Memorandum submitted by the Manchester Home Education Network
This submission makes the following points:
1. Flaws and inconsistencies in the process of the conduct of the review, and the language and content of the review post publication, make its conclusions unreliable;
2. Evidence of discrimination against home educators as a distinct population is contained within the review;
3. With regard to the content of the review, we are concerned about: right of access to the home and child; the introduction of a restrictive definition of a suitable education; and the state's replacement of parents as primarily responsible for children's education;
4. With regard to the recommendations that relate to Local Authorities' responsibilities, powers already exist to ensure children's safety that are not correctly implemented.
5. The recommendations are a disproportionate response (in relation to both cost and infringement of civil liberties) based on poor evidence, that would adversely affect existing relationships between home educators and LAs.
This submission is made by four authors on behalf of the Greater Manchester Home Educating Network incorporating; the MADCOW email list; HEDGE; HEAP and Chasing Rainbows; together these bodies represent just over 300 home educating families residing in and around the Greater Manchester area. The writers have (between them) raised, and educated at home, 12 children, currently ranging in age from one to 18 years old, and have (combined) 20 years experience volunteering for local and national home education charities.
Section 1 Process of the review
We believe that the process of the review was fundamentally flawed for the following reasons:
1a. Over 2000 responses were made to the review's public questionnaire. 78% of these were from home educating parents and children (DCSF 2009) (see Annex 4). We know that overwhelmingly (and despite the bias inherent in the nature of the questions) our members reject the need for the report's proposals and indicated in their responses a change in the attitude and practice of LAs. However only two home educator responses are quoted in the report and one is in favour of the proposals. We suggest that evidence has been ignored where it does not support the recommendations. In addition, LAs were given a longer questionnaire (which invited LAs to supply details of assumed practices which would be ultra vires), and an extension of time to provide responses, both during the initial review and in the process of responding to the select committee. We feel we have not been listened to and the conclusions were pre-determined.
1b. There were no home educators on the review team, nor were there any experts on home education. Mr. Badman is linked with state education and child protection which we feel showed a prejudice towards a link with "child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude and other forms of neglect"(Badman G. 2009) subsequently admitted to be unfounded, but causing great upset to home educators.
1c Mr. Badman was announced as the interim chair of Becta in January 2009. He was confirmed in this role in June. Recommendation 12 proposes including home education in Becta's national roll out of its home access initiative. This calls into question his impartiality.
1d. The review chose to ignore research
relating to the effectiveness of home education e.g. , Rothermel, P. (2000),
Meighan, R. (2001) Thomas A. (1998), stateing that they were "not convinced by
the existing research studies...both in this country and elsewhere." We submit that an independent review should
be objectively reviewing the evidence.
Mr Badman states what he "believes" on many occasions in the review, but
chooses to reject peer-reviewed academic research. He also ignores research and experience from
1e. Only 25 LAs responded to the child
safeguarding question (see Annex 4), and the sample used cannot therefore, be
said to be representative of the contry as a whole. We feel that the recent
request by the DCSF on behalf of Mr Badman for further evidence from LAs
corroborates our argument as to the weakness of the evidence. The statistical
analysis contained within the review is based on conjecture as the number of
home educated children is not currently known (the review relies on a measure
of proportion). In addition, his use of statistics regarding home educated
children known to social care is questionable (
1f. An extract from the response from the
1g The recommendations are in conflict with existing legislation, common law and good practice. To allow access to the home is in breach of Article 8 of the ECHR which states that government should not unduly interfere with family life. Current case law in this country has established that "an education authority should not, as a matter of policy, insist on inspection in the homes as the only method of satisfying themselves that children were receiving efficient full time education" (Judge Donaldson in Phillips v Brown, Divisional Court, [20 June 1980, unreported]). Furthermore, "the Act of 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Education Act) does not provide for or contemplate an intrusion of a parent's privacy by inspectors coming into the home, and that it is quite wrong for a Local Authority to insist on such inspection." (Lord Parker of Waddington (R v. Surrey Quarter Session Appeals Committee ex parte Tweedie QBD 61LGR 464 ).
Section 2. Discrimination against home educators as a distinct population.
