Memorandum submitted by a group of home educating families in Yorkshire

 

Introduction

We are a group of home educating families in Yorkshire who meet regularly for educational and social activities. Our youngest child is a toddler and our eldest is applying for Cambridge this year. We are all deeply concerned about the consequences if these recommendations become law. We only have space to cover some of our concerns in this submission, which includes the following:-

International comparison of home education legislation

Review questionnaires misrepresented the law

Terms of reference of the review were not fully met

A summary of HE research from 123 local authorities on "suitable education"

ECM outcomes were used inappropriately

International Comparison of Home Education Legislation

1) In his report, Graham Badman stated that,

 

"International comparison suggests that of all countries with highly developed education systems, England is the most liberal in its approach to elective home education. Legislation from the 1930s banning elective home education still persists in Germany and most European countries require registration, whereas New Zealand demands that the "person will be taught at least as regularly and as well as in registered school."[1]

2) I would like to start by briefly setting the home education (HE) situation in the UK in its international context.

3) It is true that home education is illegal in Germany. It was banned by the Nazis in 1938 and unfortunately, this law still remains. It is also illegal in China and Hong Kong and difficult in a few other countries. However, it is not true to say that England is the most liberal country in its approach to Elective home education.

4) New Zealand has around 6,100 home educators. For many years education authorities had an "educational concerns" rate of 5.4%. This year they have decided that this rate is so low that they have abandoned[2] routine monitoring:-

Echoing then Minister of Education Dr Lockwood Smith in 1994, that he could not justify the expense of regular reviews on such a low-risk group as home educators, Chief Review Officer Graham Stoop wrote in February this year that reviews of home educators are not efficient or effective. Posted on the ERO website is the following: "From 1 July 2009 ERO will carry out reviews only when requested by the Secretary for Education, or in other particular circumstances"[3]


5) Scotland. In 2007 the Scottish Consumer Council undertook a review of home education. Their findings were based on an extensive consultation that encompassed 81% of Scottish LAs as well as case studies of the experiences of home educating families and also a seminar which included home educators and researchers into home education. This listening process led to recommendations startlingly different from those in the Badman report and has resulted in good working relationships between home educators and LAs in Scotland. The goodwill is such that many English home educators are considering moving to Scotland because of the enlightened attitude of the Scottish government.

6) Scottish guidelines stated that:-

"While generally, there is no duty on the part of the local authority to monitor the provision of home-based education by parents, the guidance acknowledges that local authorities may request an update from home-educating families on an annual basis. The local authority has no right to demand access to the family home, nor to see the child, in order to assess their education. Refusal to allow access either to the home or the child is not to be taken, in itself, as a cause for concern regarding the efficiency or suitability of the education provided."[4]

7) The report of the Scottish review, "Home-based Education: Towards Positive Partnerships"[5], includes the following conclusion:-

The guidance on home-based education clearly states that:

"It is no more likely that child protection issues will arise in relation to home-educated children than school-educated children."

However, throughout this research we found that the issues were interconnected in the minds of education officers. The importance of contact with families appeared to be less about considering the suitability of the education provision, than about reassuring staff that the child was not being subject to abuse...

 

Recommendation 8

Scottish Executive guidance should include a discussion of child protection and home education and strongly dissuade local authorities from inferring child protection concerns without supporting evidence and from taking a child protection approach to dealing with families who wish to home-educate.

And

Recommendation 9

Guidance should clearly state that local authorities have no automatic right of access to children who are home-educated or who are being withdrawn from school. Circumstances in which local authorities would be expected to listen to the voice of the child should be clearly stated.

8) The Scottish Consumer Council report is an inspiring example of respect for families and positive co-operation. We feel much could be learned from it.

9) In the USA there are approximately two million children being home educated and the movement is successful and growing. Since the USA has more home educated children than the rest of the world put together, it is worth considering in a little detail.

10) The legal situation varies from state to state.[6] Generally states can be divided into four categories.

Type of regulation

No. of states

No requirement to notify

10

Notify only

14

Notify, keep records & have child evaluated by teacher of parent's choice or take standard test. (State can ask to see records if they have a reason for concern)

20

State monitoring (e.g. state approval of curriculum, home visits)

6

11) As far as we can ascertain, inspectors do not have the right to see a home-educated child alone in any US state without probable cause to suspect abuse.

12) Research into academic outcomes in the USA shows that there is no difference between the academic performance of children educated in high regulation states and those with no registration at all.[7] These figures indicate that monitoring home educators is rather a waste of public funds.

Review Questions misrepresented the law

13) Returning now to England, our law states that local authorities have no duty to routinely monitor home education.

 

14) The Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, published by the DCSF in 2007 state that:-

 

2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.

