Memorandum submitted by Ruth Jump

 

Summary

The entire basis of the review was flawed, using unsubstantiated and prejudiced assumptions.

The review itself uncovered no conclusive evidence to connect safeguarding concerns with Elective Home Education.

The lack of evidence did not prevent the r! eview's author from recommending a wide range of intrusive, draconian measures, some of which would fundamentally change the roles and responsibilities of parents, in making the state the primary parent.

��. The review into Home Education was launched in the wake of a media frenzy, surrounding the death of Baby Peter in Haringey, last year. The home educating community responded with shock and anger, when the review was unexpectedly announced in January, with Baroness Morgan's statement that "there are concerns that! some children are not receiving the education they need. And in some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse. We cannot allow this to happen and are committed to doing all we can to help ensure children are safe, wherever they are educated." The entire process appeared to be justified by these "concerns", with no evidence of any basis in fact. Recent work done by home educators, to turn Freedom of Information requests into statistical data, suggests that the actual proportion of home educated children found to be victims of abuse or neglect is 0.29%, compared with Children In Need's figure of 1.30% for the population as a whole. Home educated children are statistically three times safer from abuse than schooled children, and yet they remained the target of the fourth home education review/consultation in as many years. The number of consultations is, in itself, regarded as an unfair harassment of home educators by the government, by many. !

 

��. The aforementioned research by home educators, using 128 Freedom of Information requests of local authorities, was done in direct response to Mr Badman's report, which was published with no statistical support whatsoever. He specifically admits that he found no link between home education and abuse, but then justifies his recommendations on the strength of one sentence "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". Several of the press reports at the time referred to children being "twice as likely" to be known to social care, but st! renuous efforts have failed to establish precisely when this was said, to whom, or upon what basis. What has become clear, again through FoI requests, is that "known to social care" is a very different thing to "victim of abuse". Social care teams can have contact with a home educated child for a number of innocuous reasons, including supporting a disabled child, because the family were foster carers for other children, or because there was a threat to the child's safety from outside the home. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that home educated children are more frequently the subject of malicious/unfounded referrals to social services, simply because they are home educated. Some local authorities automatically involve their social care team with home educated children, and it has been known for neighbours, GPs, unsympathetic ex-husbands, and others, to report a family to social services, simply because they thought the children should be in school. It does not appear that Mr Badman made any effort to separate "innocent" contact wit! h social services from genuine cases of abuse.

Amongst the recommendations with which I take issue, are the compulsory visits to the home, the compulsory display of children to inspectors for physical and educational examination, the routine separation of children from their parents for interrogation, the open invitation for staff in adult services to declare a parent incapable of home educating for "any other reason", and the multi-layered bureaucracy surrounding planning, documenting and reporting on the child's e! ducation. Mr Badman recommends that parents should no longer be considered to be responsible for their child's education, as they have been since the 1944 Education Act. Instead, he considers that parents should be permitted to educate their own children, only if they successfully negotiate a series of hoops, including a 12-month plan of education, which would need to be accepted in the first instance, then considered to have been met, a year later, in order for home education to be considered successful, and permitted to go ahead for a further year. There is absolutely no reason why such skills in negotiating local government bureaucracy should be considered a pre-requisite to home education. The skills required to actually educate ones own child are 1) almost entirely different to the skills required to do so in a school setting, making the school-based experience of most local authorities largely irrelevant when evaluating the provision; and 2) unrelated to the capacity to generate rep! orts using educational buzz-words, to satisfy local authority staff. Even the most structured of home educators would resent a "12-month plan" model that prevented them from changing their plans radically, in response to an individual child's needs and/or aspirations. Many home educators find that keeping the degree of structure low facilitates a child-led education which suits their family, and which delivers high levels of learning - it is well understood that children learn best when they are interested in the subject, and this interest can be followed more closely without a rigid system to enforce. In short, the recommendations take the capacity to make decisions away from parents, and pass them to the local authority. The legal responsibility of parents to make decisions for their children should only be removed in situations of dire distress, and with clear evidence of harm to the children. Mr Badman's proposals assume that parents cannot be trusted when left alone wi! th their children, either to take care of them properly, nor to make suitable decisions regarding their education. He seeks to do nothing less than to make the state ultimately responsible for the upbringing of children, leaving parents with a role of messenger, making no decisions, merely following the instructions passed down from the government. His assumptions that parents are guilty of abuse, neglect, and of failing to provide an education, unless they regularly prove otherwise, are insulting, and anti-democratic. All people should be considered innocent until they are proven to be guilty. If the law obliges a parent to feed, clothe and educate a child, then it should assume that parents are doing so, more particularly as the vast majority would do so with or without legislation to outline the duty.

September 2009