Memorandum submitted by a group of Muslim home educators
Executive Summary of the Main Points
1) As Muslims and as home educators, we reject the recommendations proposed by Mr. Graham Badman in his Review of Elective Home Education, published 11 June 2009.
2) We object to the Badman Review on Elective Home Education on the following grounds:
3) The recommendations within the Badman Review fail to strike a balance between the rights of the child and the rights of parents, and end up empowering the state instead.
4) The recommendations proposed are in conflict with existing legislation, natural justice, and good practice.
5) The recommendations will reduce the power that parents have to protect their children from contact with strangers
6) The enactment of the recommendations within the Badman Review will result in a significant shift in the relationship between parents and the State, with a diminution in the rights and responsibilities of parents.
7) Badman's proposals are a disproportionate response to a non-existent problem.
8) The Report lacks clear verifiable and substantial evidence that changes to the current statutory regime are necessary, and that the changes proposed will be effective, proportionate and just.
9) The powers that Badman proposes are redundant as local authorities already have sufficient powers under current legislation to protect children who are suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, or who are not receiving a suitable education according to their age, aptitude and ability.
10) The proposals will have a detrimental effect on the freedom and rights of Muslims, and other minority home educators, including travelers, Christians, and black and minority ethnic people, amongst others.
11) The recommendations will lead to a worsening of the relationship between home educators and local authorities.
1) The recommendations within the Badman Review fail to strike a balance between the rights of the child and the rights of parents, and end up empowering the state instead.
a) In his report Mr. Badman stresses the need for balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child, but fails to provide any evidence that the equilibrium he seeks is the right balance. Implicit in this view is the assumption that parental rights are in opposition to children's rights. In practice the vast majority of parents, including those who home educate exercise their rights in pursuance of the rights of their children. It should not be the role of the state to subvert or diminish the powers that parents have to safeguard, care for, educate, and bring up their children, except and unless there is sufficient reason to believe that the children are at risk of significant harm.
b) To support his perspective Mr. Badman quotes from paragraph 1 of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is intended to ensure that children have a say in matters affecting them. However, his references are highly selective. He ignores paragraph 2 of the same article which says that children should be involved in such a process, rather than as in the case of this Review, have changes imposed on them. Mr. Badman omits to mention Article 5, which instructs signatory states to respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents to provide direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the Convention. He makes no mention of Article 16 which seeks to protect children from being subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, and home, and asserts their right to protection of the law against such interference. No mention is made of Article 18, paragraph 1, which requires government and its agencies to recognize that it is parents that have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child since the best interests of the child will be their basic concern.
c) We can only conclude that the balance sought by the Review is not in favour of the child, but in favour of the state since the state will be the final arbiter of what's best for the child, not his or her parents.
2) The recommendations within the Badman Review are in conflict with existing legislation and good practice.
requirement of annual registration, for parents to provide 12 month plans, and
to show proof of attainment, is a subversion of parents' legal responsibility
for the education of their children. These recommendations amount to little
more than a licensing scheme. It ignores that parents are ultimately
responsible for their children's education, and fails to take into account the
considerable number of home educators who do so because the schooling system
has failed their children. Mr. Badman does not propose that the failures of the
state system be addressed, under his proposals instead, the state will increase
its supervision of those that have opted out as a result of its failings.
Again, this is being done without providing any concrete evidence that
increased oversight is necessary. This is contrary to natural justice, democratic
local authority officials the right to access the home for the purpose of
monitoring is a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
c) The recommendation that schools be prevented from advising parents to consider home education amounts to a withholding of legal rights, and can lead to abuse of process. Coupled with the proposed licensing arrangements, this alters the status of the school from that of a service provider to that of a gatekeeper, controlling who can opt out, and thus limiting the powers that parents have to exercise their legal responsibilities to provide a suitable education for their children. Informing people of their legal rights limits the possibility of abuse by government agencies, and gives people recourse where their rights have been infringed.
d) Where a child is being persistently bullied at school, and the school has failed to prevent this abuse, by refusing to inform the parents that they may educate their child at home, schools will be failing in their duties to ensure the safety and well-being of their pupils. They will also not be acting in partnership with the families, and will be preventing the parents from looking after the well-being of their children.
