Memorandum submitted by Roxane Featherstone

I am a home educator of some 12 years standing.  I know many HEors personally throughout the whole of the West Midlands and beyond and communicate with many others on-line.  I help to organise groups for HEors in our area. I am also a member of Education Otherwise and Action for Home Education.

Related previous experience includes work as a practice nurse for GP services and on the European Ethics Review Committee. 

Summary of Contents:

1.       Introduction
2.       Brief summary of a key problem with the methodology of the Home Education Review
3.       The recommendations are neither an effective nor a proportionate use of resources
3.1.    Public spending cuts
3.2.    Reasons for inefficacy of the Review's recommendations on monitoring and registration
4.       Negative consequences of the Review's recommendations:
4.1.    upon families
4.2.    upon local authorities,
4.2.    upon legislation and the constitution
5.       Conclusion: a better way forward

1. Introduction

We are aware that other HEing groups have provided detailed submissions concerning the poor quality of the methodology underpinning Home Education Review (1).  We therefore intend to concentrate principally upon a number of problems with the recommendations themselves. However, we will touch briefly upon a key problem with the methodology, since this should be considered with regard to the conclusions here.

2. Brief summary of a key problem with the methodology of the Home Education Review

The statistics on abuse in the HE community that were used to support the Review's recommendations for registration and monitoring have been found to be unreliable and were misrepresented both in the Review and in the media.   The statistics were derived from a small sample of self-selecting local authority (LA) responses to questionnaires (2). It should be noted that the DCSF wrote of these figures that they "did not meet DCSF standards for publication of statistical data."

Included in these figures were a number of statistical outliers, the reasons for which were not investigated by Mr Badman.  While most LAs had very low rates of abuse, a few LAs such as Leicestershire flagged some 84 out of 205 HE children as being at risk of abuse (3).  However, on investigation of Leicestershire's results, it was found that there were genuine concerns about only one of these cases.

However, Mr Badman's argument for registration and increased monitoring of HEors relied almost entirely upon the flagging up of these statistical outliers. He wrote (1):

"8.12...on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population"

Action for Home Education (AHEd) (4) set out to determine whether the rate of abuse to HE children was indeed a significant problem.  It was discovered, via the issuance of Freedom of Information requests to every LA, that contrary to Mr Badman's assertion that there is due cause for extensive LA intervention, abuse of HE children is actually less than a quarter of the national rate. (5) 

Basing policy upon the basis of a few statistical outliers would result in legislation which is neither proportionate, nor wisely targeted and which would be hugely wasteful in terms of money and manpower.

3. The Recommendations on monitoring and registration are neither an effective nor a proportionate use of resources

3.1.  We hear via the media that Mr Brown has stated that cuts in public spending will have to be made.  For example, in the Financial Times, he is quoted as saying that the government will have to "cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets".  The Badman recommendations would represent a prime target for such cuts, since they would be grossly inefficient, unnecessary and a very low priority.

3.2  The recommendations concerning registration and monitoring are inefficient use of resources because: 

The recommendations on registration and monitoring are not proportionate to the problem.  The risk to HE children is considerably less than to children in the population as a whole. It is therefore a poor targeting of resources.

LAs will waste valuable resources screening tens of thousands of well-functioning families, to no benefit to these families, whilst incurring a considerable number of negative sequelae, (see 3.1, 3.2).

The registration process will not detect abusive families. If there are any abusive families who are hidden from public view, it is very unlikely that these families will be found through the registration process, since they will not come forward to register.

All other families who will register will already be known to others who would have already been capable of referring them, should they have been abusive.

Given that HE families are already over-referred to SS, it is likely that LA statistics for abuse in the HE community already represent almost every case.  Registration is unlikely to detect more real cases, although we envisage that the rates of referral to SS may still increase as poorly trained inspectors seek to cover themselves.

Screening a whole population will create a significant amount of statistical noise which will make detecting real abuse more difficult.  Overstretched services will struggle to deal with all the information coming their way and real cases of abuse risk may not be properly pursued.

