Memorandum submitted by Bristol Home Educators' Forum
Our concerns about the conduct and contents of the Badman review may be summarised as follows:
- Home Education-related consultation and possible legislation should be delayed until Children Missing Education guidance and Contactpoint have had time to become established.
- The report goes beyond the published brief and the terms of reference on which Badman consulted.
- The review process was unsatisfactory, and the responses to it were not reflected in the Badman report.
- Proper procedures have not been followed since the review was published.
- The expert views of groups and individuals were ignored or misrepresented in the report.
- The review team was poorly chosen and lacked expertise.
The Badman recommendations
- place the duty for ensuring a suitable education is provided to each child with the State rather than the parent.
- fundamentally shift the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family.
- will not prevent abuse and may themselves put children into abusive situations.
- erect discriminatory barriers to entry for those considering home education.
- are incompatible with some educational philosophies.
have a large but unconsidered (and largely negative) impact on children with
- would measure the attainment of individual children as an indication of the suitability of educational provision rather than measuring the provision. This is inconsistent with the way schools are inspected.
- would provide LAs with the school's judgement of a child's attainment and educational trajectory rather than providing it to the parents, who are the ones responsible for ensuring that a suitable education is provided.
- see home education as an anomaly to be understood and controlled by the State rather than as a valid choice by parents exercising their legal duty to ensure education is provided for their children.
This document has been developed collaboratively through discussions
between Bristol Home Educators, both in person and via the Bristol Home
Educators' Forum (http://bheforum.info.index).
1. Conduct of the review and contents of the Badman report
1.1 Time since the last HE-related consultations
The latest Children Missing Education guidance was issued only in January 2009, after a consultation process in which many home educators participated. There was scarcely time for LA staff and members of the public to read it, let alone assimilate it and put it into practice, before the Badman report was commissioned. The Elective Home Education guidelines for LAs were issued, after extensive consultation, in 2007. It is not clear how the legal or ethical situation has so shifted since publication of each of these documents that a significant change to primary legislation is necessary.
If/when Contactpoint goes live,
the educational setting of every school-aged child in the country will be
included in a database field. It would be better to wait to see how this
interacts with the
1.2 Terms of reference for the review
Badman's report stepped outside its remit, and outside the terms of reference on which he had publicly consulted, conflating education and welfare issues and recommending significant changes to the law, which are not justified by the evidence he gathered.
1.3 The review process
1.3.1 The Badman review was at first labelled a consultation, but swiftly changed to being a "review", once it was pointed out that the process was breaking the code of practice for consultations. Only online responses were invited, thus disenfranchising any stakeholders without internet access. The review was not publicised to stakeholders. The ensuing consultation has not been publicised either - as a minimum, one would expect LA education departments to be required to inform all known home educators in their area about the consultation and the proposed legislation.
1.3.2 The process of consultation was not open or fair. A 6-question questionnaire for the public compared to a 60-question one for LAs was hardly even handed; many of the questions for LAs betrayed a lack of appreciation for the legal powers and responsibilities of LAs in this area. Self-selecting LAs then completed a further questionnaire.
1.4 The process post-Badman
1.4.1 According to the code of practice, consultations should be held when there is the possibility of their affecting the outcome. Ed Balls has already fully accepted the Badman recommendations.
1.4.2 Ed Balls promises to respond to the Badman review in more detail in September, over half way through the consultation period. It would have been more appropriate for him to respond to the review before opening a consultation on possible legislation arising from it (is the current consultation even asking the right questions?).
1.4.3 New 'monitoring arrangements' appear in the draft legislation before the consultation (supposed to explore whether there should be any new legislation) has closed, let alone been reported on.
1.4.4 The proposed legislation is uncosted, not having been subjected to an impact assessment. Baroness Morgan's confidence that the recommendations have no cost implications (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2009-06-29a.6.4 ) is not shared by Home Educators (Home Education Advisory Service press release: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=45453211491&topic=10685 ). It is not at all clear how the intensive regime of plans and visits (Recommendation 1), and the training required (Recommendations 9 and 22), would be implemented without immense cost.
1.4.5 The DCSF is moving towards implementing the invasive and controlling aspects of the recommendations, while leaving aside as 'difficult and sensitive' (Ed Balls, letter to Graham Badman) those which would make support available for those home educators who wanted it.
