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The Chairman: Mr. Stuart’s question will have to be the last one.
Q 68Mr. Stuart: Could you comment on the provision within schedule 1 that allows parents to object to their home-educated child being seen alone or to inspectors from the local authority wanting to come into the home? Proposed new paragraph 19E(4) explicitly states that such arrangements may take place
“unless the child or a parent of the child objects”.
However, could you comment on what the Bill goes on to say? Proposed new paragraph 19F(1)(e) says that someone objecting can be cause for the revocation of licence to be allowed to home educate:
“by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them under section 19E, or an objection to a meeting as mentioned in section 19E(4), the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to”.
In other words, there is a right to object but, if you do, you lose your right to be home educated.
John Friel: Well, you could change the parent’s objection under that provision to say, “save when the parents have given reasonable grounds for their objection.” That would be a minor amendment but significant.
My concern about the whole of the schedule is that the matter goes to an uneducated, independent panel set up by regulation. There is no rush in such a case, as in exclusion, so we could consider sending it to the SENDIST, which has the expertise. Both Mr. Lamb and myself would consider that the majority of home-educated children—not the vast majority, but a lot of them—would have a special need, and the tribunal with expertise would be the SENDIST. If we set up a panel locally, like an exclusion panel, we may have a chair without legal experience in a complicated matter. The provisions are highly complex and very litigious, and we may not have members with more than general educational experience or, indeed, with no educational experience. I urge you to think a bit about the regulatory power to set up an appeal. It is questionable whether it ought to be as it stands.
Brian Lamb: I have three quick points.
The Chairman: Sadly, we do not have time.
Caroline Flint: One.
The Chairman: Well, one.
Brian Lamb: It is crucial that whoever goes into the homes must have expertise in SEN. The panels must also have expertise in SEN, and that is analogous to my recommendations on exclusions and exclusion panels.
The Chairman: On behalf of the Committee, I thank our two witnesses for giving up their time this afternoon to give evidence. It has proved to be enormously valuable to the Committee in its deliberations. Will the next set of witnesses join us?
5.17 pm
Q 69The Chairman: The purpose of the Committee is just to gather evidence from you, so please relax and enjoy the session. Starting with Graham Badman, will everyone kindly introduce themselves and comment on the Bill?
Graham Badman: I am Graham Badman, the former director of children’s services for Kent. I was invited by the Secretary of State to prepare the report that led to the legislation. My comments on the Bill so far and the notes of guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families seem to fulfil, with some amendments that I welcome, my key recommendations.
Fiona Nicholson: I am Fiona Nicholson. I am a trustee of Education Otherwise and chair of the Education Otherwise policy group. I am a home-educating parent. I have a 16-year-old who has never been to school. He has not taken exams. He is a fairly up and free-wheeling autonomous, headstrong sort of person. I don’t know where he gets it from. Education Otherwise is opposed to schedule 1 and clause 26. We will not be co-operating with any aspects of their implementation.
Sir Paul Ennals: I am Paul Ennals. I am chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. NCB has been involved in developing a policy on a wide range of the Bill, most notably the PSHE provision, and I was involved in the advisory group for home education. I also had involvement in developing the White Paper and some discussions about the content and style of the pupil and parent guarantees.
Chloe Watson: I am Chloe. I am chair of the Home Educated Youth Council. I am a home-educated child, and an educational researcher. I have just turned 17, and I represent HEYC, which does not support the Bill and will not comply with anything under schedule 1.
Beth Reid: I am Beth Reid. I am policy manager with the National Autistic Society. We have four key areas of interest in the Bill. The first is to make sure that the home-school agreements reflect the need of children with SEN. Secondly, we want to make sure that, under clause 9, children with special educational needs cannot be put into part-time education when it is not appropriate for their needs. We strongly support clauses 7 and 8, which were discussed in the previous sitting, and we want to ensure that the home education parts of the Bill reflect the needs of children with special educational needs and their specific case for support.
The Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr. Gibb.
Q 70Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): My questions at this point are mainly to Graham Badman. What was the principal problem that you were concerned about? Was it the issue of safeguarding, with home education being a potential cover for abuse, or were you more worried about the quality of education being received by home-educated children?
Q 71Mr. Gibb: I think that you must, really. We on the Committee all need to know your main concern. Was it the quality of education, or was it abuse? You seem to be telling us that your principal driving force was concern about the quality of education.
Can I ask you about a recommendation in your report? You say, “At the time of registration parents...must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.” That contrasts with page 2 of the policy statement just issued by the Government, which says that parents will be able to follow the wide range of educational philosophies that they currently adhere to, including autonomous learning, and will not have to follow the national curriculum and so on. What do you think of the Government’s policy in terms of implementing your recommendation?
Graham Badman: I thought that the existing definition does not offer a very clear definition of “efficient” or “suitable”, and I made that point in my report. I talked about the need for an education that was broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated, to quote from a report of many years ago, but I argued fundamentally that children should have an education that equips them to make choices. Even within the current legislation, although the definitions are within their own community, it also makes it clear that within their own community must not preclude other choices.
Much has been said about autonomous education in the wake of the report’s publication. It needs to be clear that by no means all home educators are autonomous educators. Some are highly structured. Some offer a high-quality, quite formalised system of education. I was maintaining that even within the loosest definition of “autonomous”, it should be possible for any parent to say, “Over the next 12 months, this is what I wish my child to achieve, and this is what I wish to see them do.”
