Memorandum submitted by Oxon Home Educators

1. Oxon Home Educators

Oxon Home Educators are an informal network of 336 families in the Oxfordshire area. We share educational resources and support. Parents organise regular events such as drama groups and one-off educational experiences such as group visits to museums. Families vary in size, income, philosophical and religious belief. Children range from toddler age to post-18.

2. Summary

The review was not carried out fairly and its methodology is flawed.

No data were included to support the findings

There is no evidence for the need for change: legislation already exists to address educational and safeguarding issues.

Several of the recommendations contravene existing laws.

The recommendations are not proportionate, transparent, accountable, consistent or targeted

3. Overall Conduct of the Review

3.1. Local Authorities were asked questions about implied or assumed duties that do not exist in law. Specifically, Local Authorities have no duty in law to monitor home educated children - yet were asked questions which implied such a duty.

3.2. In similar vein, the public questionnaire implied that mandatory systems exist to monitor and support home educators and asked whether they were sufficient - thereby avoiding the question of whether such systems should exist. No such general systems exist because there has never been a need for them.

3.3. Local Authorities were asked 26 separate questions. By contrast, the general public consultation included only 6 questions about the subject matter, each beginning with the words "Do you think...", thereby soliciting only opinions. There was no specific consultation for home-educating parents nor recognised experts in the field of alternative education.

3.4. By contrast, many opinions were solicited and extensively quoted from various NGOs which (often by definition) have no expertise in elective home education. These include:

National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT)

Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)

Education Division of the Church of England

NSPCC

British Humanist Association

National Association of Social Workers in Education (NASWE)

None of these groups has any particular association with elective home education and there is no reason to believe they have any particular insight to offer. What was quoted once again took the form of unsubstantiated opinions and assumptions. The views of groups and individuals that represent home educators and do have expertise in this field were poorly represented. Evidence of the beneficial effects of home education was dismissed out of hand in its entirety as 'needing more research'.

3.5. The review suggests that in "some" local authorities the proportion of home-educated children "known" to children's social care is disproportionate relative to the population as a whole, yet at the same time it clearly acknowledged that the true number of home-educated children in any region is unknown. Thus any such conjecture could have no factual basis.

Nor does it explain why being "known" to children's social care is of necessity a bad thing - perhaps they are "known" because neighbours, unaware that home education is legal, have seen children playing during the day and reported the family to social services. Perhaps they are known due to a child having special educational needs and in receipt of services from the local authority in connection with this.

4. Public Questionnaire

4.1. The questions in the review were carefully and disingenuously phrased so as to admit of no other possibility than that home educated children were at risk and needed government intervention to protect them. Any attempt to answer such questions directly implied acceptance of this proposition.

4.2. Question 1 of the public questionnaire asks in what capacity the respondent is answering: this is purely administrative.

4.3. Question 2 asks whether the respondent thinks the "current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate". It does not attempt to define or describe the current system - merely implies that there is one - therefore unless respondents happen to have researched this area by themselves it is hard to see how they could be in a position to express an opinion.

More insidiously, by asking whether the 'current system for safeguarding' is adequate, it is assuming that home educated children are at risk and need 'safeguarding' - and indeed that there is already a system in place to deal with this supposed problem.

4.4. Question 3 asks whether the respondent thinks that home-educated children are able to achieve "the five Every Child Matters outcomes". The DCSF appears to have an incorrect idea of the scope of the Every Child Matters agenda; parents are not required to ensure that children meet the Every Child Matters outcomes.

The 2004 Children's Act, Section 10 is the actual legislation corresponding to Every Child Matters (ECM). It requires local authorities to design their programmes to improve the well-being of children. It does not confer an obligation on them to ensure that each and every child meets those outcomes in general outside the remit of local authority services.

4.5. Question 4 again alludes to "the five outcomes" - overplaying their significance. It asks whether the respondent thinks Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children are able to achieve them. This question is unlikely to elicit a "no" unless the respondent is aware of the wording of the Children's Act. Government has many obligations but this is not one of them.

