Memorandum submitted by Claire Blades


Executive Summary

1. This submission will consider the second term of reference for the Review into Elective Home Education in England published in June 2009, namely:

· 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;


2. It will examine the evidence for these claims and ask that the UK Statistics Authority or the National Statistician Dame Karen Dunnell be invited to conduct their own analysis of the methodology and data used to compile the Badman Report and present it to the Select Committee. In addition, it will suggest that a second rigorous statistical investigation be carried out by statisticians.

3. It will assess the safeguarding impact of Recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24, concluding that they are unnecessary; disproportionate to any problem identified and will ultimately be counter-productive. It will suggest they are rejected.

4. It will ask that the Select Committee deadline for submissions be extended to allow the inclusion of evidence that was not available on 22 September 2009 due to delays by the DCSF in processing Freedom of Information requests.

About the Author

I trained as a mathematics teacher at Oxford University and worked at an 11-18, mixed comprehensive school in Oxfordshire for five years. I have an interest in the pastoral care of young people and was Head of Years 10 and 11.


My husband and I home educate our daughter, 7, and son, 4, who have never been to school. We take a semi-structured approach. The children learn gymnastics, ballet, swimming and music. We meet regularly with other home educating families to learn history, poetry, drama, art and French.


Written Evidence

1. The Second Term of Reference

1.1 It is clear that the Government is uneasy about home education because this is the fourth time it has addressed the matter in the past three years.

1.2 In January 2007, the Department for Education and Skills tried and failed to make a case for registration of home educators. In an internal email timed at 11:08 on 11 January 2007, an Assistant Economist in Strategic Analysis: Economic Efficiency Team at the DfES wrote the following: "My view is this is a good example of a policy which has not nearly enough evidence to go ahead with, and the (Value for Money) assessment I think clearly shows this. The evidence is lacking in every area. There is uncertainty relating to the numbers of children involved, the benefits that might be achieved, and even the costs side is highly uncertain at the moment. There seems little or no recognition of the ­important possibility that families that do not need the intervention will not benefit but there will be significant cost imposed for and on them anyway. This therefore would require much more evidence or estimates of the proportions of home learners it will actually benefit, versus those it would impose net costs upon." [1]


1.3 This comment applies to Mr Badman's recommendations about registration and monitoring as much today as it did two-and-a-half years ago.


1.4 In an apparent attempt to strengthen the case for increased monitoring, a subsequent internal email written at 17:34 on 11 January 2007 suggested that a case for the potential safeguarding benefits could be made.[2]


1.5 It is my assertion that, having failed to justify the need for increased monitoring of home educators in 2007, the Government realised that if it could suggest that home educated children were at risk of harm then MPs and the public would support legislation.


1.6 There has been plenty of time since 2007 for the DCSF to conduct a rigorous statistical examination of cases of abuse, forced marriage, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude among the home educating population. Instead, it chose to launch the 2009 review with a headline-grabbing term of reference for which there was no basis.


2. The evidence presented for claims of child abuse, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude

Claims of Child Abuse - Statistics

2.1 In paragraph 8.12 of his report, Mr Badman stated: "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". The term "known to social care" is broad ranging.


2.2 When Mr Badman released the report at a press conference on 11 June 2009, he told reporters that the law on home educators needed to be tightened up because the number of children "known to social care" among the home education community was "approximately double" that of the general population.

2.3 Home educators put in several Freedom of Information requests to the DCSF asking for the statistical evidence for these claims. At first, the DCSF refused to release the information.

2.4 On 29 July 2009, I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority expressing my concerns about the way data was used in the compilation of the report and the conclusions drawn based on this data. I asked the UK Statistics Authority to investigate.

2.5 Sir Michael Scholar KCB, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote back on 26 August 2009 to say: "... as a matter of principle, the Statistics Authority recommends that the supporting statistical evidence for the statements of the kind attributed to Mr. Badman in the media coverage following the publication of the report should be made public..."


2.6 Sir Michael sent copies of our correspondence to the National Statistician Dame Karen Dunnell; to the Permanent Secretary at the DCSF David Bell and to the DCSF Head of Profession for Statistics Malcolm Britton.


2.7 On 26 August 2009, the DCSF released a "Safeguarding Evidence Briefing Paper" - a summary of the local authority information returned to the Badman Review Team - under an FOI request.

2.8 The briefing paper was released with the caveat that "it has undergone limited quality assurance and does not meet DCSF standards for publication of statistical data".


