Memorandum submitted by Stephen Tarlton
About the submitter
My partner and I educate our two children (aged 6 and 8) at home. I have a reasonably good relationship with our LEA, although since the Review was announced I try to keep contact to a minimum. The LEA is aware that one of our children is home educated but has never contacted us regarding the educational provision of our other child. We live in London and I am in full-time employment, mainly based at home. My partner is self-employed on a part-time basis, working from home. I am a 'Local Contact' for the home education organization Education Otherwise and in this capacity I have had considerable contact with other home educators, particularly those that have problems with their LEA.
The 2009 Review of Elective Home Education in England ("the Review") was flawed in many ways. Some of its failings include the following:
· Despite numerous consultations in recent years, the DCSF decided to launch yet another Review into EHE.
· Allegations contained in the press release that launched the Review - in particular, that home education has the potential to be used as a cover for child abuse - were unsubstantiated, and remain so.
· Graham Badman is only independent with respect to EHE in the sense that he has no experience or extensive knowledge of it.
· A 'decide-announce-defend' procedure has been followed. The outcome of the Review was a foregone conclusion and even now, Badman is trying to find statistical evidence to back up his 'findings'.
· Similarly, the outcome of the ongoing consultation on Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals has already been decided.
As a result, this submission makes two recommendations:
1. The Committee should call for the immediate halt of the consultation on Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals and the introduction of any legislation that this consultation relates to.
2. Cases of abuse of EHE children (should any exist) ought to be independently reviewed to ascertain whether legislative changes would have allowed the abuse to be detected in a more timely manner.
1.1 The guidelines for submissions state that each submission should be no more than 3,000 words in length. It is not possible to address even a small number of the shortcomings of Graham Badman's 2009 Review of Elective Home Education in England ("the Review") within this constraint. I have therefore chosen to limit the scope of this response mainly to the conduct of the Review. This submission represents a very small fraction of what I would like to say about the Review and the DCSF's general persecution of EHE.
1.2 When the Review was announced, it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion for a number of reasons, including:
· Many consultations on home education had been conducted in recent months and years.
· The manner in which the Review was launched indicated that something had to be done about what was seen as a potential cover for child abuse. 'Do nothing' was not an option.
· Badman is clearly someone with little knowledge and experience of home education.
· In his report on the Review, Badman made little attempt to hide his personal prejudice against home education.
· The report provided no rigorous evidence for its findings.
2. Repeated consultations
2.1 Badman's recommendations are merely one step in an ongoing campaign against home education carried out by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and its predecessor, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).
2.2 Numerous DCSF/DfES consultations in recent years have been targeted at EHE, in particular against educational philosophies that are relatively unconventional. Most notable amongst these was the 2007 Consultation on the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. This consultation had been launched after several years of heated debate regarding draft EHE guidelines. Even getting to the stage of having a full consultation on the draft guidelines - which had already been revised - was a long drawn-out process.
2.3 Unfortunately for home educators, whenever DfES/DCSF proposals get dropped or watered down during the consultation process, the Department simply comes out with more proposals within a few months or even weeks. The entire EHE community had come under intense scrutiny for most of this decade, yet it was claimed that yet another Review of home education was needed.
2.4 While many emotive accusations were bandied about, the DCSF provided no justification for yet another attack on EHE. The very fact that the 2007 Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities were only little more than a year old demonstrates that the DCSF is relentlessly persecuting the EHE community. Even if this Inquiry results in the rejection of the Review, I have no doubt whatsoever that the DCSF (or whatever its successor is called) will before long be reviewing EHE once again.
2.5 Just because several previous consultations on EHE have resulted in conclusions that are not compatible with the views of the DCSF, this does not justify launching more reviews and consultations on EHE. Without providing any new evidence that anything had changed within the last year, the DCSF has shown contempt for the democratic process by launching this Review.
2.6 Now there is a consultation on Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals. But, like the Review, the government has completely undermined its legitimacy by making clear what the conclusions have to be. Responding to the Review, Ed Balls wrote to Badman, stating: "I accept all the recommendations in your report that call for urgent action to improve safeguards for home educated children and we will introduce these as soon as possible, subject to identifying funding and workable delivery arrangements." In making such a statement before the conclusion of the present consultation, Balls has removed any legitimacy this consultation might have had.