I can cite, if you wish, an example of an 18-month-old grandchild who I guess psychologists would argue is at the key autonomous stage. I can tell you that in the next 12 months, although she is completely autonomous in her education because she chooses, her vocabulary will grow from about 10 words to about 1,000. She will go from monosyllabic babbling to sentences. I know that there are things that she will be able to do, because I have some form of prediction and a duty of care, albeit as a grandparent. I expect no less of her parents.
Q 72Mr. Gibb: So you are not expecting just two sides of A4; you are expecting a full curriculum and teaching plan.
Graham Badman: I think that on two sides of A4, for a young child, you could set out what you expect of them in linguistic terms, which is particularly important, and maybe in terms of mathematics. When the child is much older, as a teenager, would it not be remiss of any parent, for example, not to ensure that they have access to information enabling them to judge environmental issues such as climate change? There should be something within the structure of an education allowing a parent to say, “These are the things that are important to us, which is why we are home educators, and these are the things that we therefore want for our child.”
Q 73Mr. Gibb: One final question. You recommended that local authorities should have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate, or if a child is particularly vulnerable. The legislation states that the parent or child can object to such a meeting. Why are you so insistent in your report that the local authority meets the child alone without the parent being there?
Graham Badman: I made it clear in my report and in my evidence to the Select Committee that I viewed the exercising of the right to see the child alone as a last resort, and I would hope that there would be very few cases where that would arise. However, there are occasions when it is important to ascertain the views of the child and to do so in a quite direct way. The UN convention on the rights of the child, which was much of the background to my report, does not confer those rights on the parent. It does not say that you can have the right to the child preferred to the parent—it confers those rights on a child, one of which is to express themselves when they are able to do so. There are some instances where the views of the child have been subjugated to the views of the parent, and so, in extremis, I would expect the local authority, if it had significant cause on a range of other fronts, to be able to ask that question of the child themselves.
Q 74Ms Johnson: When you were undertaking your review, did you meet any groups of people who supported the recommendations that you were making?
Graham Badman: Yes, many, and subsequently by e-mail as well. There was one who gave evidence to the Select Committee, who said he welcomed registration, and that he already had good relationships with the local authority. There are many others who welcomed the fact that were this to become law, home educators would have access to significant resources, particularly applying to youngsters with special educational needs. They would also have opportunities to re-enter schools, sometimes on a flexible basis, and, if they did so—and many home educators do, at some point in their career—to go back to a school where their previous career had not been blighted; the powers of local authorities to offer a new school was very much welcome. There are a range of reasons.
A number also welcomed the opportunity to be engaged, particularly in the training of local authority officers, which was one of their major criticisms, and to have a voice. I made a recommendation that home educators should have a voice.
The report is not critical of home education—if anything, it is critical of local authorities—but it gives home educators a voice and an opportunity to disinter some of the good things that I saw about personalised education that we might learn from.
Q 75Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): Mr. Badman, I want to start with you as well, for obvious reasons, if you do not mind. I assume that you have seen the paper that the Department issued today, setting out some notes about these particular clauses.
Graham Badman: I confess that I did, half an hour ago, and I have done my best to read them.
Mr. Laws: Great. I think we know what you are trying to achieve—certainly, my party recognises some of the concerns that you have. However, in the section that deals with registration, there is six pages’ worth of details of what will be involved in registration, when it can be rejected and so on. There is a paragraph that seems to sum up the approach to me, which is paragraph 28 on page 7. It states that regulations will require local authorities to acknowledge applications for registration to make a decision on registration within a reasonable period of time. Is one of the reasons why many home educators object to your report and the Government’s proposals is that they appear to turn something that at the moment is a right for people in the country—home education—into something that they appear to have to not just notify, but apply to the state for permission to do and to prove their worthiness to do it? Is that not quite a big tilt in the way in which the freedom to home educators are set out in this country?
Graham Badman: I do not think it is. Two pieces of the legal advice contained within my report makes it clear that under European law, there is no absolute right to home-educate—the chapter and verse are given in my report. The process of regulation simply enables local authorities to determine first of all, how many of these young people we are dealing with. I more fearful about the numbers that we do not know about than anything else. One in my reference groups tells me that the numbers could be way in excess of 80,000. We do not know about these young people. We do not know if they are safe. We do not know if they are having a suitable education. The registration process is the first step in making an inroad into dialogue with the local authority, which has responsibilities that it cannot necessarily discharge because the current laws do not give it the power.
Q 76Mr. Laws: You accept that in practice it is a lot more than that. We as a party have no objections with notifying, but on page 8 we see what the statement will involve. Admittedly, it is fairly brief but it is nevertheless a substantive statement setting out the educational needs of the individual child, talking about educational philosophy and outlining plans for the current year. I am not saying that those issues are not relevant to the local authority, but the provision is turning what at present is a right into something for which individuals will have to apply to the state; they will have to apply for permission to do something that does not require permission at present. Do you understand why there should have been strong feelings about it, and why people should feel that the state is intruding not only by requiring notification but by requiring registration?
Graham Badman: I think I understand their feelings. I simply don’t share them. I see them as someone who has looked in from the outside. The sort of information that the note issued today offers is not that complicated.
I would almost turn your question on its head. Proper and responsible parents make that decision, often for very good reason. I acknowledge that there are many good reasons why people should decide on home education. Equally, they must have some view of what they are going to achieve, and what are the needs of their child. If they had no idea of the needs of the child, they might just as well have left them in a school. It could have been a good school, it could have been an awful school, but they must have had some insight of what their child needed and how they could fulfil those needs more effectively through home education. I am saying only that if a local authority is to exercise its proper duties, it needs to know that.
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