e) The requirement that local authority and other agencies "inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education" of any concerns they may have is also redundant since agencies are already obliged to do so under the terms of the Children's Act 2004. The suggestion that local authority and other agencies raise "anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education" is particularly insidious as it leaves home educating families vulnerable to the prejudices and misconceptions about home education, and culturally different households.
f) Giving local authorities the power to revoke registration again subverts the responsibility for education. To do this on safeguarding grounds is a conflation of education and safeguarding. Abuse and neglect are not the same as education. This measure will have the effect of bringing child protection social workers into the arena of home education, an arena in which they receive no training and have little understanding. There is no suggestion in the report that as well as training local authority education officers that social workers be trained in home education as well.
g) Furthermore, the Review fails to outline any right or process of appeal that would protect home education families against local authorities that act ultra vires.
3) The recommendations will reduce the power that parents have to protect their children from contact with strangers.
a) The vast majority of parents do not abuse or harm their children. They educate them, feed them, and care for them as best they can. This includes looking after them and keeping them safe. The Badman Review gives local authority officials the right to see home educated children on their own, without the parents present, should the said officials consider it appropriate. Ed Balls has stated that should parents refuse this then the council will be empowered to take out a care order. These powers would be far in excess of those enjoyed by the police and social services who have to have sufficient evidence to suggest that the child in question is at risk of serious harm before they can apply for a care order. They can only do this as a last resort due to the "No Order" principle enshrined within the Children's Act which is designed to encourage local authorities to work in partnership with families, and to keep children with their families, unless it is absolutely necessary to remove them. Under Mr. Badman's plans, the only evidence required for a child to be seen alone is that the parents have elected to home educate. Home education is not an illegal activity, and families should not be subjected to inspection and intrusion for doing so.
b) This recommendation will prevent parents from carrying out their natural duties of protecting their children from the attention of strangers. It does not propose any check, in the form of a witness, or trusted adult, except where the child is vulnerable or there are communication difficulties. It does not make clear who decides whether a child is vulnerable, or what constitutes "a vulnerable child". Isn't any child vulnerable when in the unsupervised company of strangers? Since there is no witness required, there is no way of establishing what was said. It will be a case of the child's word against the local official's. Such a proposal leaves the child open to abuse. They may be asked misleading questions, or what they say may be misrepresented.
c) This recommendation violates the Human Rights Act as it amounts to undue interference by the state. It would seem that innocent young people will have fewer rights than those suspected of criminal activity. If a child is accused of a crime, that child is interviewed by the police in the presence of a trusted adult. Not so for the innocent child being educated at home.
d) There appears to be little understanding of child development, attachment, and child protection, resulting in a betrayal of the of the children's rights that Mr. Badman claims to support. Children will be subjected to a visit whether they want it or not; whether they are in need of it or not; whether they want to talk to an LA official or not. They have no rights at all. Such an experience of being subjected to or knowing that they may be subjected to questioning by a stranger from the LA can be deeply upsetting for children. In this instance the state is failing to safeguard children's welfare, while at the same time preventing the parents from doing so under threat of court action.
4) The enactment of the recommendations within the Badman Review will result in a significant shift in the relationship between parents and the State, with a diminution in the rights and responsibilities of parents.
a) Mr. Badman recommends changes that would fundamentally alter the freedom that parents have to home educate their children. He does this while at the same time maintaining that he wishes to preserve the rights that parents have to home educate their children.
b) Under current legislation, parents are responsible for the education of their children, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise (s7, Education Act 1996). Thus parents have the right to fulfill their responsibilities and duties for the education of their children, either by registering them at a school, or "otherwise", i.e. by educating them at home. This provision is consistent with Islam, where it is the duty of the parents to educate their children.
c) Schools are a service, usually provided by a local authority, that parents can choose to opt in to or not. The effect of these proposals would be to empower an optional service provider (i.e. the local authority) to monitor and assess the education provided by parents. This is a subversion of current law. Local authorities are not responsible for ensuring that children are being educated, and should have no rights to monitor those that are responsible. Parents are not answerable to local authorities for fulfilling their natural and legal duties, unless the local authority has clear evidence of the law being broken.