Money wasted on a universal screen would be better spent dealing with cases that are already referred to LAs from the community.  SW teams are already overstretched.  There is a high vacancy rate in many SW departments with LAs having difficulty recruiting and retaining experienced SWs. To compound the problems, there has been a huge rise in care applications in the wake of the baby P case. SWs are also compelled to spend more of their time filling in data on insensitive computer systems with therefore less time for contact with their clients   SWs do not have the time to deal with an increase in referrals from LA inspectors who are covering themselves by making unnecessary onward referrals of HE families.  It would better serve the needs of children at risk to target funds at SW teams so that they have the resources to deal effectively with the families who are referred to them. 

HEors are already over-referred to SS teams, eg: by neighbours and other members of the community who are ignorant of the law.  HEors are a highly visible population, usually known to hundreds of others.  Concerns, real or more commonly unfounded, are readily conveyed to LAs via this informal network. LAs should continue to rely on this method of referral if they want to use their resources effectively.

Universal registration would not have resulted in a better outcomes in the Spry (6) and the Ishaq (7) cases as both these families were already known to LAs and SW teams and current law (8), would, despite protestations from Birmingham LA to the contrary, have given them sufficient powers to investigate concerns. Better use of professional skills, money and current law would have solved these problems. 

4.  The recommendations would result in a number of negative consequences for families, LAs, legislation, the constitution and the state

4.1 The registration and monitoring recommendations would have a highly destructive impact upon otherwise well-functioning families who would suffer from a number of problems as a result of their implementation:

the loss of familial privacy;

the loss of familial autonomy in determining the nature of educational provision;

the loss of familial autonomy in judging the efficacy of educational provision;

the likelihood that educational provision suffers as parents offer an education that will pass muster with LAs, rather than one that is suited to the age, ability and aptitude of the child.

The increased likelihood that LAs will pressure families to implement systems of education which do not work for children. Some authorities such as Doncaster (9) already do this, but with increased powers, we envisage an increase in this problem.  Many families decide to HE because a schooling style of education has failed their children and yet many LA inspectors come from such a background and expect to see schooling norms of education applied in the HE setting.  Many HE children would be failed if "school at home" were enforced. However these children often flourish with alternative forms of education, such as autonomous education which has proved to be highly efficacious, and to suit many children's learning styles.  It would be hugely counterproductive to prevent such a form of education from flourishing and it behoves this committee to defer to the knowledge of those who have experience in this field, to think outside the prevailing ethos of schooling norms and to allow for this form of education to continue unabated.

The even higher likelihood of unnecessary referrals to other services such as SS as inadequately trained LA inspectors attempt to cover themselves by making onward referrals.  HEors already suffer from the problem of unnecessary referrals to SS but this problem looks set to increase with the additional duties that are imposed upon LAs by the interpretation of their duty to find children missing a suitable education that Mr Badman's report implies.

A significant increase in familial stress with the knowledge of all of the above, which means that one must consider whether the state will in effect be solving the problem of child abuse or would in fact be perpetuating it;

The over-riding of children's wishes and rights to freedom of association - voices which the government proclaims to want to take seriously.  In surveys, some 77 - 78% of HE children said they did not want to see LA personnel, and 90% did not want to see LA personnel alone (10).

4.2 Implications for LAs.

Implementing the monitoring recommendations would entail giving huge responsibilities to LAs to judge the quality of education and safety and welfare of the child.  This would mean that they would become the ultimate arbiters in these matters and they would therefore be held responsible by the government, Ofsted, the public and the press should they miss a problem.

Yet LAs would have great difficulty implementing an efficient service as they are highly unlikely to have sufficient resources to do it.  Baroness Morgan has stated (11) that "We do not expect them (the recommendations) to place any significant additional burdens on LAs since most already monitor HE."   This is clearly unrealistic since the registering and monitoring recommendations alone will involve a far greater work-load than most LAs currently undertake and indeed many LAs are already struggling to cover their HE budgets even given their far more limited responsibilities. 

4.3.  Implications for legislation.

The Review's recommendations on monitoring for a suitable education would mean that should these recommendations be applied, other areas of law would be enacted inequitably.

S7 of the Education Act 1996 (12) requires that:

"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

Further in this regard, s436a of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (13) requires that

"An LEA must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but-

(a) are not registered pupils at a school, and

(b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school."

The reason schooling families are exempted from inspection under the LAs' duties to establish the identities of children missing a suitable education is that by sending children to school, they are deemed to be *offering* a suitable education.  Schooling families are not required to demonstrate that a suitable education has been *attained*.

