Memorandum submitted by Prof. James C
Conroy, Dean: Faculty of Education,
I offer the following observations as a positive contribution to your deliberations.
1 Having been consulted by Graham Badman, at the request of some home education organisations, at a late stage in the proceedings I was subsequently invited to sit on the Expert reference group. However, both the remaining meetings of the group were held at short notice and I was unable to attend but did participate in a phone conference. The final report was somewhat rushed and there was little enough time to digest or reflect on either the report or the recommendations. Of course the unseemly haste with which the review was conducted will simply re-affirm a quite widespread view that the case was decided before the evidence was heard. While some of the recommendations seem not unreasonable (especially support for home educating families and a registration scheme- though I believe that this should be light touch) some of them appear entirely disproportionate and to simply duplicate existing care and welfare systems.
2 However, more significant that the recommendations are the grounds upon which they have been established. In my 30 odd years of professional life in education I have rarely encountered a process, the entirety of which was so slap dash, panic driven, and nakedly and naively populist. From the moment Baroness Morgan publicly announced the terms of reference as based on a number of assumptions, not least of which was that home education might be a haven or harbour for various kinds of child abuse, the stage was set. Of course anything could be a shelter for anything else- to say so is to say nothing. No account was given of any substantial empirical evidence of the prevalence of abuse in home education environments or whether there was a greater incidence of such abuse amongst home educators than was more generally true of the population as a whole, or perhaps, more tellingly. In state sponsored care facilities. In the report itself Badman compounds the felony with a raft of unsubstantiated claims based on hearsay and vague generalisation. Let me look at the particular claim that,
'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. Secondly, despite the small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature, the consideration of these reviews and the data outlined above, suggests that those engaged in the support and monitoring of home education should be alert to the potential additional risk to children.'
3 It is difficult to know what to make of a claim that suggests enhanced risk based on vague conversations with local authorities and no actual empirical data. How is there an additional risk when the only arithmetic supposition in the paper is that somewhere between 20 000 and 80 000 children are home educated. In order to know whether or not there is a greater risk to home educated children then we need to know the numbers. Vague assertion, however well intentioned, is not good enough. Before rushing to judgment the government would be well advised to commission some serious research on numbers and potential/actual abuse.
1. and 2. Registration would seem reasonable but those parts that require parents to complete various pro forma to ensure compliance with a normative account of education seem to miss the point that many parents home educate precisely because they have little enough faith in the current claims of formal education. Such bureaucratic exercises will inevitably lead to the curtailment of the liberal freedom to be different (perfectly desirable in a democracy providing certain safeguards are in place)
Again the palpable absence of substantial evidence as to the relative success of home educated children - though what little evidence as exists would suggest that they do better than the average student in school─ upon which to base the suggestion and consequent recommendation suggests that the rush to judgment and recommendation is too hasty.
7. I am unpersuaded that local authority representatives should have an unfettered right to speak to a child on their own. Certainly the police would not be permitted to do so. Such an intrusion into the home sets very dangerous precedents in liberal democracies and confuses the functions of the state with the role of a parent. The erosion of the space of the home and family (hard cases notwithstanding) continues quite a long legislative process of undermining the authority and capacity of parents to take charge of, and be responsible for, their children. We should not be surprised that increasingly hysterical press coverage of the inability of parents to act as a parent has emerged given the propensity to begin from a position of distrust. While of course every incidence of child abuse is abhorrent and a personal tragedy for the victims and families this should not dictate the pattern of legislation. The reason we have the law as an intervention between individual and individual is precisely because individual cases make bad law.
5 In all of this I would recommend that a series of serious studies be conducted on the effects and efficacy of home education. This might then preclude the rush to judgement on the basis of prejudice, single issue/moment claims.