Memorandum submitted by Dirk and Angela Roth
I am writing to you with regard to the Badman Review into Home Education as I believe the Children, Schools and Families Committee are about to hold a short inquiry into the this Review. Both I and my husband have very serious concerns about the Badman Review and the way in which it was conducted and feel that we should make these concerns known to you.
In brief, our concerns are listed here:
· It seems to us that Mr Badman has been very selective in which evidence he deemed to be appropriate.
· We do not understand why Mr Badman compared English Home Education regulations to those in Europe and made no mention of those in the USA where there are many more educators.
· Although the existing law was mentioned briefly within the report, there was no substantive evidence provided to support the claim that it was unworkable.
· There has been much research into the outcomes of home educated children but this was largely ignored.
· The report misuses statistics.
· The DCFS is currently holding a public consultation which will run until October, however, DCFS ministers have also said that they are already drafting a new law regarding the proposals.
· Mr Badman's proposals are a complete over reaction to perceived concerns, for which no substantive evidence is provided.
· The proposals allowing a child to be interviewed without a parent would give the local authorities more power than police officers and infringe upon basic human rights of both child and parent.
We will now elaborate on these concerns but please contact us if anything we say doesn't make sense as this is not something either of us is used to doing.
1. Mr Badman says in his report that there are too many varied opinions within the Home Educating community for him to be able to use them to any great effect. He says that of the 20,000 children who are known to be home educated, there are almost as many different opinions about why and how this education should take place. (see para 1.3). This is a gross over generalisation and is insulting to the huge number of Home Educating parents who submitted a response to him. Whilst it is true that the world of Home Education is a diverse one, anyone who spends time with the families involved will find that there are some basic beliefs that are held by the majority of parents involved. Furthermore, these have much to do with the welfare of the children involved as Mr Badman would have found if he had been engaging in this review with an open mind. (The fact that he wasn't is shown by his very selective use of quotations and by the way he often precedes his own comments with the words 'I believe', rather than recording any evidence to support his comments.)
2. Mr Badman makes several references to the regulation of Home Education within other European Countries, but makes no mention of the huge experience of Home Education within the USA, where there are many more Home Educators. It would make far more sense to learn from the American experience which has been developing over a much longer period; by neglecting to examine it, Mr Badman has left himself and the report open to the criticism that it is biased and incomplete.
3. The Government published guidelines on Home Education less than two years ago but the DCFS has never promoted its own guidelines to Local Authorities, leaving it up to individuals to decide whether or not to implement these guidelines. At the same time, the Government has launched repeated consultations into home education and related areas, constantly changing the goalposts and making it very difficult for anyone to gain a clear understanding or the law and guidance on home education. Yet, the reason that the Government uses for further interference in this area is that many people are "confused" about the law! Surely it would have made far more sense to ensure that the current guidelines, which have been created from careful and considered research, should be implemented along with any support and training necessary to ensure they are understood and effectively used? Mr Badman, however, ignored this sensible approach and instead, relied on hurriedly gathered information to produce further recommendations; the evidence base for his report being made after a hurried questionnaire was sent to local authorities asking them if they had any 'concerns' over home educated children. This was followed by a further questionnaire to which home educating parents could also respond (as they certainly did in huge numbers), yet very few of their responses appear to have been examined in any detail. Consequently, Mr Badman drew up some new proposals without producing any evidence whatsoever to prove that the current guidelines are unworkable or to show that a change is needed.
4. Over the last few years especially, as the interest in Home Education grows, there has been considerable research into the outcomes for Home educated children, for example, the work of Dr Alan Thompson MSc PhD FBPsS, Visiting fellow of the Institute of Education. Yet almost none of this research was taken into consideration during this review. This means that a largely independent body of evidence, which would have been very useful to Mr Badman if he really wanted to investigate the world of Home Education objectively, was virtually ignored.
5. As it has often been said before, statistics can be very easily manipulated to support almost any standpoint. I would suggest that this is undeniably the case with respect to Mr Badman's review. The measure he uses to suggest that there should be concern over possible abuse in home educating families was incorrect. He used figures based on 'the number of children known to children's social care in some Local Authorities; this is misleading as he should have used a figure relating to the actual proportion of children at risk. The result of this was that his figures gave an inflated impression of the occurrence of child abuse in home educating families. Actual LEA information concerning the expected incidence of child abuse in the home education community (obtained from LEAs), gives figures that suggest it is a quarter of that in the general population!
6. The Badman Review was launched in January '09 and a hasty report submitted to the Secretary of State for Education in May. 10 days later, we learned that the DCFS was drafting a new law in time for the Queen's Speech in November. Questions must surely be asked, therefore, as to how there could be a meaningful consultation (which is due to end in October) on a matter of policy which has already been announced as a piece of legislation!
7. Within the whole of Mr Badman's review, there is no evidence given to support any claim that might be made that children who are home educated are at an increased risk of abuse or neglect, yet the regulations he recommends will subject home educated children and their families to a far greater degree of individual state surveillance than children who go to school and their families! To contemplate authorising social workers and other local authority personnel to conduct routine visits to families where there is not the slightest shred of evidence that parents are failing in their duties towards their children, or that children are at risk of any harm runs counter to centuries of British law.
The current legal framework already grants local authorities sufficient power to intervene where they have any evidence that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm whether the child in question is at school or not. Furthermore, if the Mr Badman's groundless suspicion of home educating families is allowed to change Government legislation in the way he recommends, such families will be subject to an unparalleled level of intrusion into family life that could well set a precedent for all families in Britain. It is not outside the realms of possibility that the next step would be to bring in statutory visits to full-time mothers who choose not to place their children in state-regulated childcare and so on.
8. Mr Badman's proposal to allow a child to be interviewed in his or her own home by an official of the state, without a parent being present would give local authority officials more rights than a police officer. To implement it would require a substantial shift in law away from the parent towards the state in regards to the responsibility of raising a child. This redefinition of the role of a parent and the state in raising children has wide implications for all families, including those outside of the home education community. It is not only home educators who would be against any such change! In a Westminster Hall debate on Home Education, Mr Mark Field MP warned that a change in the current law
'could affect the balance of power between civil liberties and state intervention, whether one is innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent, and whether the state or parents have ultimate responsibility for their children.'
He further continued,
'The authorities can intervene only when people are seen to be breaking the law. It is for the same reason that police do not routinely visit people's homes to check for stolen property. Therefore, there is an overwhelming case that home educators should be allowed to get on with their lives without undue state interference.'
In conclusion, therefore, we hope that you will give consideration to our many and varied concerns. We would like to add that we are not in any way against the formalising of a productive and positive relationship between local authorities and home educators; indeed, we have such a relationship ourselves with the Borough of Poole LEA as you are free to discover if you so choose. However, the recommendations of Mr Badman's review and the way it was carried out leaves a great deal to be desired and we would value your close scrutiny of both the conduct and findings of this review.