Memorandum submitted by Reading Christian Home Educating Group

 

 

We would like to present the following evidence regarding the conduct and related consultations of the Review into Elective Home Education (EHE) and the subsequent Report recommendations based on its findings.

 

We are members of a Christian Home Educating Group, with many collective years of practical experience in providing an education otherwise than at school.

 

 

 

Submission Summary

 

1. Conduct of the Review:

1.1 The author's independence

 

1.2 The Expert Reference Group

 

1.3 Scope of the Terms of Reference

 

1.4 Public call for evidence questionnaire

a) Nature of the questions

b) A cover for abuse?

 

1.5 Local Authority questionnaires

a) Range and confidentiality

b) Estimation of numbers

c) Second questionnaire

 

2. Report Recommendations

2.1 Background on Numbers of Home Educated Children

 

2.2 Recommendation 1

a) Duties of parents

b) Compulsory registration and monitoring

c) Planned outcomes

d) Autonomous education

 

2.3 Recommendation 7

a) Right of entry to the home

b) Right to interview a child alone

 

2.4 Recommendations 23 and 24

a) Evidence about the number of children known to social care

b) Addressing child welfare

c) 'No evidence'

 

2.5 Footnote: Statistical scrutiny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Conduct of the Review

1.1 The Author of an 'Independent Review'

Badman was announced as the author of the Review in January and this Review was regarded by the DCSF as an 'Independent Review of Home Education'.

'An independent review of home education is part of this continuing commitment' Annex C, paragraph 2.

Mr Badman was not an independent choice. He has served/is currently serving as:

- Specialist Adviser to the Education and Employment Parliamentary Select Committee

- A member of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families' 8-13 Expert Group

- A member of the Minister of State for Schools and Learners' Home Access Taskforce

- Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Appointed board member of BECTA, a government-funded education body, Apr 2006

- Appointed by the Secretary of State for CSF as Chair of the Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board, Dec 2008

- Appointed Chair of BECTA, May 2009 (he was Acting Chair in January, when the Review was announced)

He was given a CBE in January 2008 for services to education and local government.

http://board.becta.org.uk/

Mr Badman's views can therefore be described as being very clearly known to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Further, Mr Badman's area of expertise is in mainstream schooling as a teacher, headmaster, inspector and chief education officer. He cannot be independent in regard to home education because his viewpoint and thinking will be those of a Local Authority officer.

 

1.2 The Expert Reference Group

The Expert Reference Group listed in Annex F included just one person with a working knowledge of Elective Home Education - Prof James Conroy, who comments:

'I was indeed invited on to the expert reference group towards the end of the proceedings and the two meetings organised in London at short notice precluded any possibility of my attendance.'

Taken from a personal email from Dr Conroy, used with permission. Copy available on request.

The review group's lack of experience regarding home education, the key area under review, would have caused a significant imbalance in favour of Local Authorities (LAs). A review group with little knowledge about home education would not be able to undertake informed discussions on that very subject. This is would be exacerbated by the non-availability of Dr Conroy.

In addition, OFSTED was represented twice - Stephen Hart, Her Majesty's Inspector, OFSTED, and Jean Humphrys, Director, Early Years Development, OFSTED. It was inappropriate to include a second representation as EYD relates to pre-schooling, and therefore outside the scope of the EHE age group.

1.3 Scope of the Terms of Reference

The terms of reference were weighted in favour of LAs, showing assumptions and an attitude of home educators being presumed guilty unless proven innocent.

For example:

'The barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities ...' -An assumption that barriers exist.

'...advise on *improvements* to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children.' (emphasis added) - An assumption that improvements are required.

'The extent to which claims of home education could be used as a cover... and advise on measures to prevent this.' -Implied guilt on the part of home educators.

 

1.4 Public Call for Evidence Questionnaire - Annex C

The Public Call for Evidence questionnaire contained leading questions. There is a strong implication in the wording of questions that a respondent will answer in the positive, as borne out in supplementary questions. Additionally, they are based on false assumptions.

E.g.

Q4 How do you think Government should ensure (all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes)?

This shows a false assumption that the Government is responsible for ensuring all children achieve the five outcomes.

Q6 'What should (changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families) be?'

There is a false assumption that changes are required. Clear, adequate guidelines on elective home education were issued to LAs in 2007. These have not yet been given a chance to work in practice.

b) In addition, Q7 states:

'Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this cannot happen again?'

This is a false premise that home education is being used as cover for these activities.

The statement 'Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect' is speculative. 'Some people' doesn't state who expressed this concern and no supporting evidence is supplied.

