Memorandum submitted by the Isle of Wight Learning Zone



1. Summary of evidence

1.1. The review recommendations are disproportionate to the perceived issues

1.2. No evidence that home educated children are at greater risk of abuse, negating any need for change in this area

1.3. No home educators or other home education specialists on review team

1.4. More weight given to local authorities than home educators

1.5. No assessment of potential to effectively use current legislation

1.6. Lack of weight afforded to academic research into home education

1.7. Review already accepted by government making current consultation meaningless

1.8. Statistical analysis appears faulty and very limited in scope

1.9. Lack of consideration of child-led styles of education, leading to recommendations which would severely restrict choice of home education approach

1.10. Doubts over funding availability for improved provision for home educators (exam access, SEN provision etc.)

1.11. Lack of right to appeal local authority refusal of permission to home educate

1.12. Concerns too much will be left to statutory guidelines rather than being fully debated by parliament

1.13. Violation of children's and families' rights through compulsory local authority interviews with children on their own


2. The Isle of Wight Learning Zone

2.1. The Isle of Wight Learning Zone is a registered charity which exists to support home educators on the Isle of Wight. Established 10 years ago, the Learning Zone currently has 62 member families including 136 children.

2.2. Our members home educate for a wide variety of reasons ranging from philosophical beliefs to school failure.

2.3. We believe that home education forms a positive part of the educational landscape in this country. We believe strongly that it adds to choice and opportunities to educate in a variety of ways to suit the broad church of English life.

3. The conduct and scope of the review and related consultations (e.g. the constitution of the review team; scope of the terms of reference for the review; and nature of the consultation documents)

3.1. Our main concern regarding the constitution of the review team is that it did not include any home educators, who are the main experts in this area. The team did not even include any academics with a research background in home education or alternative education, such as Paula Rothermel, Alan Thomas or Roland Meighan. Some of the members of the review team were clearly experts in school education but home education is as different from school education as hockey is from football. If the review team included home education experts it would have made a more well rounded team and could have led to better understanding of just how different home education is from school education.

3.2. Home educators were only sent a very brief set of 6 questions to fill in to be able to contribute to the review by contrast local authorities were sent a detailed 60 point questionnaire. This would appear to suggest that responses from local authorities would be given more weight, and suggests that these were the responses the review team wanted to listen to.

3.3. The terms of reference for the review stated that the review would "assess the effectiveness of current arrangements and will, if necessary, make recommendations for improvements". However the review did not address the first part of this, only the second. There is no analysis of how existing legislation could be used more effectively, and there is no analysis of whether local authorities are asking for new powers for an easier life, to be able to dictate to families how their education should take place, or because existing powers are not sufficient. The last option appears to be assumed to be the case. Authorities already have powers to make informal inquiries if they believe a suitable education is not taking place, if they are not satisfied they can make formal inquiries and if they are still not satisfied they can issue a School Attendance Order. This should cover any educational concerns they have. If they have concerns about welfare then these should be reported to social services. We believe that a full investigation into applying the current law and how it could meet concerns should have formed a large part of the review.

3.4. We believe that insufficient weighting was given to Paula Rothemel's research into the outcomes for home educated children.

3.5. A consultation was launched on the same day as the review reported, Ed balls said

3.6. So before the public consultation Ed Balls has accepted all the recommendations that call for improving safeguards. We believe that the government should not be accepting recommendations before a public consultation has taken place, if there is a foregone conclusion then a consultation is not a consultation but purely an appeasement exercise.

3.7. The current consultation questionnaire does not address some key recommendations in the report, such as a recommendation that the statutory definition of a suitable and efficient education be changed. Where questions do relate to recommendations in the report, changes have often been made to the language, often giving it a softer meaning. This appears to be in an effort to elicit a less negative response to the legislative proposals, rather than a policy decision to soften Badman's recommendations which have already been accepted by government. This failure to fully and honestly consult on the proposals is a further indication of government's determination to impose new legislation irrespective of evidence or consultation responses.

