Memorandum submitted by David Watson

I am a home educating parent with 2 years experience of successful Elective Home Education (EHE). I am registered with my Local Authority (LA) and have been assessed with no concerns raised.

Executive Summary:

Graham Badman is unsuited to conducting the Review as he is a "Local Authority man"

The Expert Panel effectively had no experts on EHE

Questionnaires used gave LAs considerably more input than other stakeholders

Use of inflammatory language risks stakeholder alienation

Failings in the LA questionnaires

Failings estimating the number of home educated children

Recommendation 1

◦ No cost analysis

◦ Deregistration may set school against parents

◦ Flaws regarding plan requirements

◦ Flaws regarding provision of support

Recommendation 7

◦ No justification for "right of access to home"

◦ No risk assessment for "speaking to child alone"

◦ Requiring child to demonstrate attainment is unworkable in practice

Recommendation 9

◦ No impact analysis to determine budget required for "suitable LA training"

Recommendation 23 & 24

◦ Variation between LAs means postcode lottery remains

Recommendation 28

◦ No impact analysis performed within three months

 

1 Conduct of the Review & Related Consultations

1.1 Suitability of Graham Badman

a) UNICEF provides a brief biography [1] which states that Graham Badman has "over 40 years of experience in education and children's services as a teacher, headteacher, inspector, chief education officer and as Managing Director of the Children, Families and Education Directorate". This experience in the education system at both school and LA level made him appear an obvious choice for leading the Review into Elective Home Education in England.

 

However, even with the intention of adopting an impartial and fair position, it is impossible to overcome, in a six month period, the subconscious mental filters put in place by over 40 years working in education in schools and LAs.

 

The result is a fixation on the views of LAs and a discounting of the views of others, which results in imbalances in the Report Recommendations as we shall see.

1.2 Composition of Expert Panel

a) Standard practice in a review would be to have a number of experts in the area under review, in this case Elective Home Education (EHE). In the Expert Panel assembled for the Review, only one person on the panel had expert knowledge of EHE, namely Professor James Conroy of the University of Glasgow. It is unclear whether any of the other "experts" have even a passing familiarity with EHE.

 

Email communication [2] with Professor Conroy has determined that he was asked to be on the Expert Reference Group late in the review, and was unable to attend the two meetings to which he was invited as they were arranged at short notice. As a consequence the Review was conducted with minimal input from experts in EHE.

 

This is a major failing in the conduct of the Review and raises serious doubt over how appropriate, relevant and/or workable the recommendations are.

1.3 Review Questionnaires

a) The Review used questionnaires to collect feedback from stakeholders. The Public Questionnaire ("The Public Call for Evidence" [3]) had 6 questions covering the following areas:

Abuse

Monitoring home educating families

Safeguarding

Supporting home educating families

 

b) Local Authorities (LAs) were sent a different questionnaire (the "LA Questionnaire" [4]). Although 13 LAs responded to the Public Questionnaire, 90 responded to the LA Questionnaire. It was much longer than the Public Questionnaire, containing 60 questions covering the following areas:

Abuse

Assessing suitability of education

Number of home educators

Monitoring home educators

Safeguarding

Supporting home educators

 

c) It is clear from this list that LAs were the only stakeholders given the opportunity to contribute to discussions on assessing the suitability of education and determining numbers of home educators. Failure to include input from other major stakeholders - experts in EHE, organisations representing home educators, home educators - introduces considerable risk of the recommendations being imbalanced.

 

This is a serious failing in the conduct of the Review, doubly so as the Review's remit includes safeguarding children. Uninformed recommendations could be counterproductive.

 

d) Additionally, the 90 LAs responding to this LA Questionnaire were sent a third questionnaire [5], which covered the following areas:

Number of EHE children known to Social Care, with breakdown of reasons

Proportion of current caseload estimated to have safeguarding implications, with breakdown of reasons

Request for anonymised case studies

Proportion of current caseload estimated to be not receiving any education

Proportion of current caseload estimated to be EHE to avoid attendance issues

Number of EHE children who have become NEET, with timeframe.

 

The Review made extensive provision for the views of LAs to be heard through questionnaires, but limited the input of other stakeholders to six questions. This bias towards LAs is also evident in the recommendations, and provides further evidence that the Review was conducted in an unsatisfactory manner.

1.4 Use of Inflammatory Language

a) Question 6 of the Public Questionnaire reads:

 

6. 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 does not happen?

 

This question makes an unsubstantiated allegation, accepts it as valid, and requests input on what should be done to mitigate against it. The inappropriateness of this can be demonstrated by applying the question to a different domain. Considering the case of Sweeney Todd, the murderous barber, we could ask barbers the question...

 

Some people have expressed concern that the barbers' profession could be used as a cover for murdering people and using victims as ingredients in pies. What do you think the Government should do to ensure this does not happen?