2.9 An explanatory note accompanying the briefing paper stated that Mr Badman's claim in paragraph 8.12 was based on the raw data. As the raw data is not available to the public, home educators have been unable to assess the methodology or carry out their own analysis.


2.10 The organisation Action for Home Education (AHED) has compiled its own data using the replies of Freedom of Information requests from 129 local authorities. Their figure for the abuse rate[3] among home educated children is 0.32 per cent[4], significantly lower than the rate among all children in England.


2.11 In the light of clear differences between the Badman Review team's figures and those from AHED, I would urge the Select Committee to ask the UK Statistics Authority or the National Statistician Dame Karen Dunnell to conduct their own analysis of the methodology and data used in the compilation of statistics for the Badman report.


2.12 It is clear that Mr Badman himself has come to realise that his statistical evidence is flawed.


2.13 On 17 September 2009, he wrote to all local authority Directors of Children's Services. He stated: "I would like to strengthen my statistical evidence in advance of the Select Committee hearing so that it is more extensive and statistically robust." He conceded that he had used a "small sample" to obtain his figures and he urged the Directors of Children's Services to "help me make the strongest possible case to the Select Committee".


2.14 There are clearly defined methods for collecting unbiased data. Instead, Mr Badman's continues to use self-selecting samples and gather information by asking leading questions.


2.15 I would urge the Select Committee to appoint statisticians to carry out their own rigorous investigation into claims that home education could be used as a 'cover' for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.


Claims of Child Abuse - Serious Case Review


2.12 The Badman review team examined four Serious Case Reviews involving children who were electively home educated.[5] Here is a summary of the cases:


2.13 Isle of Wight (older sibling was EHE)

In August 2007, a one-month-old baby was the victim of a cot death on the Isle of Wight.[6] Both parents were drug addicts and were living an "alternative lifestyle" on an "unsafe site" [7]. Their baby had been placed on the child protection register at birth under the category of neglect along with three older siblings, one of whom was home educated. Nine agencies were involved with the family including social care, the police and the education welfare service.


2.14 South Gloucestershire (young person's suicide)[8]

A 16-year-old girl from a traveller family hanged herself in December 2004. A number of agencies were involved with the family, including health, education and social services. "Misunderstandings over legal advice (about education) were a critical element coupled with a perception that it would not be possible to pursue this difficult case to a satisfactory conclusion." [9] Social services had identified a number of concerns but "due to apparent poor communication between the social worker and first line manager the impetus was lost".[10]


2.15 Enfield (young person dead for four months)

The body of a 16-year-old girl was found lying on her back in the front room of the family home in March 2007. It is believed that her body had been there for four months. It was so badly decomposed that the cause of death could not be established. The family reported that she began complaining of chest pains and had other symptoms in October 2006. Her mother said that when the child died on 3 November 2006 she could not face having the body taken away. In criminal proceedings, the mother pleaded guilty to preventing the lawful burial of her daughter and neglect of her son. The judge described the case as "absolutely unique" and noted that the mother was "suffering from a profound and untreated depression". The girl and her brother had been withdrawn from school in January 2005. The Serious Case Review stated that the mother "complied with all statutory requirements in relation to children in elective home education. She co-operated with visits from the London Borough of Enfield Education Department in April and May 2005, and June 2006. The visiting officer had no concerns about the family or their circumstances, and was satisfied with the programme of education proposed."


2.16 Gloucestershire (Spry)

In April 2007, foster carer Eunice Spry was jailed for 14 years (reduced to 12 by the Court of Appeal) for the abuse of three children - one of whom she had adopted and two she had fostered for most of their lives. Over a period of 19 years, Spry routinely beat, abused and starved the children. The case came to light when one of the children reported her foster mother to the police. The children had been home educated since 1994 when they were aged eight, eight and five.[11] Gloucestershire social services were involved in the care of the children from 1985 when she was approved as a foster carer until 1994 when she was given legal parental responsibility for the three children and two others in her care.[12] Between 1990 and 2000 social services responded to 12 concerns expressed about the care of the children. The police returned the children home when they ran away and injuries seen by medical professionals were not reported.

2.17 In addition, there is the case of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham. She died in May 2008 having been found with her five siblings in a reportedly emaciated state. This case did not form part of the Safeguarding Evidence Briefing Paper, presumably because the Serious Case Review into it is not expected to be published until the criminal proceedings have been completed in 2010.

