet there is no agreement as to the meaning of the term well- being.

 

1.3 A recent DCSF research report concluded that there was, 'significant ambiguity around the definition, usage and function of the word "wellbeing", not only within DCSF but in the public policy realm, and in the wider world'. It added that 'the meaning and function of a term like "wellbeing" not only changes through time, but is open to both overt and subtle dispute and contest' and recommended that the DCSF adopt a 'low key but deliberate strategy to manage [its] position within this ambiguity and instability'.[3] We would therefore suggest that it would be a hazardous exercise for local authorities to make judgments about the 'emotional' or 'social and economic well-being' of individual children in their area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4 The terms of reference referred to home educated children as though they were a particularly vulnerable and 'at risk' group, when in reality they are simply children whose parents are exercising their right under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to educate them

'otherwise' than at school. The fact that the terms of reference referred to 'the extent to which claims of home education could be used as a 'cover' for child abuse' indicates that an assumption had already been made that home education was being used as a 'cover'.

 

2. The public consultation document

 

2.1 The consultation document for the Badman Review was very brief and failed to set the review in any legal or historical context. No attempt was made to set out the current legal framework or to explain current safeguarding procedures, and there was no reference to the Elective Home Education guidelines, issued as recently as 2007 after extensive consultation. There was also no explanation of the Every Child Matters initiative and its status, and no explanation of the specific concerns that had given rise to the review.

 

2.2 In asking whether home educated children are 'able' to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, the review appeared to be questioning the competence of home educating parents to properly care for their children. To add insult to injury, respondents were invited to explain their response: 'Why do you think that?' To ask home educating parents to provide evidence that they are able to care for their own children betrays a negative and suspicious attitude towards them.

 

2.3 Several of the review questions were unclear and ill-defined, giving rise to a range of possible interpretations. For example, Question 3 asked, 'Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes?' without making it clear whether a legal, moral, or some other kind of obligation was in view. Other questions asked whether any changes should be made to the 'current system' of 'supporting' (Question 4) or 'monitoring' (Question 5) home educating families, when there are no such systems currently in place. Family Education Trust requested clarification on the meaning of some of the review questions at the very outset of the review on 21 January. After a lengthy delay, officials declined to offer a response beyond stating that respondents were free to 'choose to interpret the questions in their own way'.

 

2.4 The final review question was a loaded question in that it was based on the premise, advanced by unspecified people, that home education 'could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect'. The consultation paper made no attempt to advise respondents which 'people' had expressed such concerns and on the basis of what evidence.

 

 

3. The local authority questionnaire

 

3.1 The local authority questionnaire and covering letter with their references to the 'current system' for supporting and monitoring home education offer further evidence that the review team lacked a good working knowledge of the elective home education guidelines from the very outset. The guidelines clearly state that: 'local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis' (para 2.7) and that: 'Section 175(1) [of the Education Act 2002] does not give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education' (para 2.12).[4]

 

 

 

3.2 To take a further example of variance between the local authority questionnaire and the current guidance, the questionnaire defines full-time education for home educated children as '20 hrs a week', while the guidelines specify:

 

Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but this measurement of 'contact time' is not relevant to elective home education where there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal 'school hours'.[5]

 

 

4. The Badman report and recommendations

 

4.1 Graham Badman's report to the Secretary of State is characterised by frequent assertions made without any supporting evidence. On no less than 22 occasions, Mr Badman states, 'I believe' or 'I do not believe'. Very little reference is made in the report to the evidence gathered in the course of the review and where reference is made to evidence supplied, it is rarely substantiated. For example, Mr Badman reports: 'I am not convinced by the existing research studies on the outcomes for home educated children both in this country and elsewhere' (para 10.2), but says little by way of explanation and does not publish his literature review.

 

4.2 The report claims that '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' (para 8.12). Since it is on the basis of this claim that the report advances intrusive recommendations to grant local authority officials the right of access to the homes of home educated children, with powers to see them alone when deemed appropriate, a thorough explanation of this claim is warranted, yet the review team has not released the supporting data. The statement begs a number of questions. For example:

 

Given that the total number of home educated children in any local authority is not known, how did the review team establish that the numbers known to social care are 'disproportionately high' in some areas?

What does 'known to children's services' mean? Is it necessarily an indicator of concern?

In which local authorities is the number of home educated children known to social care 'disproportionately high'? How does this compare with the situation in other authorities?

Do the figures supplied by local authorities relate solely to electively home educated children, or do they also include other children not attending school for other reasons?

