Memorandum submitted by Andrew and Janet Shrimpton

 

 

1) Summary

The review appears to have been based on allegations of home education being used as a 'cover' for abuse.

It has failed to substantiate these allegations.

Nevertheless, it has proposed sweeping changes to legislation which drastically alter the balance between State and parental responsibilities.

It does so without providing adequate justification: assertions are not backed up by documented evidence.

The report fails to provide any consideration of the cost of the proposals, although others have calculated that the cost may run to hundreds of millions of pounds.

The report fails to give adequate consideration to the social impact of its proposals.

 

 

2) Introduction

1. We write as parents with many years of experience of home educating in Scotland. Our oldest child (now 17) was educated at home until he was 16. He then went to College for a year, where he gained five Highers (Mathematics, English, History, Physics and Biology). He is now at school for a year, studying for Advanced Higher Biology, together with Higher Chemistry and Higher Computing, with the intention of going to university next year to study Biology. Our other two children, now aged 15 and 11, are still being educated at home.

2. We recognise that the Badman review applies to England, rather than Scotland. However, we are concerned about its implications for civil liberties and the possible "knock-on" effect on the situation in Scotland.

 

 

3) Conduct of the Review

1. This was the fourth consultation/review exercise regarding home education in as many years. Why has home education been singled out in this way?

2. Why was a former senior local authority education officer chosen to carry out a supposedly "independent" review of home education?

3. The review appears to have been prompted by a few unfounded allegations regarding home education being used as a 'cover' for child abuse, forced marriage or other aspects of child neglect. Why was specific research into these allegations not carried out, instead of using the allegations as a 'cover' for introducing sweeping changes to the relationship between home educators and the State?

4. In contrast to the unsubstantiated allegations against home educators, there is ample evidence that children living in cohabiting step-families are at significantly higher risk of child abuse. Child abuse is disproportionately found in families where the child's natural mother is cohabiting with a partner who is not related to the child (Robert Whelan, "Broken Homes and Battered Children": Oxford, Family Education Trust, 1994). So why is attention being focussed on the comparatively small number of home educators instead of on reducing such dysfunctional families?

5. The first point under "terms of reference" talks of "ensuring" that the 5 Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home-educated children. This indicates an exaggerated view of what State intervention can achieve. Does state schooling "ensure" that they are met for every pupil?

6. By focussing on these five "Every Child Matters" outcomes, the review slants consideration of home education towards a particular Government agenda. Many people would consider other issues,

7. such as the development of character, to be more important goals of education.

8. The choice of the "expert reference panel" shows little evidence of direct knowledge of home education. Why were there no representatives of home education organisations?

9. The questionnaire sent to local authorities misrepresents the powers and responsibilities of local authorities. For example, question 1 asks "Who is involved in supporting and monitoring home educated children within the local authority and other agencies?" This implies a duty to "monitor" home educated children - which the local authority does not have. The Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, paragraph 2.7, state: "Local Authorities have no statutory duties in relation to the monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis."

10. The questions in Section Four of the questionnaire - Assessment and Monitoring - assume that there will be a an initial visit (and probably subsequent visits), and that the local authority will be tracking and assessing the educational progress of home educated children. This is what Mr. Badman wants to introduce: it is not what the law currently requires.

 

 

4) The Report

1. One of the most prominent features of the report is the use of assertion without evidence. Statements such as "I am not persuaded ..." or "I believe..." are common. To take one example (10.2 on page 36): "I am not convinced by the existing research studies on the outcomes for home educated children both in this country and elsewhere." No indication is given of what research studies have been consulted.

2. Statements are made which give a misleading view of the evidence. For example, in 8.12 on page 31, the statement is made that "the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high". The same paragraph goes on to refer to "the potential additional risk to children". The implication is clearly that home-educated children are at greater risk. However, statistics released as a result of Freedom of Information requests give a rather different picture:

a. The initial questionnaire to local authorities asked (question 22): "in the last five years, how many cases have you come across that use the premise of home education as a 'cover' for child abuse, forced marriage or other aspects of child neglect?" No figures are given in the report, though it is forced to acknowledge (8.14) that "I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities".

