Memorandum submitted by Ms C Archer
1.1 I am a home educating parent of three children, two of whom are of statutory school age. As a family we have been home educating for two years. My eldest child attended a small, independent school for just over a year and my younger two children have never attended school.
1.2 In addition to being a home educator, I have been a qualified social worker for ten years and have worked in child protection, fostering and adoption. It is from both these perspectives that I make the following submission on the Review of Elective Home Education.
2.1 Relationships between Local Authorities and Home Educating Parents
2.2 Further request for statistical evidence
2.3 Criticism of consultation process and documents
3. Relationships between Local Authorities and Home Educating Parents
3.1 Mr Badman states that; "Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents" (1.4, p2).
This statement is not substantiated by the recommendations made by Mr Badman throughout the review.
3.2 For Local Authority workers to establish good working relationships with home educating families, there would need to be evidence that the LA worker had a basic acceptance of home education as a reasonable choice for parents to make for their children. Working in partnership with parents is vital for social workers and educational workers and it is not possible to develop an effective partnership if the worker enters the family with the remit that they need to speak alone to the child to establish whether they are safe and receiving the education they are said to be receiving.
3.3 At the present time social workers have the powers available to them under The Children Act 1989, section 47, to gain access to a child where they can evidence that that child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm. Similarly they have powers under the Education Act 2002, section 437 to enforce school attendance on a child where it is shown that they are not receiving a suitable education. Mr Badman's recommendation 7 includes a call for LA workers to have the right of access to the home and have the right to speak to the child alone if deemed appropriate. This recommendation if granted would give LA workers greater powers of access to the homes of home educating families even where there is no evidence that the child is at risk of significant harm and no substantiated concern that the child is not receiving a suitable education.
3.4 In practice this would mean that home educated children would be treated as being at greater risk than children within the general population. There is no statistical evidence to show there are at greater risk. If this recommendation were granted it would mean that LA workers would have the right to enter the homes of one section of the population, even where no evidence of risk exists; whereas in the population at large only a police officer willing to authorize police protection or a court of law willing to grant an interim care order, can give an LA worker this right of access to a child. It is not surprising that home educating families are concerned about this particular recommendation, as not only does it demonstrate a lack of understanding of current legislation as outlined above, but it also shows no regard or respect for home educating families. With an emphasis on investigation rather than on exploration, it will be enormously difficult for social workers and educational workers to work towards developing good relationships and mutual respect with home educating families.
3.5 Mr Badman stated in his report that;
"there are local authorities who do not discharge their responsibilities properly, make effective use of current statutory powers or use the ingenuity referenced in the good practice illustrated later in this report." (para 1.4).
If there are already examples of such bad practice within LA's, it is highly likely that granting them additional powers will simply add to the problem. It seems clear that the problem is down to an urgent training need within LA's generally, about the rights and responsibilities of both home educating parents and LA workers.
4. Further request for statistical evidence
4.1 On September 17th 2009, some three months since the review report as made public, Mr Badman has been given permission from the DCSF to seek further statistical evidence from Local Authorities to present to the Select Committee. Mr Badman issued a letter to all Local Authorities requesting further statistical information concerning home educated children, stating;
"I would like to strengthen my statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust."
4.2 Within the questionnaire that accompanies this letter, there are at least two questions worded in a very misleading way:
1) Under the questions on Inadequate Education he asks for; "Number not co-operating with monitoring so no assessment can be made"
Local Authorities have no duty to monitor home educated children, they have a duty to make enquiries only, therefore any data supplied in response to this question should be disregarded.
2) Again under the questions on Inadequate Education, he asks for; "Total number of electively home educated children not known to be receiving a 'suitable education'"
It is more usual practice to ask for those 'known not' to be receiving a suitable education, as evidence from School Attendance Order data can back up such figures. To ask for a number 'not known' could result in an estimate based on nothing more than supposition, again data that should be disregarded.
4.3 Mr Badman appears to have had to rush his initial review and has failed to gather statistically robust and extensive evidence to back up his conclusions and recommendations. It would be inappropriate to accept recommendations from a report that appears incomplete and inaccurate.
5 Criticism of consultation process and documents
5.1 In addition to the high level of criticism from the home educating community about the wording of the consultation documents and the manner in which information has been gathered for this review, there has also been criticism from some of the organizations who have submitted submissions. Criticism was made by some key organisations providing submissions for the review.
5.2 An example from the Family Education Trust's submission states;
"we are concerned that the questions are unclear and ill-defined, giving rise to a range of possible interpretations. We requested clarification on the meaning of questions 2 and 3 in particular at the very outset of the review on 21 January, but officials declined to offer a response beyond stating that respondents were free to 'choose to interpret them in their own way'." (FET Submission, p13).
5.3 This is a clear criticism of the way in which the questionnaires were worded, as well as evidence that those collating the information were welcoming a range of different and very possible conflicting interpretations of the same questions. It would be very difficult to provide accurate quantitative analysis of such data and qualitative analysis would need to acknowledge the range of different interpretations, however this is not evident within the report.
5.4 A further example is from the submission of the Association of School and College Leaders. They state;
"The process of this consultation is not satisfactory, with its insistence on an online response, its limited number of leading questions and its discouragement
of a considered response such as the above." (ASCL submission, p2).
5.5 This is further evidence that the consultation documents were not designed to invite thoroughly independent feedback, but instead included leading questions and lack of opportunities for considered feedback from those submitting. As this was held to be an independent review of elective home education, it is of concern that this kind of criticism was received in response to the consultation documents.
6.1 I have not commented on many aspects of the Review and it's accompanying recommendations that are of great concern to me, as I am sure there are many other submissions that more than adequately cover all aspects of this document. As a home educating parent I find the recommendations insulting and the conduct of the review wholly inadequate. However as a social worker I would just wish to express my real worry about the immense impact these recommendations would have on the social work profession as a whole. Not only would they require a huge amount of funding and add enormously to the already heavy caseloads of social and educational workers, but they would also set an unthinkable precedent of allowing LA workers to gain entry to the houses of families automatically. It places LA workers in a position they have not been in before and places on them a responsibility that they have not been prepared for. The outcome would also not offer any greater protection to those children most at risk, but would only serve to discriminate against a sector of the population where there is no evidence that intervention is required.