Where 'known to children's services' relates to safeguarding concerns, are those concerns well-founded?

 

4.3 It is simply not accurate to state that: 'being denied access to the place of education and the opportunity to speak with the child prevents [local authorities] from fulfilling their current statutory duties' (para 5.1). Not only does this claim confirm the fundamental misunderstanding of the current legal framework referred to above, but it also betrays a failure to appreciate that for most home educated children there is no single 'place of education'.

 

 

 

 

 

4.4 The report omits to give any breakdown of responses either to the six review questions or to the local authority questionnaire and fails to acknowledge the fact (subsequently revealed in response to Freedom of Information requests) that the overwhelming majority of respondents to the review questions were firmly of the view that the current safeguarding arrangements for home educating children are adequate.

 

4.5 In a rare reference to responses received to the review questions, the report characterises the submissions of some home educators as exhibiting 'a heady mixture of pent-up rage, frustration, resentment and a rejection of third party judgment' (para 4.4). No reference is made to the more measured responses from other home educators and representative groups, and no account is taken to 'the burden of consultation' that may have contributed to the frustrations of some home educators. In this connection we note that the Better Regulation Executive Code of Practice on Consultation states that:

 

Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees' buy-in to the process is to be obtained...While interested parties may welcome the opportunity to contribute their views or evidence, they will not welcome being asked the same questions time and time again.[6]

 

The Badman Review was launched within 18 months of the consultation on home education guidelines in the summer of 2007 and the consultation on revised statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education (autumn
2008) had also included a question on home education. In addition, two further consultations during the previous three years had encroached on 'education otherwise than at school territory' and aroused concerns among home educators, particularly those working in small groups.[7]

 

4.6 The report's conclusion refers to an international comparison of home education in other countries in spite of the fact that no details of this comparison are supplied within the body of the report. From the brief reference in the conclusion, there is no indication that the review took account of home education legislation in the United States. Given the scale of home education in the USA this is a striking omission.

 

4.7 The report does not supply any evidence to support its recommendation that home educating parents should be required to register in order to home educate and that registration should be renewable on an annual basis. Under education law, parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive a full-time efficient education, whether they send them to school or satisfy their legal duty 'otherwise'. Education is one of many responsibilities that parents possess in relation to their children. Full-time mothers are not required to register before they are permitted to care for their own children of pre-school age, and we see no compelling reason why that should change at the beginning of the term after a child reaches the age of five. Since care and education is a parental responsibility it should be regarded as the default with no requirement for registration.

 

4.8 With regard to the report's recommendation that all home educated children should be subject to routine monitoring, we would note that for most home educating families, home education is part of their family life. Graham Badman has not provided any compelling reason why children who continue to experience family life during normal 'school hours' should be deemed in need of additional safeguarding or monitoring any more than

 

 

 

 

families where children are out of the house between 9.00am and 3.00pm during term-time. There would be an outcry if the government were to propose routine welfare checks on all children during school holidays and at weekends. Such an intrusion would rightly be regarded as a breach of family privacy, and home educating families regard routine monitoring in the same way. Local authorities do not conduct routine safeguarding checks on pre-school aged children who are cared for by a parent at home and we see no reason why that should change once a child reaches the age of five.

 

 

 

Recommendations for action

 

5.1 The recent review of home education conducted by Graham Badman was based on an inaccurate understanding of home education and of the duties of local authorities within the current legal framework. The resulting report is strong on assertion but weak on supporting evidence and does not provide a sufficiently robust basis for the far-reaching and intrusive measures proposed.

 

5.2 In the absence of a sufficiently firm evidence base the government's plan to include a section on 'improving monitoring arrangements for children educated at home' in the proposed Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill should be suspended.

 

5.3 The current guidelines on home education for local authorities, introduced in the autumn of 2007, should be given more time to bed in, with support and training given to local authority personnel in order to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the scope of their role and responsibilities with regard to elective home education under the current legal framework.

 

September 2009



[1] Children Act 2004, s11.

[2] Graham Badman, letter to Directors of Children's Services and Lead Members for Children and Young People, 19 January 2009.

[3] DCSF, What do we mean by 'wellbeing'? And why might it matter? October 2008.

[4] DCSF, Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities, 2007.

[5] ibid., para 3.13.

[6] The Better Regulation Executive Code of Practice on Consultation, Criterion 5.

[7] The DfES consultation on The definition of full-time education in independent schools (winter 2006/2007) and the DfES consultation on The definition of an independent school (autumn 2007).