3. EHE and child abuse
3.1 Despite repeated attempts to uncover links between EHE and abuse, no evidence that such links exist has been produced. Yet that doesn't prevent accusations against EHE being made. Sadly, such accusations are not confined only to poorly educated and easily-led people, but to many people that have attained positions of authority and respect.
3.2 During the debate on the Education and Inspections Bill, Baroness Walmsley said: "Children who do not come in front of teachers and other professionals every day may escape attention when they show signs of abuse and mistreatment. That is what happened to Victoria Climbié. However, the Bill misses the opportunity to make clear who is responsible, not just for identifying these children, but for making sure that they receive a suitable education." (Lords Hansard 17 October 2006, Column 654)
3.3 The press release accompanying the launch of the Review quoted Baroness Morgan as follows: "In some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse." (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2009_0013)
3.4 Such comments are frequent, and mud, as the saying goes, sticks. Some politicians are renowned for attempting to tap into popular public opinion in order to pursue their agenda or win votes - and the child abuse card is a particularly cheap and easy trick to play.
3.5 The tone of the above quoted press release was verging on hysteric - and came (I suspect not coincidentally) at a time when the Baby P case was foremost in people's minds. The press release alone made clear what the outcome of the "independent" Review was going to be.
3.6 Enlisting the NSPCC in this campaign appears to be cynically calculated. The NSPCC is clearly uncomfortable with children being alone with adults and out of the public eye - particularly in the home - for any length of time, rather than with EHE per se. The NSPCC also runs Childline and would know from the thousands of calls it receives every month (see for example http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7877910.stm) whether home education is a factor in abuse. The DCSF and the NSPCC have nevertheless produced no evidence that the accusations implied in the press release have any basis whatsoever.
4. Graham Badman and EHE
4.1 Graham Badman was clearly not chosen to lead this Review for his expertise in EHE. His lack of experience in the very field under scrutiny undermines the legitimacy of the Review. As already noted, the Review was launched amid allegations of home education being used as a cover for child abuse and at a time when the Baby P case was receiving considerable media coverage. To then choose a former LEA Director of Education, followed by Director of Children's Services, then later the Chair of Haringey's Local Safeguarding Children Board during the Baby P inquiry, could only have resulted in the outcome that we are faced with. It is inconceivable that someone such as Badman would have disagreed with the allegations being made against EHE.
4.2 Badman might well be an expert in education, at least within the very limited scope that is provided by the state. But to get someone that is so obviously prejudiced against many aspects of EHE to head this Review is analogous to taking seriously what an undoubted musical genius has to say about Judaism. The two are simply not connected, yet the DCSF pretends to think that Badman has any legitimacy to even comment on EHE.
4.3 In the introduction to his report, Badman states: "There has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child. I believe that balance is not achieved through current legislation or guidance, and the imbalance must be addressed." The implicit prejudice in this kind of comment - of which there are several - is breathtaking. I have more experience of EHE than Badman, and I believe that the balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child are achieved through current legislation and guidance. But for some reason the DCSF seems to give more weight to Badman's belief in this area than that of someone with more knowledge and experience of EHE than he has.
4.4 Furthermore, the very fact that an expert in schooling has not given his opinion on whether the rights of children that attend school are balanced with those of the parents, demonstrates the degree of prejudice against EHE. I submit that the balance between the rights of the parents and those of children that attend school is not achieved through current legislation or guidance, and the imbalance must be addressed. I also suggest that the DCSF commissions an expert in alternative forms of education to lead an urgent review to address this imbalance. Of course, these suggestions can be dismissed for not being within the scope of this Inquiry, but they demonstrate the inherent prejudice in such comments as the one quoted above (in §4.3).
4.5 As already noted, there are many occasions where Badman betrays his prejudice against EHE and the Committee will no doubt be more than aware of all these instances by the time that this Inquiry is over. However, I wish to point out that even when Badman claims impartiality he is clearly unable to demonstrate it.
4.6 The Committee will be familiar with Badman's claim that he "come[s] to no conclusion" as to what constitutes autonomous learning. He notes that some insight is provided by case law, quoting the following: "in our judgment, 'education' demands at least an element of supervision; merely to allow a child to follow its own devices in the hope that it will acquire knowledge by imitation, experiment, or experience in its own way and in its own good time is neither systematic nor instructive...such a course would be not education but, at best, child-minding."
