Memorandum submitted by Jeremy Yallop
Some problems with the DCSF-commissioned review of elective home education in England 2009
l The questions in the public questionnaire were misleading
l The questions in the public questionnaire were insulting
l The results of the public questionnaire were ignored
l The questions sent to local authorities conflict with the current law
l The questions sent to the local authorities encourage and condone action outside of existing law and guidelines
l Badman's request to local authorities for additional evidence acknowledge that the evidence underlying the review is inadequate
l Badman's requests to local authorities for additional evidence shows that he wishes to support a predetermined position, not discover the actual truth
l The review was unbalanced in its coverage of local authority practices
l The review ignored unlawful practices by local authorities
l The Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) offered as evidence have little relevance
l The literature review was severely inadequate
l The summary of international law was severely inadequate
l The report misrepresented the current English law on education
l The metric used for the only quantitative claim in Badman's report does not support his conclusiosn
l The only quantitative claim in Badman's report is based on an incorrect analysis
l Badman gathered and then suppressed relevant evidence which did not support his recommendations
The report did not mention the views of any home educated children, although hundreds responded
l The report did not mention the views of any local or national home education organisations, although many responded
l The report, while disregarding the views of home-educating families and home education organisations, gave space to the views of various irrelevant groups and vested interests
l The report gave a distorted and inadequate representation of the views of the many hundreds of home educating parents who responded
l The DCSF has acted obstructively and unlawfully in response to requests for information about the review.
l The DCSF has misused the Freedom of Information Act to suppress evidence underlying the review
l The DCSF has made apparently counterfactual responses to Freedom of Information requests
l Most members of Badman's "Expert Reference Group" had no relevant expertise
l Most members of Badman's "Expert Reference Group" are affiliated with organisations that receive money from the DCSF
l The views of local authorities were given undue weight
l Many local authorities did not respond to the review
l The report misrepresented the questions that had been asked in the review
l There was no attempt to allow home educators without internet access to submit evidence
l The submission by the Church of England was manipulated to conceal its conclusions
l Badman has continued to state things as fact for which he has no evidence
l Even the quotation used in the opening pages of the report has been misused
1 The questions in the public questionnaire were misleading. For example, questions 5 and 6 ask whether the respondent thinks there is any need for changes to the "current system" of monitoring and supporting home educating families. In fact, there is no current system, so neither "yes" nor "no" is a meaningful answer.
2 The questions in the public questionnaire were insulting. For example, question 3 asks whether the respondent thinks that home-educated children are able to "be healthy". It is difficult to imagine a more foolish question: some home-educated children are healthy, and some are unhealthy, just as some Jewish children (for example) are healthy and some unhealthy. The question is so manifestly absurd that it is clear that it was not intended as a means of gathering evidence at all. Are we supposed to seriously entertain the idea that home-education makes it impossible for a child to be healthy?
3 The results of the public questionnaire were ignored. The DCSF analysed the results of the public questionnaire (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/frequency_count_of_responses_to), but the report made no mention of this analysis. This is one of a number of examples of the suppression of evidence which conflicted with Badman's proposals.
4 The questions sent to local authorities conflict with the current law. Question 19 (Badman report, Annex D) asks "Of the home educated children in your area of whom you have knowledge, what proportion in your estimation are receiving a suitable, full time (20hrs a week) education?", but the current law does not specify any particular number of hours per week for home-educated children. Badman's question also displays a complete lack of understanding of the nature of home education, which is rarely confined to particular hours.
5 The questions sent to the local authorities encourage and condone action outside of existing law and guidelines. For example, question 12 (Badman report, Annex D) asks "Following the initial assessment visit, are further monitoring visits made to a home educated child?". In fact, neither the law nor the 2007 DCSF Guidelines on Elective Home Education stipulate any kind of "initial assessment visit"; the question makes an entirely unwarranted assumption that such visits take place.
6 Badman's request to local authorities for additional evidence acknowledge that the evidence underlying the review is inadequate. On 17 September Badman wrote to local authorities about his evidence: "However, it was a small sample and we would like to supplement this data in order to provide more statistically rigorous information" and "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 Badman's requests to local authorities for additional evidence shows that he wishes to support a predetermined position, not discover the actual truth. He asks for data to "strengthen" his "statistical evidence": he apparently has no interest in data which does not support the conclusions he has already drawn.
8 The review was unbalanced in its coverage of local authority practices. The terms of reference of the review included
"Whether local authorities are providing the right type, level and balance of support to home educating families"
but the review made no attempt to answer this question. In particular, the report did not mention the views of home-educating families - the only people in a position to give a useful answer -- in relation to this question.
9 The review ignored unlawful practices by local authorities. It is troubling that the report entirely ignored the notoriously poor treatment of home educators by local authority officials, who routinely transgress the law and contravene the DCSF guidelines. For example, while case law has established autonomous education as a valid approach (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson (QB (DC) 729/81), Plymouth Local Authority openly discriminates against autonomous home educators: (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/elective_home_education_suitable_12) There are many such examples, involving many local authorities.
