Memorandum submitted by Andrew Thorpe


Executive Summary
My main concerns are about the terms of reference for the inquiry and the recommendations made by the review on elective home education.

 

My Area of Expertise/Interest

I am the father of three children all of whom are home-educated. My wife is my children's mother and she undertakes the day to day home education of our children.

Both my wife and I are qualified Secondary School teachers with a wide knowledge and experience in education. I am a History teacher, currently a Head of Department in an Academy School; I have also taught in the Independent sector (two schools, one as Head of Department for thirteen years) and another state school. My wife taught History in a state comprehensive before becoming a Special Needs Teacher, latterly an Advisor with regard to Multi-Sensory Impaired children (deaf/blind), for which she holds an Advanced Diploma.

 

Conduct of the Review, specifically the Terms of Reference

 

1. Firstly, the idea that there are "barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children" involves a considerable amount of pre-judging. This implies that, in some way, local authorities are being prevented from carrying out their duties. Local authorities do not appear to have been pressing for any change in the law to overcome these "barriers". In fact, they have not raised these issues at all.

 

2. The Every Child Matters Outcomes are, in and of themselves flawed. Firstly, children matter more to their parents than they do to the state. Our children are ours, they are not wards of the state. My wife and I are far more committed to our children than the state or its well meaning agencies. Secondly, the Five Outcomes do not mention the need to love and to be loved; neither do they mention the need to care for others, especially the vulnerable; they do not mention kindness, consideration for the needs of others, self sacrifice, generosity, patience, diligence, or respect for others. They do not mention the need for wonder or for any sense of the divine. They do not even mention that being a trustworthy friend is a worthwhile outcome. It is not even considered that a child will grow up to be a loving and caring parent (let alone a loving and caring spouse). The Five Outcomes are driven by economic and largely selfish factors. Thirdly, the Five Outcomes do not envisage that, in life, circumstances can be hard. Thus the Five Outcomes have little to offer the child who is simply not blessed with good health, limited in what they can do and unlikely to be economically well off as a result. We know children who have Cerebral Palsy for whom these outcomes are, frankly, insulting. These children (who will become adults) will need the love and care others, something which is not to be found in the Five Outcomes. My wife and I actually want something better for our children than Five Outcomes drawn up by someone who has never met our children, doesn't know them and will never have the love for them that we do.

 

3. "The extent to which claims of home education could be used as a 'cover' for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and advise on measures to prevent this." This term of reference is insulting. Child abuse is a criminal matter which the agencies of the state have been involved in for many years. Badman has provided no proof that home education is used as a 'cover' for these criminal activities (this is in spite of the fact that he was clearly looking to find some evidence). The fact of the matter is that most abused children are in school and are known to the agencies of the state.

 

4. "Whether local authorities are providing the right type, level and balance of support to home educating families to ensure they are undertaking their duties to provide a suitable full time education to their children." The "issue of a suitable full time education" is already covered by statute and case law [an interpretation of some terminology used in the Education Act 1944, replaced by the 1996 Act was provided by an appeal case which was brought at Worcester Crown Court in 1981 (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson). In this case, the judge defined a 'suitable education' as one which was such as:

1. to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and

2. to enable them to achieve their full potential.

The diversity of modern society and styles of education give parents considerable freedom of choice in enabling children to achieve their potential. In the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) (Times, 12 April 1985) Mr Justice Woolf held that:

education is 'suitable' if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child's options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.]

Moreover, the European Convention on Human Rights states: "'No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."

(Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1952)

The fact is that home educating parents do not want what the state has to offer - this is why they are educating their children at home. The current arrangements, provided that they are carried out sensitively, are reasonable.

Again, this shows that the Terms of Reference were drawn up to lead Badman to make certain conclusions.

 

5. The "Expert Reference Group" contained no-one who had carried out any research into home education at all, neither had any of the group any professional knowledge of home education. Their "expertise" could best be described as "somewhat limited". Needless to say, none of the group had home educated their own children.

 

 

The Recommendations by the Review on Elective Home Education

 

Recommendation 1

1. The registration scheme is draconian and unnecessary. Making provision for children to be registered at a local school is crass, since school is precisely what parents have decided to withdraw their children from.

 

2. "At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months". The guidance which is supposed to be on offer would be along the lines of the educational objectives of the system from which parents have withdrawn their children. This, again is draconian and needlessly prescriptive. Such planning may be the case in the education system, but this is one of the (many) reasons why home educating parents have decided to take their children out of the educational system. Schools may regard their support of home educating families as being part of their commitment to extended schooling, but there is no evidence that home educating parents want this help...in fact, given that their children have been taken out of school, the opposite is more likely.

 

3. "Where a child is removed from a school roll to be home educated, the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child's achievement to date and expected achievement". What is the purpose of this other than to pressure home educating parents into the target driven culture of the education system? A child's "progress" is notoriously difficult to measure, let alone predict.

 

 

 

Recommendation 2

4. The statutory definition of "suitable" and "efficient" education does not need to be reviewed. It is already defined in statute and case law (see above). The "Five Outcomes" are a straightjacket on diversity, innovation and joy. Whilst Mr Badman may envisage that this will not be "overly prescriptive", his report and the Five Outcomes are.