b. Mr. Badman appears to have asked the 90 (out of 152) local authorities which replied to his questionnaire a further question about the number of children known to social care (there is no such question in the initial questionnaire given as Annex D of the report). This, of course, is a much larger number than the number of children at risk, since it includes at least three other groups: (i) those with Special Education Needs; (ii) those referred to social services by local authorities simply because they are home educated; (iii) those reported to social services by other people (neighbours, etc) because they do not attend school. Why did he not ask the more relevant question of how many (if any) electively home educated children were considered to be at risk?

c. The "self-selecting, and therefore biased" (cf 10.2 on page 36) sample of 25 authorities which replied to this question is accepted as typical, and national figures are extrapolated from this.

d. A percentage is derived from these figures which is about double the national average. But this percentage is derived only from the number of children known to the local authority as electively home educated. Elsewhere in the report, it is suggested that the actual number of electively home educated children may be up to four times as many (6.1 on page 22) - in which case, the percentage known to social services would be half, not double, the national average.

3. Although the report claims that it has been informed by "a literature review and consideration of practice and legislation in other countries" (2.3 on page 4), no list of references is provided. There is no means of determining the extent of the literature review.

4. Are the instances cited of practice elsewhere typical, or are they selectively chosen to reinforce the recommendations? There is no documentation of the countries considered.

5. Section 1.4 states that "I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power. I agree with this view..." This gives the impression that all local authorities consider the current guidelines to be unworkable. Is this really the case, or is it another case of misleading wording which actually only gives the view of a minority of authorities? Since the report does not give the actual responses of the authorities, we cannot tell.

6. In addition, the report gives no examples of elements in the guidelines which are supposed to be "unworkable". We are, once more, left with a vague assertion without any corroborating evidence. (It should also be noted that the current guidelines have only been in place since 2007, and it is therefore too early to draw valid conclusions as to their suitability.)

7. The report makes sweeping recommendations which will require a significant expansion of local government bureaucracy. Yet there is no attempt to cost them. (A report commissioned by HEAS suggests that the cost could be hundreds of millions of pounds.) Why does the report not consider the question of whether the recommendations are affordable? Each recommendation should have been separately costed in order to determine whether it was cost-effective. At a time when savings must be made in public expenditure, it is astonishing that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools, and Families should have been so quick to give an unqualified acceptance of the entire report when it contains expensive proposals which have not been subjected to any cost-benefit analysis.

8. Experience in other areas (such as the introduction of the licence scheme for houses in Multiple Occupancy, where landlords must pay a substantial sum to obtain a licence) suggests that there may be an attempt to reduce the impact of the changes on the public purse by introducing a charge for the compulsory registration which the report proposes. This, of course, would have a disproportionate impact on the less well-off. It could lead to home education becoming the preserve of the rich, thus damaging social inclusion. Yet the outcome of home education is particularly beneficial to children of poorer/less well-educated parents. (According to Roland Meighan, research shows that home educated children "are, on average, two years ahead of their schooled counterparts, and in the case of working class children closer to three years ahead."[quoted from web site http://www.freedomforchildrentogrow.org/Roland%20Meighan%20response%20to%20the%20Badman%20Report.pdf accessed on 19th September 2009])

9. The report (Recommendation 7) calls for designated local authority officers to have the right of access to the home, including "the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate". This proposal is an unprecedented invasion of privacy which goes beyond the rights even of police officers. Yet there is no assessment of the risks involved in such a proposal. How will the children be safeguarded from abuse, when they can be interviewed alone by a stranger? How will the local authority officers be safeguarded from false accusations? The report is silent.

10. The report (3.3) quotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the child's right to express his or her views, and laments that "under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views." (Hence recommendation 7.) However, this is a case of selective quotation in order to misrepresent. The second part of the same article states: "For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law." The Convention, therefore, provides for the child's views to be presented by someone representing the child.

11. The recommendations in the report significantly alter the balance between the responsibilities of parents and the State. For example, the report recommends (Recommendation 1) compulsory registration, with the clear implication that parents may be refused permission to home educate if they do not meet criteria laid down by the local authority. This makes the State and not the parents the primary guardians and educators of children. It is directly contrary to the current law, which lays on the parents the responsibility to ensure that their children receive a suitable education. What will the social impact be of this diminishing of parental rights and responsibilities? How will it affect family life and social cohesion? Why does the report not consider this?

 

September 2009