Memorandum submitted by North Cotswold Home Educators

 

 

1. North Cotswold Home Educators are an informal group of approximately 25 families. Our children range in age from pre-school to post-GCSE. We meet for various educational activities ranging from French classes, museum visits, sciences, sports, music, socializing, and support. Families choose a variety of educational approaches, depending on the needs of the child and family circumstances and philosophy. Some families have been home educating for over ten years. We are experts in home education.

 

2. This submission addresses some of the irregularities in the conduct of the Review of Elective Home Education and its recommendations, particularly with regard to:

Misconceptions about the Every Child Matters agenda,

Barriers to local authorities carrying out their duties to safeguard children,

UNCRC and the responsibility to give children a voice, and

Inadequate and improper consultation of primary stakeholders

 

Every Child Matters

 

3. Every Child Matters (ECM) as it appeared in the 2003 Green Paper1 set out a vision of a society in which every child is

healthy,

safe,

enjoying and achieving,

making a positive contribution and

achieving economic well-being.

 

4. This is an ideal. In practice it is impossible for a government to ensure the safety of individual children at all times. For example, a car may hit a child crossing the street. Government can however, improve a child's chance of crossing the road safely through practical actions like creating zebra crossings. Therefore the 2004 Children's Act2 put into law a practical, achievable version of the Every Child Matters vision -- that Local Authority departments would cooperate among themselves and with other organisations to improve the well-being of children in terms of the five ECM outcomes.

 

5. However, this distinction between the original vision and the actual obligations of government appears to be blurred and is causing at least some government officials to believe that they are responsible to ensure that every child does achieve the five outcomes.

 

6. The misconceptions of DCSF staff about government responsibilities appear several times in the Review documentation:

 

From DCSF press release 19th Jan announcing the Review:

A central part of the Government's commitment for all children is that, no matter what their background or circumstances, they have the right to achieve the five 'Every Child Matters outcomes'.

 

From the Terms of Reference:

 

The barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children and advise on improvements to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children;

and

Whether any changes to the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education are needed to support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners in ensuring all children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes.

 

From the public questionnaire:

 

Preamble "The Review will look in particular at if and how

far home educated children have access to the five Every Child Matters outcomes (see www.everychildmatters.gov.uk for more information)."

Q3 Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes? [outcomes listed separately]

 

Q4 Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes?

 

From the LA questionnaire:

Q55 Do you think that home educated children in your local authority are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please say why you think that for each of the five outcomes.

Q58 Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes?

 

7. To accurately reflect the law, the questions asked of the public and the Local Authority listed above should be rephrased: "What services and support does the local authority provide that contribute to improving home educated children's outcomes in the five Every Child Matters categories". These would have generated more useful answers.

 

8. The entire review is based on this faulty premise: that local authorities need to see every child and ensure every child is safe. The answer to this question on the public questionnaire:

 

Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes?

 

is obviously no. What does an individual or organisation's opinion on this subject matter when the law states clearly that local authorities are to co-operate to improve outcomes.

 

9. DCSF staff should be aware that:

 

children do not have to aspire to achieve Every Child matters outcomes

parents are under no obligation to apply the Every Child Matters agenda in their aspirations for their children

Local Authorities are to 'improve' not 'ensure' Every Child Matters outcomes through provision of staff, goods, services, accommodation or other resources2.

 

 

Safeguarding

 

10. The terms of reference state that the review of home education will investigate "the barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children . . . ."

 

11. Mr. Badman (item 3.7) poses the question, "How can local authorities know what they don't know with no means of determining the number of children who are being electively home educated in their area, or the quality of what is provided, without rights of access to the child?"

 

12. In fact, there are no barriers. Local authority officials are not required to "know what they don't know". The law specifically states that local authorities ". . . make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children . . . "3 They only have responsibility to ensure their functions are discharged with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.4 If their duties do not bring them into contact with children and they are not in receipt of information under sections 17 or 47 of the Children's Act 1989, then there is no requirement for them to act.

 

13. The people with the primary duty of safeguarding children are their parents. Local authorities only have cause to intervene if it appears that parents are not carrying out these duties. This does not mean that they have a duty to check every parent to ensure children are safe.

 

14. Statistics compiled from the local authority responses to the Review (obtained through freedom of information requests and compared to national statistics figures of the general population)7 show that there are concerns of abuse or neglect in .32% of children of the home educated population. For comparison, this figure is 1.3% in the total population8.

 

15. Mr. Badman has advised contravening the Human Rights Act 1998 and European Convention on Human Rights (article 8) by recommending that all home educating families should be inspected in their homes and that inspectors should have the right to interview children alone. He also advocates discarding the principle "presumption of innocence", a fundamental right of our legal system.

 

16. When 99.68% of home educating parents are successfully looking after and protecting their children, such draconian actions are disproportionate. To regard all parents as potential child abusers and legislate as if they are, is simply paranoia.

 

 

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC)

 

17. From the review, item 3.3:

 

. . . . Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:

 

"Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child."

 

Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.

 

18. According the the Directgov website9

 

While the law does not define in detail what parental responsibility is, the following list sets out the key roles:

providing a home for the child

having contact with and living with the child

protecting and maintaining the child

disciplining the child

choosing and providing for the child's education

determining the religion of the child

agreeing to the child's medical treatment

naming the child and agreeing to any change of the child's name

 

19. Parents have no obligations under law to consult their children with regard to any of the above -- what name they will be given, what kind of house they will live in, or how they will be educated. Parents are not signatory to the UNCRC, the government is.

