Memorandum submitted by Coventry Home Educators
* Points I agree with:
i) The need for trust and mutual respect. This is by far the most important point.
ii) Proposals to open up school courses and exams
* Points I disagree with:
i) The recurring theme of the balance between parents and children's rights, with the local authorities (LAs) portrayed as the children's champion, redressing the "imbalance" of parents and children's rights.
ii) Based on this false dichotomy, Graham Badman recommends that LAs should have far more power over home educating families.
iii) The review is not impartial, and shows no understanding of autonomous education
iv) I especially object to the proposal that local authorities should be given this power without first implementing the recommendations about building trust, understanding and mutual respect. If things were done in this order, any trust and understanding that has been building recently would be destroyed, and the recommendations about it would probably not be implemented. I believe this would seriously damage any prospects of LAs playing any constructive role in the safeguarding or education of home educated children.
1.1 I would like to begin by saying that I appreciate the efforts of this administration to improve the life chances of young people through initiatives like Sure Start, breast feeding mentors, free swimming, Footsteps into Books, and improvements in education.
1.2 This response to the Badman Review is mainly concerned with its effect on families whose educational style is towards the autonomous end of the spectrum. I feel these are the parents and children whose lives would be most likely to be damaged by having to deal with the threat of officers with little understanding of their methods being given far more power to say whether they can home educate or not.
1.3 Autonomous home education does work. The lives of many who have graduated from it into well balanced individuals with careers that are conventionally regarded as successful, bear testimony to this. Those whose lives have been dedicated to working in and improving the conventional educational system, and who may be justifiably proud of their achievements may find it difficult to accept that for some children at least, the kind of education they have worked so hard for is at best unnecessary and probably harmful.
Points I agree with
2.1 I believe that by far most important point made by the review is the need to build trust and mutual respect between LA's and home educators. As it says, "Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents" [1.4]. If the LA wishes to play any positive role in the safeguarding or education of home educated children, trust and understanding is essential. There has been some good work done towards this in recent years, notably the negotiation of the November 2007, Elective Home Education Guidelines. There are some exemplary LA officers with whom autonomous home educators can talk openly and usefully exchange ideas, but in many cases the fear of misunderstanding forces home educators put up barriers to protect themselves. An officer who is mistrusted will be in no position to say anything useful about what is going on behind these barriers, especially if he/she is just trying to see if the education going on behind that wall looks like a school curriculum.
2.2 I also welcome Badman's Recommendation 11 to open up school courses and to put home educators and school children on an equal footing with regard to exams. Home educators have been requesting the latter for many years. I would like to see school courses available to home educators, on the same basis as university lectures or extra curricular courses, i.e. be available without the need to agree to attend school so many hours a week, as most flexi- school agreements require at present. My daughter enjoys attending Drama and Dance workshops put on by the local Performing Arts Service. She is of course under no obligation to attend, but she has never missed a session. She goes because she wants to. There may well be parts of the school curriculum she could benefit from if she were allowed to attend on a similar basis, without having to commit to attending so many hours a week. I believe the schools would also benefit from the enthusiasm and different points of view that home educated children could bring to their courses.
2.3 I'm rather puzzled by The Secretary of State's comments, in his letter of thanks to Graham Badman, that opening up public services to home educators is a "difficult and sensitive area, given the wide range of approaches to home education observed". Does he mean sensitive from the point of view of the home educators or the local authorities? He appears to have no qualms about urgently implementing other parts of the review that home educators do feel extremely sensitive about.
2.4 It may be that the resources to open up schools and exams are not there, and if this is the case I do not mind too much, as support from schools is far from essential to an effective autonomous education. However, I believe money spent on this would be much better spent than on paying more inspectors to mess up thousands of children's education with their new powers, but no new understanding.
Points I disagree with
3.1 A recurring theme of the review is that "there has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child" [1.5]. Although elsewhere [1.2] it acknowledges that parents often make sacrifices in order to home educate, this gives the misleading impression that home educating parents are not supporting the child's best interests, but are exercising their "rights" at the child's expense. I feel it would be better to think about a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of intervention by the LA, or of using the law to balance the roles of the LA and the family. Either way the interests of the child need to be at the centre, not on one side of the balance - "the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration" [UNCRC Article 3]. Once again the issue of trust and understanding is crucial in achieving the optimum balance.
3.2 In setting up his false dichotomy, Badman seems to me to be putting a rather perverse twist on the extraordinary concern for a child's rights shown by parents who support their children, at the child's own pace, though the journey of self directed learning and discovery. Having done so, he goes on to describe what rights he thinks the home educated child might be missing, namely the right to free speech (UNCRC Article 12) and the right to education (ECHR Article 2 Protocol 1). From this he concludes that to make sure the child is not prevented from having these rights that the LA should have "right of access to the child " alone [3.3, 5.7], and far more control over whether a family can opt for or continue with HE, through the annual registration scheme [3.12, 8.12, 8.13].