Claims of Forced Marriage, Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Servitude

2.19 In paragraph 8.14 of his report, Mr Badman says there is no evidence that elective home education is a factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities, a view supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

3. Are the recommendations to register and monitor home educators necessary and what will be their impact?

3.1 I have demonstrated the unsound statistics behind Mr Badman's claim that home educated children are more at risk of abuse than their schooled peers.

3.2 In all four Serious Case Reviews examined by the Badman team - and in the case of Khyra Ishaq - neither the proposed registration scheme nor intrusive monitoring would have been likely to have changed the outcomes. All the children were already known to the authorities. In these cases, there was clearly some level of failure by the local authorities.

3.3 It is equally true that other local authorities address child protection issues more robustly. In its submission to the review into elective home education, Ofsted said the following: "Our experience from inspections of children's services and evaluations of serious case reviews is that there is variation across the country in how proactively local safeguarding children boards ensure these (home educated) children are safeguarded. Some local child protection procedures address this robustly while others do not."[13]

3.4 If some local safeguarding boards are able to ensure the safety of home educated children under current legislation, why is a change of law necessary at all? Surely all that is needed is that good practice and robust procedures for protecting children educated at home should be adopted in all areas. Social services already have extensive powers to investigate if there is reason to believe a child is at risk of harm.


3.5 Local authorities argue that they cannot protect children about whom they know nothing. This position diminishes the important role of home education community support and monitoring. Apart from extreme cases like Elisabeth Fritzl[14], family and friends of home educated children know about them.


3.6 It is important to consider the effect that the extra information generated from registration and monitoring might have upon safeguarding children. Much of the data will be irrelevant. Rather than adding to the safety of children, it will cause problems by taking up time that could be better spent on cases of real concern and create a risk of harm by obscuring the few 'signals' (of true concern) among a storm of noise (irrelevant data).[15]

3.7 Recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24 in the Badman report are unnecessary; disproportionate to any problem identified and will ultimately be counter-productive. I urge the Select Committee to reject them.

4. Difficulty obtaining information from the DCSF

4.1 I put in four Freedom of Information requests to the DCSF in plenty of time to receive the replies before the deadline to this inquiry. I received two replies on 18 September - four days before the deadline for submissions. I have yet to receive answers to the other two. I know other home educators in a similar position.

4.2 The DCSF has been overwhelmed with requests from home educators since the Badman report was published and in many cases has been unable to reply within the statutory 20 days. This could have been avoided if statistical evidence, literature views, etc had been included as annexes in the original document.

6.1 As a result of delays by the DCSF in granting Freedom of Information requests, I suggest that the Select Committee deadline for submissions should be extended to allow the inclusion of material evidence that was not available on 22 September 2009 due to delays by the DCSF in processing Freedom of Information requests.

September 2009


[1] This is taken from a series of internal emails written between 10 January 2007 and 28 February 2007 and obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

[2] This is taken from the same series of internal emails mentioned in the footnote above.

[3] Note that this is "abuse rate" not the broader "known to social care".

[4] There are some problems with the Ahed figures:

(a)The Freedom of Information requests were not all identical. Although they all concerned abuse data, they asked for it in different ways so the figures may not be comparable.

(b)The criteria that Local Authorities use to measure abuse may be different and the ways they gather information may be different so the figures may not be comparable. (Badman would have faced the same issue here.)

(c)They include under 5s in the figures for the population as a whole. So they are not comparing like with like, as the EHE children are all (by definition) over 5.

[5] It is worth noting that during the Victoria Climbié case in 2000 it was alleged that Victoria had been home educated. Her parents made it clear that this was not the case.

[6] Cot Death is professionally know as a Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

[7] These were descriptions given in the Executive Summary of the Serious Case Review.

[8] The Serious Case Review pre-dates current legislation and guidance.

[9] Direct quote from the SCR

[10] Direct quote from the SCR

[11] Two of the three children have written accounts of their lives. Child C by Christopher Spry, now aged 19, is published by Simon & Schuster. Deliver Me From Evil by Alloma Gilbert, now aged 22, is published by Pam Books.

[12] Information given in paragraphs 3.4 and 3.5 of the Serious Case Review

[13] It ought to be noted that Ofsted felt there should be changes made to the current system for monitoring home educated children.

[14] In April 2008, 42-year-old Elisabeth Fritzl revealed to Austrian police that she had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed part of the basement of the family home where she had been physically assaulted, sexually abused and raped repeatedly by her father, Josef Fritzl.

[15] This paragraph is a précis of information from a respected academic. I have not named them as I have yet to ask their permission.