5) The proposals are a disproportionate response to a non-existent problem.
a) Mr. Badman states that he found no evidence that home education is being used for abuse, servitude, child trafficking or forced marriages. He does say that that an excessive number of home educators are known to social services, but fails to provide any analysis of this statement.
b) Being known to social services is not the same as being at risk of harm. The number of home educated children, who are at risk, should be easy to establish by reference to the child protection registers maintained by all local authorities. The report fails to make any reference to this, instead giving the impression that children in home educating families are at increased risk.
c) The powers proposed are disproportionate in the extreme and present a serious infringement of civil liberties. In the absence of any evidence of any wrong-doing or criminal activity, the state will have the right to enter the home, and question its occupants, including the right to see children on their own, without parental consent. Mr. Badman justifies his proposals by arguing that they are necessary to protect the small minority of children who may be being abused by their home educating parents. This argument is specious and demonstrates the disproportionate nature of the recommendations. An analogy would be if the state were to inspect on an annual basis the homes of all Muslims, and interview the occupants, including the children, in the absence of their parents, to ensure that no terrorist activity is taking place. Just as such actions would be excessive, so are the powers that the report recommends.
6) The Report lacks clear verifiable and substantial evidence that changes to the current statutory regime are necessary, and that the changes proposed will be effective, proportionate and just.
Badman makes no reference to the
7) The powers that Mr. Badman proposes are redundant as local authorities already have sufficient powers under current legislation to protect children who are suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, or who are not receiving a suitable education according to their age, aptitude and ability.
a) These powers are enshrined in the Children's Acts 1989 and 2004, and in the 1996 Education Act. The report makes no reference to Section 437 of the 1996 Education Act which empowers local authorities to require parents to demonstrate that they are providing a suitable education, where they have a concern. If the parents fail to do so, then the local authority can issue an attendance order, compelling the child to attend school. Failure to comply by the parents can result in prosecution. The proposals in the Badman report go much further, my mandating the screening of all home educators and demanding that they demonstrate compliance with the law.
b) The Report fails to demonstrate that the powers enshrined in the Children's Acts of 1989 and 2004 are in any way deficient. Under the terms of those Acts, local authorities have duties and significant powers to investigate allegations of child abuse, and ensure that children who are at risk of significant harm, or suffering significant harm, are cared for and protected.
c) The Badman report fails to provide an accurate analysis that shows that current statutes are insufficient, or that additional powers are needed.
8) The proposals will have a detrimental effect on the freedom and rights of Muslims, and other minority home educators, including travelers, Christians, and black people, amongst others.
a) As Muslims, we draw your attention to Articles 14 and 30 of the UNCRC which protect the rights of minority communities to enjoy their language, culture and religion without undue state interference. Many Muslims families who home educate do so because they want to provide an education for their children consistent with their religious beliefs. The changes outlined in the Badman report will severely limit the freedom that Muslims (and other religious home educators) will have to home educate their children according to their beliefs. These proposals will particularly affect those Muslim families who are unable to afford private school fees, or live in areas where there is little or no Muslim school provision.
b) The requirement for home educators to register annually with local authorities will leave many Muslim home educators at the mercy of local authority officials who may have a poor understanding of Islamic home education, or Muslim cultural and religious practices, and may thus refuse registration. Muslim parents then become answerable to non-Muslim council officials on how they can or cannot bring up their children.
9) The recommendations will lead to a worsening of the relationship between home educators and local authorities
a) The Review emphasizes the importance of good relationships between local authorities and home educators, but undermines this intention with recommendations that weaken the role that parents have, leaving families open to abuse by local authorities exceeding their powers.
b) The proposed recommendations will create mistrust between local authorities and parents, as ihas already happened judging by the response of home educators to the Review. There is an implicit assumption throughout the report that the state is better placed to care for and protect children then their parents. This is not the case.
We urge the government not to implement the recommendations from the Badman Review of Elective Home Education, as the case for change has not been irrefutably proven. We assert that the powers proposed are disproportionate as they would subject an entire community to unnecessary intrusion, inspection and invasion. We have not raised the issue of cost in this submission but feel that government resources would be better spent ensuring that existing powers are used properly and that children who are known to be at risk, and child protection services are given they support that they need.
21 Sep 2009