10 The Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) offered as evidence have little relevance. Badman and DCSF ministers have referred repeatedly in the press and elsewhere to a "small number" of cases in which, they allege, home-educated children have suffered harm because "safeguarding concerns were not picked up" (e.g. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wms/?id=2009-06-11a.44WS.1). In fact, Badman found four SCRs that were associated in some way with home education (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/badman_review_of_home_education), but they contain little that is relevant to his recommendations. The first case, for example, refers to the death of a baby, who was obviously not home educated (http://www.iwight.com/living_here/news/2009/lscbcasereview/Executivesummary-approvedforpublication.pdf). The other three SCRs were completed before the DCSF issued the last guidelines on Elective Home Education in November 2007, so it is difficult to see how they can be used to justify change now. In fact, it seems that Badman's recommendations would have had litle or no preventative effect in any of these cases -- he makes no attempt to argue otherwise -- so they cannot be used as the basis of an argument in favour of the proposed changes.
11 The literature review was
severely inadequate. The literature review produced for Badman's report
omitted a large number of relevant studies, most notably the extensive research
by Dr Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison on home education in the
12 The summary of international
law was severely inadequate. This summary begins "International comparison
suggests that of all countries with highly developed education systems,
13 The report misrepresented the current English law on education. For example, Badman writes "This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996", but that section does not confer rights at all; rather, it sets out the duties of parents. This apparently deliberate confusion between rights and duties has been used repeatedly in the report and the press by Badman and DCSF ministers. For example, in a press release of 11 June, Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said "We have to balance the rights of parents with the pre-eminent rights of children" (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0105). The truth is that the law sets out duties for parents which are clearly not in conflict with children's rights.
14 The metric used for the only quantitative claim in Badman's report does not support his conclusiosn. Badman's sole quantitative claim 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". However, "known to social care" is not a relevant metric, since children may be known to social care for many reasons, not all of which indicate abuse or neglect. In fact, at least one local authority reports all electively home-educated children to social care! (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/elective_home_education_suitabe).
15 The only quantitative claim in Badman's report is based on an incorrect analysis. The statistics released by the DCSF to substantiate Badman's claim (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/comparative_statistics_requested) are simply nonsensical: they are not even internally consistent. For example, they appear to multiply 7 by 150 to produce 1350! Additionally, they are based on an invalid assumption: that the proportion of "registered" home-educated children known to social care is a valid proxy for the total proportion of home-educated children known to social care, which is highly unlikely.
16 Badman gathered and then suppressed relevant evidence which did not support his recommendations. Badman's questionnaire to 25 local authorities asked more relevant questions (besides the irrelevant question about the number of home-educated children "known to social care"): for example, it asked about the number of home-educated children "who are or have been subject to child protection plan" (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_about_research_metho). No mention of the answers to these questions appears in the report, so it appears that they did not support Badman's conclusions. Worse still, Badman concealed the fact that these questions had been asked at all: the report does not include the questionnaire in which they appeared, although it does include an earlier questionnaire sent to local authorities (Annex D).
17 The report did not mention the views of any home educated children, although hundreds responded. The DCSF reports that 199 home-educated children responded to the public questionnaire (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/frequency_count_of_responses_to). Badman makes clear the responsibility under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to give children a "voice" (section 3), but his report makes no mention of the children who responded to his call for evidence, effectively denying them any voice in a matter that directly affects them.
18 The report did not mention the views of any local or national home education organisations, although many responded. For example, the national organisations Education Otherwise, AHEd, HEAS, and others submitted carefully considered responses, which were apparently entirely ignored.
19 The report, while disregarding the views of home-educating families and home education organisations, gave space to the views of various irrelevant groups and vested interests. The report included excerpts from submissions by the British Humanist Association, the Church of England, and teachers' unions, although none of these organisations have anything to do with home education.
20 The report gave a distorted and inadequate representation of the views of the many hundreds of home educating parents who responded. The DCSF reports that 1418 responses were received from home-educating parents (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/frequency_count_of_responses_to). Badman entirely ignored almost all of these submissions, giving neither a summary or any representative excerpts in his report, although a summary was produced and later released by the DCSF. Although most of the submissions opposed Badman's proposals, he included only a single sentence fragment in his report to represent these opposing views. The fragment was apparently carefully chosen to reflect poorly on such home educators: ""...no one from the LA [local authority] would in my opinion be on my child's intellectual level or they wouldn't be working for the LA." but in fact it was manipulated to produce this false impression: it was taken from a letter describing a child who was particularly gifted in regard to science. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/11/home-education-parents-face-tighter-regulation?commentid=25738c77-c678-404a-8150-cb2320764dd0),
21The DCSF has acted obstructively and unlawfully in response to requests for information about the review. I will describe my own experience, which I believe to be fairly typical.
