Memorandum submitted by Hertfordshire Home Education Group
Herts Home Education Group: background information
meeting was arranged at Fleetville Community Centre,
Herts Home Education Action Group was formed as a result of our grave concern
about the standard of the review and the unsound nature of the
recommendations. We are writing to
inform the Select Committee of our disquiet at the attitudes shown by Graham
Badman at the
1 Evidence relating to the conduct of the Badman review
1.1 Mr Badman was very unwell when he came to the meeting. He was suffering from a severe flu-type illness. The meeting had already been cancelled several times by the review team and he had decided to attend in order to avoid a further cancellation. One of our group contracted the infection from him and was ill and unable to work properly for over three weeks. It is reasonable to conclude from this that Mr Badman's ability to work intensively on the review must have been reduced for a similar length of time. Given the shortness of the time allowed for the entire review this would have had a serious effect on the integrity of his findings.
1.2 Mr Badman was also heavily involved with the demanding and high-profile Baby Peter review while he was reviewing home education. At our meeting someone referred to the difficulty of conducting the two reviews concurrently, and he asserted strongly that the two issues were entirely separate in his mind. This may or may not be the case but we believe that the demands of the Baby Peter review must have reduced his ability to give proper consideration to the complex subject of home education.
2 The review's lack of objectivity
2.1 Mr Badman's questions to the meeting were
framed from a perspective of a lifetime's familiarity with school-based
education and its philosophy and pedagogy.
It was clear to us that he had come to home education as an IT expert
who was expecting to find a 'system' (this concept occurs at crucial points in
the review report) and he was irritated and perplexed by the diverse nature of
home education which does not yield to a systems approach. He seemed to regard the varied nature of home
education as a problem that required a solution. This is not a problem
2.2 Mr Badman spoke of his concern that home educating families did not have a body through which to make their views known. He did not seem to want to accept that no council or association could represent the views of home educators because there are as many different viewpoints and methods as there are home educators. He did not understand that there is no 'system': there are only home educators.
3 Evidence which indicates that the review's findings were predetermined
3.1 At an early stage in the meeting Mr Badman said firmly to the group: 'I want you to know that things can't stay as they are...' despite having stated publicly (in a meeting reported in the Home Education Advisory Service Bulletin, Spring 2009) that the Secretary of State might either accept his recommendations or decide to make no changes.
3.2 Mr Badman became visibly irritated when people gave accounts of their young people's successes, especially when their achievements were due to an informal style of education. People observed afterwards that he was looking for negative aspects and problems. His mind appeared to be made up although he had asked for the opportunity to meet families as part of his fact-finding about home education. It emerged that he was very interested in the Tasmanian model of monitoring of home education by home educators themselves. He said to the group: 'I've been trying to get you to say this but nobody is saying it, so I'll say it for you: what about self-monitoring?' He seemed surprised and disappointed by the robust refusal of this concept and he did not seem to understand that no home educator would wish to put him or herself in a position of judging another. One parent commented: 'He came across as a man with a preconceived agenda and no genuine interest in really engaging with us.'
3.3 It was noticeable that when people responded to his questions he did not make eye contact with them while they were speaking as soon as he found that their reply did not interest him. On the other hand, when people responded in a way that fitted in with his agenda he fixed his attention on them straight away. Several people said afterwards that this behaviour made them feel most uncomfortable and some said that it made them reluctant to make any further contributions to the meeting.
3.4 Even making allowances for his poor state of health at the time, the participants were shocked and disturbed by his patronising attitudes and by his dismissive responses to the evidence which was given to him. When the discussion turned to the outcomes of home education, he was openly sceptical to the point of rudeness when parents told him of the attitudes of universities and further education colleges towards home educated students. He dismissed their accounts as 'anecdotal'. When one mother mentioned research into outcomes he interrupted her in a manner that was reminiscent of heckling, saying 'Research? What research? Go on - what research? There is none that I am prepared to accept ... ' The meeting was taken aback and embarrassed by his discourteous reaction.