 

Using a question of this nature attacks the reputation of stakeholders and risks alienating stakeholders, with the negative consequences that often ensue.

1.5 LA Questionnaire Failings

The questionnaire sent to LAs also contains numerous failings:

 

a) Questions 10 and 12: these questions both request information which is known to be unavailable to the LA, namely the number of EHE children not registered with the LA. Requesting information which is known to be unavailable to consultees will introduce random noise into the statistical data gathered and raise questions over its validity.

 

b) Question 26 asks the LA how confident it is that the information provided in questions 10 and 12 is valid, suggesting that speculation about a population of unknown size can be anything other than guesswork.

 

c) Question 32 assumes there has been an "initial assessment visit". This may not be the case, since the Education Act 1996 does not require LAs to assess home educators, as provision of an education is the responsibility of the parent, not the LA. This question betrays a lack of knowledge of current legislation and raises further concerns regarding the conduct of the Review.

 

d) Question 46 asks a question which cannot be answered by LAs. There is currently no legal definition of the term "full-time" with respect to home education. In this regard it is a leading question since it provides an arbitrary definition of the term.

 

e) This questionnaire was only sent to the LAs in England. Other stakeholders were unable to challenge the validity of any of the questions in the LA Questionnaire, nor provide a balancing view to that of the LAs.

1.6 Number of home educated children.

a) Section 6.1 concerns the number of home educators. There are approximately 20,000 registered with LAs. The number of children not registered is unknown.

 

Writing about total numbers, section 6.1 states "we agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children". This accounts for a 100% error in the first estimate - practically speaking, it is a wild guess.

 

This creates a significant problem for resourcing any initiatives. The figures used by the Report are such that there could be a 400% difference between the known and actual numbers of home educators.

 

 

2 Recommendations Made by the Report.

2.1 Recommendation 1

a) Common registration scheme: designing and setting up a national registration scheme for home educators requires co-ordination at a national level. Consequently it will require central Government funding. LAs will be required to support this process in order to put in place workable procedures, which will impact LA resourcing. The transition from local procedures to national registration scheme could either be:

a hard transition, where the change from local to national occurs overnight - increasing risk but decreasing cost; or

a soft transition, where local and national schemes are run in parallel for a period of time, decreasing risk but increasing cost.

 

A major driver behind registration is identifying children who are hidden. It is somewhat naive to believe that anyone malevolent enough to hide and abuse a child will feel any compulsion to register said child as Electively Home Educated. This recommendation will mostly impact law-abiding families.

 

b) Deregistration from school: children deregistered from school will remain on the school roll for 20 days after deregistration. It is not clear how this "not at school" time will be recorded. If it is recorded in a manner which negatively impacts the school attendance figures then schools will be opposed to the process of deregistration. If the child is being deregistered for negative reasons - extreme bullying, for example - this opposition from the school will increase tensions between the two parties; and increase parental stress during a highly stressful time. This may have health implications, which could subsequently be used to refuse registration (recommendation 23 - see later).

 

c) Requiring planned outcomes: the requirement for a plan of progress over the coming year is flawed because:

Parents may have no prior experience of planning, disadvantaging many families who would otherwise make good home educators

Parents may have no prior working experience of EHE, and will be unable to make accurate estimates

Educational philosophies which involve autonomous learning will be impossible to predict in advance

Children removed because of extreme bullying may need time to recover and regain confidence; time required for this will be impossible to predict

The LA's expectation from the plan will be unknown; making planning doubly difficult

Information provided by the school regarding expectations for the coming year may be unrealistically high

Information provided by the school is unnecessary since home educators do not need to follow the national curriculum

 

d) Support to encompass advice from a range of advisors including schools: as a home educator I can attest from experience that new home educators require:

Time to recover from any stress incurred prior to or during deregistration, and

Time to adjust to the new routines, and

Time to establish contacts with other home educating families and home educating groups

 

e) Advice from a range of advisors, many of whom have little or no understanding of home education today, will not allow this process to take place. In order to provide useful input, advisors will need training in order to understand the range of possible home education approaches; this training has not been costed. The phrase "range of advisors" is unspecific and raises further barriers to costing this recommendation.

 

No discussions have taken place with home educating stakeholders to determine suitability or feasibility of this approach.

2.2 Recommendation 7

a) Designated LA Officers to have right of access to the home: this right is currently afforded to police officers under limited and controlled conditions and is justified through demonstrable suspicion of guilt. Suspicion of guilt of all home educating families has not been demonstrated, therefore there is no justification for this recommendation.

 

b) The right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate: this is subjective. In practice this may become the de facto option since if abuse is subsequently detected, LA Officers will not wish to appear to have been negligent in performing their duties. Speaking with the child alone will be the "safe" option.