On 12 February 2009 I submitted two requests to the DSCF under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. For brevity, I will consider here only the second request, which asked for information relating to the source of the "claims" linking home education and abuse in the DCSF's press release announcing the review. Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the DCSF was required to respond "promptly, but in any case within 20 working days", i.e. by 12 March 2009 at the latest. The 12 March came and went, and I heard nothing from the DCSF besides an automated acknowledgement sent on the day of my request. I complained to the Information Commissioner's Office, which contacted the DCSF on the 6 April and received an assurance that the DCSF intended to respond to me "in the next week". The next week came and went and no response was received. Finally, on the 12 June, after the review had finished, and four months after my original request, the DCSF responded to my request with a refusal to release any information. I requested an internal review (a standard provision of the Freedom of Information Act in such cases) on the same day. This time the wait was only around three months -- on the 4 September I received a reply from the DCSF containing what purported to be the minutes of the internal review meeting I had requested, but which had little or no relevance to my request. I brought this to the attention of the DCSF, but have heard nothing in response so far.
22 The DCSF has misused the Freedom of Information Act to suppress evidence underlying the review. Perhaps the most troubling case is the response sent to K Maxwell, who submitted a request asking for the evidence supporting certain statements in Badman's report (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/evidence_used_by_mr_graham_badma). The DCSF refused to release some of this evidence on the grounds that doing so would endanger the safety or health (physical or mental) of some individual, presumably Graham Badman. It later transpired that the DCSF used this excuse on the grounds that a number of items critical of Badman's review had been posted on the internet (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/communications_with_information). It seems clear from the guidance issued by the Information Commissioner's office that the exemption invoked by the DCSF is not intended to be used a general protection from criticism or distress (http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/freedom_of_information/detailed_specialist_guides/awareness_guidance_19_-_health_and_safety.pdf) and it is a cause of concern that the DCSF is misusing the Freedom of Information Act to suppress evidence in this way.
23 The DCSF has made apparently counterfactual responses to Freedom of Information requests. It is clear from the press release announcing the review that the DCSF discussed the review with the NSPCC prior to its commencement (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0013). Yet, when Andrew Montford contacted the DCSF the following month to ask for copies of all correspondence with the NSPCC in the "last nine months", the DCSF provided only a few emails which had been sent after the start of the review (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/correspondence_with_nspcc). (This is, incidentally, another of the many requests to which the DCSF did not respond within the 20 day period stipulated in law.)
24 Most members of Badman's "Expert Reference Group" had no relevant expertise. It is unclear why these particular people were chosen, but it does not appear that it was for their knowledge or experience of home education, since most have none of either.
25 Most members of Badman's "Expert Reference Group" are affiliated with organisations that receive money from the DCSF. For instance, Barnardos received almost a million pounds from the DCSF in the year 2008-2009. (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/supplier_costs)
26 The views of local authorities were given undue weight. This is evident from the fact that, on the 23 February, some time after the deadline for local authority responses, 48 local authority responses had been received, as revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2009-02-23f.255910.h). By the time the report was written, 90 local authorities had submitted responses. Clearly the deadline for local authority responses was extended, a courtesy that was not offered to home educators.
27 Many local authorities did not respond to the review. Out of 150 local authorities, only 90 submitted responses; around half of these (possibly more) were submitted after the deadline. Badman's report attempts to give the impression of strongly and widely held views among local authorities (e.g. paragraph 1.3 of report), but it is clear that a significant proportion do not even feel strongly enough to fill in a questionnaire.
28 The report misrepresented the questions that had been asked in the review. The public questionnaire asked:
"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. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?"
In the report, the last sentence was changed to the following:
"What do you think Government should do to ensure this cannot happen again?"
in an apparent attempt to imply that home education has actually been used as a "cover", a claim which the review found no evidence to support.
29 There was no attempt to allow home educators without internet access to submit evidence. It is well known that a significant number of home educators do not have ready access to the internet, including travellers and certain Christian groups who do not use computers.
30 The submission by the Church of England was manipulated to conceal its conclusions. The Church of England's response concluded with a paragraph beginning:
"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." (http://www.natsoc.org.uk/schools/electivehomeeducation.docx)
which Badman omitted; instead, he included a fragment which gave the impression that the Church of England was altogether opposed to home education.
31 Badman has continued to state things as fact for which he has no evidence. In his letter to local authorities of 17 September he wrote
"Most of my recommendations have not been challenged, reflecting the sound evidence base."
which is false, most notably since most of his recommendations were not based on evidence. Further, he writes:
"However, a small group of home educators have refused to accept my conclusion that 'the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of the home educating population'"
Badman has, of course, no evidence that the group of home educators involved is "small": he apparently describes it that way in an attempt to discredit opposition. This is particularly ironic, since the number of local authorities on which his "conclusion" is based is actually small, unlike the number of home educators which reject his conclusion.
32 Even the quotation used in the opening pages of the report has been misused. This quotation comes from an essay by Isaiah Berlin in which he argues that personal liberty to determine one's own path through life is essential to happiness -- that it is the choosing, not simply the result of the choice that is so essential ("the need to choose"). Badman is apparently attempting to use the quotation to argue that he and the Government ought to make this choice instead. While this is, perhaps, a small point, it is indicative of Badman's use of others' words in general: he uses a passage from A.S. Neill in a similar way.