4.6. Question 5 asks whether the respondent thinks there should be any changes to the "current system for supporting home educating families". This is misleading - there is no general system for supporting home-educating families - at least none administered by the state. The sequence of questions might suggest that home-educating families are in receipt of state support and therefore make it seem reasonable that they should also submit to monitoring "in return".

4.7. Question 6 asks whether the respondent thinks there should be changes to the "current system for monitoring home educating families". As there is no such general system the questionnaire downplays the unprecedented changes that are proposed in the review, implying they would be merely changes to an existing system rather than a shift in the fundamental relationship between state and parents.

4.8. Question 7 is a most extraordinary question for a public consultation. It states that "Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect".

Note what it is not saying, because it dare not:

It is not saying that home education ever has been used as cover for such.

It is not saying that it definitely could be so used.

It is not saying that anyone has ever alleged that it has been so used.

It is not saying who these people are who expressed these groundless concerns.

It says only that some people have expressed concern that it could be used in such a way. But then it goes on to ask "What do you think Government should do to ensure this cannot happen again?" This is unbelievable - it starts with the weakest of propositions that is so feeble that it dare not name its source - then immediately takes it as read that the baseless supposition so expressed has a few words later become unquestionable truth.

One may as well say "Some people have expressed concern that pigs could fly. What do you think Government should do to end this deadly aviation hazard?"

4.9. There is not sufficient space in this document to conduct a similar detailed analysis of the 26 questions put to local authorities. Note that other questions are in a similar vein.

5. The Published Review

5.1. The introduction claims that the review has been "triggered by a range of issues and representations" - asserting that these are clarified in Appendix A. However there is no such clarification of these issues, merely conjecture. No evidence is provided to justify the review .

5.2. The review is littered with phrases such as "I believe...", "I am not persuaded that..." and "I am not convinced that..." Belief cannot be substituted for evidence. If evidence had been found then this should have been published with the review.

5.3. Evidence presented to Badman from home educators supporting the positive effect home education has on their children and families was not included in the review . Indeed Badman dismissed such evidence using phrases such as "I am not persuaded it is sufficient" with little or no further justification.

5.4. The subjective assessment of current arrangements is that they are insufficiently robust to ensure children's safety. This is despite all the means set out very clearly in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, which Local Authorities can already use to intervene if they have evidence of problems. These include Section 437(3) of the Education Act 1996 to serve a School Attendance Order as well as Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989 Assessment of children in need and Duty to investigate.

6. Statistical Data

No specific data are included within the Review or its appendices to support the 'findings'. In a document of this scale and sweeping recommendations several appendices of data would be expected. Not even the most basic data such as the range of numbers of known home educated families by Local Authority are stated.

Home Educators have been rectifying this omission through requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Obtaining statistical data this way is a highly inefficient process, both for the requestor and the government agency involved. Andrew Partridge, Information Rights Manager, DCSF, in a letter to the Information Commissioner's Office dated 17 July 2009 acknowledges a backlog of freedom of information requests.

Requests for this information would have been redundant had the data been included in the review.

7. Review Recommendations

7.1. The Better Regulation Executive suggests that regulation should be:

Transparent

Accountable

Proportionate

Consistent

Targeted - only at cases where action is needed

The recommendations of the Badman review are considered against each of these points below:

7.2. Transparent

The document relies on allusion and implication without citing sufficient examples or statistics to justify its assertions.

7.3. Accountable

There is no indication that under these recommendations Local Authorities could be accountable to parents or the public at large in their decisions. For instance, the review recommends giving Local Authorities the right to refuse or revoke registration of home education where there are "safeguarding concerns". The review does not define what constitutes concern nor outline any requirement to establish concrete grounds for such concern. No appeals process is proposed.

7.4. Proportionate

Since the review provides no quantitative evidence of safeguarding or educational problems, it is hard to see how any of the recommendations can be considered proportionate. Action for Home Education (AHED) at www.ahed.org.uk has collated data from 129 Local Authorities (with 23 further responses pending or refused) collected by means of Freedom of Information Requests. They have data showing the numbers of children considered at risk of abuse and neglect within the known home-educating community and have compared this to data available in the public domain relating to abuse of children within the general population.
(http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2)

Their data show that of the 11m children in England, 1.3% are believed to be at risk of abuse and neglect. In the known home educated population, the rate is only 0.3%. In light of this, such recommendations as giving Local Authorities the right to enter the homes of home educators and interview their children privately without any evidence of wrongdoing are totally disproportionate to any perceived problem.

