Memorandum submitted by David and Janet Proctor
· Premise of the Badman Review. Current legislation.
· Right of entry to the family home by the LA, and interviewing a child alone (recommendation 7), safeguarding concerns (recommendation 24).
· 12 month plan and demonstration of "both attainment and progress" by "exhibition or other means" (recommendation 1 & 7).
· Suitability of parents to provide an education. (recommendation 23)
· Conduct of the Review.
· Changes are already in draft legislation, the Consultation has not yet finished.
We have home-educated our two children for nearly 5 years. We describe their education as semi-structured allowing them to take the lead in terms of their own areas of interest and then turning these ideas into a topic to explore, often producing wall displays, models, mobiles and other crafts. Our children's education is unique reflecting their particular needs, abilities and progress. Home education does not mean replicating 'school at home'. It also does not mean that all learning takes place at home, rather our children learn and socialize at local museums, libraries, groups and other community events.
OUR CONCERNS WITH THE RECOMMENDATIONS
1. 1 The recommendations are based on an unfounded concern, in that Mr. Badman's remit was to look for evidence that home education could be used as a cover for abuse, forced marriage or domestic servitude. Mr. Badman found no evidence of this taking place stating that he found, "no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriages, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities". Despite these findings however Mr. Badman goes on to recommend overly intrusive and expensive mechanisms to monitor home education.
1.2 There is a misrepresentation of the law when Mr. Badman refers to balancing the rights of the child and the parent(s). These are not opposing forces, indeed it appears to skew the way in which the education law in England operates. In English law, as enshrined in Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act, the duty of parents is to "ensure that children receive an education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability and any special educational needs they may have".
2.1 The powers Mr. Badman seeks to give LAs are tremendous. Amongst the recommendations is the right of a LA advisor to enter the family home and interview a child alone if the advisor feels it is 'appropriate' (recommendation 7). The issue of what a LA advisor feels is 'appropriate' is subjective and vague. Leaving our children alone with a stranger in itself can be viewed as an abuse of their rights from which we as parents will have no way of protecting them. The DCSF feels that a commonsense approach can be taken by the advisor with regard to this. However, there is too much at stake to simply leave this to chance, dependant on the integrity of the individual advisor. In our absence our children could be asked intrusive and leading questions, their answers could be misrepresented resulting in the LA being able to revoke registration on safeguarding concerns (recommendation 24). We are not aware of a risk assessment being carried out concerning this recommendation .The incredibly sensitive area of safeguarding and child protection would merge, this should not happen, they are two distinct fields. The advisor will be dealing with matters he/she simply does not have appropriate training in.
2.2 The idea that we as home educating parents need to be checked on, via compulsory home visits and lone interviewing of a child to ensure we are not harming our children, is not just a presumption of guilt that needs to be disproved by ourselves, but is also disproportionate and contrary to recent figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, from 129 LAs. These show that the abuse rate amongst home educated children is less than half that of the general population. Under current law if a LA official identifies welfare issues these should be flagged up and the appropriate Social Services personnel should intervene in an area in which they have expertise. The problem is the way in which the current law is poorly applied and not fully understood by some LA officials. To go ahead and give LAs substantially more powers yet provide no examination into their failings before doing so does not make for good policy.
3. 1 The uniqueness of home education is in its adaptability to meet the child's interests, needs and progress at a given time, with the ability to look back on the year and see what has been achieved. Under the recommendations this retrospective approach will disappear, giving way to a 12 month plan. This will be problematic for our family as we will no longer be able to follow our children's interests, as they come along, instead we will be forced into having to form a more rigid plan of action that takes away the very spontaneity that makes learning for our children so enjoyable.
3.2 From this follows Mr. Badman's recommendation of having outcomes at the start of the 12 month plan. This is very hard to predict and it is unclear on the detail that will be required by a LA, again it allows for a LA advisor to exercise considerable power as to what is required, and could potentially ride roughshod over what is best for our children.
3.3 Further the requirement for a child to "exhibit" both "attainment and progress" (recommendation 7) is contentious. If our children do not want to do this in the presence of a stranger this could potentially be a cause of concern to an advisor who may then revoke registration. Additionally a more capable child may tick the right boxes for an advisor, yet a child who is not so 'advanced' in a given area at that point of time may fall short of what is required from them. How such proposals would impact on a child with SEN is also unclear.
4.1 Mr. Badman calls for home educating families to be compulsorily registered with a LA, then leaving a decision on the suitability of the parents to provide an education, down to the LA. In recommendation 23 Mr. Badman states, "that local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether of not they are known to children's social care, on such grounds as alcohol or drug abuse, incidents of domestic violence, previous offences against children". Mr. Badman then goes on to add, "and in addition anything else which may affect their ability to provide suitable and efficient education". This term lacks clarity and could result in a LA advisor revoking registration on the grounds of an advisor's interpretation of what he/she constitutes 'suitable', potentially allowing prejudice and bias to come into play. We are unsure where this would leave families on low incomes or with disability.
4.2 Overall this recommendation represents a huge shift away from the parents taking responsibility for the child's rights and giving it to the State. This attacks the heart of the family and will warrant considerable intrusion into family life by LA officials, leading to a great deal of tension and unease between LAs and the home educating family. Of further concern to us there will be no right of appeal to the LA's decision, which at present exists.
5.1 The proposals resulting from the Review are questionable in themselves, however when one actually examines the conduct of the review on, which they are based, it is evident that there are many flaws. For instance, Mr. Badman compares England to certain countries in Europe, most notably Germany who still outlaw home education (this being a legacy of Nazi legislation), yet Mr. Badman chooses not to compare us to freer states in the USA where home education takes place in greater numbers.
5.2 There is the issue of impartiality; the selective quoting of the Church of England's submission is a prime example of this, with their opinions as to leaving current arrangements regarding elective home education in place being excluded from the rest of their submission to the Review.
5.3 The initial on-line questionnaire that sought home educator's views was poorly worded and involved leading questions. The fact that the Review called for evidence online also excluded those who did not have access to the internet and therefore relied on being sent the online questionnaire from others.
5.4 The LAs had many more questions for their departments to fill in than ourselves. The views of the home educating community have not been adequately taken into account; rather reliance has been put on the LA's perspective. As home-educators we were left to find out from a fellow home-educator about there being a questionnaire, prior to this we had no knowledge that there was to be a Review. We are known to the LA yet there was no contact, to inform us of the questionnaire for the Review, and any input to which we were entitled.
5.5 On completion of the on-line questionnaire we were not notified of the publication of the Badman Review by the DCSF, despite requesting this via their on-line form. Home educating organizations also experienced this problem, only finding out the findings of the Review from the media on the day of publication.
6. Lastly we question the appropriateness of changes to home education being already in draft legislation, (contained within the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children's Bill), yet the Consultation does not end until the 19th October. Surely if the Government are keen to hear our views on the recommendations there should be some pause for thought to allow for a more measured response.
7. In conclusion the Review is flawed both in methodology and content. We would welcome a fair and balanced review, based on evidence not assumption, conducted by an individual with expertise in this field. We would also value LA personnel to be fully trained in the diversity of home education and the law surrounding it, with respect being given to the wishes of the children involved. We therefore ask for the Government to give due consideration to the views expressed from the public Consultation and the findings from yourselves, before it decides what course of action to take.