Memorandum submitted by Rainbow-Leaf Lovejoy, incorporating material by Dani Ahrens

 

1. Executive Summary

 

1.1)This submission to the Children, Schools and Families Committee addresses some aspects of the conduct of the review and related consultations, and some of the recommendations it made.

 

1.2) Of particular note are:

 

• the small sample of Elective Home Educating (EHE) families to which questionnaires were sent (2000 out of an estimated 50,000+ EHE families UK-wide, and potentially many more);

 

• the lack of subsequent opportunity for additional EHE families to participate in or otherwise contribute to the review and/or comment on the appropriateness of its recommendations;

• the adoption of recommendations made in the review by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for inclusion into proposed legislation before ongoing consultations with the public have been completed;

 

• the proposed abrogation of parents' rights and responsibilities, and duty in law, to ensure an education for their children appropriate and adequate to their ages, aptitudes and abilities;

 

• the proposed arrogation to Local Authorities (LAs) of unprecedented rights of access to the home and unaccompanied interview of each child;

 

• the prioritising of proposed translation into legislation of review recommendations ahead of arguably more urgent public concerns about the effectiveness of existing safeguarding protocols within state-registered and -regulated institutions and inspection regimes;

 

• the failure to recognise that the review as conducted constitutes no more than a pilot study to indicate need for comprehensive review, both of the range of inputs into UK educational provision, and of their relative effectiveness to achieve a range of desired outcomes.

 

1.3) Many other points could be made in addition to these, but because no formal opportunitywas provided for all EHEs (even those already registered with LAs) to be informed of the review and its recommendations, even though such EHEs are the constituency to be affected by adoption of the review's recommendations, thus whose views on the review it is desirable to know - because of lack of formal information, this inquiry came to my knowledge informally immediately before today's deadline. Thus this submission is a short indication of considerations for the Select Committee.

 

2) The submitter is an Elective Home Educator, a parent of three children aged nearly 16, 12, and 9. My daughter was educated at home until secondary age, and is now reasonably happy in the local community secondary school. My older son entered the same school last year, but did not enjoy it and asked to be removed, so is back home-educating. My younger son briefly attended the local primary school on a flexi-basis, but preferred to continue exclusively in home-education for now.

 

3) Factual information is as above. The main issues are, first, that while the review estimates the number of EHE families potentially to be 80,000, less than 2000 EHE families were canvassed, and second, that even with this limited and arguably unrepresentative sample, there are so many issues raised by the review that require to be taken into account in order to determine what if anything could and/or should be done to support EHE that the only appropriate response would be to draw up plans for a much more inclusive and comprehensive consultation with all interested parties.

 

4) Recommendations for action are therefore that no draft legislation be proposed at present, nor any of the review's recommendations be adopted piecemeal without an authoritative overview, with authority conferred by adoption of an open, transparent, comprehensive and rigorous consultation process in which all EHE families are invited to participate and contribute, both formally, for all those EHE families who are at present voluntarily registered with their LAs, and informally, and if necessary anonymously, for all those EHEs who have no present formal contact with any LAs, nor inclination to have any until assured of the state's support for rather than intrusive policing of EHE.

5) Because the imminent deadline for submission due to the informational circumstances described above precludes more formal presentation, the remainder of this memorandum will represent further issues for consideration as a list of points, roughly organised by topics suggested in the press notice, and of a cut-and-pasted EHE briefing on the review.

6) The following are examples of concerns about the review process and its outcomes taken from recent HE exchanges in email groups. Many more such concerns have been raised and considered. The importance of these expressed concerns to the committee's inquiry is that they represent the perceptions of EHE families of the potential intentions and actual outcomes of the review process. Thus regardless of the degree of accuracy of these expressions of concern in terms of representing qualifications and/or caveats in relation to particular inferences in the review document, the effect of the review process, recommendation adoption, truncated consultation and proposed legislation, has been to cause anger and fear among EHE families within an EHE community committed to keeping their children safe and happy and especially free from fear. This surely cannot be an appropriate outcome of a review purportedly intended to improve EHE safeguarding and welfare.

 

7) Short list of EHE-expressed concerns:

i) limited self-selected conceptually unrepresentative and statistically inappropriate sample of EHEs, with a low response rate;
ii) questionnaire format and target scope of questions were inadequate to explore range of valid home-education approaches;
iii) recognition of parents' central role in all educational success, explicit intention not to modify or contradict, but by projective inference and prospective implementation does just this;
iv) review scope originally to look for specific evidence of HE being used for people trafficking, domestic servitude, forced marriage, not education;
v) acknowledged no evidence found of above concerns, yet recommendations still being adopted as though urgent;
vi) anecdotal unreferenced therefore unverifiable evidence of alleged abuse/harm/death after asserted removal by parents of children from school;
vii) no clarification of meaning or status of 'being known to social services' (in what regards?);
viii) no clarification of relations of 'being known to social services' and 'intention to home-educate';
ix) no traceable instances or explicit accounts of asserted examples to allow investigation of validity of alleged relations;
x) confusion and conflation of school-initiated exclusion or removal by parents of children from school, with explicitly expressed and plausible intention to home-educate;
xi) confusion and conflation of safeguarding and welfare with education, no rigorous distinction; xii) abrogation of parents' and children's rights to lawful educational autonomy;
xiii) arrogation to LAs exclusively of arbitration/adjudication rights over educational autonomy;
xiv) proposing two new unprecedented extensions of existing statutory powers, of right of entrance to home, of child interview without adult present;
xv) allowing proposed powers to be exercised by LAs without appropriate training and safeguards, especially including training in different approaches to education other than 'schooling';
xvi) cost of implementation of recommended inspection regime, if extra funding not allocated; xvii) cost of implementation of recommended support regime, failure to make support mandatory;

8) Rather than reinvent the wheel, and in accord with submission guidelines that memoranda should be self-contained (which I think entails including attachments within the text) the remainder of this submission will consist of a general briefing document on the review prepared for recent publicity, which makes many referenced points more clearly than could rewriting them in the time remaining.

9)Thank you very much for your consideration of these issues in your inquiry.

10 ) General briefing on the Badman Review:

Background

Graham Badman was asked by the Department for Children, Families and Schools (DCSF) to carry out an independent review of Elective Home Education in January 2009.

The government had just issued statutory guidance on local authorities' duty to identify children not receiving a suitable education[1], following a public consultation, to which many home educators responded.

In November 2007, the government issued guidelines for local authorities, on elective home education[2], also following a public consultation, to which many home educators responded.

Approximately 1300 home educating parents and 200 home educated children responded to Graham Badman's review questionnaire. A large majority of respondents (at least 80%) were broadly in favour of the status quo in terms of regulation of home education. Only 10% of respondents favoured the introduction of a scheme of registration, monitoring and inspection.

Graham Badman's report was published on 11th June 2009[3]. It contained 28 recommendations, centred around a scheme of mandatory registration, monitoring and inspection of home educating families.

Ed Balls, on behalf of the DCSF, immediately accepted some of Graham Badman's recommendations[4], and announced another public consultation on their implementation[5].

Although the consultation period is not yet finished (it closes on October 19th), the government has already announced that it plans to include 'improving monitoring arrangements for children educated at home' in an Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill, which will be announced in the Queen's Speech in November[6].

Following protests from many home educating parents, the Children, Families and Schools Parliamentary Select Committee is conducting a short inquiry into the Badman Review and the associated consultation. They have called for written evidence, to be submitted by 22nd September[7].

What is Badman recommending?

The key recommendations, which have been turned into proposals in the government's consultation document, are Recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24.

Recommendation 1: annual registration and statement of intent

Home educators would be required to register every year with their local authority. The registration process would include submitting a statement of the parents' "educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months".

According to the DCSF consultation document, parents would be expected to provide the following information at the time of registration: "child's name, date of birth, address, the same information for adults with parental responsibility; a statement of approach to education, and the location where education is conducted if not the home". The document also says "Any changes to registration details should be notified immediately".

It would be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information.

Recommendations 23 and 24: local authority discretion to refuse or revoke registration

Local authorities would have the power to refuse or revoke registration if they had "safeguarding concerns". These are defined in the Review report as follows:

"any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children's social care, on such grounds as:

alcohol or drug abuse

incidents of domestic violence

previous offences against children

And in addition:

anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education." (emphasis added)

Recommendation 7: Right of access to the home and to interview children alone

Local authority officers would have the right to enter the homes of home educating families, and to interview children without their parents present.

Home educated children would be required to demonstrate their "progress and attainment" in accord with the statement of intent that forms part of the registration information.

Why do home educators object?

There is no problem to be solved

Having been specifically asked to look for evidence that home education could be used as a cover for abuse, forced marriage or domestic servitude Graham Badman found no evidence that this was actually happening.  In paragraph 8.14 of the report, he stated:

"I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities."

An analysis of the responses of 129 local authorities to Freedom of Information requests has revealed that the rate of abuse among children known to be electively home educated is in fact less than a third of that in the population as a whole.[8]

There is no evidence that home education produces significantly worse educational or social outcomes than school education - quite the opposite, in fact. Paula Rothermel's 2002 study of 419 home educating families in the UK found that the home educated children achieved significantly higher scores than the national average on a range of assessments in the areas of literacy and numeracy, and were socially adept.[9]

Existing powers are sufficient

Local authorities already have power to require home educating families to supply information that will satisfy the authority that an education is being provided, if they have reason to believe it is not.

Because they may not know if there is cause for concern if they have no information at all, there is also provision (due to Lord Donaldson's judgment in a 1980 court case) for LAs to make informal enquiries of home educators. Home educating families are permitted to respond to these enquiries in a variety of ways. This allows families to engage with LAs in whichever way suits them and their children best.

