Memorandum submitted by the Reverend Dr Alasdair Coles,

 on behalf of Central London Home Educators

 

Summary

Recommendations of the Review:

1.   Appraisal of Evidence

2.   Cost Effectiveness

3.   Social Impact -          legal/human rights issues

relationship between families and Local Authorities

 

Evidence

1. The Government undertook a major review/consultation regarding Elective Home Education (EHE) in 2007. This process produced new guidelines, published in Autumn 2007, which fundamentally reiterated the status quo. It is hard to understand why another review was deemed necessary so soon. However, the remit of this latest investigation was to seek a link between EHE and forced marriage, servitude, trafficking and other forms of child abuse. None was found.

8.14 With regard to other specific groups within the remit of this inquiry 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.

 

If this review has found no link then nothing has changed since 2007. Why therefore are radical changes to primary legislation recommended?

 

2. Mr Badman has produced no statistical evidence to show that current legislation/regulation is inadequate. 40% of local authorities (LAs) did not respond to his questionnaire so it would appear that EHE is not one of their priorities/areas of concern.

2.2  Ninety responses to the local authority questionnaire were received, which equates to a 60% response rate.

 

Of those who did respond only a minority have a ‘disproportionately high number of children known to social care’ (8.12). This in itself is not a problem. Children with SEN are known to social care. This vague and unsubstantiated comment does not necessarily mean that there are any concerns or that the children are ‘at risk’.

 

3. Mr Badman claims:

8.2 I have tried to answer two fundamental questions:

First, if there is abuse of children within the home education community, is it disproportionally high, relative to the general population?

Secondly where abuse does exist, would a change of regulation with regard to elective home education have either prevented or ameliorated such abuse?

He does not satisfactorily answer either of these questions. Information that has been obtained during the summer by FOI requests suggests that the level of abuse within the home education community is disproportionately low relative to the general population[1]. Secondly, he admits that there are only a ‘small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature’ (8.12). He has in no way demonstrated that a change of regulation would ‘have either prevented or ameliorated such abuse’.

 

4. Having failed to demonstrate a link with abuse, Mr Badman explores the possibilities for neglecting to educate. He dismisses the wealth of academic research already completed in relation to EHE and its outcomes:

10.2 I am not convinced by the existing research studies on the outcomes for home educated children both in this country and elsewhere.

 

and then goes on to say:

10.3 little is known about the collective outcomes for home educated children in terms of their qualifications and employment. Evidence offered to this inquiry … was inconclusive.

 

But despite having found no evidence of neglect he goes on to recommend:

 

Recommendation 7. That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.

 

That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.

It does not seem logical to recommend the introduction of a costly scheme of compulsory monitoring when there is no evidence that the current arrangements are inadequate. It also seems irresponsible to recommend such radical measures without first reviewing practice in countries where EHE is more commonplace. There is no consideration of practice in USA or Canada where a significant proportion of the population are educated outside the school system and where a variety of levels of regulation/monitoring are in operation. Mr Badman also ignores New Zealand where the Government is ceasing monitoring as it is deemed not to be cost effective.

From 1 July 2009 ERO will carry out reviews only when requested by the Secretary for Education, or in other particular circumstances.

Graham Stoop Chief Review Officer

 

 

Cost Effectiveness

5. Mr Badman assumes that monitoring will be beneficial. There is no exploration of the potential for monitoring to produce negative effects. Also, he seems to believe that parents and children can only be motivated by the threat of an external assessor, rather than assuming that most parents are naturally motivated to do what is best for their children.

 

6. Currently EHE saves the Government c.£500million pa (assuming 50,000 home educated children)[2]. The requirements to produce a yearly plan, submit to annual inspections and have the privacy of the home violated are likely to intimidate many law-abiding families. If, as a result of this intimidation, or abuse of school attendance orders by LAs, children were forced into school, this would increase costs for the Government and create problems in cities such as London, where there is already a shortage of school places.

 

7. The review recommendations would require the recruitment of many more staff and considerable training in order to equip people to assess both welfare and education, particularly as the educational approaches and the gifts/needs of the children would vary enormously. These requirements would be expensive but he has not produced an impact assessment nor considered how effective the measures might be in improving the education or welfare of the children concerned.