3.8. A number of freedom of information requests by home educators have been denied. Appealing these decisions will take us beyond the end of the formal consultation period as such we believe that the consultation should be extended to allow time for these to be appealed before the end of the consultation. Also the bulk of the time of consultation was over the time that MPs were on recess and so were unable to effectively deal with the many concerns that home educators wished to raise.

3.9. The statistical basis for some of the recommendations is unclear. Freedom of Information requests have elicited the release of a table showing the use of only a crude analysis of local authority data. This data is drawn from a small, self-selecting sample and is analysed using methods no self-respecting researcher would have anything to do with. It appears that Mr Badman is now using the DCSF and local authorities to collect further data to support his conclusions, despite the fact that his employment with the DCSF ended on publication of the report. This bizarre turn of events serves to underline the failings of the review team to use robust and correctly analysed data in reaching its conclusions. Unfortunately the questionnaire now being sent to local authorities is also poorly constructed, respondents will be self selecting again, and the whole process appears to be aimed at providing data to support a conclusion already drawn based on hearsay, prejudice and supposition. Home Educators have conducted their own research using Freedom of Information requests. We believe this will be sent to you by AHED and would urge you to carefully consider this data which has been painstakingly collected.

4. The recommendations made by the review on elective home education.

4.1. The scope of the report is so far reaching that our concerns with the recommendations are too numerous to fully explore in this memorandum. The omission of reference to specific recommendations does not indicate we support them, we have simply restricted ourselves to key issues we believe we can effectively outline our concerns about within this submission.

4.2. Ed Balls states that Graham Badman gives "...parents the right to decide how and where their children should be educated..." However, Badman stated that the concept of autonomous education was outside the remit of this study and it is therefore not considered. Recommendations made in the report effectively outlaw autonomous home education, completely contrary to Ed Balls' claims.

4.2.1. One of the recommendations in the review is;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." Other recommendations mean that this will be assessed against a detailed 12 month plan which will be reviewed annually, with permission to continue home educating refused if the local authority were not satisfied. By their nature child-led educators do not work to this type of system, and hence family choice will be dramatically eroded.

4.2.2. . One of the main benefits in home education is that you can take a child's interest and run with it. You can adapt and change any plans you may have made if something interesting comes up. For example you may have planned to study the Victorians this year but find that a sudden interest in Romans sparked by reading Asterix and follow that area of history instead. Summerhill School was ultimately allowed by OFSTED to follow a child centred approach without formal advanced planning and without forcing the children to do activities, shouldn't home educators be afforded that same right?

4.3. Baroness Morgan announced there would be no money available for implementing the recommendations made by Mr Badman. As such we can see a situation arising where local authorities will have a large increase in costs in implementing the recommendations linked to safeguarding. Mr Balls offers no assurance that funding will be available for the resources for home educators that were suggested and we doubt that local authorities will choose to implement discretionary spending for this purpose. We are told over and over by Mr Balls that this is good news for home educators but many of us don't really believe these benefits are going to come our way.

4.4. One recommendation is that home educators will need to register annually and receive permission to home educate. Once the authority has made the decision there is no right of appeal if they choose not to allow this. We do not think that this really affords the child to be safeguarded from an authority which could potentially misuse its powers.

4.5. We have many concerns that while changes in primary legislation may have a full discussion in both Houses much of the most important detail will be left to statutory guidelines which won't get the full scrutiny that they deserve. This was something that our local MP also suggested was a real danger. To establish primary legislation that will allow what constitutes an effective education to be defined by statutory guidelines is dangerous in the extreme. This definition has consistently remained broad for many years for good reason.

4.6. We have grave concerns that the desire to see the child alone has not been thought out. The parent will have no access to what has been said, no knowledge of how the child was questioned and if leading questions have been used. If a child doesn't want to speak to a person (who will be to them a stranger) alone, how will that be accommodated? No consideration of a child's right to refuse this intervention is given in the report. What powers will the parent have to question a report made on this basis where they can have no evidence of what has taken place? Currently no one can question a child alone, even the police need to have the parent or a social worker present. While we fully appreciate the right of a child to be heard we don't believe this equates to a right for them to be interviewed by a local authority worker.

