Memorandum submitted by Home Education Tyne and Wear

 

 

 

This submission is made on behalf of and with the consent of home educators across the North East of England who are members of the Home Education Tyne and Wear support network. This network has a membership of 108 families. We communicate regularly about matters relating to educating our children, including the organisation of numerous events across the region. The home education community in the North East is strong, vibrant and supportive.

 

 

We submit to the Select Committee the following points in brief:

Mr Badman has omitted a Risk Assessment.

He has failed to make any mention of the cost of his recommendations.

He shows no awareness of the logistical problems involved in implementing his recommendations.

The review has no scientific basis, no quantitative analysis and no meaningful comparison with other countries.

Mr Badman has failed to consider the impact this review has had on the newly formed working relationships with Local Authorities and their total disintegration should the recommendations be put into place.

He shows a worrying lack of understanding regarding the impact of his recommendations on Special Needs children.

We believe that Mr Badman is correct in point 1.5 (p3) to say that "parents are the prime educator within or outside of a schooling system..... parental attitude, support and expectation are the key determinants of educational success", but disagree when he continues; ".... there is nothing in this report which sets out to contradict or modify this contention". We consider that this review offers a threat to the primacy of the parental role, to civil liberties and human rights, including the rights of the child.

 

Conduct of the Review

 

1. Risk Assessment.

This review contains no risk assessment. Normally a risk assessment would be expected in a review such as this and certainly it is needed. For example; Mr Badman should have done a risk assessment on his recommendation that Local Authority (LA) officials interview children alone. (Recommendation 7 p40) The major risks involved in this are:

the official, though CRB checked may be one of the paedophiles who have 'slipped through the net' like Huntley;

the officials may make a wrong diagnosis like Marietta Higgs. Children on the Autistic spectrum, especially Asperger children show symptoms easily confused with abuse victims.

the child may make false accusations against which the official will have no defence;

the parents may refuse access, which will lead to a legal battle;

the child may exercise his /her right to silence.

the officials themselves, knowing how unprofessional this recommendation is, may well refuse to do it.

None of these possibilities have been considered in the review and recommendations.

 

 

2. Cost.

Mr Badman has made no reference whatsoever as to how all his recommendations will be financed. The Home Education Advice Service, a national support agency, has suggested a figure of 60m - 150m.[1] Delyth Morgan has stated that there will be no extra money for LAs and she did not "expect [the changes] to place any significant additional burdens on local authorities [2]. Mr Balls has announced cut backs in Education to the tune of 2bn.[3] There certainly is no available cash for the kind of recommendations Mr Badman makes. How then, will these recommendations be financed?

 

 

3. Logistics.

The impact on LAs has no real mention. Yes, Mr Badman does talk about the need for proper training for LA officials, but there is no mention of how this will affect the workings and organisation of LA departments. For example, the nature of his recommendations will demand much greater significance being accorded to Elective Home Education (EHE), to the point that it will need its own department. In the North East we know that at present, in Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland and Sunderland, EHE is a very minor part of a larger department for children missing education and they report that EHE is 'squeezed into an already excessive workload'[4]. Mr Badman has made no attempt to identify how LAs will need to reorganise in order to meet his recommendations.

 

4. Use of Evidence.

Mr Badman's recommendations are not evidence-based. We consider that this review lacks any scientific basis and he appears to have done no quantitative analysis. We would have expected facts, figures and statistics to have supported Mr Badman's conclusions. We find none. Here, we would like to make the following observations:

Mr Badman has given no figures for how many EHE children are of concern to LAs for educational reasons. An FOI request, to which 125 LAs responded, encompassing 14,000 children, reveals that a third (42)have no concerns on educational grounds. Around a third (another 42) are concerned for less than 5% of their EHE children, about 34 have concerns for less that 10%. 7 LAs have concerns for more than 20%, one of which reported 30% of children were of concern. This comes to an average of 5.6% of EHE children who raise educational concerns. This makes an interesting comparison with New Zealand where regulations are much tighter. (see below)

Furthermore, an FOI has revealed that between 0.6%- 0.8% of EHE children are of serious concern to Social Services. This compares to a national average of 1.8%. Thus EHE children are in fact significantly safer than school children.[5] This answers Mr Badman's questions about abuse among EHE children being disproportionately high[6] and we can only assume he has deliberately ignored these figures.

Neither has Mr Badman compared British practice with 'best practice' in other countries. Merely mentioning Tasmania is not an adequate comparison. There is no mention in his review of research into other countries where heavy monitoring has significantly reduced educational or welfare concerns which would prove his point. In fact, in New Zealand, where regulations are much tighter, the average number of children who are of educational concern is 5.4%[7]. In this case, greater monitoring has not resulted in a lower 'failure rate' - or fewer causes for concern.