If families refuse to supply information, even when issued with a legal notice to do so, or if the information supplied does not satisfy the LA that a suitable education is being provided, then a school attendance order (SAO) can be issued. Parents can be prosecuted if they don't comply with an SAO.

If there is reason to believe any child is at risk of harm, social services have extensive powers to investigate. This is the same for home educated children as for school children.

Making a minority choice is not a crime, and parents should not be automatically treated with suspicion just because they have made a lawful choice concerning their children's education.

Danger of doing more harm than good

Recommendation 7 amounts to a blanket screening programme for a normal risk population. Local authority officers, without specific training in child protection or safeguarding would be given greater powers than that entrusted to child protection social workers. The report states that they would:

"have the right of access to the home;

have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well."

Children being interviewed by the police under suspicion of having committed a crime are entitled to have an appropriate adult present, but home educated children (unless they are particularly vulnerable) will not be allowed this right.

Mass screening for child abuse is not current policy in any democratic country. A 1993 study by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care summed up why:

" The main problem with the available approaches is the high false positive rate. For example, assuming a high prevalence rate for child maltreatment of 20%, screening 1,000 children with an instrument whose sensitivity is 80% and specificity 90% would result in 33% of the positive test results being false positive. With a lower prevalence rate of abuse, the number of false-positive results would be even higher. A sizeable number of individuals identified by such techniques as being "at risk for child maltreatment" would never go on to commit abuse. Such labelling may put people under increased stress and interfere with their ability to function as parents. Further, the validity of many of the screening approaches has not been adequately evaluated." [10]

Recommendation 23 is an invitation for LA staff to exercise their prejudices and will result in information about prospective home educators being shared between professionals for no proven benefit. Dr Eileen Munro of LSE commented:

" Recommendation 23 would lead to considerable intrusion into the privacy of family members and is poorly thought through.  When recommending new data sharing, one needs to consider the signal to noise ratio - how much of this data will add value to the practice of the receiver in safeguarding children and how much will be irrelevant but causing problems through taking up time that could be better spent.  The author does not appear to have made any estimation of such statistics but my suspicion is that it would lead to considerably more noise than signal and, in fact, create risk of harm by obscuring the few 'signals' (of true concern) among a storm of noise (irrelevant data)." (email correspondence with a home educator in Brighton, August 2009)

The proposals are based on a misunderstanding of the law

The review report and the DCSF consultation both talk about balancing the rights of parents and the rights of children, as if these two things are contrary to each other.

As well as being completely illogical, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way education law in England works.

In fact, parents do not, in English law, have a 'right to home educate' except that which is conferred by Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act[11]. The rights of parents, in this context, are entirely bound up with the parental duty to ensure that children receive an education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability and any special educational needs they may have.

Parents do not have a right to choose to deny their children the education they need, nor do they have a right to choose to put their children in danger. There is no conflict between the parent's duty to provide an education and the child's right to receive an education; these are both enshrined in the very same piece of statute law.

Local authorities ask for additional powers to visit home educating families and see home educated children, but they do not understand or use the powers they already have.

If local authorities take powers to control the type of education children should receive, they would make themselves legally liable for the outcomes. Children who believe their education (whether at school or at home) was not adequate would have a legal case against their local authority.

Being asked to submit planned outcomes in advance would prevent parents educating according to an autonomous or child led philosophy

For autonomous educators, being asked to make plans for the following twelve months, and state the outcomes they expect at the end of that time is nonsense.

Summerhill School is not expected to supply planned outcomes for each pupil.  If they can operate their school following a philosophy which allows children autonomy, home educating parents should have the same freedom.

In a healthy democracy, there should be room for disagreement and debate over educational approaches.  Effectively outlawing one (highly effective) form of education is an act worthy of a dictatorship.

Additional work with no extra funding

Administering a register, working with parents to agree 12 month plans every year, and visiting every home educating family's home at least once a year is bound to mean more work for local authorities. The Home Education Advisory Service[12] has calculated that the costs nationwide could be as much as 500 million. However, Baroness Morgan has said there is no need even to assess the financial impact of the proposals[13]. It is clear that there will be no additional funding forthcoming from the government.

At a time when essential services are being cut, and social services are stretched to breaking point, is this really a priority?



[1] http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/resources-and-practice/IG00202/

[2] http://tinyurl.com/heguidelines

[3] http://tinyurl.com/badmanreport

[4] http://tinyurl.com/ballsletter

[5] http://tinyurl.com/monitoringconsult

[6] http://www.commonsleader.gov.uk/output/Page2831.asp

[7] http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/csf/csfpn220709.cfm

[8] http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2

[9] http://www.pjrothermel.com/phd/Home.htm

[10] http://tinyurl.com/canadascreen

[11] http://tinyurl.com/sectionseven

[12] www.heas.org.uk

[13] http://tinyurl.com/morganimpact