 

20. Local authorities have no responsibilities to ascertain the views of children unless their parents are not fulfilling their responsibilities and the LA is providing services to the child.

 

21. Home educated children did have a right to have their views heard in the course of this review. The Code of Practice on Consultation10 suggests special child-friendly questionnaires to obtain the views of children. This was not done. Children's rights were ignored in the process of this review. The Consultation: Home Education Registration and Monitoring Proposals (2009) has not invited the views of children either.

 

 

Stakeholders

 

22. The Terms of Reference state that the review was to "Seek evidence on how the systems operate in practice from key stakeholders including home education groups, home educating families, local authorities and children's charities;" However, the Review process was heavily focussed on Local Authorities. There were two questionnaires. One for Local Authorities (26 questions), and one for the public (7 questions). Some Local Authorities also received a second questionnaire.

 

23. There were no questionnaires designed for the actual service users -- parents or children. There were no questions on the public questionnaire that would have elicited information "on how systems operate in practice" or "Map existing practice and consider the effectiveness of different practice -- including best practice" from home educators. Questions 5 and 6 did ask about whether there should be changes to the current system, but there was no background information that would give a clear idea as to the Reviewer's ideas of what the current system is.

 

24. Item 1.4 of the Review states

 

"I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility with power. I agree with this view and will recommend accordingly. However, I also recognise that despite the excellent practice of some, 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."

 

Were the "Local Authorities who do not discharge their responsibilities properly . . . ." the same as the ones who consider the current guidelines are unworkable? The Review does not say.

 

25. Parents educate children at home in many different ways, sometimes changing methods over time to suit the child and the family circumstances. Home education is generally one-to-one, can be very informal and a large percentage of the education may be conversation-based. Studies have shown this is effective and efficient.11 However, professionals with qualifications in institutional methods of education do not have the training to evaluate home education.

 

26. The Home School Legal Defence Association12 writes of a South Carolina USA court case in which:

Public school teachers and college professors of education were held to be "not qualified" to evaluate effective home education. The application of professional educational standards to the task at hand demonstrated that there are significant differences in the methods and strategies of successful home education and the strategies employed in institutional schools. Evaluators who have neither professional expertise nor in-depth study of home education simply are unqualified to make valid assessments.

 

 

27. There were many organisations extensively quoted in the Review. Unfortunately, most of these organisations had

little knowledge of home education, and

expressed unsubstantiated opinions without supporting data

 

28. Among the organisations quoted were National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), British Humanist Association, Education Division of the Church of England, NSPCC and OFSTED. These organisations are not stakeholders. They are not knowledgeable about, nor experienced in, home education, yet their unsubstantiated opinions were given more weight than those of the real stakeholders; parents and children.

 

29. In contrast, home educators are quoted in short snippets and then dismissed. The reviewer refers to (in item 4.4) "a heady mixture of pent up rage, frustration, resentment and a rejection of third party judgement." This is due to the nature of the public questionnaire which:

asked general questions which elicited opinion rather than facts

did not give background information.

did not attempt to identify best practice

did not attempt to discover how systems operate

did not attempt to find how differently systems operate in various parts of the country

did not ask whether systems are operating in line with legislation and the EHE guidance (Questions 2, 5, and 6)

Asked about Every Child Matters programs in an inaccurate way (Questions 3 &4)

asked for comment on unsubstantiated rumours as if they were facts (question 7)

 

30. In summary, home educators, arguably the primary stakeholders, were not properly consulted.

 

 

Recommendations

31.That the Children and Families Committee review recent guidance published by the DCSF to determine the extent of the confusion among DCSF and LA staff with regard to the difference between their responsibilities under the Children's Act 2004 and the Every Child Matters vision.

 

32.That staff training procedures at the DCSF and local authorities be reviewed with regard to the previous recommendation.

 

33.That any plans to legislate or revise EHE guidance based on the Review of Elective Home Education be discarded due to the irregularities in the Review process and the fact that home educating families were not properly consulted.

September 2009

 

Sources:

 

1. Every Child Matters 2003 Published by TSO (The Stationery Office) and available from: Online www.tso.co.uk/bookshop

 

2. Children's Act 2004 Section 10

 

3. Education and Inspections Act 2006 Section 4: Insertion into Chapter 2 of Part 6 of EA 1996 (school attendance) Section 436A Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

 

4. Children's Act 2004 Section 11

 

5. Children Act 1989 Section 17

 

6. Children Act 1989 Section 47

 

7. http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=2

 

8. http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rbrk5-GEdrUdcmfi670Mihg&gid=3 Children in Need in England: Results of a survey of activity and expenditure as reported by Local Authority Social Services' Children and Families Teams for a survey week in February 2005: Local Authority tables and further national analysis (Internet only)

 

9. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/ParentsRights/DG_4002954

 

10. Code of Practice on Consultation http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf Item 4.4

 

11. Thomas, Alan and Jane Lowe, Educating Your Child at Home, 2002

 

12. Home School Legal Defence Association http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/200907130.asp Lawrence v. South Carolina State Board of Education, 412 S.E.2d 394 (S.C. 1991)