Memorandum submitted by James and Michaela Turpin

 

 

 

1. Executive Summary

 

This summary forms a quick reference to our main submissions and suggestions for actions related to these.

 

1.1 - Terms of reference:

 

We feel the terms of reference allow inherent bias in the report, since they do not specify including evidence on outcomes for home educated children. This would allow evidential assessment as to whether or not home educated children are meeting/ able to meet the 5 outcomes of "Every Child Matters" and whether their rights are being compromised by being home educated. Instead, the terms of reference solely rely on opinions, mainly of local authorities, to determine this and whether change is needed.

 

1.2 Potential Bias of report/ Issues with Process used to draw up report:

 

In summary, these bullet points cover the evidence we have provided on this topic:

The expert committee only includes one person with home education experience and the list of consultees does not include any Christian home education support group, despite one part of the report detailing faith as an area where home educated children may be "put at risk" of not having their rights respected by parents.

There is insufficient evidence presented (other than opinion) to support Mr Badman's assertion that existing legislation cannot provide a way of ensuring that the 5 outcomes of "Every child matters" are met and that children's rights under the law are upheld. We accept that existing legislation is not well understood or applied, but this does not automatically lead to proposing it needs to be replaced.

To be fair, comparisons with legislation in other countries needs to include the US, where law is broadly similar to our own and a large number of families home educate, as well as the countries included in the report, who all happen to have tighter restrictions, than our own.

There is a selective use of quotations within the report that leads to quite a negative picture being presented of current home schooling and its regulation.

There is a lack of any kind of qualitative research, or serious consideration of existing research both in England and in other countries, based it seems, on the report writer's personal opinion.

 

Our Suggested Action: A new research project/ report should be commissioned with terms of reference that call for evidence to be collected, including primary research, if necessary, to make informed recommendations based on facts, not opinions. It would ensure a balanced approach and representation of opinion, as well as transparent evidence. This evidence should also be included as an appendix to the report, along with a Bibliography. However, first of all, guidelines to local authorities on how to implement current law and regulate home education in this way should be rolled out across England, to ensure the existing legislation is given a reasonable amount of time to be proven or disproven as adequate.

 

1.3 Recommendations made by the report:

 

The large number of recommendations within the report are potentially expensive, possibly contravene human rights directives and are potentially time consuming to introduce and follow through.

Our Suggested Action: Existing legislation is simply in need of being better understood at a local level and uniformly applied. Although the idea of a registration system is a good starting point for Local Authorities to identify home educators, they will still rely on home educators volunteering information. In this case, we would suggest a voluntary registration system for home educators, with the offer of the potential of financial support and grants to use towards resources needed, use of local school facilities (e.g. libraries and music lessons) and other support as an incentive. This would be done alongside a nationwide roll out of guidelines on how to correctly use the existing legislation and suggestions of how to support home educators.

 

 

 

2. Details of Submission and Background

 

2.1 Introduction to Submitters/ Expertise:

We have 4 children and our 2 eldest children are from a previous marriage. Mr Turpin holds a high level job as General Manager within a logistics company. Mrs Turpin is a graduate from the NHS Management Training Scheme and has experience of working in the NHS within several different capacities, including looking at roles linking across health and schools, in order to help protect children and provide excellent care for families in difficulties. Currently Mrs Turpin is staying at home to care for our children and home educate our youngest children.

We are currently following a pre-school curriculum with one of our youngest children and our 2 eldest children remain within mainstream education, partly due to their father's negative views on home education.

The decision to home educate our 2 youngest children is based on:

o Our faith beliefs - as Christians, we feel God should be included at the centre of our children's education,

o We believe that our home environment provides the best place to educate our children,

o We feel the national curriculum is very prescriptive and disagree with the way some topics are taught and the inclusion of some topics that should be the remit of parents, anyway.

 

2.2 Background to submission:

We have decided to make a submission to the select committee, because we question the original terms of reference for the project, the process and procedures that Mr Badman has used to compile his report and the recommendations that Mr Badman has made, on the basis of the report he has written.