 

8. The requirement to produce an annual statement of intent in order to facilitate an inspection will seriously undermine the ability of families to follow child-led or autonomous learning strategies. The very act of inspection will impose testing. These requirements may be at odds with the family’s philosophy of education and contravene the Human Rights Act.

In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act

 

9. The imposition of testing is also likely to cause stress. This stress is unlikely to improve the child’s health or welfare and could be particularly damaging for families where children have deregistered as a result of unresolved bullying issues. From the LAs’ perspective, he has failed to assess the risk for staff, should they be granted the right to speak to the child alone.

 

10. The benefits of safeguarding as opposed to child protection have not yet been proven. Many studies show the dangers of ‘false positives’. Annual monitoring of all home educated children is effectively a screening programme and is highly likely to produce ‘false positives’. These results would give rise to unnecessary and damaging interventions. In short, safeguarding would become a source of abuse in its own right.

 

11. The Government has stated that the vast majority of home educators are doing a good job, so most of this monitoring would be a waste of time and resources. Rather than identifying a minority of abused or neglected children, these proposals will squander resources that could otherwise be used to support known vulnerable children.

 

Social Impactlegal issues

12. The underlying assumption of proposals is that parents are to be suspected of abusing their children or neglecting their education until they prove the contrary. This conflicts with British Common Law where people are presumed innocent until there is evidence to suggest otherwise. People who choose to educate their children outside the school system are making an entirely legal choice. Why should making this choice automatically single them out as families at risk of being ‘at risk’ who must be constantly monitored?

 

13. Mr Badman argues that:

8.4 ‘attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult.’

It is preposterous to suggest that children who do not attend school have no significant contact with other adults. It is also inconsistent to treat home educated children differently from all other children who are not at school, e.g. 0-5 year olds. If home educated children require constant monitoring then so should all under 5s, as well as school children during holidays. Is the Government going to grant LAs right of access to the homes of all families with children?

14. Mr Badman states:

3.1 I am not persuaded that under the current regulatory regime that there is a correct balance between the rights of parents and the rights of the child either to an appropriate education or to be safe from harm

There is currently no conflict in British Law between the rights of the child and the rights of parents. Parents have a duty to educate their children, so children cannot be denied their right to an education unless their parents break the law.

 

15. Mr Badman appears to believe that giving LAs right of access to children is the only way for Government to uphold article 12 of the UNCRC

3.3 Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:


‘Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.’

 

However, he fails to mention the rest of article 12:

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.

 

Likewise article 5:

 

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

 

He also fails to mention that a child has the right to remain silent (article 12), the right to free association, or disassociation (article 15) and the right to privacy (article 16). So, under the UNCRC, the child should have the right to privacy, to choose to not associate with the LA, and the State should respect the rights and duties of parents to direct and guide the child in the exercise of his/her rights.

 

16. The recommendations Mr Badman proposes are not a way of balancing the rights of children against the rights of the parents. The real debate/power conflict is over who decides what constitutes a ‘suitable’ education.

 

17. The State provides a service to parents in the form of the school system. Parents who have decided not to use this service to carry out their duties under the 1996 Education Act have already decided that what is on offer is not suitable for their child/ren.  Mr Badman, however, clearly believes that the decision as to whether the provision is suitable or not is for the LA to decide:

Recommendation 18 They should regard the move to home education as a trigger to conduct a review and satisfy themselves that the potentially changed complexity of education provided at home, still constitutes a suitable education.

 

There is a blatant conflict of interests in ceding authority to judge on the suitability of the education in place to the rejected service provider. LAs cannot be objective as they are not independent. They have a economic interest in children being at school rather than educated ‘otherwise’ and they do not wish the services that they provide to be perceived as failing.

 

18. Using the Government’s own criteria, it is clear that many children attending school fail to receive a ‘suitable’ education. More children are failed by the state system than even the highest estimates of total EHE numbers. How can an LA intervene in these circumstances? Are they supposed to take the parents of all the children at a ‘failing’ school to court?