 

Recommendation 3

5. Parents have a prior and superior right to determine their children's future, and therefore they have the right not to inform the Local Authority of their reasons for educating their children at home if they wish. The Children and Young People's Plan is over-bearing and seeks to undermine the critical role of parents. The website http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/strategy/managersandleaders/planningandcommissioning/cypp/cypp/ does not have any reference to parents at all. The Children and Young People's Plan Guidance 2009 makes its first reference to parents in paragraph 1.3 in the context of their employment situation, not their unique and loving role within the family. The thrust of the plan is to institutionalise family life along the lines laid down by the state. In other words, the state knows what is best for one's family, and it is going to "help" in a clumsy, prescriptive and over-bearing manner. "In consulting with parents local authorities should consider the needs of fathers as well as mothers and ensure that their views and needs are actively sought and considered." This is precisely the problem with the state's attitude to parents: parental views will be "considered". The state does not love or care for my children, I do. My views are therefore worthy of more than the state's "consideration". Parents are often lumped in with "providers, agencies and other interested parties" whose views will be "taken into account" (paragraph 3.12). This is insulting.

"Research evidence shows that parents and carers play a key role in improving children's achievement and wider well being". Parents and children have been aware of this for many thousands of years. The support of expensive research does not add to this fact. One has to pinch oneself to think that a "professional" would actually write something as crass as this.

Is it any wonder that home educating parents want to steer clear of such a system?

 

Recommendation 4

6. "That the local authority should establish a Consultative Forum for home educating parents to secure their views and representative opinion. Such a body could be constituted as a sub-group of the

Children's Trust with a role in supporting the development of the Children's Trust, and the intentions of the local authority with regard to elective home education." The latter clause, which I have placed in italics is sinister. Surely, the intentions should be defined in some way?

 

 

 

Recommendation 6

7. "That local authorities should where appropriate commission the monitoring and support of home education through the local Children's Trust Board, thereby securing a multidisciplinary approach and the likely use of expertise from other agencies and organisations including the voluntary sector." This is over-bearing, intrusive and undermines parents.

 

Recommendation 7

 

8. "The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:

■ That designated local authority officers should:

- have the right of access to the home;

- have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is

particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a

trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.

■ That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the

effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.

■ 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."

 

These proposals are the most serious and dangerous of all. This means that local authority officers would have more powers than the Police in terms of both right of access to the home and the right to interview children (presently, only Customs and Excise Officers have the right to enter a person's home without a warrant). That the parent could be specifically excluded from an interview with his or her child is appalling and sinister.

Forcing a parent to demonstrate that attainment and progress are being made in accordance with the statement of intent is prescriptive, over-bearing, intrusive and goes against the notion of elective home education.

 

Recommendations 8 and 15

9. "That reasonable warning of intended visit and invitation to exhibit should be given to home educators, parents and carers, not less than two weeks in advance. A written report of each visit must be filed within 21 days and copied to the home educating parent and child. A suitable process for factual correction and challenge to the content must be in place and made known to all parties." This is not the language of support or partnership (neither is Recommendation 15 which states: "That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues". This recommendation clearly implies that home education is to be discouraged by schools).

 

Recommendation 18

10. This matter is already covered by existing statute and case law.

 

Recommendation 21

11. This recommendation is baseless. There is a slur, deliberate or accidental, which has been put about by those opposed to home education concerning child abuse. These are matters for the Police and Social Services. Badman has successfully produced an evidence-free attack on home education and he should be censured for it. He failed to cite one criminal case and could only refer to a "very small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature". He then failed to give any numbers or details. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of cases of abuse and death, from Maria Colwill to Baby P, have been monitored by the state and/or voluntary agencies.

The exaggeration in Recommendation 21 is Mr Badman's, not, as he claims, home educators'. His inference is that home educated children rarely see anyone outside of the home. He has no evidence to prove this at all, this is because it isn't true. Moreover, he omits to consider that bullying is common in most schools in the United Kingdom.

 

Recommendation 23

12. This recommendation contains the phrase, "anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education," with regard to parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education. This is quite extraordinary. Any suspicion, regardless of substance, could be used to undermine the right of parents to educate their own children. Who is to decide what this "anything else" actually is? Who would define it? It is a catch-all phrase designed to give more power to the state and further undermine parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The current system of elective home education works well. The government has conducted numerous consultations in recent years into elective home education, all of which argued for the maintenance of the status quo. The state seems determined to set out what it wants for children and is prepared to ride roughshod over parents in order to enforce it. The recommendation of the right of access to homes and the interviewing of children without their parents being present is quite dreadful: it gives home educating parents less freedom than someone suspected of a criminal offence. The whole tone of the report is one of suspicion and innuendo. Moreover, the author clearly does not want to believe that children who are educated at home are able to thrive and be happy. He believes that only the state knows what is best for children. Parental views are to be put on an equal footing with voluntary and government agencies at best, and, at worst, they are to be disregarded. Children are not wards of the state. I would urge you to consider my views about this report with great seriousness.

 

September 2009