3.3 Along with Article 12, Article 16 of the UNCRC may also be relevant here:
" No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation."
It seems clear to me that the child's right to be heard is not the same as someone else having the right to cross question him or her, yet nowhere does Badman stipulate that there should be regulation to make sure the child's right to be heard is not abused in this way. Indeed the very fact that he refers to the "right of access [of the LA] to the child" [3.3], and not the other way round, and that he says "how can local authorities know ... the quality of what is being provided, without rights of access to the child" [3.7] suggests that he is more concerned with the right of the LA to cross question than with the right of the child to speak.
3.4 If is is deemed necessary for a child to have access to an outside ear then I would suggest that this ear should be that of a trained counsellor (not an LA officer), who would reassure the child that he/she could speak without recrimination, but that he/she was also free not to speak without this being taken as an indication of anything wrong. The subject should be limited to the child's well-being and happiness. Academic testing and the use of the child to spy on the parents (on any subject except abuse) should be specifically outlawed. There may be a case for extending this service to all children, as even though school teachers are trained to look for abuse, it may well be difficult for children to approach anyone at school and confide in them. They could also be asked if they wanted to be at school.
3.5 It is is also rather disturbing and revealing, that Badman's "right to speak with each child if deemed appropriate" [5.4] is transformed to the even stronger "must be seen regularly ... on their own" in Ed Ball's letter of reply.
3.6 In the review's rather muddy conflation of the right of the the child to a voice and the right of access of the LA to the child, the latter is justified on the grounds of their need to make "arrangements .... to protect the rights of all children" "sufficiently robust" [3.7], and their duty to identify children not receiving suitable education under section 436A of the 1996 Education Act [3.6]. This section was slipped in very quietly in 2006, and if there was any consultation, I was not aware of its being publicised to home educators. Now it is being used as a justification for yet more legislation. With regard to the rights of the child to education, I come back to the need to balance advantages and disadvantages of giving more power to LA officials, and the crucial role of trust and understanding. Where the official has a good understanding of autonomous home education, and has built up a good relationship and reputation with local home educators, they do not need to erect barriers to protect themselves. Under these circumstances it is far easier to spot situations where advice is needed, or where there is genuine cause for concern. In the latter case home education can be terminated under existing powers (section 192(1) of 1993 Education Act) which Badman omits to mention. However if there is a wall of mistrust and misunderstanding between home educators and LA's, increasing the powers of the LA's would tend to further increase the mistrust and make the wall higher, probably making it even harder to spot problems (educational or safeguarding). In addition it would probably damage, or even deny, the right of many children to the only type of education that suits them. It would not "protect the rights of all children" [3,7].
3.7 Badman seems to imply that more power to the LA automatically increases the rights of the child, and to ignore the need to make sure officials do not abuse their power, through ignorance or worse. As he notes, without mentioning who was in power at the time - "Legislation from the 1930s banning elective home education still persists in Germany" [11.1]. The child's right to an education is not the same as the right of an official who does not understand it to terminate it. If this review were to be implemented, many families who were following a creative and worthwhile educational path would be prevented from doing so, either by having their registration refused, or by having to put too much energy into jumping through meaningless hoops.
3.8 When he came to
3.9 I am sure many other submissions will have mentioned, for example, the misrepresentation of the Church of England's contribution [4.8, ref. 1], and the recent request from Mr. Badman to local authorities for the information upon which the conclusions of the review were supposed to have been based [ref. 2]!
3.10 Even if it were true that "the number of [home educated] children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high" [8.12] this would be fairly meaningless as home educated families are often reported to social care simply for being home educated, and maybe a little unconventional. Social workers find this extra burden on their already heavy work load rather tedious, but still have to carry out a full investigation once a report is made. The one serious allegation in the review is that "In a small number of cases ... a lack of oversight of children receiving home education contributed to .... the death of a child" [8.9]. Surely cases involving death must have made the news, making non-disclosure of details on grounds of confidentiality invalid. I feel we need to know the details to assess whether the changes suggested as a remedy would actually help. In all similar tragic cases that I have heard of, the children in question were already known to social services, so registration and access by educational officers would have been irrelevant.
3.11 The success stories of autonomous education that Graham Badman heard at Blackwell Court, and the many he must have read about in the literature [ref. 3], are dismissed in the questions - "Could it be, as many home educating parents have argued, it defies definition but provides the ultimate opportunity for children to develop at their own rate and expands their talents and aptitudes thought the pursuit of personal interest. Or, does it present a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction." - and in pointing out that the samples are small and sometimes self selected. The only quotation he can bring himself to make is an unfavourable one, drawn from a court judgement, putting it on a par with child minding. (I believe that even this is a misrepresentation - though I have not been able to find the whole transcript the case of Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson (1982), the judgement actually found in favour of the autonomous home educator). The level of engagement and support, and respect for the child's interests, involved in autonomous home education make it anything but child minding.