4.7. Giving the local authority the intrusive right of access to families' homes is contrary to the "right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." (Human Rights Act)   The only way such a far reaching power could be legitimately imposed is if it had been proved to be absolutely essential for the wellbeing of children.  The review does not make this case, It attempts to give credence to its position by repeatedly stating that such powers are necessary but without offering the evidence to back this up.  It did not examine how alternatives can give local authorities the information they need, as has worked effectively for many years.  It appears to be based on nothing more than a few local authorities saying they need this power (largely in response to a leading question in the review questionnaire).  Their motivation for this request is never questioned.  Their ability to understand home education is never questioned.  Their ability to find creative, positive solutions in working with home educators is never questioned.  Mr Badman and the rest of the review team appear to simply accept that it sounds like a good idea, so it must be implemented.  The negative impacts on families and the over-riding of children's rights and parent's rights is not analysed.   The review team should have invested their time in examining how local authorities can satisfy themselves that a suitable education is taking place via other means, negating any need for such intrusive state actions.  Many do this very satisfactorily.

4.8. At the moment it is the responsibility of a parent to ensure that a child receives a suitable education either by attendance at school or otherwise. If a local authority was to effectively issue a licence to approve the parent to home educate that would change the responsibility for ensuring a suitable education from the parents to the local authority.

4.9. The overarching problem with the review recommendations is a wholesale lack of proportionality. The recommendations would cause massive disruption to many home educating families, impose inspections and interviews on children, some of whom will be terrified by them, and the recommendations move away from parental rights to state rights. All these actions are taken in order to prevent a theoretical possibility of neglect (be that of provision of education, or general welfare) going unnoticed. No evidence has been presented that home educated children are at greater risk than schooled children. The report portrays these measures as being purely positive, suggesting they will protect children who might otherwise go un-noticed. It fails to address the very real issues of the children it will damage. Many home educated children have had poor experiences of authority figures and will be traumatised by being further subject to inspection, forced demonstration and interviews. Families will spend far more time worrying about and dealing with local authority monitoring and hence less time for getting on with education. Some children will be returned to school on spurious grounds by local authorities who do not believe home education is in any child's interests (Peterborough, for example, have openly stated that school is best for all children[1]). Children with negative school experiences are likely to fear the annual inspection and renewal of permission - if they do not perform adequately will they be forced into school against their wishes? In terms of wider society, monitoring home education and inspecting children for signs of abuse, then following up any suspicions will simply divert resources away from places where there is an identified, documented problem. Overall the recommendations are not so much a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, as randomly attacking the ground with a sledgehammer as there might be some nuts which need cracking.

5. Recommendations for action

5.1. The review is based on poor quality data, ignores key areas of home education which needed to be fully considered, fails to demonstrate clear need for change, shows no analysis of why current legislation is insufficient and would lead to a huge negative impact on home educators. We believe that to legislate on the basis of such a flawed report would be reckless in the extreme. There is certainly no urgency in moving forward any new legislation, after all even Mr Badman states there is no evidence for home education being used as a cover for forced marriage, servitude or child trafficking. As such we would urge the committee to recommend withdrawal of the home education related provisions from the draft legislative programme for the current session.

5.2. We would also like the government to accept that the current definition of education is indeed sufficient rather than changing the time honoured acceptance that education was not something that could be pinned down and that there should be scope for many different approaches outside of the state sector.

5.3. There is an overall assumption in this Report that parents have to prove themselves to not be abusing their children; this is a reversal of the innocent until proven guilty approach that we cherish in this country. There is a continuing assumption throughout the document that the rights of the child and the rights of the parent are diametrically opposite, when in fact parents should be seen as the most important protectors of their children's rights, rather than the most likely abusers. The state should provide mechanisms to ensure children can have their views heard, but this should not run to interviewing children against their parents' wishes. We would instead like to see an assumption that parents in general will do the right thing by their children and the government should only intervene in extremis.

5.4. Over all the recommendations seem to be disproportionate as there appears to be a lack of evidence to support the need to change the current system so we would like to see things left as they are, with councils looking more closely at how to best implement current legislation.


September 2009