Memorandum submitted by Paul Michael Kielstra and Julia Paulman Kielstra
Question 1: Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?
We strongly disagree with the proposals because they are based on a series of false premises about the relevant rights and duties involved, as well as demonstrablyincorrect use of data which suggest a potential organizational bias against home schooling.
incorrectly classifies this issue as a matter of striking a balance between the
rights of parents and children as though those are in conflict. This involves a
number of implicit assumptions. The first is that state education inherently
provides "a suitable education", even though in December 2006 the Chief
Inspector of Schools found that 17% of school children are illiterate and
roughly a fifth cannot find
Worse still, the report misrepresents the current law. It actually does not talk of a right to home educate but of a responsibility of parents to provide an education either through school or otherwise - in other words to choose the best possible education for the child. Why choosing one option over the other derogates from a child's right to education is unclear unless the DCSF simply assumes parents as a group are doing a bad job. Although this is never said explicitly, a number of the suggestions from the review seem to rely on this implicit, unsubstantiated assumption.
The other rationale for the proposals is child safety. This is obviously an important issue which requires serious consideration. That is why it is so alarming that, despite the claims of the report, the DCSF's own data suggests not only that there is no link between heightened risk and home schooling but that home schooling may be less associated with risk than state education. According to the consultation document:
"The review found no evidence that home education was used to cover forced marriage, servitude, or trafficking other than in isolated cases. However, the reviewer was provided with evidence showing that the number of home educated children known to Children's Social Services in some LAs was disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population."
In other words, because the number of children "known to Children's Social Services in some LAs was disproportionately high", the review believes that measures to enhance the security of home schooled children are required. In the press, Mr Badman has even asserted that the proportion of home schooled children known to social services is twice as high as that of the general population.
A Freedom of Information Act inquiry, however, reveals that the review's own data does not support the implied assertion that more home schooled children are at risk of abuse. Indeed, the DCSF's numbers include basic mathematical mistakes. According to the DCSF, the median number of home educated children know to social care in a survey of Local Authorities conducted for the review was seven. It then extrapolates this across all 150 LAs to a figure of 1,350 for the entire country, and divides by the 20,000 known home schoolers to obtain a figure of 6.75% of home schooled children known to social care.
The figures begin with a mathematical error, as 7 times 150 is only 1,050. This alone would reduce the percentage to 5.25%. Then there is the problem of the denominator. The number of home schooled children currently known to the government is 20,000, but according to the Badman Report itself, the actual figure is unknown - this is in fact a justification for the proposed registry. The report states of the 20,000 figure "We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more." Most home schooling organizations suspect it is even higher, but using the figure of 40,000, and correcting the department's mathematical error, that reduces the percentage know to care to 2.6%. Even using the department's incorrect numerator yields roughly 3%, or the national average for those in state schools.
The data issue gets worse, however, as the figures do not desegregate those children "known to social services" because they have special needs, and those known because they are at some kind of risk. As homeschoolers with some experience of the homeschooling community, our impression is that those with special needs constitute a significant percentage of the home schooled, often because of poor state provision. The Badman report agrees: "many parents whose children have needs as diverse as dyslexia and autism, withdrew their child often in despair that their needs were not being adequately met in school." If that is the case, however, and the figures do not desegregate those with special education from those at risk, then it would make sense if the percentage of homeschoolers "known" to Local Authorities was higher than the average. The fact that it is not suggests that the proportion of those at risk is actually significantly less than in the broader community - which would make sense as homeschooling inevitably involves parents who decide to make a greater commitment in terms of time to the well-being of the child than others may be able to.
The bandying about of claims that homeschooled children are at twice the risk - whether said directly or implied by opaque wording - is in fact an act of irresponsibility which suggests that those doing so are either incapable of doing simple math or have a political agenda hostile to homeschooling in its current state. A reasonable approach to the data suggests that, if anything, homeschooled children are safer, which is consistent with the reports finding of no evidence for it being used as a cover.
It is precisely because child safety is so important that it makes no sense for the state to focus resources on monitoring a population where there is statistically less abuse than the general population. Moreover, the review is proposing extremely invasive measures which are in equal parts draconian and offensive. We particularly object to the suggestion that social workers will be interviewing children without the presence of the parent, something which the state only does when there is evidence that gives reasonable suspicion of child abuse. Even were there a statistical correlation between home schooling and higher levels of abuse, which there is not, using statistics to permit invasive investigation is a violation of some basic principles of justice. If, for example, statistics showed that a higher percentage of certain ethnic groups were arrested and convicted for criminal offenses than the general population, would it justify every member of that group being formally interviewed by the police every year to see if they had broken the law? If racial profiling is unacceptable public policy, so too is profiling based on whether people make a perfectly legal decision - that to home school.