15) However, question 5 of Mr Badman's short questionnaire asked:-

5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families?

16) Similarly, in the 60 question LA questionnaire, we read:-

Assessment and Monitoring

Q32 "Following the initial assessment visit, are further monitoring visits made to a home educated child?"

Q33 If yes, how often, on average, are these carried out?
More than twice a year

Twice a year?

Once a year?

Less than once a year?

17) These questions are leading and suggest that local authorities should be carrying out an "initial assessment visit" and further regular monitoring visits. In law, neither assessment visits nor regular monitoring are required. As a result of these questions, local authority personnel may have been misled about the current law and about the duties that they are expected to perform. This is likely to have skewed their responses to the review as well as encouraging them to act beyond their remit in future.

18) The current law states that local authorities have the right to make enquiries if it appears that a child may not be receiving a suitable education. Parents have a duty to co-operate by producing reasonable proof that they are providing a suitable and efficient education. There are a variety of ways in which parents can produce this proof, for example by showing work done by the child, by reports or by discussion with LA staff. If parents do not produce reasonable proof, a school attendance order should be issued. [8]

19) Parents are not required by law to allow inspections in their homes. Despite this, unfortunately some LAs consider parents who do not allow regular home monitoring visits to be "of concern". The leading questions used by the review could have led many more local authorities into the mistaken belief that they have the duty and right to undertake home visits and regular monitoring, therefore causing them to ask for greater powers, as demonstrated in the results of the local authority questionnaires.

20) Such questions misled readers about the existing legal balance between parent and local authority. They also demonstrated a worrying disdain for the "Elective Home Education Guidelines for England", which were only recently published by the DCSF after an extensive public consultation.

21) Another question that contradicted the 2007 EHE Guidelines was Q19 in the Annex D LA questionnaire, which asked specifically about hours.

Of the home educated children in your area of whom you have knowledge, what proportion in your estimation are receiving a suitable, full time (20hrs a week) education?

22) The EHE Guidelines state

3.13 ... There is currently no legal definition of "full-time". Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but this measurement of "contact time" is not relevant to elective home education where there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal "school hours".

23) Yet again, this question is likely to cause LA staff to disregard the EHE Guidelines and existing law, thus skewing their responses.

The Terms of Reference of the Review Were not Fully Met

24) The terms of reference of the review stated that it would:-

"Seek evidence on how the systems operate in practice from key stakeholders including home education groups, home educating families, local authorities and children's charities."

25) However, the review did not ask local authorities to send questionnaires to home educators who are on their books. Many home educators never heard about the review.

26) Despite efforts from within the HE community to contact a wide range of home educators, it was not possible to reach anywhere near the estimated 20,000 to 50,000 home educators. Many do not have Internet access, so they would have found it difficult to complete the questionnaire. 100% of responses were submitted either by email or online. This method of seeking evidence is discriminatory against those home educators without the financial resources to access the Internet.

27) The terms of reference also stated that the review would:-

"Map existing practice and consider the effectiveness of different practice - including identifying best practice - in England and elsewhere in monitoring home education from an Every Child Matters perspective."

28) Setting aside for the moment that this sentence again suggests that routine monitoring is required, there were no questions about best practice in any of the questionnaires, although perhaps good practice was discussed in face to face meetings.

29) Rather, LAs were given their own questionnaires in which they were given opportunities to discuss their "challenges" in assessing HE. For example question 21 asked:-

Does the LA face any challenges in assessing whether HE children receive a suitable education?

30) One LA response demonstrates worrying ignorance

"... If the legislation required parents to comply with providing information it would be much easier for LAs to make sure this is the case."

31) Does this LA not understand that under current legislation it can issue a school attendance order if parents fail to produce satisfactory evidence of education?

32) Home educators, as key stakeholders and service users, were not given questionnaires specific to them, in which they could have recorded their struggles with local authorities, who sometimes act outside the law. Nor did they have opportunity to answer questions about good practice, as required by the terms of reference of the review.

HE research on LAs and "suitable education"

33) Home Educators have carried out research using Freedom of Information requests into the rates of concern about suitable education for EHE children.

34) We have collated data covering over 14,000 children from 123 (82%) of the 150 LAs which have home educating children. Some of this data is still awaiting clarification and some FOI requests are overdue, but the results obtained so far are significant.

35) Even though it is not yet complete, this data is more comprehensive than that provided in Graham Badman's report. The full data can be accessed here www.tinyurl.com/suitableed


36) Of the 123 LAs:-

 

Percentage of HE children about whom LA has educational "concerns"

% of LAs

0%

33%

< 5%

57%

<10%

71%

>20%

6%

37) Seven local authorities (6%) have a concern rate over 20%. In some cases this is due to special circumstances, for example in Blackpool, where there is a large Gypsy, Roma Traveller community with literacy problems, there is a 24% concern rate. In other cases, figures may be high because children have had issues with truancy, school refusal or exclusion and parents have not made a positive choice to home educate.

