Memorandum submitted by Louise Walters

 

 

 

SUMMARY

 

Conduct of the Review and related consultations:

 

The Review seemed to be instigated due to unsubstantiated claims and fears that Home Education (HE) could be used as a "cover" for child abuse, forced marriage or trafficking. The Review offers no statistics or evidence to show that this is the case.

 

The Review has very selectively quoted from the organisations invited to report to the Review. (Please read the full report from the Church of England and compare with the piece that was selected to appear in the Report).

 

The Review also uses quotes extensively from those with no direct knowledge of HE.

 

The Expert Panel convened for the Review did not include any home educating parents or any formerly home educated people.

 

Undeclared conflict of interest - Graham Badman is the Chair of BECTA, an organisation favourably mentioned in Recommendation 12.

 

Conflation of education, child welfare and child protection.

 

Conflation of education and schooling.

 

 

The Recommendations made by the Review (I have selected those Recommendations that I regard as the very worse ones. This is not an exhaustive list):

 

That Local Authorities (LAs) have the right of entry to the HE home on at least an annual basis.

 

That LAs have the right to interview children alone if they deem it appropriate.

 

That Home Educators be required to "register" with their LA on an annual basis in order to HE.

 

That Home Educators present to the LA an education plan for the following year.

 

 

 

1. A brief overview of my position: I am a mother of four children, one of whom I home educate. He is 14 years old and has been educated in the home and community for nearly 3 years. Two of my children attend school. My fourth child is too young for compulsory education. My HE son was deregistered by myself with his full agreement in January 2007. He was not excluded from school, he was not a truant and he was not receiving any education from the school "offsite". We withdrew completely from school in order to take back the responsibility for his education. I feel that the Review at times does not always recognise that "Elective" HE is quite different from children excluded, regularly truanting, or receiving education offsite, or simply receiving no education at all. In EHE, all ties with a school are severed and education takes place at home and in the community.

 

2. I would like to expand on my points above regarding the conduct of the Review. The Review came about because of fears that HE is being used by some as a cover for child abuse. The Review offers no evidence to support these claims, which is odd given that there are 28 Recommendations in the Review, some of which are draconian in the extreme. If implemented, these Recommendations will radically change HE and they will impede the freedom of families to educate and bring up their children as they see fit. Many in the HE community have described the Review's Recommendations as a "sledgehammer to crack a nut". The Recommendations are totally disproportionate to the perceived, and so far, unproved "problem" of HE.

 

3. The Review contains very selective quotes from various organisations. The quotes are generally negative about HE and they all display the general lack of awareness and the persistent belief in myths about HE. It is no surprise to anybody that the NASWUT has nothing good to say about HE - they of course feel threatened professionally that parents can and do enable their children to receive an excellent education with little or no input from "professionals" or "experts". The full C of E submission is broadly supportive of HE and, crucially, states they see no need to change existing laws and procedures. This was ignored by the Review but the negative, erroneous, part of the C of E submission has been used to back up the Review's 28 Recommendations.

 

4. The "expert" panel did not include one HE parent or one HE child. The only "experts" on HE are those directly involved in it. This omission can be equated to having a Review about the job of MP being used as a possible cover for child abuse, but not including any MPs on the "expert" panel. In this situation I think many MPs would expect and demand input at that level, to defend their way of life, and their good name, if nothing else.

 

5. Graham Badman's potential conflict of interest as the Chair of BECTA is unmentioned in the Review.

 

6. The Review makes a grave mistake in its conflation of education, child welfare and child protection. These, as I understand it, are three separate areas. It seems very unlikely to me that the LA staff who are responsible for the overseeing of HE are likely to be sufficiently trained in all three areas. Does this mean that for the annual "visit", three people would need to attend? - an EWO and two Social Workers with appropriate training in child welfare and child protection? The Review's recommendations are horribly confused and appear to be written by somebody who has little understanding of education, welfare and protection issues. The implementation of the Recommendations will be difficult, if not impossible, and the repercussions could be serious for all concerned - bad judgements resulting in lawsuits against LA staff, especially if those staff members are insufficiently trained. Worst of all could be the damage inflicted on perfectly innocent families.

 

7. The other conflation in the Review is that of schooling and education. They are two different things. Education can take place in school. Education can (and does) also take place outside of school, even for those children who do attend school.

 

"I never let schooling interfere with my education"

(Mark Twain)

 

Those of us who choose to HE our children opt out of school, and the school model, to varying degrees. What happens in HE is often not and should not be and does not have to be, a replica of what goes on in school. Many of the rules and restrictions and checks found in school are there because the school has been charged by the parent to take over that child's education (parents are, in law, responsible for their child's education. Most, but not all, delegate that responsibility to a school). The school is in loco parentis. But parents are not in loco parentis, they are the parents. Schools fail our children day in, day out. The choice to remove a child from school and take back the responsibility for their education should remain in place for all parents. For some, myself included, it is the only option. If the Review Recommendations are followed to the letter, this choice will be limited.