In summary, of the two possible rationales for the proposals one - that home schooling has worse outcomes - is not even explored, and the other - that children are at risk - relies on mathematical errors, the use of the 20,000 figure which the report itself admits is certainly incorrect, and data aggregated in such a way as to overestimate the risk. Surely money to help home schoolers enhance educational outcomes or to improve the safety of children throughout society could be better spent than on the review's proposals.
Question 2: Do you agree that a register should be kept?
The register as proposed should not be kept. We have no objection to the government knowing who is or is not being homeschooled. In fact such data could be beneficial in numerous ways, but the ContactPoint system already has a record of educational setting, and that should be used instead of spending money on a registry which would either be superfluous or unduly invasive.
Question 3: Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration? Question 4: Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date? Question 5: Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
We object strongly to the content of the registry, in particular the statement of educational philosophy and the threat of a criminal record for those who fail to register.
By asking for a philosophy, the proposal effectively restricts home schooling to those parents with the confidence to state something resembling a formal philosophy - a term which can have a host of meanings from a handful of basic statements to volumes of detailed text. It is unclear what the terms means and whether parents will be told they cannot home school if they cannot provide insufficiently robust philosophies. Equally important, it takes bureaucracy to an excessive level to demand that parents restate their philosophy every year. If a philosophy is the basic, underlying thinking behind why and how they educate, is this really like to change dramatically every twelve months?
An important practical problem also arises with the requirement for parents to outline their educational plans for the year, on the understanding that children's progress will be judged against them. Whereas in professional teaching, such plans are considered a key part of insuring quality, home schooling parents - many of whom will resent the whole process anyway as an excessive intrusion into their lives - will actually have an incentive to understate goals and to indicate in these plans as little as they can get away with. This is because failure to attain the goals will have a negative result - the possible loss of the ability to continue home schooling - but meeting the goals stated to the government will have no benefit. Rather parents will try to meet higher goals which they and their children set themselves, but which they keep to themselves.
Without there being some obvious possible benefit for parents to taking the exercise seriously except as a hurdle to be overcome, the whole exercise will become a bureaucratic one rather than one which could help in the education of the child. It is analogous to companies which purposely underestimate growth so that stock markets will not penalize them for a bad year - it makes the goal setting meaningless. More broadly, this attempt to import a tool from teaching within schools to home schooling suggests a continuing inability to understand that the way the two work is different, even though the report does recognize that those monitoring its recommendations will need to have special expertise in home schooling.
Question 6a Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?
Such a regulation suggests that parents require a "cooling off" period and that deciding to begin home schooling is something entered into quickly and rashly. This is both patronizing and potentially detrimental to the child.
In our experience of the home school community, those who take their children out of school typically find it a drawn out, difficult, and in many cases painful decision. People do not become home schoolers lightly or on a whim. Moreover, although many schools are supportive - or at least understanding - of such a decision, others are hostile. In such a twenty day period, parents would presumably still be liable to truancy laws and therefore have to continue to send their children to school. This would be at best a wasted twenty days in which the child would spend time waiting for a change of status when he or she could be learning. At worst, it would require parents to send their children for twenty days into a environment about which they feel sufficiently negative to want to withdraw them. Indeed, as bullying is a frequent reason why parents choose to home school, and the DCSF cannot claim to have solved this widespread problem, it would in some cases result in three final weeks of mistreatment at the hands of other students.
Question 6b Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?
This would depend on the use to which it was put. If parents were required to somehow meet or exceed this predicted attainment, then we would strongly oppose the idea. First of all, those schools which would disagree with the parents' decision could overstate possible future attainment. More important, home school can pay greater attention to the needs and aspirations of the child. If the child's maths teacher believes he or she is capable of high attainment in that subject, but the child has a desire and aptitude for the arts which the parents choose to help flourish, why should it be relevant that state authorities have decided the child should reach a certain attainment in maths. Future attainment data, then, is by its nature speculative, capable of abuse, and if used in assessing the quality of home schooling could in effect be prescriptive about what areas or subjects parents focus on.
Question 7 Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?
The DCSF and home schoolers have not always have a good relationship. A separate body that has the trust of both should run this system if government insists on setting it up over the broad opposition of the home schooling community. Otherwise, it is a recipe for confrontation rather than the creation of a system which the government seems to hope will yield certain benefits.