 

19. Currently, parents are responsible for deciding and delivering the education that is suitable for their child/ren. Where there are concerns the onus is on the State to prove that they are failing to do so. Mr Badman’s recommendations put the decisions regarding ‘suitability’ into the hands of the LAs. If enacted, these proposals would effectively remove parental choice, undermine parental responsibility for education and make the State the parent of first rather than last resort. State control of education contravenes the Human Rights Act and the UNCRC. It would also undermine the fourfold foundation of our current legal situation and open the State to litigation if it failed to provide a ‘suitable’ education.

Relationship between Families and LAs

20. Mr Badman  states that:

1.4 Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents

 

However he also notes that:

5.1 local authorities were much criticised by home educators in their responses to this review, for their perceived lack of understanding of the various methodologies and approaches within home education and their manner of engagement with the parent and/or child.

 

5.7 Many home educating parents, for reasons outlined earlier, having rejected

the schooling system, do not re-engage for fear of further requirements or restrictions

 

This Review does little to address these concerns, rather it reinforces them. He also notes that:

1.4 there are local authorities who do not discharge their responsibilities properly

there is a need for a common national approach locally applied.

These comments suggest that the relationship between home educators and LAs is far from ideal and that some LAs are not providing a good service. Is it morally defensible to reward authorities who are failing in their duties with greater powers?

21. Mr Badman couches many of his recommendations in terms of increased support for home educating families. It is therefore important to point out that actions referred to by LAs as support are frequently not experienced as such by families. Unrequested intervention creates stress and undermines parental confidence. In this sort of behaviour the State is acting like a dysfunctional parent who does not wish his or her children to become independent. This behaviour is disabling rather than enabling.

22. Some home educating parents may wish to access support from the state; many would welcome free access to public examinations, but most are reticent to do so as experience suggests that support is usually only forthcoming when strings are attached. Much work is required to build relationships of trust between LAs and home educating families. Mr Badman’s Review is not helpful in this respect, if anything it has created deep resentment.

 

23. If families are to be truly supported, then the authorities need to listen to their views rather than impose measures which they believe to be appropriate. The ‘mutual respect’ that Mr Badman refers to cannot be achieved if all the power is in the hands of the LA to decide what constitutes a ‘suitable’ education and who may or may not be allowed to educate their children ‘otherwise’. Negotiation is impossible if one party is powerless.

 

24. Mr Badman comments on the great variety of approaches to EHE by LAs. It is of little comfort to home educators that the examples of ‘good practice’ that he cites are not the behaviours that home educators experience as good working relationships. For example Staffordshire County Council’s booklet:

‘clearly sets out the legal requirements including the rights and responsibilities of parents and the role of the local authority.’

 

The content of this publication does not actually reflect the legislation as it currently stands; it therefore misinforms parents of their legal obligations at the tax payers’ expense.

 

25. He states early on in his report:

1.4 I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable

 

It is difficult not to interpret this comment as an admission that he has disregarded the opinions of all those who hold other views.

 

Conclusion

26. This submission has dealt with just a few of the issues relating to this review, namely:

Š    Mr Badman bases his recommendations on statistics from a minority of LAs and his own subjective opinion.

Š    He produces no evidence that his proposals are necessary or will significantly improve child welfare or education.

Š    He has not considered the cost or cost effectiveness of his proposals.

Š    He has not considered the potential negative effects of compulsory monitoring.

Š    He is undermining the possibility of establishing good working relationships between LAs and EHE families.

 

These are not our only concerns by any means. There are many other issues with which we are deeply unhappy, but the brevity of this submission allows us only to address some of the more pressing points. In a recent letter to LAs Mr Badman wrote:

Most of my recommendations have not been challenged, reflecting the sound evidence base.

We firmly refute this. There is very little in his report with which home educators are content.

 

September 2009



[1] Details of this information can be viewed at:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Ao_d0FTV62i4dHR3aDZLV1YzZXhYWE5PbHNJd0hJT0E&hl=en <http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Ao_d0FTV62i4dHR3aDZLV1YzZXhYWE5PbHNJd0hJT0E&hl=en>
 
http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=tvJfG_v387Gp2XGwskYIFuA&pli=1 <http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=tvJfG_v387Gp2XGwskYIFuA&pli=1>

[2] A separate submission on financial impact is being submitted which will explain how this figure is derived.