The reasoning behind this assertion is poor; the statement could just as easily read 'no one has expressed concern...' The failure to supply qualifying information means it is not possible to verify whether 'concerns' are genuine.

Indeed it is damning that on 21 January, Vijay Patel of the NSPCC was asked on national radio if he had any statistical base for such concerns. He was forced to admit that:

"We.. the inf.. We don't have the evidence there statistically, no."

Transcript: http://sometimesitspeaceful.blogspot.com/2009/01/transcript-of-radio-2-jeremy-vine-show.html

 

 

1.5 Local Authority Questionnaires

 

a) The 152 LAs were sent a 60-question document online (or a 'paper' copy, condensed into 26 questions) - found in Annex D. The scope of enquiry was greater than that of the Public Call for Evidence completed by home educators.

In addition, LAs were offered the option of confidentiality for their responses, along with the opportunity to take part in further research; home educators were not afforded any such privacy in the Public Call for Evidence:

'Completion of the questionnaire is entirely voluntary and responses will be confidential. The questionnaire also asks whether you would be willing to participate in more in-depth work. ...Again, participation is entirely voluntary and, should you be selected, completely confidential.' Letter from Graham Badman to LAs

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laebaronessmorganannouncement/

 

b) Local Authorities were asked to estimate the numbers of home educators in their area and state how accurate they believed this guesswork to be. Then, using this arbitrary number, they are requested to provide information about their home educating population:

 

Q6'Thinking about your home educated population, what proportions have the following
characteristics? Please say whether these figures are based on estimates or accurate data.'

Q19 '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?' (Emphasis added)

 

In addition, this question will generate invalid Report data by providing an arbitrary definition of the term "full time" - there is no legal definition of the term with regard to EHE.

 

 

c) The 90 Authority respondents to the initial questionnaire were subsequently invited to respond to a further 6-question document. Again, home educators were not afforded this option.

 

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/15610/response/41655/attach/html/3/Additional%20data%20request.doc.html

 

NB This questionnaire was not published by the DCSF in the Report's Annexes; it was eventually released into the public domain via a Freedom of Information request.

For a second time, Mr Badman invites the LAs to provide estimates rather than known numbers:

 

'Q2. What proportion of your current caseload do you estimate have safeguarding implications?'

 

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/15610/response/41655/attach/html/3/Additional%20data%20request.doc.html

 

Answers based on estimates can only be speculative and it is therefore impossible to establish an accurate representation of home education in England using this data.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Report Recommendations

 

 

2.1 Background on Numbers of Home Educated Children

 

Section 6.1 explores the number of home educated children. As seen in the conduct of the Review, an estimated figure is supplied:

 

'Our own data concurred with the DfES (2007) report, that there are around 20,000 children and

young people currently registered with local authorities. We know that to be an underestimate

and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children.'

 

There is no evidence on which to base the assertion of 40,000 - 80,000. Arbitrary inflation of this number promotes a false impression of scale, both in the size of the home educating population and in heightening

concerns perceived by LAs.

 

 

 

2.2 Recommendation 1

 

a) In Section 1.5 the author 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'

 

This displays an underlying assumption that the rights of children (to an education) are in opposition to the rights of parents (to provide the education).

However, the Education Act 1996 states that the parent has not a right, but a
'Duty... to secure education of children of compulsory school age.' (emphasis added)

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1996/ukpga_19960056_en_2#pt1-ch1-pb3-l1g7

The substitution of 'rights of parents' in place of 'duty of parents' occurs repeatedly throughout the Report and is misleading.

 

b) Section 3.3 relates to the establishment of a compulsory national registration scheme:

 

'Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually.'

 

'Registration should be renewed annually.'

As stated above, The Education Act 1996, section 7 declares it is the:

'Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age' (Emphasis added)

This recommendation establishes a licence to home educate. By allowing LAs to 'review registrations' and by requiring that 'registration ....be renewed annually', it would be Local Authorities that decide where children may be educated.

The duty of securing education for a child passes from parents to the State. Disempowerment of home educating parents regarding decisions about their children's education constitutes a threat to every family in the country and creates a precedent for further intrusive State intervention in family life.

 

c) 'Those who are registering for the first time should be visited by the appropriate local authority officer within one month of registration.'

'At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.'

 

Home Education Advisory Service state that, in their experience:

 

'Around 60% of children withdrawn from school have suffered severe bullying; some are suicidal;

most need time to recover and can't start on a programme of home education immediately'

Point 6 'Two-minute briefing on Home Education' HEAS

 

To suggest that home educators should produce a statement of approach and planned outcomes under what are for many, difficult circumstances is, at best, insensitive. For many home educators this recommendation would be impossible to achieve as they would be involved in rebuilding their children's self-confidence and, eventually, an enjoyment of learning. This re-engagement in education might require a different approach such as autonomous learning.

