Memorandum submitted by Stockport Home Education Partnership

 

This submission is forwarded by myself on behalf of and after consultation with the members of Stockport Home Education Partnership, a community group which provides activities and support for home educating families in and around Stockport Borough with a current membership of 38 families.

Gillian Hall

Chair

Stockport Home Education Partnership

 

Executive summary

The following submission includes comments and criticisms on the scope, conduct and recommendations made by Mr. G. Badman to HM Government, concerning elective home education in England and Wales.

The following points will be covered:

Flaws and inconsistencies in the process of the conduct of the review.

With regard to the recommendations that relate to Local Authorities responsibilities we feel Mr. Badman is proposing a disproportionate response based on poor evidence. Powers already exist to safeguard children who are believed to be at risk which are often not effectively, suitably or efficiently implemented and thus resulting in the recent high profile cases of abuse in children. We are particularly concerned about the potential right of access to the child, definition of a suitable education and the change in the role of the state in the education of children.

General criticisms of the review include the failure to have calculated the financial or social cost of implementing the changes recommended by the review and not having included primary stakeholders in the review team.

Section 1 Process of the Review

1a. It is worrying that while the review was being conducted, home educators visited by Mr. Badman report that he said during the interviews conducted that the status quo "would not" remain and change "will be" implemented. (Ahed 2009). It should surely be impossible to predict the outcome of the review be stated before it is complete if it was being conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. We can only conclude that the recommendations in this review were already decided upon and the review by Mr. Badman was 'lip service' to a fair and democratic process. A conjecture reinforced by the governments immediate and unconditional acceptance of Mr. Badman's recommendations. We also note with concern that the Government is already pushing ahead with its "registration and monitoring arrangements" without waiting to take public reaction into account. We do not agree with Mr Badman that the case for further legislation has been proved, let alone requiring such an instant reaction. This suggests to us that the findings of the report were a foregone conclusion and Mr Badman was merely writing what he thought Ed Balls wanted to hear. The Badman Review received a response to a supplementary questionnaire on "vulnerable children" from only 25 (16.4%) of 152 local authorities. The DSCF admits that this is a "small sample." (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/news-and- communications/la-weekly-email/laemail17september09/#ms883)

1b. This suspicion is further substantiated by the letter sent out to all local authorities by Mr Badman on Thursday 17th September 2009 which can be viewed on the DCSF website (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/ publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/) asking for local authorities to provide him with evidence to make his case more "statistically rigorous." Surely Mr Badman should have collected all the evidence he needed before publishing the report. Furthermore, if his report was not already "statistically rigorous" he should not have claimed to have evidence upon which he based his recommendations.

1c. A suitable and efficient education is currently defined in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996. This specifies that full time education must be suitable to a) the child's age, ability and aptitude and b) any special educational needs he/she may have. Mr Badman makes no reference to the 1996 Education Act in his 84 page report. This definition given in the Act is flexible enough to allow a course of education appropriate to each child. Mr Badman seems to think there is only one type of education and that is one which suits all children, and wishes for further tighter definition in this area. We do not think that these recommendations are in line with current education law as defined by the Education Act 1996.

1d. The recommendations are in conflict with existing legislation, common law and good practice. To allow access to the home is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that government should not unduly interfere with family life.

1e. Mr Badman's report is buttressed by a number of citations which are highly dubious. For example, against the background of derogatory remarks by Baroness Morgan, the Children's Minister, that home education could be a cover for abuse, Mr Badman can find no evidence to support the idea that home education is a cover for forced marriage and other similar behaviour other than in isolated cases. Given this government's evident lack of enthusiasm for home education and Mr Badman's instructions to investigate such matters, you can imagine how few such instances there must have been for him not to draw some kind of case from them. Instead, to bolster his argument, he states that he was provided with evidence "showing that the number of home educated children known to Children's Special Services in some LAs was disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." However, his statement is unsupported by data. Ahed (Action for Home Education) made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see this information and the results are available at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5- GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg. This data suggests that the abuse rate is considerably lower in the home educating population than in the general population. Mr Badman also uses the term "known to Social Services" as if it means "at risk" whereas in fact many

1f. Mr Badman's selective use of statistics is a cause for concern. Of these two thousand responses to a call for evidence, a huge percentage - over 75% - were from home educating parents or home educated children. Yet Mr Badman chose to quote from only two of these 1500+ letters and one was to the detriment of the home education case. This is possibly because Home Educating families do not have a national organisation to represent its views.

