Memorandum submitted by Robert Norton

 

I have the following points to make concerning the "review of elective home education".

 

1. In summary:

 

1.1 Local authority staff already have the means to ensure that home educators provide a suitable education.

 

1.2 The report acts on the assumption that home educators are not providing a suitable education.

 

1.3 The proposals give local authority staff unacceptably intrusive rights of access to private homes.

 

1.4 The report advocates leaving children as young as five alone with local authority staff.

 

1.5 The proposals would make local authority positions that concern home education attractive to paedophiles and other unsuitable individuals.

 

1.6 Discriminatory and coercive measures are openly advocated.

 

1.7 The DCSF accepted the proposals without waiting for the results of the subsequent consultation.

 

1.8 The report author is part of the educational establishment and has clearly shown a bias against home educators.

 

1.9 The report research is insufficient, flawed, misleading and inaccurate.

 

1.10 The proposals put forward to 'help' home educators are of little value and amount to mere 'window dressing'.

 

1.11 In many cases, home education is the only option and the local state schools do not provide an acceptable service.

 

1.12 The report fails to consider any alternative other than conventional schools.

 

1.13 Many recommendations are poorly explained and ambiguous.

 

1.14 There is no mention of a review or complaints process.

 

1.15 The proposals would destroy the rich and diverse nature of home education.

 

1.16 The report erroneously insinuates that the rights of the child and the rights of parents are opposed.

 

1.17 Existing local authority powers are not sufficiently utilised.

 

1.18 No action is proposed to ensure that local authorities improve their services.

 

1.19 Entirely spurious claims have been made concerning child abuse.

 

 

 

 

2. In detail:

 

2.1 Local authority staff already have the means to ensure that home educators provide a suitable education.

 

At present they can request details of how home education will take (or is taking) place. If this is not deemed to be sufficient, the local authority staff can take legal action against the home educators to put an acceptable solution in place. Badman's proposals would compel home educators to submit detailed plans a year in advance. Vindictive and/or incompetent local authority staff would be able to simply classify these as 'unsuitable' and issue a school attendance order without having to first justify this in court. At present, local authority staff have to justify their views, under the new proposals they would not have to. In essence, wide ranging and arbitrary powers would be placed with junior, unelected and unaccountable public employees.

 

2.2 The report acts on the assumption that home educators are not providing a suitable education.

 

A central principle of our legal system is that accused persons are 'innocent until proven guilty'. Local authority staff have to prove that home educators are not providing a sufficient education. Badman's proposals clearly take the view that home educators have to prove that they are providing a suitable education. Badman is proposing to deny a basic principle of the legal system to home educators.

 

2.3 The proposals give local authority staff unacceptably intrusive rights of access to private homes.

 

This is a completely unnecessary intrusion into private life and a denial of the right to privacy. LA staff would be able to demand entry to a home without any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever. Even the Police do not have this power and proposals for them to carry out 'spot checks' have been consistently rejected for years. However, Badman is proposing to give similar powers to much less well trained and qualified LA staff. The Police cannot just barge into the homes of known criminals without credible evidence. LA staff should be obliged to justify entry to home educators homes on an individual basis. The fact that someone home educates is not a good enough reason to give LA staff access. Many home educators would have allowed LA staff to visit before, but will now deny access if the state attempts to force it on them.

 

2.4 The report advocates leaving children as young as five alone with local authority staff.

 

Again, this amounts to LA staff looking for a crime where absolutely no evidence of one has taken place. The Police are not allowed to do this with known criminals, nor are they allowed to interview children alone - even though they are far better trained and qualified than LA Staff. For many home educators, this is not a negotiable issue and LA staff will not be left alone with their children under any circumstances. The wishes of the child should have primacy and if children do not want to see LA staff, they cannot be forced to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

2.5 The proposals would make local authority positions that concern home education attractive to paedophiles and other unsuitable individuals.

 

The review makes absolutely no mention of CRB checks for LA staff - even the ones who could be interviewing six year old children alone. Badman has effectively advocated giving child molesters the ability to commit widespread abuse with the blessing of the DCSF.

 

2.6 Discriminatory and coercive measures are openly advocated.

 

The proposals state that home educators would be required to register with the LEA each year, whereas pupils attending state schools only register once (i.e the first year that they attend the school). This is akin to Jewish people being made to register with the Gestapo in Nazi occupied Europe. The LA would also be given the power to withdraw registration on a whim and in so doing, force the home educated child back into the state school system.

 

2.7 The DCSF accepted the proposals without waiting for the results of the subsequent consultation.

 

In this, they have shown that they do not care what views are expressed in the consultation and have effectively decided what the conclusion of the review was before it had even begun. Badman is clearly a DCSF puppet and the whole review is obviously an exercise designed to give LA staff totalitarian powers. It is ironic that Isaiah Berlin is quoted on page 9, because he was openly in favour of removing restrictions so that individuals could control their own destiny - Badman has recommended the exact opposite.

 

2.8 The report author is part of the educational establishment and has clearly shown a bias against home educators.

 

Badman has a long history of employment in schools and LEAs, so it is not surprising that he has shown a clear bias in favour of a system that he has been part of for so long. The kind of language that he uses reflects this. For example, in paragraph 1.4 local authorities are described as being 'strongly of the opinion', while in paragraph 4.4 home educators quotations are described as 'a heady mixture of pent up rage, frustration, resentment and a rejection of third party judgement'. The contrast of objective terms to describe anything concerning local authorities and schools, while employing grossly emotive and subjective language for home educators continues throughout the report.