2a. The tone of the review and its launch labelled a whole group of people, namely home educators, as potential abusers. We believe that emotive issues surrounding the safeguarding of children are being used to impose compulsory outcomes and a school-based philosophy in education for home educated children.
2b. If these recommendations are implemented, home educating families would be the only sector of society whose homes LA officials would have right of access to, when there is no cause for concern. Home education is a legal choice, equal in statute to school education. It is not a cause for concern.
2c Current legislation states that parents have the legal responsibility to educate their children (section 7 Education Act 1996) The review recommends that LAs be given the power to refuse "registration" to home educate based on widely defined "safeguarding concerns". This recommendation undermines the current status of education in law. Giving the LA power to decide whether a family can home educate fundamentally shifts the balance of responsibility and has implications for every child in the country.
2d. The recommendations would enable prejudice within the law, by suggesting that the right to home educate be refused because of "anything else which may affect [a parent's] ability to provide a suitable and efficient education." (recommendation 23) If implemented this recommendation could effectively restrict home education to middle class, well resourced families, who have high educational achievement themselves, and to discriminate against working class families, those on benefits, those with health issues, those parenting alone or who have low educational achievement as measured by government targets, as well as those overcoming more serious difficulties. Research has shown home education to be beneficial across many sectors of society.
2e. The review repeatedly refers to ascertaining the views of children. However, it only appears to be necessary to ascertain the views of home educated children, while schooled children will not have the same right. Further, the implication is that home educating parents do not take their children's views into account.
2f. This review is also prejudicial against families choosing to home educate children with special educational needs. Recommendation 18 suggests that parents of children with special needs are less able to understand how to educate their SEN children. Home education for many SEN children is a lifeline, it allows the children to feel normal and for their needs to be provided for within a loving family who understand their complex educational needs. The numbers of children with SEN within the home educating community suggests a catastrophic failure of the school system, in particular the resourcing of statements of educational needs, and the relationship between families and LA workers with responsibility for SEN.
Section 3. The content of the review and its recommendations
3a. The review argues that LAs need automatic right of access to the home educated child to ascertain the views of the child. This conflicts with current statute on family privacy (See point 1f). The rights of the child to be heard does not automatically give the state right of access to the child.
3b. This review portrays the rights of parents as in opposition to the rights of children, when in reality these rights are intertwined. Parents have the duty to safeguard, care for and educate their children (including to protect their children from undue interference) - a duty which would be hindered by giving the state priority in making decisions for children. It is not the right or duty of the state to dictate how children are educated.
3c. To establish in law the right to go into homes and question children separately from their parents demonstrates little understanding of child development, attachment and protection. The intrusion into family life could be very distressing for children and betrays the rights the review claims to support. Neither is there any mention in the review of best practice with reference to children being alone with adults that are not related to them. There is no mention in the recommendations of the extensive training needed to question children in a non leading manner.
3d. The review states that where a child is "vulnerable" they could be spoken to in the presence of a trusted adult. All children are vulnerable and the recommendations potentially make home educated children more vulnerable. Parents may be required to coerce children into contact with a stranger, without parental support, where the conversation may result in compulsory school attendance, against their will. Children may refuse to speak to an LA officer, and there is no provision in the recommendations for this eventuality.
3g. The opportunity to educate autonomously, in a child-led and individually tailored way, is one of the successes and the joys of home education. This review eradicates the option of a child led education. Definitions of a suitable education already exist. Education needs to be suitable to the age, ability and aptitude and any special needs. (section 7 Education Act 1996 , see annex 2). Case law (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson Worcester Crown Court ) already states that a 'suitable education' is one which:
"prepares the children for life in modern civilised society, and
enables them to achieve their full potential."
In much formalised learning in schools, the focus has shifted from learning to providing evidence. This is not only time consuming and time wasting, but de-motivating for both providers and recipients of education. The excessive bureaucracy and over-testing of children within the state system is a key reason for choosing home education. Rigid definitions and minimum standards reduce our ability to tailor an education to the child (but enable inspectors to tick a box). Many home educators follow an autonomous approach because the rigidity of school failed to meet the needs of the child. Often education in schools is not suitable according to law and the parent has a duty to remove the child from the school.