1.5 'Consultation' without listening
1.5.1 The report did not take into account the responses of members of the public, as a comparison of the summary responses to the 6-question document (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/frequency_count_of_responses_to) with Badman's recommendations (and, indeed, the full report) demonstrates.
1.5.2 Badman's selective and unrepresentative quoting of the Church of England submission has been extensively commented on (see, for example, http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/clarification-from-church-of-england.html)
1.5.3 Experts who were consulted - home educating families and academics - have since raised concerns that their views were ignored or misrepresented. For example, in the Home Educated Children's Survey (http://www.ukhome-educators.co.uk/Survey/childsurvey0609.htm), when asked whether it is acceptable for children to be interviewed alone, one child replied "Absolutely 100% NOT right! I met Graham Badman and told him this. I was there when groups of home educated young people over and over told him this. My parents did what they had to do to help me overcome the damage I suffered in school. I would literally have been terrified of someone asking to speak to me on my own. The report says that the children's views should be respected-that includes mine and my choice is NOT to see anyone from the LA especially not in my home, which for me when I first left school, was the only place I felt safe in. To impose this on home educated children would take away that feeling of safety that the parents have encouraged. Why did Mr Badman not listen to the views of the children and young people he spoke to?". Further misrepresentations are summarised at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/topic.php?uid=45453211491&topic=10621 - and we are sure that these and others have been brought to your attention by other individuals and groups.
1.6 Constitution of the review team
1.6.1 It would have been better to choose a review author who was incontrovertibly independent rather than a previous Head of Kent Children's Services and current Chair of BECTA, whose interests might be suspected of being vested. The 'panel of experts' should also have included experts in the field of home education, including home educating parents, rather than exclusively a group of people committed to State education, State welfare, and the third-sector child protection industry.
2. The Badman recommendations
2.1 The requirement in Recommendation 1 annually to seek permission from the LA to home educate removes responsibility for providing children with an education 'at school or otherwise' from the parents, instead placing that duty in the hands of LA staff, who will delegate it to parents who they deem suitable (Recommendation 23). This makes home educators vulnerable to LA prejudice about different educational and lifestyle philosophies.
2.2 The requirement in Recommendation 7 to allow LA staffers to enter our homes without probable cause, and to allow those LA staffers to interview our children alone, again without probable cause, fundamentally shifts the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family.
2.3 Under Recommendations 7 and 24, education and welfare are conflated. Educational provision can be ascertained through written correspondence; the explicit purpose of these compulsory visits would be to check for abuse. Proposed annual safe-and-well checks for all home educated children is disproportionate to the perceived problem and will be ineffective.
2.3.1 The danger of false positives is large, particularly in families with unconventional lifestyles (for example, Attachment Parenting, living according to Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting method, or Unschooling and similar philosophies of consensual family living), and in families where children have additional needs of various kinds (families with a selectively mute child, or one on the autistic spectrum, say, may have chosen not to seek diagnosis; to a hostile stranger their behaviour may well appear suspicious).
2.3.2 An abused child is highly unlikely to confide in a complete stranger on a short annual visit. For many abused children, their suffering goes unnoticed at school for years, despite familiar adults seeing them regularly. Before moving towards legislation which treats a minority group as particularly dangerous to children and which infringes their civil liberties in a fundamental way, it would behove the DCSF firstly to produce evidence that home educators are indeed particularly dangerous (Badman concluded that he had not found such evidence), and secondly to produce evidence that their proposed regime of surveillance would uncover such abuse. Someone who has been horribly abusing their child since birth is hardly going to pause to register them as home educated. Someone who deregisters their child from school under suspicious circumstances should be referred to Social Services by the school.
2.3.3 The proposed compulsory visits could themselves be damaging to children - not only those with special needs, but any children who would prefer not to be scrutinised alone by strangers with the power to force them to attend school. It is often easy for those in the child protection industry to forget how much harm they do simply by investigating and invading the lives of innocent families.
2.3.4 These invasive powers will not be applied to the families of schooled children or to pre-schoolers, despite abuse being statistically much more common in these groups.