 

3 Submission of Factual Information to be considered:

 

3.1 Terms of Reference for the report:

 

We consider the main issue with the terms of reference of the report, to be that they do not consider any evidence regarding the efficacy of home schooling, or outcomes for home schooling. These are important as they would clearly demonstrate whether or not the five "Every Child Matters" outcomes are being met for home educated children and whether there is actual risk to their safety or their rights being compromised by current legislation. This means that whatever evidence is compiled on the basis of these terms of reference will fall heavily as a bias towards the views and opinions of Local Authorities and whether they feel the current legislation enables them to effectively monitor these outcomes being met, as opposed to actual evidence as to whether or not they are actually met for home educated children. Facts and evidence should form the basis for change to law, not opinion, however expert it might be, it remains opinion.

 

3.2 Potential Bias of report/ Issues with Process used to draw up report:

 

3.2.1 List of Consultees/ Expert Committee Composition

 

As you will see from the list of consultees in appendix B of the report, despite the fact that secular Home Schooling organisations and an Islamic Home Schooling organisation were included, there were no Christian home schooling support bodies included.

We see the relevance of this issue in point 4.8 of Mr Badman's report. There is a quote included from the British Humanist Association in 4.8 raising questions about how broad an education can be from a faith background, as well as a quote about opposition to home schooling from a faith perspective from the Church of England. However, there is no corresponding argument against this, from a Christian Home Schooling organisation or an organisation representing any other faith position. For instance, we could argue from our world view, that it is not possible to have a "broad" education, when God is excluded from every subject, bar RE.

The Expert Committee only included one person with experience of home schooling (Conway) and therefore, cannot be seen as balanced in our opinion.

 

3.2.2 Existing Legislation:

 

In section 1.4 of the report, Mr Badman states, "I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power." However, we are unconvinced by the report that there is sufficient evidence to support this. Many of Mr Badman's points are simply reviewing the existing legislation side by side and then stating that current powers do not allow this to happen. It is our understanding that under current legislation, local authorities may take reasonable measures to look at what education is being provided and determine it's suitability for children. However, it is difficult to know this, given the report does not really say what existing powers are and how a local authority might deal with a situation where home education is not working, under existing legislation.

There are no positive examples given of where existing legislation works, or the actual powers Local authorities have, as opposed to "do not" have, despite Mr Badman's admission that the current legislation may work for the majority of home educating families in paragraph 3.7. Instead, in the same paragraph, Mr Badman then introduces a new argument saying how can Local authorities know this is the case, without knowing all the home educating families. So does existing legislation not work because we cannot identify all families or because it inherently does not work?

Arriving that the conclusion that current legislation does not work because it is ill understood and not applied uniformly is not a given that the legislation cannot then set out to achieve its aims and needs to be changed, rather than better applied.

A big concern to us is that there is no information included on the current legislation to manage suspected abuse and how this universally applies to Home Educators, just as it does to families educating their children at school.

All of these findings are based on returns from only 60% of Local Authorities.

 

3.2.3 Comparisons with legislation in other countries:

 

Mr Badman has only included comparisons to countries with more restrictive legislation in his comparison in section 11.1 of the report. A better comparison would be with the US, who have a considerably large population of home educators. US legislation is also a lot more liberal than those used for comparison in section 11.1 and in many cases fairly similar to our own existing laws.

 

3.2.4 Selective use of Quotations within report:

 

Although Mr Badman claims not to be arguing that home education is intrinsically wrong in section 3.1, we do feel the report is very biased towards the views of those who hold home education in suspicion and negatively. For instance, most of the quotes from organisations are negative about home schooling and the existing system, whilst those positive are nearly all from individual educators, rather than home education organisations. Mr Badman also included quite an incendiary comment from a home educator, which reflects negatively on home educators. I am sure there were equally virulent comments from those opposed to home schooling, judging by some people that we come across, but these were not included. Christian organisations were not included in Mr Badman's own list of consultees and no quotes were included from Christian or any other faith organisations that support home educators.

 

 

3.2.5 Exclusive use of Qualitative Research and Treatment of Existing Quantitative Research:

 

All the evidence in the report is qualitative, which by its nature is very subjective and can be biased and used to present any number of points of views, as desired. There is therefore a uniform lack of robust evidence underpinning the report and its recommendations. In paragraph 10.2 Mr Badman dismissed all existing research on the outcomes of home education with the comment "I am not convinced by the existing research studies on the outcomes for home educated children both in this country and elsewhere". This is despite not listing any of the research he has reviewed and qualifying this comment.

