Memorandum submitted by Professor Carole G. Mundell and Dr David L. Shone, Home Educating Parents
· The recent obsession with home education is disproportionate, neglecting a much larger problem of child abuse in children that attend school.
· Claims about child welfare are not consistent with overall attitude to children's welfare.
· The Badman report misrepresents and distorts evidence.
· Without authority or experience, the review belittles decades of research on the benefits of home education; we counter this, citing the most recent research.
· Concluding remarks:
· The review and new legislation is not necessary - existing laws are adequate and any confusion on the part of local authorities has been caused by the government's advice.
· The review proposes draconian legislation to violate the sanctity of home educated children and their guardians - legislation that could logically be extended more widely but would be deemed unacceptable.
· The position of DCSF and the review is founded on the unquestioned presumption that "they know best"; we counter that this is diametrically opposite to the truth.
1 Comments on Background and Motivation for the Badman Review
DCSF's recent obsession with home education is disproportionate, misguided and a misuse of resources; even if we assume the most extreme upper limits for the number of home-educated children (approximately 100,000) and an unrealistically high level of abuse (which we categorically deny), the numbers of children involved are very significantly smaller than the overall number of abused children in the wider population - the latter problem already being beyond the capabilities and resources of the authorities. Home-educated children are being used by DCSF as a "trophy" to divert attention from the authorities' inability to deal with the much larger problem in the wider community.
This is not to say that home-educated children do not matter, but rather DCSF and local authorities are proposing to concentrate a disproportionate amount of effort on these while neglecting a much larger problem.
DCSF's (specifically Baroness Delyth Morgan's) ignorance and prejudice in their view of home education is reflected in their initial suggestion that home-educated children are at risk of forced marriage. Given that this practice is associated with certain cultural and religious groups, it would have been more logical to concentrate on those - but that would have caused an outcry. Home educators - not known for issuing fatwas - were a much safer target. Not surprisingly, even the Badman report failed to find any basis for this slur.
2 DCSF Inconsistency on Child Welfare
The actions of DCSF and local authorities are not consistent with their claims to be motivated by child welfare; this is clearly shown by the case of children caring for disabled parents or guardians. According to an OFSTED census in 2001, approximately 175,000 children - ostensibly within the school system - have been known, since 2001, to suffer in their welfare and education. In a report in 2009 (available on-line at www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/080252 ), OFSTED said "Overall, councils and their partners had not done enough to identify young carers". This problem alone is orders of magnitude greater than anything associated with home education and yet is largely neglected by DCSF and local authorities, even with their most recent efforts - indeed, there seems to be a culture prevalent in social services that exploits this form of state-sponsored child abuse.
3 Misrepresentation and Distortion of Evidence in the Badman Report
The Badman report distorted and misrepresents the evidence accumulated as part of the review, and uses invalid methods of extrapolation to damage home educators
3a) One notable example is the Church of England submission; Badman quotes their general concerns about child welfare and education, but omits their crucial conclusion:
"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."
By this omission, the report gives a completely misleading impression of the Church of England submission; we find it difficult to believe that this misrepresentation is anything other than deliberate, and even if it is accidental, it demonstrates gross incompetence. Given that this is one example where the submission is openly available, we have no confidence that other submissions have not been similarly misrepresented. Note that, as atheists, we have no particular allegiance to the Church of England - there is a natural degree of diversity among home educators.
3b) A salient "conclusion" presented by Badman is 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"; this, perhaps more than anything else, highlights the prejudices and ineptitude underlying the Badman report.
Firstly, the classification "known to social care" is largely meaningless in this context; some authorities have placed home-educated children in this category without any reason to believe that they are at risk, other than that they are home educated - a concept that is alien to these authorities.
Secondly, the arithmetic steps (statistical analysis would be too kind a description) that lead to this assertion are thoroughly flawed; we (two Physics graduates with PhDs) concur with numerous other observations, including that of a professional statistician (W. Wallace BSc MSc MPhil FSS AFIMA, available on-line at http://ahed.pbworks.com/LiesDamnedLiesStatistics#StatisticianComment ),
that the extrapolation made by Badman from the data provided by local authorities is completely unjustified; if anything, it is more likely that the rate of abuse is lower among home educated children.
Mr Balls is using this conclusion to insist that DCSF's approach is correct, but his statements are false and unfounded. Once again, it is difficult to believe that this is not deliberate, but we are prepared to offer the benefit of the doubt and accept that this is merely gross incompetence on Badman's part.
Nevertheless, Badman is doggedly pursuing an approach of policy-based evidence making, with a letter to local authorities (dated September 17th) and accompanying spreadsheet soliciting more data in a desperate attempt to obtain data to backup his predetermined conclusions.
4 Badman's Erroneous View of Research into the Benefits of Home Education
The report dismisses and trivialises decades of research that show the benefits of home education in a few shallow sentences; Badman had no remit within his terms of reference, no time and no capability to review or comment on such research. We could argue at length about the merits of home education and its superior outcomes, however, this is not an appropriate forum and we simply cite one very recent study in the United States that effectively contradicts Badman's casuistry:
· Research by Dr Brian Ray of the U.S. National Home Education Research Institute, on behalf of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
· Available on-line at: http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray2009/2009_Ray_StudyFINAL.pdf
· The study is based on a large sample of 11,739
· Home educated children typically score 34-39 percentile points above those in state schools on standard academic tests (the average for school children is - by statistical definition - 50%)
· Home educated children achieve scores above average regardless of their parents level of formal education or family's household income. The distribution of parental incomes and education spans national ranges (in the latter, ranging from no high-school qualification to doctoral degree).
· A growing base of home-educated adults studied by the report's author indicates that the beneficial outcomes of home education extend far beyond excellent grades, with home-educated children growing into adults who, relative to the general population:
· participate in community service more frequently;
· vote and attend public meetings more frequently;
· attend and succeed in higher education more frequently.
5 Concluding Remarks
Instead of interfering with a successful system, perhaps Badman and Balls would better serve the nation and its people by learning from home educators and attempting to apply the lessons more widely.
Reliance on the view of a small number of local authorities that the current system is "unworkable" is spurious; there is only a problem if responsibility for children's education is taken away from parents and placed on the state. DCSF and Badman are creating problems where there are none and attempting to "solve" these with disproportionate and unnecessary legislation. They fail to understand one of the fundamental reasons for choosing home education: that parents do not regard the state school system and its related agents and bureaucrats as suitable for any controlling or influential role in the education of their children. This should not be interpreted as a slur on the school teaching profession; we recognise that they work in an environment that has, for decades, been controlled and degraded by the likes of Balls and Badman. Nevertheless, the safety and educational needs of our children are paramount and we insist that this should be respected by the state.
Current law protects individuals, whereas the measures proposed by Badman deny parents the right to protect their children from an incompetent and politically-driven school system where standards of education and child safety are subject to the whims and narrow prejudices of the prevailing political climate.
The ultimate obscenity in the Badman report is its recommendation that children be inspected in their homes, at any time, without parents present if the authorities so wish. Children's homes should be a sanctuary. Given that there is no evidence to show that child abuse in the home is detected in schools (and Badman admits this), then if home-educated children are inspected in this way, the same should apply more widely. We suspect that this would be neither practical or acceptable.
6 The Authors
We are home-educating parents, both Physics graduates with PhDs. Jointly we have almost forty years post doctoral experience in higher education, scientific research and high-tech industry.