 

 

2.9 The report research is insufficient, flawed, misleading and inaccurate.

 

Two thousand responses to the review were received, three quarters of which were from home educators. None of the latter expressed a desire for non-CRB checked LA staff to be given to right to enter homes and be alone in a room with six year old children. Yet this is exactly what Badman has proposed. There is absolutely no breakdown of how the questionnaire has been answered. Indeed, it would appear that only 60% of the LEAs even bothered to reply. Badman has completely failed to support his conclusions with any evidence whatsoever. It is clear that his recommendations are simply based on the DCSF directive of what the outcome should be and his own prejudices.

 

 

 

2.10 The proposals put forward to 'help' home educators are of little value and amount to mere 'window dressing'.

 

The review attempts to gloss over the proposals for a gross infringement of personal freedom by trying to hide behind a few weak concessions. These range from free entry to the discredited GCSE exams to discounted music lessons. Many home educators actually use one of the many excellent internet schools. These utilise the IGCSE syllabus and the cost is between 2000 and 3000 for each pupil per year. Badman's proposals are of no help whatsoever.

 

 

2.11 In many cases, home education is the only option and the local state schools do not provide an acceptable service.

 

Our two local schools are Hoo (a failing school that has just been placed in 'special measures') and Temple (Recently the worst school in the country with a GCSE pass rate of 2%). This is not exactly an enviable choice and many parents all over the country are facing similar situations. It is clear that LEAs have far more pressing matters to address than the kind of oppressive micro-management that Badman is proposing.

 

2.12 The report fails to consider any alternative other than conventional schools.

 

There are a number of excellent internet schools that are gaining in popularity and represent a highly credible alternative to conventional schools. These offer a very high quality service at a far lower cost and have many additional benefits such as no school runs. Badman's report does not even mention them and it would appear that he is entirely unaware of their existence. This clear omission is inexcusable and a less than impressive action for someone who purports to be an educational expert.

 

2.13 Many recommendations are poorly explained and ambiguous.

 

For example, the twenty day delay after deregistering before removing children from the school roll. It is not clear if the child would still be expected to attend during this time or not. Nor is it clear who would decide if a child should be spoken to alone (or why it should be 'appropriate').

 

2.14 There is no mention of a review or complaints process.

 

Badman proposes to grant extensive powers to LA staff. However, no mention is made of reviewing decisions that home educators may object to or putting a complaints system in place to address situations where LA staff may have abused such powers. This is an unacceptably authoritarian approach that is better suited to places like North Korea and cannot be tolerated in any country that claims to be a democracy.

 

2.15 The proposals would destroy the rich and diverse nature of home education.

 

A unique and highly valuable feature of home education is its impressively wide choice of methods. These range from autonomous to school at home approaches and encompass a rich variety of different approaches. Badman's recommendations are over prescriptive and would ensure that any approach would be subject to the approval of LA staff who may not understand given methods or even be inclined to impose a uniformity based on conventional school orthodoxy. This would destroy the innovative nature of home education and make it subject to a dull unimaginative 'box ticking' mentality.

 

 

 

 

2.16 The report erroneously insinuates that the rights of the child and the rights of parents are opposed.

 

Recommendation seven states 'That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress'. This clearly implies that Badman thinks home educating parents are actively inhibiting their children's development. Other parts of the report give the clear impression that the rights of children and parents are in conflict and that parents home educate against their children's will. The truth is that home educating parents and their children are of the same view and that it is not a case of the parents verses their children but the parents and children verses the state.

 

2.17 Existing local authority powers are not sufficiently utilised.

 

In paragraph 1.4 Badman states that some LAs do not make effective use of their current statutory powers. A number of LA staff (e.g. Tony Mooney) have also whined that it is not 'easy' for them to confirm that home educated children are being educated and treated properly. I expect that the Police and Security Services did not find it easy to gather enough evidence to convict the terrorists who planned to explode bombs on the Trans-Atlantic flights. Nor is it 'easy' for our service personnel to fight a war in Afghanistan. However, it is simply a case of being professional and putting sufficient effort in to obtain a result. This is what LA staff can and should do and they already have enough powers to carry out their duties. If it is not 'easy' enough for Tony Mooney and people like him, they should be encouraged to find more suitable employment by having their contracts terminated.

 

2.18 No action is proposed to ensure that local authorities improve their services.

 

The review states that 'there are Local Authorities that do not discharge their responsibilities properly' (para 1.4). Badman then goes on to say that he is 'confident of their ability (para 5.9). He also states that local authorities do not note the reasons for deregistration and act on them. In conclusion, there is a clear recognition that some LAs do not perform adequately and that the reasons for deregistration are not even noted - let alone acted upon. Bearing that in mind, Badman's expression of confidence and proposals to grant extensive new powers are ill-advised and nonsensical to say the least. The most that he advocates is yet more monitoring and reporting. This is not surprising, given that Badman is a dull unimaginative part of the system. Greater accountability to the parents and children who actually use these services would be far more effective.

 

2.19 Entirely spurious claims have been made concerning child abuse.

 

Badman has failed to produce any evidence that home educated children are at risk of abuse. He does try to give the impression that a higher proportion are known to social services, but completely fails to support this with anything other than some meagre anecdotal evidence. His pathetic 'solution' is that an annual 'registration' and compulsory LA access to the home will suffice. This is the same as saying an annual inspection of every home owned by a Moslem family would have prevented the London Underground bombings. It is also worth considering how many children are killed or sustain mental and/or physical injuries in schools (perhaps Badman thinks that this is acceptable, because it can be monitored and reported). The high level of violence in school was one of the main reasons why we deregistered our child.

 

September 2009