Memorandum submitted by Dr Peter Kahn
1. My wife and I teach our five young children at home. I write this submission to you also as a university educator, with responsibility for educating academics at the University of Liverpool in learning and teaching.
2. In his letter of 11 June to Graham Badman, Ed Balls talks of a compelling case for all of the review's proposals in the Badman review. I find the overall argument contained within this review far from compelling, and its intellectual standard woefully inadequate. This suggests to me that the review is drive by ideology rather than rationality. If you give this review a fair reading, I hope you identify how frequently the review asserts rather than provides a substantive argument.
3. As a result of this absence of compelling argument, the recommendations that flow from this review are weighted in the favour of greater bureaucracy, a default assumption that one might expect in this context.
Standard of the intellectual argument displayed in the review, and the associated response from the minister
4. Ed Balls states: 'The purpose of registration is twofold: it will ensure that any safeguarding concerns are identified at the point home education begins ...' He is utterly categorical at this point. And yet concerns may either be identified at this point of registration, or they may not. And what is the evidence to suggest that registration is the best way to identify safeguarding concerns, rather than say an approach that facilitates relationships between home educating families? A case is only compelling where alternative arguments or proposals have been duly considered and weighed up, and genuinely considered.
5. The review seeks to strike a better balance between the rights of parents and children. But where is the evidence that children's rights are advanced by taking some rights from parents, and giving them to the state? The case is simply not made that rights can be balanced in this way, or that inspectors will be able to advance children's rights quite so straightforwardly. What we see here is rather a naive view of human action in society, one that places great faith in officials rather than parents. Training is an example - I have responsibility for training university academics in their teaching, but it is only too apparent to me, and to my counterparts, that training does not usually shift ingrained attitudes towards education. Badman acknowledges (4.1) that many LA officers fail to understand the practices of home educators. How will greater powers on the part of these officers lend itself to greater understanding.
6. A significant proportion of school-educated children quite evidently fail to achieve the 'Every Child Matters' outcomes, so where is the evidence that these can ensured for home educated children as the review and the minister envisage? LAs do not achieve this with many children for whose education they are directly responsible, so why would greater registration and inspection make these outcomes more likely for home educated children? One might find that a child is forced to attend school, and fails to meet these outcomes even more comprehensively as a result. This is to me a key point - Badman states in para 1.2 that the same checks and balances do not apply to home education as to schools. But he simply assumes throughout the review that similar checks and balances should apply. Where is the evidence that the same checks and balances should apply? These are parents educating their own children, rather than individuals who have no particular reason to go out of their way to care for those in their charge. No straightforward argument is brought forward as to why similar checks and balances should be applied as they might be within a school system. What are the arguments that suggest you can apply a model of 'failing schools' to 'failing parents' (i.e. you close down one school management and replace it with a super-head, or start up another school)?
Weaknesses evident within specific recommendations
7. Recommendation 1: why the need for a 'finalised' plan? Part of the freedom currently allowed with home education is to adjust plans as the needs of the child emerge. (But of course such a personalised mindset, something that Graham Badman commends, is not always easy to take in.)
8. Recommendation 7: Why the right of access to the home? No argument is presented that this is necessary. Why the right to interview a child alone rather than in the company of an individual whom both the child and the LA are able to trust? We need processes that are built on a hermeneutic of trust rather than suspicion. (Badman immediately goes on to acknowledge that trust is essential, but only after proposing processes that directly work against trust.)
9. Recommendation 9: suitable training. What is the evidence that a training programme will lead to a full understanding of the diversity present within home education? When someone holds a prejudice (e.g. against a set of religious beliefs) then these prejudices are remarkably robust, even in the face of training that involves representatives from community concerned. What is required is something that puts faith in relationships above trust in inspection regimes.
10. Recommendation 24: is a concern alone around safeguarding really sufficient to revoke registration? Does the concern need to be well founded, reasonable, unprejudiced and so on? Badman does not recommend any of this. What we see here is the power without care for its responsible exercise.
11. I conclude from these observations, that what we see here is a review based more directly on ideology rather than rationality; one that uses a children's rights agenda to assist the state in taking greater control of the lives of individual families. I would suggest that the government should rather try to support parents first of all, rather than propose actions that will tend to undermine their role in caring for their children. I am aware my argument could be developed at greater length, but at the least from this I conclude that one might expect officials and ministers intervening in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people to do so on the basis of a more considered case. I would be happy to present these views at greater length before the committee.
12. One might hope that parliament had learnt in recent months (after the MPs expenses scandal) that bureaucratic procedures are not the best basis on which to establish a society in which virtue flourishes. If rules cannot establish virtue amongst MPs, then why look for greater bureaucracy to establish virtue for others? Rather, one should look to establish relationships amongst those involved in common work, so that they support each other and chart ways forward together. As a university educator, I am aware of excellent evidence suggesting that capacity for development is determined by the richness and density of relationships, rather than by the pervasiveness of the bureaucracy. Now here is a genuine way forward for home education in this country, one that the government could play its own part in strengthening.