 

 

3.3.1 Recommendation 1 - Registration of all Home Educating families

 

Our main concerns over this recommendation is the cost of this exercise and to question whether there is a need to register every year, if circumstances have not changed.

We do not feel it is necessary to submit a learning plan for each year, provided we can supply this on demand (and retrospective plans).

The Local Authority is still relying on families to volunteer information about themselves. Surely the minority of families that are not known to local authorities and are using home education possibly as a cover, will not register anyway. The Local authority will still rely on other bodies (e.g. neighbours, health services etc.) to identify these children as not being at school and potentially being at risk, if this is the case.

 

3.3.2 Recommendation 2 - Review of Curriculum for Home Education:

 

The second recommendation in essence appears to recommend drawing up some kind of curriculum that would need to be covered by children being home educated. Since from our own perspective, we are home educating because we dislike the current national curriculum, this concerns us.

It ought to be possible to have guidelines for what suitable education is, without the need for a formalised curriculum. Independent education providers do not have to follow the national curriculum, but presumably OFSTED are able to assess whether or not they are meeting their legal requirements in providing education to children.

 

3.3.3 Recommendation 5 - 9 - Multi disciplinary Approach to monitoring and support (including individuals from voluntary organisations) and Suggested powers for Local Authority Officers in order to do this:

 

The report does not demonstrate any evidence of why it is necessary for a local authority to have right of access to a family's home or interviews with children without parents present, in order to demonstrate that a child is being effectively educated, according to what is required by law. The existing legislation allows Local authorities to determine whether an education is suitable and take steps to remedy this, if not.

We question the legality of these powers under human rights legislation. Although the legislation upholds a child's right to an education, it also upholds the rights of parents to choose the education for their children and for regulation by the government - but it does not suggest that such regulation should encroach on the family's right to privacy (section 3.9 of report). Article 8 of the human right's act provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions that are "in accordance with law" and "necessary in a democratic society".

There is no basis within our law to implement measures that encroach on a person's human right to privacy, simply because it is a possibility that they are committing a crime. For instance, statistically, children of single parent mothers, who have a man living with them who is not the children's father, are most likely to suffer abuse. However, no-one would recommend that the local authority had right to access these families' homes and interview their children without a parental presence, simply because they are more statistically likely to be at risk. In all cases, there must be some evidence that a crime is being committed in order to have right of access and interview.

Finally, we question the statistics used to compile the report. Mr Badman refers to a disproportionately high number children in home educators families being "known" to social services, compared to the normal population of mainstream educators families (section 1.3 of the report). However, just being "known" to social services, does not necessarily mean you are at risk of abuse. Mr Badman acknowledges in section 4.4 that some of the reasons included for home schooling are bullying etc., which all may result in a child being "known" by social services. A better measure of risk, would have been to compare the children on the "at risk" register with the general population of school children. This statistic is not included - we would like to see what it is, as it would certainly prove a better measure of real, rather than asserted, risk of a cover for child abuse.

 

4 Actions We would like to Recommend:

 

4.1 Terms of Reference/ Fair and unbiased Report:

A new research project/ report should be commissioned with terms of reference that call for evidence to be collected, including primary research, if necessary, to make informed recommendations based on facts, not opinions. It would ensure a balanced approach and representation of opinion, as well as transparent evidence. This evidence should also be included as an appendix to the report, along with a Bibliography. However, first of all, guidelines to local authorities on how to implement current law and regulate home education in this way should be rolled out across England, to ensure the existing legislation is given a reasonable amount of time to be proven or disproven as adequate.

 

4.2 Recommendations: the large number of recommendations within the report are potentially expensive and time consuming to introduce and follow through. Existing legislation is simply in need of being better understood at a local level and uniformly applied. Although the idea of a registration system is a good starting point for Local Authorities to identify home educators, they will still rely on home educators volunteering information as discussed. In this case, we would suggest a voluntary registration system for home educators, with the offer of the potential of financial support and grants to use towards resources needed, use of local school facilities (e.g. libraries and music lessons) and other support as an incentive. This would be done alongside a nationwide roll out of guidelines on how to use the existing legislation and suggestions of how to support home educators.

 

September 2009