The experiences of New Zealand also offer Mr Badman the opportunity to produce a cost-benefit analysis. Again, he has missed an opportunity. The New Zealand government decided way back in 1994 that it "could not justify the expense of regular reviews on such a low-risk group as home educators". They still find that to be the case and this year have reduced the number of inspections (reviews) accordingly. Clearly, this research should have an impact on Mr Badman's conclusions.

Instead of reflecting objective scientific research, Mr Badman's review is heavy with subjectivity, with such phrases as "I am of the opinion that...." or "I am not persuaded that...." One very worrying aspect of the review is Mr Badman's misuse of the statement provided by the Church of England (p13). Overall, the original statement does not indicate that the Church of England is against home education. However, the section which Mr Badman quotes out of context makes it appear otherwise.[8] We believe that this was dishonest and throws doubt on the reliability of Mr Badman's reporting and his integrity in this review.

 

Implications of the Recommendations

 

5. Social implications.

In this review Mr Badman mentions the work LAs have done in improving relations between themselves and home educators (p15, 5:2). This work has in fact been two-way; home educators have had to work hard to change the attitudes of LAs. However, Mr Badman seems not to have anticipated that his review has put these new found working relationships under considerable strain, to the point that some home educators have refused to co-operate with LAs in protest to the review and that if his recommendations are adopted, relations will completely break down. This in turn could be to the detriment of the children it purports to help. Such is the strength of feeling the review has generated, that there will be civil disobedience if the recommendations are put in place. We consider that Mr Badman - and the DCSF have completely misjudged the mood of the moment and the impact of this review.

 

 

6. Special Needs.

This is a massive and complex area which needs special understanding that Mr Badman does not appear to possess. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) often thrive outside school, having suffered untold misery in school. Some SEN children, in particular those on the Autistic spectrum, would find the recommendations involving home visits and one-to-one interviews particularly damaging or traumatic and they should not be subjected to them. The present system which offers a variety of ways to give evidence of an education is ideal for children who rely heavily on the safety, security and sanctuary of their home. To subject such a child to Mr Badman's recommendations would be nothing short of abusive.[9]

 

 

 

 

7. Civil liberties, human rights and parental responsibility.

Much is said in the review about balancing the rights of parents against the rights of the child. We would like to make the following observations:

wherever Mr Badman refers to the rights of the child he also implies they are 'set against' those of the parent and that it is the LA that is the upholder of children's rights. We would like to remind the Select Committee that it is first and foremost the responsibility of parents to uphold the rights of the child and to protect the child from 'stranger danger' including unscrupulous authorities.

article 16 in the UNCRC states that the child has the right to be free from "...arbitary...interference with his or her privacy, family, home..." Our children would consider Mr Badman's Recommendation 7 to be interference. We, their parents, intend to uphold their rights.

with reference to Article 12, will the child's rights to have his or her opinions heard and considered be upheld with respect to the entry of an official into his/her home, to having his/her work inspected or to being questioned alone and against his/her parent's wishes and without representation, even though no crime has been committed or is suspected?

We would like the Select Committee to give serious thought to the implications of Recommendation 7. In this, 'right of entry' to our homes will be given to LA officials. We will not have committed any crime, nor would any crime be suspected. These are powers the Police do not have, yet to refuse entry would make us criminals. We believe this one recommendation in particular is extremely dangerous and we urge you to consider it in all its potential.

Parents have the responsibility to educate their children. Mr Badman is recommending that we have an annual registration which will effectively be an annual permission to home educate.[10] We do not consider it appropriate that we should have to ask permission to do what is our responsibility. This recommendation effectively changes the balance of power between State and Parent, giving the State the final say on how our children should be educated. If the State is to take responsibility for a child's education, is it also prepared to accept all the law suits when it fails?

 

 

In conclusion, we recognise that this submission gives only a brief over-view of some of the flaws in Mr Badman's review and recommendations, but we do believe that it raises serious and genuine concerns over the validity and rigour of this review and we hope we have opened up areas for further enquiry for the Select Committee. We do not believe that this review has been carried out independently of the government and consider that the government is unwise in its haste to legislate in this area.

 

September 2009



[1] http://www.cyberbiscuitradio.org/HEAS_Costs.html

[2] http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsp-05108.pdf p15

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/sep/20/school-funding-cuts-balls

[4] Jeff Lough, head of the Pupil Referral Unit, Newcastle upon Tyne.

[5] Another FOI request brought the figures to 0.32% EHE children and 1.3% nationally. Clearly, FOI requests can produce different figures but interestingly, the ratio is still clearly in favour of EHE children being among the safest children in the country.

[6] http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsp-05108.pdf (p7, 8.2)

[7] http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/newzealand/714763/

[8] http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/clarification-from-church-of-england.html

[9] We would strongly recommend that the Select Committee consults Autism-in-Mind to gain a full appreciation of this issue. http://www.autism-in-mind.co.uk/index.html

[10] http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsp-05108.pdf (p8. 2:1)