3.5 At an early stage in the meeting Mr Badman said that he was hoping to capture the philosophical base of home education so that he could find a way to keep everyone happy. Afterwards several people commented that at various points in the meeting they became aware that he was offering inducements to persuade people of the value of being known to the local authority. He asked what support people wanted and he seemed surprised and disappointed when all the participants except one expressed a firm rejection of the idea of support.
4 Mr Badman's failure to understand home education
4.1 Mr Badman showed a complete lack of understanding of home education throughout the meeting. It was clear that he had made assumptions that were not based on knowledge. For instance, he seemed to have no idea that families worked together to provide a range of experiences for their children. He offered a list of resources and activities that he thought home educators would want and should have, including access to sports facilities, museum trips, skiing, ICT facilities, swimming lessons and science instruction. The group informed him immediately that all these opportunities and more were already offered on a regular basis in local home educators' groups including our own; he seemed to be taken aback by this information.
4.2 At one point a parent asked him what school had given to him that we could not provide for our children, and he replied: 'Books'. This extraordinary comment would have been laughable if it had not shown such a lack of understanding of home education and what is possible for its practitioners. Later Mr Badman noted the advantages of ICT provision in schools and referred to concerns that children at home would miss out on this essential resource. Several of the young people assured him that their home IT facilities were far superior to any of the resources that had been available at school.
5 Evidence of the review's unsound methodology
5.1 Mr Badman was dismissive of
5.2 The question of the numbers of home educators was discussed in some depth during the meeting in the context of Mr Badman's safeguarding concerns about families who are not known either to the local authorities or to the home education networks. He said confidently that there were large numbers of these unknown families. He could not give sources for this claim and he said that for every family known to the local authority there is another one who is 'unconnected'. The point was made to him that it was impossible to have any idea about the existence of families who were not known to anyone, and he seemed unable to appreciate the absurdity of the notion that unknown families can be quantified. He enlarged upon the concept of safeguarding risks among families who are unknown to anyone, but he did not seem to realise the difference between a risk (a probability that may be assessed) and a suspicion (a fear about which no evidence may be adduced).
5.3 A further example of unsound methodology arose over the issue of young people who are not in education, employment or training (Neet). Mr Badman was emphatic that our group was not typical because no-one could think of any young home educated person who was Neet. He was incredulous and insisted that one of us must know someone in this category. He said that information from local authorities and from Connexions indicated that as many as 25% of home educated young people were Neet. He did not realise that local authorities are not reliable sources of information about the outcomes of home educated children because they do not always follow them up in the last year of education. Very few families have any contact with Connexions so it is impossible to make any meaningful statement about young people's destinations. Anecdotal evidence from home education networks remains the most reliable source of information about outcomes.
6 Evidence of bias towards local authority concerns
6.1 Despite the fact that the terms of reference of the review should have included an enquiry into the relationship between local authorities and home educating families, Mr Badman was very reluctant to accept the fact that some families have problems with their local authorities. We are fortunate in having good relationships with the local authority in this county - this has taken years of work to achieve - but we noted that Mr Badman was not interested in our experience of our local authority and whether or not we had any concerns.
7 Conclusions drawn from the meeting
7.1 Everyone noted that the flaws in Mr Badman's understanding of home education were painfully evident. Our meeting was held after he had seen other home educating individuals and groups, and it took place very near to the end of the information gathering phase of his review. If his understanding of home education was so poor at this late stage, we doubt whether he had discovered any relevant information about the subject at all. This has serious implications for the review's integrity. The members of the meeting agreed afterwards that Mr Badman did not seem to have been open to any consideration of the collective experience of the group, therefore it was unlikely that he had gained any knowledge of home education as a result of the meeting.