38) The average rate of concern across all LAs is (thus far) 5.6%. Interestingly, this is almost identical to the New Zealand rate, which the NZ government decided was too law to warrant expenditure on inspections. However it should be understood that concern rate does not equate to the percentage of children who are not receiving a suitable education. A case can often be marked as a matter of concern when LAs seek to act ultra vires and parents maintain their legal rights, for example an LA may be insisting on a home visit to see the child, but parents may only agree to meet at a neutral location. Thus the figure for children not receiving a suitable education is likely to be lower than 5.6%.

39) The wide variation between the 33% of LAs with 0% concerns and the 6% with over 20% concerns may indicate either that the approach from a particular LA is causing problems, or that there is a particular issue, apart from EHE, that is affecting figures in that LA.

40) Item 1.4 of the report states that some LAs say that the current guidelines are unworkable. However, in the same paragraph Mr Badman also writes that some LAs do not always act responsibly or make full use of present powers. Is it possible that these two issues concern the very same LAs? It is likely that the LAs who do not understand how to use their current powers are those that are finding the current system "unworkable". Moreover, if LAs are not currently making responsible use of their current powers, it seems unwise, to say the least, to increase these.

41) Given the fact that the 123 local authorities who have responded to our FOI requests have "concerns" about the suitability of education of 806 children nationwide, it seems strange that they have in total only issued 29 school attendance orders. If they are genuinely concerned about the education of these 806 children, why have they not used their legal powers to compel school attendance? Will giving LAs further powers really improve the situation?

42) Some HE parents speak highly of their local authority and we would by no means wish to disparage all LA staff, some of whom are excellent, however from our research, it appears that at least 31 LAs are acting ultra vires in one or more of the following ways:-

Doorstepping (arriving without an appointment with no reasonable cause for concern)

Saying HE is not as good as school in front of children

Inappropriate questioning of children

Making derogatory comments about gypsies (one case)

Insisting on annual home visits

Verbal bullying and lying about their legal rights (e.g. to enter the home)

Insisting on education being provided for a certain number of hours (e.g. 20 per week).[9]

43) The fact that LAs sometimes behave in these ways is well known to the home educating community. Such behaviour on the part of LAs is, we believe, a good reason not to give them increased powers. They should rather learn to understand and to use the balanced and adequate powers that they already have.

Inappropriate use of ECM Outcomes

44) The ECM outcomes were devised as a way of focusing and measuring the delivery of government services to children, and as such they are useful and legitimate.

45) It is not legitimate to seek to enforce ECM outcomes on individuals, no matter how valid the ECM outcomes may appear to be. Such an extension of the purpose of ECM leads to the ridiculous situation in which we are asked (in question 2a), "Do you think that home educated children are able to be healthy?" "Why do you think this?" or "Do you think that home educated children can stay safe?" (2b).

46) These questions imply that children are not safe with their parents, because the question is really saying, "Do you think that children who live with their families can stay safe? Why?" One of our children was removed from school to home educate because in school she was not staying safe, enjoying or achieving. Unfortunately schools cannot guarantee the ECM outcomes for individual children either.

47) The questionnaires included the question,

"Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes?"

48) Government services, including schools, can and should provide the services to help children achieve the outcomes, but they cannot "ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes". What about a neighbour's daughter, born with cystic fibrosis? - Can she be healthy?

49) If Government believes that it can ensure that every child in this country can be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being, it desires a worthy thing, but it has a dangerously inflated view of its own abilities.

Conclusion

50) We are grateful for the Select Committee Inquiry and we hope that they will consider the opinion of many home educators, that these proposals will cause considerable damage and are the equivalent of using a steamroller to crack a nut. After consideration of the figures for abuse rates in home educating households, the committee may even decide that the nut is, in fact, only imaginary.

September 2009

 



[1] Section 11.1 of the report

[2] http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/informationreleases/budget/2009/pdfs/b09-llr-ero.pdf

[3] http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/newzealand/714763/

[4] Home-based Education: Towards Positive Partnerships, Scottish Consumer Council 2007, http://scotcons.demonweb.co.uk/publications/reports/documents/Home-basededucation.pdf

[5] ibid

[6] http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp

[7] http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/comp2001/HomeSchoolAchievement.pdf

[8] See section 2.7 http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/_documents/content/7373-DCSF-Elective%20Home%20Education.pdf

DCSF guidelines state that [9]Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but this measurement of "contact time" is not relevant to elective home education where there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal "school hours".