Memorandum submitted by a Local Authority Officer

 

Elective Home Education Enquiry

 

This LA participated in the Review of Elective Home Education (EHE) conducted by Graham Badman on behalf of the DCSF between January and June 2009.

This LA responded in detail to the initial questionnaire, to the second questionnaire and by attending two meetings with Graham Badman. Supplementary information regarding EHE and Safeguarding was also provided, including case studies and statistics.

This LA's experience was that the Review was conducted robustly, fairly and with a sound evidence base.

The Review clearly identified the ways in which current home education law directly conflicts with the LA's ability to exercise its Safequarding responsibilities.

The Review clearly identified the ways in which the law is being used by a significant minority of parents to avoid prosecution for non attendance at school or to conceal domestic problems which could lead to Social Care proceedings.

The recommendations of the Review seek to achieve a balance between enabling legitimate and responsible home educators to access a wider range of opportunities for their children and protecting vulnerable children who are not receiving an education.

This LA accepts and endorses the majority of the recommendations made by the review, whilst having reservations about the impact on human resources and finance.

 

 

1. Background to the Review

 

1.1 This LA welcomed the review of Elective Home Education and believed it to be long overdue. The numbers of children known to this authority as being home educated have steadily increased in recent years. In part this is due to better information management systems, but also due to increased awareness that EHE is a legal option. The Internet has been a factor in spreading knowledge of the law amongst parents.

 

1.2 This LA recognises that there are many responsible home educators whose children are thriving and succeeding, but has had significant concerns that the current legislation also allows negligent and irresponsible parents to withdraw their children from school to avoid engagement with external agencies, conceal domestic problems or to avoid prosecution.

 

1.3. The 1996 Education Act (Section 7) emphasises the rights of the parent, not the rights of the child or the responsibilities of the parent. This is in conflict with Safeguarding legislation and the Every Child Matters Agenda.

 

1.4 LAs have few powers to address cases where it believes that the child's needs are not being met. School Attendance Orders and Education Supervision Orders have practical difficulties in implementation. Gathering sufficient evidence to refer a family to Social Care is not always possible as the LA has no right to access the home or see the child.

 

2. Conduct of the Review

 

2.1 The scope and terms of reference for the review were clearly identified. The timescale for the review was initially 4 months from January to April 2009. Although this was relatively short, given the amount of interest in the exercise amongst both LAs and home educators, much of the information was readily available and stakeholders were keen to respond, therefore the timescale, scope and terms of reference were all realistic.

 

2.2 The terms of reference were very clear in determining that the review would focus on barriers to safeguarding, vulnerable children, the Every Child Matters Agenda and supporting home educating families to ensure that all children receive a suitable education.

 

2.3 The review was conducted principally by Graham Badman, former DCS of Kent County Council and Elizabeth Green, a civil servant working for the DCSF. This LA believes that Mr Badman had an appropriate professional background, knowledge and experience to conduct the review. At all times Mr Badman and Ms Green acted with exemplary professionalism and conducted the review with meticulous attention to detail, affording time to listen to and consult with all stakeholders, including home educated children. Existing research was also analysed.

 

2.4 The review was conducted without bias and this LA believes the resulting report is an accurate, fair and balanced representation of the current situation regarding home education in England.

 

 

 

 

 

2.5 This LA has concerns that a number of articulate home educators, protective of their parental rights and civil liberties, were, and still are, attempting to undermine the review by constant lobbying of government ministers and bombarding Local Authorities with Freedom of Information requests. This group is not representative of, or spokespeople for all home educators.

 

2.6 Local Authorites, as public servants, do not have the same ability to influence politicians as the general public. It is hoped that the Select Committee will acknowledge that the lobbyists are a small minority of the home educating community and will give equal attention to the views of experienced professionals within Local Authorities who have clearly identified the risks to vulnerable children.

 

2.7 The majority of home educating families in this LA are not affiliated to any home education group. The impression given by lobby groups that all home educators are themselves well educated, intelligent, articulate and responsible parents is a complete misrepresentation of the current situation in the experience of this Local Authority. The vulnerable children who are being kept at home and not receiving an education have no such voice and we are pleased that Mr Badman recognises this fact in the review.

 

2.8 It is to be hoped that the Select Committee acknowledge that vulnerable children are at risk under current legislation. This review was therefore much needed and has highlighted the key issues which need to be addressed by changes to legislation to minimise the risk, whilst balancing this against the liberty of responsible parents.

 

3. Nature of the Consultation Documents

 

3.1 The initial consultation focused on a questionnaire (Annex C) intended for public consultation, and a second questionnaire for Local Authorities (Annex D). Questions focused around the 5 Every Child Matters Outcomes.

 

3.2 The paper outlining the background to the consultation was clear and comprehensive and the aims and scope were well identified. It became apparent whilst responding to the review that home education law directly conflicts with the Every Child Matters Agenda, which was the focus of the review.

 

 

 

 

3.3 This LA responded using Annex D, and although the questionnaire was comprehensive, some of the questions had to be answered based on anecdotal evidence. For example Question 7 asked "Do you believe the local authority knows about all home educated children in your area?". We don't know, what we don't know - only what we DO know.

 

3.4 As a LA we DO know there are children not known to any agency - for example illegal immigrants, EU migrants. We know there are children who are home educating but not registered with the LA by word of mouth from the home educating community, and we know that there are families who move area and deregister their children from schools, particularly independent schools and do not notify us. These circumstances are often only known months or years after they happen, therefore the LA CANNOT know of all home educated children, but there is strong evidence that many are "under the radar".

 

3.5 As a LA we answered the questions as comprehensively as possible, qualifying our responses wherever possible. In response to Question 22 regarding safeguarding we were able to provide evidence that home education was being used inappropriately by misguided or negligent parents, or parents with mental health problems. Whilst these cases may not necessarily meet the thresholds for Social Care to intervene, there is no mechanism for engaging with these parents as they have withdrawn their children precisely to avoid external agencies. We may not know that child was at risk until it dies as may have happened in the case of Khyra Ishaq (Birmingham).

 

 

4. Recommendations made by the Review

 

4.1 The LA noted that Ed Balls, in his response to the published report stated;

 

"I believe that Graham Badman's review is fair and balanced and I am confident that it sets out a path for keeping home-educated children safe and for strengthening the quality of education they receive, while respecting parents' rights to choose to home educate, if they wish to do so. For these reasons I think the outcomes of the review are good news for children who are home-educated and for their parents."

 

4.2 This LA views Recommendation 24 as the most important, but also strongly supports Recommendation 1, a National Registration scheme and Recommendations 2-9 which supplement this and reflect good practice.

 

 

 

 

4.3 This LA also supports Recommendations 10-12 which recommend an extended range of support and opportunities are offered to home educating families, but recognises that Recommendation 28 is vital to ensure that home educating parents are not offered services which cannot be funded.

 

4.4 All of the recommendations in the Review are based on solid evidence, however the LA would like Government to consider the timescale for implementation. Ed Balls did indicate that he would be recommending that certain recommendations would be implemented immediately and then a further consultation on the implementation of the Registration Scheme was announced.

 

4.5 This LA would like to see the most urgent Recommendations identified by Mr Balls being implemented without further delay. If they are not implemented before the next General Election, the only outcome of this review will be to have damaged relationships between home educators and LA's and even more importantly to have left vulnerable children at risk.

 

 

 

September 2009