 

A full risk assessment of an LA Officer being alone with a child has not been performed. Best practice may require the presence of two LA Officers, thereby doubling the staffing costs of monitoring EHE. Staff will need to be trained in assessing home education; staff will also need to be trained in questioning children alone to detect abuse. These are two relatively specialised areas, but training has not been costed. Similarly, the increased salary cost of specialists in two fields (EHE & detecting child abuse) has not been costed. Questioning of children who are statemented for Special Educational Needs (SEN) will require even further staff training.

 

 

c) Parents required to allow the child to demonstrate attainment and progress against plan lodged the previous year: in deriving this Recommendation the Report has identified two key points. Firstly the child's right to a voice as set out in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC [6]). Secondly, the Education Act 1996, which states that the "parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education...".

 

Section 3.12 of the Report states "there surely can be no argument against those who choose to educate their children at home being required ... with their child [to] demonstrate its effectiveness".

 

d) There are several failings in the logic. Firstly the recommendation assumes the child wishes to demonstrate. A shy child may not wish to demonstrate, and is fully entitled to take this position as Article 12 of UNCRC implies a right to silence. The recommendation is flawed in failing to take this into account.

 

e) Secondly, the recommendation assumes the parent does not wish the child to demonstrate. The current phrasing leaves scope for the recommendation to be interpreted as "Parents required to make child demonstrate...". In a worst case scenario LA Officers could fall foul of UNCRC Article 12, by forcing parents to violate their child's rights.

 

f) The stakes are very high - a failed demonstration will presumably result in a School Attendance Order (SAO) or similar. The Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) reports that 60% of parents contacting them have children who are being severely bullied [7]. For these children, failing the "demonstration" means being returned to school (where the bullies are). This prospect will cause immense stress and trauma for children who have previously been bullied at school. Fear induced by this possibility will militate against learning.

 

g) In the event that the child does exercise the right to silence, it could be interpreted as "failure to demonstrate". This would result in return to school, a move which could be viewed in some legal circles as punishing the child for exercising their rights.

 

This aspect of the recommendation is completely unworkable.

2.3 Recommendation 9

a) All local authority officers involved in monitoring/supporting EHE must be suitably trained: the absence of an Impact Assessment means that the financial implications of this in the current economic climate cannot be considered.

 

This is unfortunate. Effective training for LA staff could raise awareness of their obligations under existing legislation, of the variety of approaches used in EHE, and on how to work with local home educators. This would probably make a bigger difference to relationships between LAs and home educators than anything else in the Report.

2.4 Recommendation 23

a) LA Adult Services be required to inform those charged with monitoring/ supporting EHE of properly evidenced concerns of parents' ability to provide suitable education on grounds such as:

anything else which may affect their ability to provide suitable, efficient education

The situation today between LAs and home educators is a post-code lottery as different LAs have different attitudes towards EHE. This recommendation allows the lottery to continue by giving LAs freedom to define "anything else".

2.5 Recommendation 24

a) Registration can be refused/revoked on safeguarding grounds

This repeats the error of the previous recommendation by leaving too much ambiguity within the definition of "safeguarding grounds".

2.6 Recommendation 28

a) Within three months the DCSF and Local Government Association should have determined how to provide sufficient resources to LAs to secure the recommendations listed in the Report.

 

b) The Report was published on 11th June; three months later this had not been completed. Baroness Morgan comments [8] that the recommendations are not expected to place significant additional burdens on LAs because they already monitor home educators, but an impact assessment will be published should the Government decide to go ahead with legislation. Legislation is proceeding, yet no impact assessment has been completed.

 

c) An Impact Assessment [9] on the Report's recommendations was commissioned by HEAS and conducted by Michael Crawshaw, formerly a Head of Research for Citigroup. This indicates a minimum cost estimate of 60-150m pa increase, and a worst case in excess of 500m pa.

 

September 2009

 

 

References.

 

[1] Graham Badman biography at UNICEF

http://www.unicef.org.uk/celebrity/celebrity_biography.asp?celeb_id=78

 

[2] Email communication with Professor Conroy available on request.

 

[3] The "Public Call for Evidence" questionnaire has been reproduced here:

http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/call-for-evidence-he-review.html

 

[4] The "LA Questionnaire" has been reproduced here:

http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/questionnaire-for-local-authorities.html

 

[5] "Third questionnaire" sent out by the Review:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/15157/response/40873/attach/html/3/Additional%20data%20request.doc.html

 

[6] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm

 

[7] "Two minute briefing on home education (10 facts about it)"

Home Education Advisory Service

 

[8] Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 29 June 2009, c6W)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldhansrd/text/90629w0001.htm#09062914000585

 

[9] Impact Assessment of the Badman Proposals on Elective Home Education.

Home Education Advisory Service