Mr. Badman himself has acknowledged that his recommendations are not based on statistical evidence that would withstand scrutiny. In a letter (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/) to Directors of Children's Services dated 17 September 2009 he asks for further data. He states:

"I would like to strengthen my statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust. "

7.5. Consistent
Recommendations 1 and 24 are not consistent with the Education Act of 1996, section 7.
Recommendation 1 is not consistent with the Pupil Registration Regulations 2006.
Recommendations 7 and 23 are not consistent with the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights

7.6. Targeted - only at cases where action is needed

Present law and the Elective Home Education Guidelines fulfil this requirement. No further regulation is necessary. Action cannot be said to be needed unless evidence of a problem has been established.

8. Consultation: Home Education Registration and Monitoring Proposals (2009)

8.1. The most obvious problem with this consultation is that the proposals are taken directly from the Review of Elective Home Education which did not take the views of key stakeholders into consideration, did not provide evidence for its recommendations and does not make recommendations that meet the Better Regulation Executive's principles of good regulation.

8.2. Several of the Criteria found within the Code of Practice on Consultation (http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf) have not been met by this Consultation as described in the following paragraphs:

8.3. Criterion 1: When to consult
"Formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome"

Based on the timings of this consultation versus the draft legislation there is clearly no time for one to influence the other. Ed Balls has already wholeheartedly accepted the recommendations of the Review which indicates that matters have already been decided. That goes against the spirit of Consultation: "there is no point in consulting when everything is already settled".

8.4. Criterion 2: Duration of Consultation

"When planning a consultation, it is important to take steps to raise awareness of the exercise among those who are likely to be interested. In particular, departments should consider ways to publicise consultations at the time of, or if possible before, the launch-date so that consultees can take advantage of the full consultation period to prepare considered responses."

These steps were not taken. The Consultation was launched the same day the Review was published.

8.5. Criterion 3: Clarity of scope and impact

"Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed, the scope to influence and the expected costs and benefits of the proposals."

There is no impact assessment. There will be many increased costs if these recommendations are put into effect. How are they going to be funded?

8.6. Criterion 4: Accessibility of consultation exercises
"Consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach." It is vital to be proactive in disseminating consultation documents."

Despite their names and addresses being held on file by Oxfordshire County Council, none of the home educating families known to them has been contacted in any form to invite them to respond to the Consultation. Home educating families are surely the primary Stakeholders in this exercise and should have been informed by letter. It is likely that there are families known to the County Council who are not aware of the Consultation or the proposed changes in the law.

"Thought should also be given to alternative versions of consultation documents which could be used to reach a wider audience, e.g. a young person's version."

Despite the fact that the review purports to be very concerned about children's rights to be heard, no such way of determining children's views was designed for them.

8.7. Criterion 5: The burden of consultation

"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."

Since 2005, home educators have participated in 16 reviews and consultations. Of these, five have been directly related to home education. Others have had a home education element, such as the two "Children Missing Education" consultations. (For a complete list see (http://ahed.pbworks.com/BriefingPaperHEReview#3consultations).

If current proposals are adopted, we can presumably also expect further consultations on new Elective Home Education guidelines and guidance to determine a suitable education.

9. Recommendations

9.1. That the Select Committee recommend to the Government that the Review on Elective Home Education and its related consultation, along with proposed legislation be discarded due to its lack of supporting data and inadequate consultation with key stakeholders.

9.2. That the Select Committee review the training and professional development policies of the DCSF with a view to increasing the quality of consultations and questionnaires.

9.3. That the Select Committee review the policies of the DCSF with respect to the contract of independent consultants and their abilities to produce reports based on sound statistics and recommendations that are transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted.

9.4. That training provision for local authority staff with regard to Elective Home Education and related law be examined and strengthened in order that Home Educators are not continuously being consulted on the same issues.

 

September 2009