2.4 The recommendations erect discriminatory barriers to entry for those considering Home Education.
2.4.1 The requirement in Recommendation 1 that parents complete plans and submit to visits within weeks of beginning to home educate will be an intimidating barrier to entry; many families take some time to establish the educational philosophy and style which will suit them.
2.4.2 The well-documented necessity for a 'deschooling' period after removing a child from school is not accommodated.
2.4.3 Recommendation 16 would make it impossible for school staff to suggest the legal alternative to school for those unsuited to the institution. There is an unwarranted assumption here that home education is an inferior last resort.
2.4.4 The proposal in Recommendation 1 that 'schools should retain... pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days' makes it possible for schools to put pressure on families not to proceed with Home Education. It is unclear whether a child deeply unhappy at school would be forced to endure a further 20 days of it, or whether caring parents removing their children from a traumatic situation would be vulnerable to truancy prosecution.
2.5 The review does not appreciate the particular characteristics of autonomous Home Education, or 'informal' learning. Recommendations 1, 2 and 7 are completely incompatible with this perfectly valid educational style.
2.5.1 The requirement in Recommendation 1 to provide detailed plans of what our children will be learning in the next year, plans against which our children's attainment will be measured at the end of the year, is inimical to the well established and effective practice among home educators of child-centred, personalised, responsive, informal learning. Home educators whose patterns are more formal, following curricula and regularly producing 'educational product', are also unhappy at the lack of flexibility and responsiveness permitted by such a requirement.
2.5.2 In case law, the definition of a 'suitable and efficient' education is well established. Badman rejects this (Recommendation 2), proposing instead a 'broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum'. None of these characteristics are necessarily optimal for an individual child, and may well be incompatible during any given year with the self-directed and optimal path of an autonomously home educated child.
2.5.3 Children learning informally would have their learning restricted (and thus damaged) by being forced to 'exhibit' (Recommendation 7) to LA staffers (who, at present, are almost all ex-teachers or ex-OFSTED inspectors, and thus are heavily invested in school-style learning).
2.6 The impact of the recommendations on families where there are special needs, diagnosed or undiagnosed, should have been properly considered before the recommendations were made and accepted (Recommendations 17-19; Recommendation 7 is entirely unacceptable).
2.7 Annual testing of the children (being forced to 'exhibit'; Recommendation 7) is inconsistent.
In school settings, the provision is inspected rather than the attainment of individual children. Schools do not endure annual inspections, despite being answerable to the taxpayer. Neither are schooled children taken aside by state officials and asked if they wouldn't rather be home educated.
2.8 In Recommendation 1, Badman suggests that 'the school must provide to
the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child's
achievement to date and expected achievement... together with any other school
records.' Quite apart from the potential for schools to provide false or
misleading information (a common complaint among those beginning to home
educate children with
2.9 Recommendation 3 'That all local authorities analyse the reasons why parents or carers chose elective home education' sees home education as an anomaly to be explained. If parents have a duty to provide their children with an education, then our reasons for choosing one of several equally valid routes - state, private, home - are no business of the State! Parental rationale for choosing home education would only be the business of the State if home education were an inferior last resort, to be prevented wherever possible. We are afraid that this unwarranted assumption may underlie the Badman review.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
3.1 We propose that the present consultation be halted while the commons select committee considers the matter.
3.2 If the Badman process continues, a fully-costed impact assessment should be made before the consultation process is restarted.
3.3 If the Badman process is abandoned (as we believe it should be), any proposed changes to the law should be in full consultation with Home Educators, via national organisations, local groups, special interest groups and individuals. Home Educators should help to define the direction of any proposed legislation rather than discovering about an already established consultation through word of mouth and having their views completely ignored (as was the case with the fatally-flawed Badman review).
3.4 In the meantime,
3.4.1 The government should concentrate on making sure that LA staff are fully aware of and act in accordance with current welfare and education legislation, both of which are perfectly adequate if properly applied. As regards home education, LAs seem almost universally incapable of following the existing 2007 Elective Home Education guidelines. These are not safe hands in which to put increased powers.
3.4.2 The state should be thinking in terms of making services available to HEers who want them rather than setting themselves up as the approvers of our educational provision.
3.4.3 LA's should concentrate on staffing EHE departments with experts in home education rather than with ex-teachers and ex-OFSTED inspectors.