Memorandum submitted by Dr Roger Slack,

On behalf of the Home Service Committee

 

 

The minister chose a review leader who would not be seen as impartial.

The consultation of home educators' views gave little weight to their organisations.

No adequate literature review was undertaken.

Key claims justifying further legislation are not substantiated.

It is not clear that the proposals are feasible.

The quality of the report discredits the democratic process.

 

Home Service is a non-profit making organisation but not a registered charity. It was founded in 1992 to support Christians who wanted to home educate their children. At present it has just over 500 members,

 

1.1 Over the last decade there has been tension between Local Authorities (LAs) and the home educating community. Reports of unhelpful visits of LA advisors to home educating families circulate widely and rapidly on the email lists that many home educators share. Although there are many supportive LA officials, the reports have shown that advisors can be patronising, insensitive and ill-informed and may well upset the children. This has led many home educators to believe they cannot trust LAs to be fair and constructive. Consequently some have asked for the visits to be discontinued and many have decided it is best not to register with the LA at all.

 

1.2 This in turn has undermined what trust LAs might have had in the home educating community who appear to them as secretive and obstructive.

 

1.3 Within this scenario of tension and mistrust it was important that anyone appointed to lead a review of the law relating to home education should be seen to be impartial. That the minister appointed an LA director suggested to many home educators that the government would treat them no more fairly than some LAs had done. The appointment also immediately placed the review leader in an invidious position. The concerns of the home educating community were compounded by the choice of the expert panel. Although the report was declared to be about home education and safeguarding and there were at least four members on the 'expert committee' with expertise on the latter, only one other member, James Conroy, knew much about home schooling. Such a committee could hardly be called balanced and, when Professor Conroy was absent, no-one left had any personal experience or in depth knowledge on home educating children over five years old. This lack of understanding is evident throughout the report.

 

2.1 In view of this lack of knowledge and expertise the scope of consultation should have been as wide as possible. However, although the Islamic Home Schooling Advisory Network was consulted, Home Service representing over 500 Christian home educating families was not. Education Otherwise, the Home Education Advisory Service and ourselves represent around 5000 members, a sizeable proportion of the known home educating community especially remembering that membership is voluntary, but due weight has not been given to our submissions.

 

3.1 The terms of reference associated with the report included an assessment of 'the regime for monitoring the standard of home education' and the methodology in Annex A mentions the gathering of evidence through a literature review. The 'expert panel' included three professors who will have had extensive experience reading and reflecting on research papers.

 

3.2 Nevertheless there is no evidence within the report that any study of the performance of home educated children has been conducted and no bibliography of research papers at the end. To be sure little has been initiated in Britain. However, extensive research has been undertaken in comparable situations in the USA where there are many more home educating families and where the size of samples facilitates rigorous investigations using widely accepted statistical methods. Although the report mentions 'existing research studies ... both in this country and elsewhere', there is no evidence in the text that any of the mass of research from the USA has been taken into consideration.

 

3.3 Rather than consider the number of children deemed by LAs to be receiving an inadequate education, a very subjective statistic, the review could have at least examined the following papers which compare the performance of home educated children with those in the American state system.

Rudner, Lawrence M. (1999). Scholastic achievement and demographic characteristics of home school students in 1998. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 7(8)

Ray, Brian D. (2000). Home schooling: The ameliorator of negative influences on learning? Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 71-106.

Boulter, Lyn, & Macaluso, Kristin. (1994). Individualized assessment of home schooling education. Home School Researcher, 10(2), 1-6.

Russell, Terry. (1994). Cross-validation of a multivariate path analysis of predictors of home school student academic achievement. Home School Researcher, 10(1), 1-13.

Brady, Michael S. (2003). Social development in traditionally schooled and home educated children: A case for increased parental monitoring and decreased peer dominance. Home School Researcher, 15(4), 11-18.

Francis, David J., & Keith, Timothy Z. (2004). Social skills of home schooled and conventionally schooled children: A comparison study. . Home School Researcher, 16(1), 15-24.

Medlin, Richard G. (1994). Predictors of academic achievement in home educated children: Aptitude, self-concept, and pedagogical practices. Home School Researcher, 10(3), 1-7.

Montgomery, Linda R. (1989). The effect of home schooling on the leadership skills of home schooled students. Home School Researcher, 5(1), 1-10.

Shyers, Larry E. (1992). A comparison of social adjustment between home and traditionally schooled students. Home School Researcher, 8(3), 1-8.

Ray, Brian D. (2004, Fall). Homeschoolers on to college: What research shows us. Journal of College Admission., no. 185, 5-11.

Ray, Brian D., & Eagleson, Bruce K. (2008, August 14). State regulation of homeschooling and homeschoolers' SAT scores. Journal of Academic Leadership, 6(3).

Summaries of these and other papers can be supplied on request. The 2008 paper based on a sample of 11,739 children showing no correlation between their academic performance and the degree of state regulation, is particularly relevant to the deliberations of the review.

 

4.1 The three main claims, on which the case for additional legislation is almost entirely based, are not satisfactorily substantiated within the text. They are first that local authorities cannot locate all the home educated children in their authority. But this is precisely one of the purposes of ContactPoint. No reason is put forward as to why annual registration or indeed any further registration is necessary. It would, for example, be possible, easier and simpler merely for the LA advisor to confirm in his or her annual visit that the family were still home educating.

 

4.2 Secondly the report claims that 'the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power'. This key claim is not at all substantiated. There is ample evidence even in the returns from the LAs that the existing law is being applied effectively both in the use of school attendance orders and of social workers when there is a safeguarding concern. The failure of some LAs to follow the existing guidelines and put the law as it stands into practice, is not a reason to give them further laws to implement.

 

4.3 Thirdly within the discussion on safeguarding, the report claims that home educated children are more at risk from harm than those at school. To justify this perception in section 8.12 the report uses 'the number of (home educated) children known to children's social care' as a measure instead of the number of those considered to be 'children at risk'. The former figure gives a much inflated view of the safeguarding problem because it includes those children reported to social services by well meaning people who see they are not at school. It is difficult to understand how a panel which included at least four leading experts with expertise in safeguarding, should have made such a fundamental mistake.

 

5.1 The review has not sufficiently examined the details of its proposals to the extent that they may be in many instances unworkable. What, for example, happens if, when the advisor arrives, the child, citing the UNCHR, says its wishes not to meet the inspector have not been met? Presumably, since we do not live in a totalitarian country, parents who have been refused the right to continue to home educate can seek redress in the courts. What happens to the child in the meantime?

 

6.1 The poor quality and inadequate claims of the report are plain for all to see. Home Service believes the time given to the review leader to complete the review was too short. In addition to the serious lack of evidence within the report, our members have noticed that many of the quotes are unrepresentative. The existing laws and protocols are not spelt out so that a reader new to home education might think they do not even exist. The comparison of the regulations with those in other countries was made with Europe rather than the USA where most home educators live and where in most states the laws are at least as liberal as those in England. Our members were shocked to find that a report of this standard might be used to inform government policy and even more surprised to find it was readily accepted by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

 

September 2009.