4.7 By choosing such a quote, Badman demonstrates that, despite his claim, he has drawn his own conclusions regarding autonomous learning. There are many other quotes he could point to that would not put autonomous education in such a negative light. Take the following paragraph of the same case: "The Appellants' children are, and have been, allowed to follow their own interests and to investigate subjects largely of their own choice without restriction. They have not, however, so we think, been simply left to their own devices. The overwhelming impression left by the evidence is that the children are always engaged in concentrated and creative activity or study, and that idleness or ineffectiveness would simply not be tolerated. On the evidence, we conclude that despite the fact of formulation or structure, these children have received and are receiving education capable of recognition as the autonomous method, and which can properly be described as systematic and which is certainly 'full-time'."
4.8 Badman states that "further research into the efficacy of autonomous learning is essential." The Committee should have absolutely no doubt as to what this research would conclude if Badman were to carry it out.
4.9 It is now evident that even Badman himself realizes that his prejudice might have got the better of him. In a recent letter to all Directors of Children's Services (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/_download/?id=6586), he states that he "would like to strengthen my statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust."
4.10 The fact that more evidence is being sought to back up recommendations already made undermines any legitimacy the Review might have had. I submit that all the evidence needs to be gathered before any assessment can be made. Since Badman's letter demonstrates that all the available evidence has not yet been gathered, the findings of the Review are seriously compromised.
4.11 The statistical evidence should have been extensive and statistically robust enough in the first place to not require further requests for data. It has been a near impossible task to get hold of the supplementary data to the review, and the DCSF has been far from helpful in providing this data, which should have been published alongside the Review in the first place. I will not address the shortcomings of the so-called research that Badman drew on as I know there will be many submissions that have done this. But I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that there must clearly be some connection with home educators' attempts to get hold of the statistical 'evidence' and Badman's letter. I suggest that the Committee should request copies of the correspondence between the DCSF and Badman regarding this matter.
4.12 In addition, the Review was unable to find "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." This, of course, was the supposed justification for the Review in the first place. Normally when one looks for dirt, one will usually find something, but despite this, the DCSF allegations that led to the Review were shown to be just what they always were - allegations. The Review should have been halted at this point as there was no longer any justification for it.
5. Conclusions and recommendations
5.1 Having decided to resort to playing the child abuse card, the DCSF was too eager to 'stitch up' EHE and forgot to pretend that there is a rigorous process to be followed. The process has been made to fit the conclusions is still being made to fit the conclusions. Despite the conclusions already being decided, Badman is currently attempting to back up his 'findings' and the consultation on Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals is still underway.
5.2 In the nuclear power industry (in which I work), this kind of procedure is referred to as 'decide-announce-defend'. Whenever this has been adopted, it has nearly always failed, often after massive costs to the taxpayer. The DCSF must not be allowed to waste taxpayers' money by proceeding with this flawed undemocratic model. My first recommendation is that the Committee must immediately halt the consultation on Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals as well as the introduction of any legislation that this consultation relates to.
5.3 There still is no evidence that EHE children are at more risk of abuse than their school-educated peers. Time and time again, the common theme running through such high profile cases such as that of Victoria Climbié is that such children were known to the social services but were not saved as a result of institutional failings - and not because existing legislation was inadequate.
5.4 My second recommendation is to look at cases of known abuse of EHE children and to see whether any changes to legislation would have helped detect the abuse at an earlier stage.
5.5 I only know of the cases involving Eunice Spry and Khyra Ishaq, where it could be argued that the children involved were EHE. In these cases, it appears to me that, in both cases, institutional failure, rather than inadequacies in the legislation, was largely responsible for the abuse not being discovered. But of course, my opinion in these cases is biased according to my wish to be allowed to continue to educate my children at home with minimal interference from the State. Similarly, I am certain that, should such an inquiry be led by Badman, then it would do its best to draw some link between non-detection of abuse and legislation relating to EHE. Instead, the government should enlist appropriate experts to dispassionately review such cases to decide if there is any foundation to the claim that current legislation does not adequately protect EHE children. The DCSF has demonstrated total incompetence by not carrying out such an investigation prior to the Review.
5.6 If I am right that institutional failure rather than inadequate legislation is to blame for abuse not being detected promptly, then the DCSF has been misdirecting public money away from the front-line services that really do make a difference - sometimes one of life and death - to children at risk.