Memorandum submitted by S J Sherwood

 

Summary

 

This submission draws attention to:

apparent failure to take a significant body of evidence into account

serious concerns of trust and freedom

facilitation of possible future misuse of governmental authority

 

Submitted by:

 

S J Sherwood, a home educator for 26 years and a retired primary school head.

 

Mr & Mrs Sherwood home educated their six children to GCSE level (age 16). At 16, the children entered local colleges to study for A-levels or equivalent. Five of the six chose to attend universities where they gained degrees. At present, two are aeronautical engineers, two are civil engineers, one is a surveyor and one is a senior care worker for adults with learning difficulties. They are all helpfully involved in their local communities.

 

 

1. Conduct of the review and related consultations

 

1.1 In the Conclusion (11.1), the Report makes brief reference to practice in other countries: 'Germany and most European countries ...' 'New Zealand ...' and 'the majority of other countries ...' and contrasts them with the approach to home education in England.

 

1.2 The report fails to mention USA whose states have more liberal home education regulations than European countries. This is a major omission, as the United States has many more home educators than any other country and home education has been part of its education scene for a considerable time.[1]

 

 

2. Recommendations made by the review on elective home education

 

2.1 Recommendation 7 contains the following:

 

■ That designated local authority officers should:

- have the right of access to the home;

- have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is

particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a

trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

 

In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.

 

2.2 This recommendation has caused widespread alarm among home educators (as it would if advocated for homes of school educated children). It is a proposal which will subject home educated children to much more surveillance than their counterparts in school. 'Deemed appropriate' is an expression which can give rise to wide interpretation, depending on the ideology of LAs and/or particular officers who are charged with satisfying themselves 'that the child is safe and well'.

 

2.3 In the Introduction (1.4), Graham Badman writes:

 

Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents ...

 

2.4 Recommendation 7 works directly against 'good relationships and mutual respect'. It seems to assume that home educating parents cannot be trusted with their own children. It effectively holds parents under suspicion until the LA officer has checked that they are not abusing their children in some way. At present, only a police officer with a warrant has power to enter a person's home. Parents feel that, because they are home educating, they are regarded as potential criminals.

 

2.5 Recommendation 7 runs contrary to established practice of British law. The current law already gives local authorities the power to act when they perceive that a child is at risk of harm; it covers children who are in school or out of school.

 

2.6 Mark Field MP has stated:

 

'[T]he 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 ...

'Increased intervention makes little financial sense and has the potential to divert resources from truly vulnerable children. It also further infringes the rights of parents to make the best decisions for their children. Current legislation is perfectly adequate, but poorly understood.'[2]

 

2.8 Recommendation 23 proposes:

 

That local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children's social care, on such grounds as:

 

■ alcohol or drug abuse

 

■ incidents of domestic violence

 

■ previous offences against children

 

And in addition:

 

anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable

and efficient education (emphasis mine)

 

This requirement should be considered in the Government's revision of Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance.

 

2.9 Referring to the fourth bullet point above:

 

This additional 'ground of concern' is a catch-all which will open home educating parents to intimidation by a local authority and/or national government. An authority could classify any failure of the parent to conform to its educational ideology as failure to provide a suitable education. Over recent decades, this country has experienced increasingly intrusive government regulation in schools and ordinary life. This has reduced civil liberty.

 

2.10 Recommendation 24 proposes:

 

That the DCSF make such change as is necessary to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds. In addition local authorities should have the right to revoke registration should safeguarding concerns become apparent.

 

2.11 Recommendation 23 and Recommendation 24 build a framework which, in the event of a future unscrupulous government coming to power, could easily be used to coerce and manipulate society's most vulnerable members.

 

September 2009



[1] See National Home Education Research Institute, www.NHERI.org

[2] HC Hansard, 9 June 2009, cols 219-221WH.