1g. Mr Badman used various other techniques to produce as negative a case as possible against home education, and also comments on the imperfections, bordering on systemic failure (SATs etc), of the current English school system and much else, but we feel the above are sufficient examples.

1h. Mr Badman did not declare an interest when conducting the review. In January 2009 Mr. Badman was announced as the interim chair of BECTA. Recommendation 12 proposes including home education in BECTA's national role out of its Home Access Initiative. This calls into question his impartiality.

 

Section 2. The content of the review and its recommendations

2a. Recommendation 1. Many home educating families support the principle that home education should be flexible enough to be autonomous and child-led. This would clearly be impossible where, as the Badman report recommends, "a clear statement of their educational approach" etc has to be laid out by parents/guardians etc a year in advance with reviews every 12 months. This is a very inflexible approach and does not allow for the normal variations in a child's progress. What is especially worrying to parents is the scope given to the education authorities for action against them as parents if they (the authorities) perceive discrepancies in a plan which might have pre-determined as much as a year before. Many reputable peer reviewed publications are testament to the effectiveness of autonomous education (for example, Thomas & Pattison's "How Children Learn at Home", Continuum International, 2008, ISBN 0826479995 ) Graham Badman's response was that he was "not convinced". This is an uninformed opinion, and Mr. Badman's opinion (where opinion has no place in a government review) is not backed up by facts.

2b Recommendation 7. These rights of access by local authorities to home-educated children would exceed those of the social services under the Children Act 2008 and may not be lawful. It is one thing to have some broad overall process which will protect against extreme cases and quite another to put in place a system which will lead to micro-managing home educators. The requirement of right of access and the power to question children alone is, completely disproportionate and probably in contravention of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The report goes too far in requiring parents to re-register every year. We are also concerned that Mr Badman does not appear to have conducted a risk assessment of allowing strangers into the homes of children and allowing them to be interviewed without the presence of their parents or trusted adult.

2c Recommendation 15. The injunction against schools advising parents in favour of home education because it might be a convenient way of excluding a difficult child is again an example of the report's heavy-handedness. It seems to assume that parents will meekly do as a school demands whereas our experience is that parents are highly independent especially with regards to such an important issue as their child's education.

2d Recommendation 23. We think that this recommendation is too widely drawn. As with so much of this report, the scales are very much loaded in favour of the Local Authority and not the parent. It implies that the State has a greater responsibility for the education of a child than any other party to the extent that local authorities will become legally liable if children do not receive a suitable education. As I understand it, the responsibility for a child's education is currently shared among four different parties. This is known as the "fourfold foundation" and was cited by Lord Bingham in a 2006 case (Ali v. Lord Grey School). These four parties are: 1. The parents; 2. The Secretary of State for Education; 3. Local Authorities; and 4. The schools themselves. In October 2006 the then Secretary of State, Lord Adonis, quoted from Lord Bingham's judgement with approval. Therefore, the Badman Report proposes a fundamental change in this balance of interests by making the State's interest paramount.

Section 3 General Criticisms of the Review

3a Mr Badman does not appear to have even estimated the potential cost of implementing the recommendations of the review. For Local Authority inspectors to visit every home educated child to ascertain their physical, emotional and educational well being as well as assess educational plans submitted by parents and check that the children have achieved the "measurable" outcomes as stated in their parents' plans would take a huge amount of resources. To us, this is a waste of public money when children who are already known to be in danger to the Local Authority could have this time and money spent on their safeguarding. If the one million children in failing schools were to be referred to social services the system would collapse but this and more is being imposed upon home educators.

3b. Mr Badman does not appear to have considered the social impact of his recommendations. Fundamental civil liberties, human rights and parental responsibilities will be eroded for a particular group of people because of one legal decision they made concerning their child(ren)'s education. If these recommendations become law then the erosion of human rights and civil liberties may be extended to other groups or even the whole of the UK population.

3c There were no primary stakeholders (ie home educating families) on the review team.

September 2009