 

d) In addition, by requiring:

'a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months'

 

and that:

 

'Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually'

 

the author and expert reference group's demonstrate their lack of understanding of home education.

 

Autonomous learning, shown in Alan Thomas' research to be 'astonishingly efficient', is a child-led form of education ("How Children Learn at Home", Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd). This style would be outlawed by this recommendation.

 

However, there are serious implications for all home educators, who will attest that even a highly structured approach to education may require amendments to existing plans. In so doing, parents can ensure that their child is able to progress with full understanding of a topic, or to follow a newly-discovered source of interest in their learning. The ability to cater for children as individuals is a great strength of home education. If implemented, the recommendation would severely restrict this flexibility.

 

 

2.3 Recommendation 7

 

This recommendation assumes a mistrust of parents - they are to be assumed guilty unless proven innocent.

 

a) That designated local authority officers should:

- have the right of access to the home;

- have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

 

Article 5 of the UNCRC reads:

 

'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.'

 

As the Convention states that children shall exercise their rights under the 'direction and guidance' of their parents, this includes their right to have their views heard by LAs. This recommendation bars parents from being present at the hearing and does not make provision for the parents to exercise their 'responsibilities, rights and duties' as required.

 

 

b) The right of access to the home and forcing a child to submit alone to an officer's questioning violates the child's rights under Article 16 of the UNCRC:

 

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

 

The trauma of Mr Badman's recommended approach could cause a child considerable distress. In addition, forcing a child to speak alone to an unknown person creates its own child protection risks, resulting in parents rendered powerless to protect their children.

 

All the information that might reasonably be required by LAs regarding the education and safeguarding of children can be obtained in far less intrusive ways than those recommended by the Report, meaning home visits and interviews are 'arbitrary'.

 

 

 

 

 

2.4 Recommendations 23 and 24

 

a) In order to qualify the above recommendations, the author asserts in Section 8.12:

'..even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high.'

The DCSF has so far failed to provide evidence to support this statement, despite several Freedom of Information requests. Examples of two such requests are linked below - both are awaiting an internal review.

 

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/evidence_in_support_of_badmans_r#comme%3E%20nt-4958

 

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/evidence_to_support_statement_in#comment-5042

 

Home educators have worked via Freedom of Information requests to gather evidence from Authorities regarding abuse levels amongst home educated children. Their statistics show that a home educated child is 75% less likely to be abused than a child in the general population.

 

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2

 

 

 

b) Laying aside the validity of this statement given a population of unknown size (see comments under 2.1), the Report fails to investigate whether there is a correlation between LAs with 'disproportionately high' figures and those who address child welfare robustly, against those who do not.

 

This is a major failing within the Report, since:

 

if those who do robustly address child welfare have disproportionately high figures, there is evidence of cause for concern over child welfare. This would imply changes in legislation may be required.

 

if those who do not robustly address child welfare have disproportionately high figures, there is evidence of cause for concern over local procedures, and would imply changes in legislation are not required.

 

Additionally, Section 8.9 quotes Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's comment on variation in the practice of local authorities and Local Safeguarding Children Boards:

 

'Our experience from inspections of children's services and evaluations of serious case reviews

is that there is variation across the country in how proactively local safeguarding children

boards ensure these children are safeguarded. Some local child protection procedures address

this robustly while others do not'.

 

Again, the Report makes a serious omission in failing to explore the reasons for a variation across the country and why, under existing legislation, some local child protection procedures address safeguarding robustly whilst others do not. This proves that existing legislation is sufficient but not always being well applied.

 

 

 

 

c) '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.

Based on the limited evidence available, this view is supported by the Association of Chief

Police Officers.' 8.14

 

In this section, the 'cover for abuse' premise, on which the Review was launched, is proven to be unfounded.

Yet recommendations for change on safeguarding grounds are proposed regardless.

 

The Report recommends draconian measures, affecting many. These measures are wholly disproportionate to the size of the issue they seek to resolve - a tiny number of extreme cases.

 

2.5 Footnote: Statistical scrutiny

 

In making a further call for evidence on 17 Sept, Mr Badman expresses concern that his existing statistics will not stand up to scrutiny.

 

"I would like to strengthen my statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust."

 

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/publications/documents/laeelectivehomeeducation/

 

September 2009