3.12 These comments come in the "out of scope" section 10, which is the only place the word "autonomous" is mentioned. However taking the review's terms of reference in order - first "barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding ... and advice on improvements" - I have argued that the main barrier to local authorities carrying out their responsibilities arises from the lack of trust and understanding of autonomous education. Without these barriers, any possibility of HE being used as a cover for abuse (the second term of reference) would, I believe, disappear. Similarly the local authority cannot provide any useful support or monitoring (third and fourth terms of reference), in an atmosphere of mistrust, and while it does not understand the kind of education it is supposed to be supporting and monitoring. I would argue therefore that far from being "out of scope", autonomous home education, and the importance of LA's understanding of it, are central to this report.
3.13 The proposed requirement that "At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months." [recommendation 1] shows further lack of understanding of autonomous education. I am not against goal setting as such, but in autonomous education there is a large and unpredictable range of ages over which children achieve certain goals. For example the child may need a year or two just to recover from school. Again, it is not uncommon for home educated children to learn to read late, and then start at a high level. A friend of ours, for example, went straight, from not reading, to, at the age of 11, reading Shakespeare, and finding it highly entertaining. She could be heard laughing aloud as she read!
3.14 In child lead education the child sets the pace and direction of learning. What applied to walking, talking, swimming and riding a bike here applies to other areas of learning too. The parents role is to support, to offer choices, stimulate, share information and enthusiasm for learning, not to set targets and plan curricula. For example, our seven year old son was diagnosed, shortly before his sixth birthday, with ASD and global developmental delay of 2.5 years. Tests put him in the bottom 1% for understanding language. Under autonomous home education he has flourished in the last 9 months without outside "support". Although still "behind" his age cohort, he has made tremendous strides in his confidence, communication and enthusiasm for more conventional learning (he knows all his square numbers up to 144, to give one fairly trivial example). We could not have written a twelve month plan to predict this sudden spurt of understanding, any more than a parent in another case would be able to predict that a milestone that would normally take 1 year to reach, may in their case take, say, three.
3.15 Isaiah Berlin, on whose words (judging
by his choice of the font size) Badman sets great
store, does not seem to have been very keen on parental choice in education
either. A few pages on from the passage that Badman
quotes to set the tone for his review, Berlin lists a spectrum of
"undesirable" freedoms, on one end of which he places "the
freedom of parents ... to determine the education of children" and at the
other - in the same sentence - the freedom "of the torturer to inflict
pain on his victims"!
3.16 Despite showing little understanding himself, and despite his seeking to change the presumptions of the law on home education from that of innocence to guilt hardly being a sound basis on which to build trust, throughout the review Badman, as I have noted above, does temper his ill thought out recommendations on registration and access with persuasive references to the need to improve trust, understanding and respect between home educators and LA's [1.4, 4.10, 5.2, 5.5]. However the very last sentence of the review - "To that end, I urge the DCSF to respond to recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24 ..... at the next available opportunity." - turns all that on its head. In so saying he is urging that the registration scheme, right of access to the child and the right to refuse registration be put into the hands of LA's who do not necessarily have any understanding of autonomous education. He does not even think it important that "all local authority officers and others engaged in the monitoring and support of elective home education must be suitably trained" [Recommendation 9]. With the recession still biting hard, a change of government, and massive cuts in the next administration highly likely, if these recommendations were to be rushed through, all the others would probably just be kicked into the long grass. The building of trust and understanding is a difficult but essential project, but were the review to be implemented in the order suggested in its last sentence, it would become a well near impossible project, such would be the damage done by the rushed implementation of these strong arm tactics. I am a little puzzled as to why Badman is making these proposals, and why he suggests this order of implementation. As he says himself "Such new powers will still depend upon ... good relationships and mutual trust, respect and open communication between the home educating family and the local authority" [5.5].
I have argued that the review's starting point, that the rights of the parent need to be balanced against the rights of the child, is actually a false dichotomy, which becomes a trojan horse for the recommendations that more power be given to LA's to redress the present "imbalance". Although Badman recognises the importance of building trust and understanding, and makes some good recommendations, on the whole his proposals, and especially the order in which he urges they be implemented, would not result in barriers between home educators and LA's being dissolved by this means. Instead he seeks to break them down by force. I believe that the collateral damage of this pointless exercise would take away the very rights of the children it claims it would protect. The report shows no understanding of autonomous education, and is far from impartial in its use of evidence. I urge this government, in the interest of the rights to education and safeguarding of autonomously educated children, to reject this review (with the possible exception of recommendations 4, 9 and 11), and direct its energy towards supporting the good work of local authorities and home educators all over the country to build trust, understanding and respect between each other.
Dr Andrew Dowell, and Catherine Thompson (PGCE) on behalf of Coventry Home Educators
1 Church of England's actual submission to Badman
3 for example:-