8 Comments on the review recommendations
8.1 Space forbids comment on all of the recommendations; we would like to address the four 'urgent' recommendations only. This should not be taken to indicate approval of the remaining proposals. We note that in his letter to local authorities dated 17th September 2009 Graham Badman asserts that most of his recommendations have not been challenged; he claims that this reflects the sound evidence base. Herts Home Education Action Group wishes to repudiate this claim and register our objection to all of the recommendations in the strongest possible terms. There is not a single one which would improve the quality of life for home educated children or their parents. The entire exercise represents a huge commitment of public money to no discernible end. Most of the recommendations will put unreasonable pressure on local authorities and this in turn will be transferred to families. It should be obvious to anyone that when legislation to enact the four 'urgent' recommendations is already in the Draft Legislative Programme, concerned people will postpone consideration of the rest.
8.2 Recommendation 1 seeks to impose compulsory registration and annual monitoring to approve families' educational arrangements. Parents will have to produce a statement of their aims and planned outcomes for the next twelve months and the suitability of their provision will be judged against their initial statement. This Ofsted-style approach is entirely inappropriate at home and it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the difficulties families face at the onset of home education.
8.3 When children have been withdrawn from school because of problems they are invariably deeply unhappy and this recommendation will subject them to severe and unnecessary pressure when they are least able to endure it. It will have devastating consequences for those children who are unable to contemplate learning after the sufferings that they have endured at school. Children who are benefiting from the informal and individualised approach that is unique to home education will also suffer because their education will have to be predetermined and organised. Mr Badman offers no explanation of the benefits which this interference is deemed to bring to the learner and he presents no evidence to show why he considers it necessary.
8.4 Recommendation 7 is perhaps the most appalling intrusion into family life and children's privacy that has ever been suggested in a free society. Under the guise of 'safeguarding' home educated children a stranger from the local authority will have the right to enter a family's home and force a child to submit to an interview with no support from the parent. The review suggests in all seriousness that this is to give a hypothetical victim an opportunity to disclose abuse but this action is abusive in itself. Freedom of information requests have shown that the insubstantial statistical evidence that the review offered in justification of this recommendation is improper and that Mr Badman is seeking to bolster his evidence by a further appeal to local authorities for more detailed data. We contend that this extraordinary admission reveals that the review and its conclusions are fundamentally unsound and should be abandoned immediately before further public money is wasted on shoring up its inadequacies.
8.5 Recommendation 23 requires other agencies to inform on parents who are considered to be unsuitable as home educators. This recommendation has not been properly considered and it is completely illogical. If parents are substance abusers or if there is a history of violence or abuse, the child should be removed into the care of the local authority if the situation is deemed to be unsafe. If the parents are able to care for their children during the six weeks of the summer holiday there is no reason why they should be judged unfit to educate them at home.
8.6 The same principle applies to recommendation 24, which gives local authorities the power to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds. This proposal ignores the fact that there are already perfectly adequate procedures that may be used by children's social care and the education welfare service if children are known to be at risk of harm. If children are deemed to be safe with their parents if they are not being educated at home, then home education is not an issue. This recommendation exposes families to unwarranted intrusion and it gives the authorities a licence to be both judge and jury without the safeguard of the independent scrutiny undertaken by a court of law.
9 The recommendations: conclusion
9.1 We acknowledge that safeguarding may be an issue in a small minority of cases but the few cases that have come to light were all known to the authorities. We ask the Select Committee to consider the effect that the review proposals will have on relationships between families and local authorities. If anyone is determined to abuse their own child they will not desist for fear of the penalty that is incurred by failing to register. If good relations are maintained with local authorities on the basis of trust and mutual respect, families would feel able to seek advice if safeguarding problems come to light within the local home education community.
9.2 We must not lose sight of the fact that the safety of children is a national issue that has not been shown to have any correlation with home education. The review proposals are not a proportionate response to the risk of abuse which is statistically very small; it is ironic that not only will the recommendations achieve nothing for the tiny minority of children who are at risk, but they will cause real suffering to very many children for whom home education is a last refuge from suffering at school.