Memorandum submitted by Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner

 

1. The focus of this submission is to comment on the recommendations made in the review. Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner, was a member of the review group. This submission is written in that context.

 

Summary

2. 11MILLION's priority, as a member of the review group, was to ensure that the outcomes and recommendations were child focused following the principle that the welfare of the child remains paramount. We are satisfied on this count and believe that the recommendations strike an effective balance between an individual's right to privacy and the state's duty to ensure that every child receives a suitable education and that their welfare and well-being are appropriately safeguarded and promoted.

3. We do realise that this is a particularly sensitive and sensitive issue attempting to balance the government's duty to respect the rights and responsibilities of families to guide their children so that they grow and learn to use their rights properly (UNCRC Article 5) with the right desire to ensure that a small minority may take advantage of this right and neglect the welfare of the children within their care (UNCRC Article 6).

4. 11 MILLION did receive correspondence from a number of children and families expressing concern about the State's intervention in their private life. In supporting the proposals set out by the review group we are confident that these concerns will be addressed as best as possible.

 

Children's rights

5. 11 MILLION is very pleased that the review takes a rights-based perspective, referencing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As well as those rights noted in paragraph 3 above, the specific rights mentioned are as follows:

the right for children to express their views and to be heard in any legal or administrative matters that affect them (Article 12)

the right for children to seek, receive and impart information and ideas (Article 13)

the right of the child to an education (Article 28)

that education should develop every child's personality to the full (Article 29)

Context

6. Evidence about the numbers of children who are home educated was significant in influencing our view that a registration scheme is essential.

7. The fact that it is currently not possible to account for very large numbers of children in terms of their educational provision is unacceptable. Even the lower estimate of 20,000 is substantial; the higher estimate of 80,000 children is the equivalent of the child population of a fair sized local authority and it not acceptable that the state should not be able to vouch for the education of so many of its citizens.

8. As we note below, 11 MILLION respects the rights of parents to educate their children within a private setting. However, the UNCRC clearly states that the government remains accountable for the welfare and education of every child (Articles 1, 2 and 4). Therefore, we support the proposals presented as an appropriate way of balancing these interests.

 

Safeguarding

9. This area was of some considerable concern to many parents who home educate their children and 11 MILLION has received a number of letters from aggrieved parents complaining that the review outcomes effectively brand them as potential abusers.

10. We very much regret that some parents are taking this approach and are satisfied that the review recommendations are balanced and proportionate in seeking to ensure that the welfare and well-being of every child are safeguarded and promoted in accordance with Every Child Matters and the principles of the UNCRC. Most critically, the starting point must be the paramountcy principle and the review outcomes reinforce this.

11. The recommendations regarding establishing a compulsory national registration scheme, coupled with annual visits by trained professionals are entirely reasonable. We support these proposals coupled with the recommendation that designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home and to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate. These are basic measures which will assist officers in satisfying themselves that the child is safe and well.

12. We believe that this a proportionate, balanced and child-centred approach which will ensure that no child is unaccounted for in terms of their education and that some measure of assurance is provided in relation to the quality and breadth of their curriculum and their well-being. capable of

 

Support and oversight

13. We are particularly pleased with the support components of the review and hope that this reinforces the message that the aim of the review is to achieve best outcomes for children. The intention is to establish a partnership between parents and local authorities and we hope that both parties will take this on board and avail themselves of the best that is to be gained by such a relationship.

14. It is important that local authorities engage constructively with parents who seek to educate their children at home so that they can understand the factors which may lead a parent to make such a decision and learn lessons accordingly. A decision to home educate a child should always be a positive one rather than being based on unhappiness with a deficit (perceived or otherwise) in the educational opportunities provided by the local authority.

15. We support the recommendation for oversight by the Children's Trust and this may assist in defusing some of the distrust that sometimes exists between local authorities and home educating parents.

16. We particularly endorse the recommendation to adult services that any professional working with an adult who home educates their child must be aware of their responsibility to report to children's services if they have concerns about the welfare needs of such a child arising from issues such as substance abuse, mental health difficulties or any other matter.

 

Conclusion

17. 11 MILLION recognises that the majority of parents who home educate their children are driven by the best possible motives and that their children do well. However, given the very substantial numbers of children who are estimated to be home educated, the government must take reasonable steps to ensure that their needs are effectively met and that these children have the opportunity to achieve to their highest potential in accordance with Every Child Matters and the UNCRC. Critical to this process is a requirement that such children are known about so that statutory agencies can be satisfied that no child is falling through the net. The recommendations in the review are therefore, in our view, a balanced and proportionate response to addressing these complex circumstances.

September 2009

 

 

Conclusion