Yet recommendation 7 of the Review (1), which makes implicit reference to s7 and to the duty to identify children missing an education, requires that HEing parents:

" 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"

Therefore, if this recommendation were to be implemented, HEing parents, in being required to demonstrate that a suitable education has been achieved, will be held to a higher interpretation of s7 than schooling parents, who are only required to demonstrate that an apparently suitable education has been offered. 

With the implementation of recommendation 7, either s7 must be interpreted inequitably which would be inconsistent and discriminatory, or all parents (both schooling and HEing) must be required to demonstrate that a suitable education has been attained.

Given that Treasury statistics reveal that more than 1 in 6 children leave school each year unable to read, write or add up (14), intervening with so many families would involve a tremendous amount of work for the state, with no planned solutions for any problems so unearthed, no discernible improvement in outcome and a great deal of unpopularity for any government putting forward such a proposal.

4.4 Implications for the Constitution.

Although s7 does not make it explicit, until now, it has been up to parents to decide upon the nature of a suitable education of their children.  With the implementation of recommendation no. 7 of the review, the state would become the final arbiter of the nature of a suitable education.  The Select Committee should give due thought to the significance of this consideration.  Should the state determine the nature of education?  Would it be right to require that all children everywhere are educated within the limits of what the state considers to be suitable?

The nature of democracy is such that it requires an articulate, free-thinking and literate populace to critique government and to hold it to account. If the state prevents all but that which it itself legitimises by way of an education, it undermines the principles by which democracy can function.

Further, by appropriating parental responsibilities to determine the nature of a suitable education, some parents will be prevented from delivering the form of education they think is suitable. 

When state-determined provision turns out to be ineffective, the state will be held responsible and we could expect to see a rise in litigation as parents who have been forcibly prevented from choosing the form of educational provision, eg: when under School Attendance Order, sue the state for failure of educational attainment.

5. Conclusion: A Better Way Forward

By way of conclusion on the Review, it should suffice to say that the recommendations on registration and monitoring do not represent good value for money, would not be well-targeted, would not be proportionate to the problem, would not represent consistent application of the law and would thus fail on most criteria for good regulation (15).

Instead it would be better to take current guidelines seriously and enact these more efficiently. A consultation on home education in 2007 concluded that current law is indeed sufficient to the task of dealing with issues of abuse and neglect in the HE community.  This consultation resulted in guidelines (16) that enshrine the key principle of maintaining a reasonable balance between families and the state, with the state only acting in loco parentis when a parent is demonstrated to have failed in their responsibilities.

It should also be accepted that s7 of the Education Act 1996 and s436a of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 entail the requirement that a parent only *offer* an apparently suitable education.  This is essential firstly because it is an epistemological mistake to interpret the law as meaning that a parent must ensure that the child *achieves* a suitable education since no-one can or should open the mind of another to force new theories into it.  Every act of learning is entirely learner-generated, no amount of coercion can change this and a parent should not be held responsible for something over which he has no control. This fact should be reflected in the law of the land for this reason alone, but also because it would make for consistency in the application of the duty on LAs to identify children missing (the offer) of a suitable education.

The Review's recommendations would invert the relationship between parent and state and should, for the pragmatic and constitutional reasons stated above, be abandoned.  Instead, LA personnel should all receive training in HE and should clearly understand that school norms do not apply. Funds should also be directed to SW departments so that they may be better staffed and resourced.

1.  The Review of Home Education

2.Explanatory Note re Statistics in the Badman Review

3. AHEd's results from FOI requests to LAs re rates of abuse in the HE community

4. Action for Home Education

5. AHEd's results from FOI requests to LAs re rates of abuse in the HE community

6. Serious Case Review: Eunice Spry

7. Teacher warned SS four times in 24 hours about Khyra Ishaq

8. Children Act 1989 s47

9. Doncaster LA: ultra vires requirements for a "suitable" education.

10.  Polls of HEing children:

11. Baroness Morgan on Costing for the Recommendations in the Review:

12. Education Act 1996 s7

13. Education and Inspections Act 2006 s436a

14. Treasury statistics on outcomes in education:

15. BRE Principles of Good Legislation:

16. Elective Home Education Guidelines


September 2009