3i. The need to provide a plan, against
which the child can be measured, 8 weeks after deregistration does not allow
education time to evolve in consultation with others, or to have recovery time
if the school experience has been traumatic. Current good practice, for example
Section 4. The responsibilities of local authorities.
4a. The review presents no case for increasing the powers of LAs, which already have the power to act if they believe education is not occurring. Powers already in existence are, in the experience of many of us, misused and badly implemented.
4b. The government throughout the review has proposed that children who go to school are seen and are therefore safer. The evidence for effective implementation of existing legislation within the school system is poor. There is an assumption in these recommendations that schools notice abuse, report it, follow procedures when they do and keep adequate records. In short, that children are automatically protected by being in the state education system. However, a recent report by Ofsted (2008) into 50 serious case reviews noted: "poor record keeping as a particular failing in 33 evaluations, specific concerns about school records in 15 evaluations and concerns about health records in 11 cases. For schools there were issues about the adequacy and accuracy of records and in four cases records had been lost." (Ofsted 2008). In addition most at risk children are known to LAs and are below the age of compulsory education and therefore would not be picked up by schools or new powers for LAs. It is also false that home educated children are not "seen" - school-age children not in school are highly conspicuous, in our experience, prompting enquiries on a daily basis from a wide range of people within the community.
4c. Adding the extra burden of investigating all home educating families where no concern has been noted will dilute the effectiveness of social services to target help and intervention where it is genuinely needed. Overstretched services will be further overburdened with annual "safe and well" checks.
4d. Many LAs already act beyond the law including lying to parents about their rights and responsibilities. Currently many LAs have inaccurate information on their websites and in their letters of initial contact with new home educators, despite repeated requests from home educators to amend this information, e.g. saying or implying that home visits are already compulsory and demanding schemes of work that look like a school curriculum and timetable. Some LAs automatically refer to social services and many already have policies in place that forbid their employees recommending home education as a viable option for families. When LAs already act beyond their powers in this way, without any recourse of sanction from the authorities, the prospect of them having more powers is frightening.
4e. These recommendations would be hugely expensive if implemented properly. They would require increased recruitment and training in home education for all who deal with us. In New Zealand a similar exercise to monitor home educating families has recently been dropped as too expensive to implement, an average of $439.44 per review, per year (HEF 2009) In the light of the news that the DCSF is proposing cuts to the education budget (BBC Sunday 20th September 2009) we have no confidence that these recommendations will be adequately financed.
4f. Where good practice exists it has
occurred because home educators have worked with LAs to educate them about home
education and the law. The Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local
Authorities published by the DFES in 2007 recommended that LAs work towards
building positive relationships with home educators. These guidelines have had
a positive effect in many areas of the country. In
Section 5. Recommendations for Action
5a The proposed provision "improving monitoring arrangements for children educated at home" in the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill in the Draft Legislative Programme 2009-10 be abandoned by Government.
5b Local Authorities and home educators be given time to establish relationships working under the DCSF's Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities of 2007, with adequate training being given to Local Authorities as to the scope of their rights and responsibilities and the duties of parents with respect to children's education.
AHed (2009) Lies, damned lies, statistics. www.ahed.pbworks.co./LiesDamnedLiesStatistics
DCSF (2009) Review
of elective home education in
Meighan R. (2001) Research Report: Home-based education learning methods. Education Now: 25 years of Home-Based education.
Ofsted(2008) Learning Lessons, taking actions: Ofsted's evaluations of serious case reviews 1st April 2007 to 31st March 2008. http://www.ofstedgov.com/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Documents-by-type/Thematic-reports/Learning-lessons-taking-action-Ofsted-s-evaluations-of-serious-case-reviews-1-April-2007-to-31-March-2008
Rothermel P (2000) Comparisons of home and school educated children on PIPS baseline assessments. Journal of Early childhood research, Vol 2.
Home Education Foundation (2009 ) No More ERO reviews. http://hef.org.nz/2009/no-more-ero-reviews/
Stafford B (2009) Letter to UK Statistics Authority: Conduct of the review of Elective Home education. http://maire-staffordshire.blogspot.com/2009/07/letter-to-uk-statistics-authority.html
Thomas A. (1998) Educating children at home. Cassell.