 

8. Recommendation number 7 is unlikely to be lawful, unless there is a dramatic change in the law. In this country, we are innocent until proved guilty. This Recommendation turns that basic tenet of our Law on its head. Not even the Police have right of entry to a private home without first having reasonable grounds for suspicion and a warrant to enter the home. I will fight tooth and nail to protect my family's right to privacy and I will not be submitting to such visits should this Recommendation become Law. I am an innocent person. I invite people into my home and nobody has the right to enter without my permission. This Review seems to regard HE in and of itself as grounds for suspicion. It is not.

 

9. Recommendation number 7 is truly terrifying to any parent. Who will decide it is "appropriate" to interview a child alone? How is a child as young as 5 to make sense of such an interview? How will parents know their child is not being manipulated to say something negative? From the LA point of view, who is seriously going to be comfortable with interviewing a child ALONE? Again, more than one "visitor" will have to be present. This will in turn be potentially intimidating for the child. Regarding "safe-guarding", how on earth can I as a parent be certain that the person wishing to spend time alone with my child is not a paedophile? Unless that can be proved to me (and it cannot be proved, surely?), I will not submit to my child being interviewed alone by anybody. It is my job to protect my child, not the Government's.

 

10. Registration really means permission. Registration can be "refused" and a School Attendance Order be issued. Parents will have no recourse to the courts, as they currently have. This is wrong, pure and simple. Education is subjective. A particular "visitor" on a particular day may not like what he or she sees. A different "visitor" may well approve of it. It is far too much responsibility for one LA staff member to be able to act as judge and jury on such an important matter.

 

11. To my knowledge (and I do have feet in both camps), schools are not required to submit education plans for a whole year in advance. This is ridiculous and really does show up the Review's complete lack of understanding of HE and how it works. HE children are often free to devise and follow their own curriculums or paths in education. Interests can be sparked and directions changed, overnight. This is one of the great positives of HE. It would be nigh on impossible to devise a yearly plan, and stick to it. As an example - my son recently completed his first GCSE course in History. It was Modern World History and he developed a great deal of interest in Germany. He was planning on doing a Maths and English GCSE in September but has now decided to study a German GCSE instead, or possibly as well as. He also developed a great deal of interest in Russia and that country's architecture and culture. He has the space and time in HE to follow these interests and change direction. This is not a failing. This is education.

 

12. I would like to conclude by saying a few words about the Review's general weaknesses, and set it in the context of general Government attitudes towards parents today. The Review seems to regard England's relatively liberal approach to HE as negative. It is in fact something to be proud of and celebrated. The example of Germany, where HE is illegal, is apparently held up in the Review as a good example. The Review fails to mention that HE was banned in Germany in the 1930s, when Hitler was in power. The Nazi party demanded that all children attend school to ensure they were indoctrinated into Nazi ways of thinking and to escape undue influence of their parents. I cannot help but compare the current climate in this country to that of Germany in the 1930s. In our society, parents are being increasingly criticised, belittled, and regarded as incapable of bringing up children, and indeed they are increasingly regarded as likely to harm their own children. The constant pressure on stay at home parents to get into paid employment and leave their children in the care of the State is frankly disgusting. And, as we can see from recent high profile cases, nobody can guarantee the safety of children in such settings. The Government seems only to value parents if we put our children in their care and go out into paid employment and earn taxes. Parents, mostly, do at least an adequate job, and I would contend that many parents, including Home Educators, do a superb job. Home Educators also save Government and LAs a small fortune by bearing the cost of HE. Yet the Review seeks to attack, yet again, parents and it should be thrown out for its largely shameful, muddled, disingenuous and opinionated content. The words "I believe" are used, by my reckoning, 12 times in the Review. It is of no consequence what the author of the Review "believes". Surely the author's job is to deal with the facts. The author is also "unconvinced" by some very convincing evidence of the advantages of HE and the great "outcomes" for HE children. The research by Paula Rothermel into 35 American home educated families was ignored by the author of the Review. Perhaps it was considered that 35 wasn't a representative figure, ie, not large enough? How odd then that the responses from only 25 LAs were sufficient for the author of the Review to conclude that HE children are "twice as likely to be known to Social Services."

 

There is much more to be said about the Review and I have only mentioned the parts that I find particularly worrying. You will doubtless receive many responses high-lighting other concerns. On a personal note, I feel that as a parent I have been insulted and patronised and wrongly accused by this Review. It is a slur on all home educating parents and is potentially a threat to the freedoms of all families.

 

"My education was interrupted only by my schooling."

(Winston Churchill)

September 2009