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Q 109Mr. Timpson: Thinking through the practical implications of the Bill and knowing from the evidence about the attitudes of many home educators, will the Bill help improve relations, understanding and co-operation between home educators and local authorities, or is it more likely to drive an even greater wedge between them, preventing more support and co-operation? If, when the Bill is enacted, a high proportion of home educators refuse to comply, which we heard today might happen, and given that the sanctions for non-compliance seem to be weak, we may end up spending a lot of money to achieve very little. May I ask Chloe to comment first? I shall then ask other members of the panel if they would like to add anything.
Chloe Watson: Ever since the proposal came out, it has caused great friction in my area between families and the local authority. I have had reports from home-education kids across the country about children and parents refusing to talk to the local authority. Indeed, in my area, three families within a mile radius refuse to have any contact with the local authority, because they believe that it will not follow good practice.
For instance, an inspector might change; for years, you have had nice inspections with someone you know, who has behaved decently, but then someone else comes in who just ticks boxes and tells you what to do. I have experienced that personally, as have many home educators. We do not want to be put in that position, with the risk that someone assessing you who was not necessarily malicious but who you would not want in your home could revoke your right to home-educate based on their own prejudices.
Graham Badman: It goes back again to the question of the unknown. I say it with Fiona sitting next to me, but I believe that her membership is about 4,000, so the voice of home educators may not yet have been heard. I believe that there are substantially more than 20,000 families out there; a huge number of them have not responded in any way to the report or the discussion of the legislation.
In answer to your question, I would say that whenever there is a new regulation, it causes some adverse reaction, even if it is only a speed limit. If Parliament brings in a process of registration and review, and accompanies it with the model of training and support that I outlined in my report, we would still have one of the most liberal regimes in the whole of western Europe. If you look at the systems that run in other countries, there is no adverse reaction in France, Scandinavia or Australia. The Tasmanian system, which I researched, is offered as a model for home educators; home educators there are involved in monitoring, and you do not get that reaction at all.
I understand why you asked the question, but I sincerely hope that you are wrong. It would be in the best interests of children and their families to try to embrace the support of local authorities and to encourage them to monitor and survey what is going on in a more responsible manner.
Chloe Watson: May I comment briefly on that? You said that we are the most liberal in western Europe, but that takes no account of America, the most affluent country in the world, which has a much more liberal take on home education than any other country. It has the largest home-educating population. Refugees from places in Europe are bringing their children to England specifically to avoid that. I am sure that they cannot make a huge outcry in their own area, but that is because there are not many home educators there. I know two families in Germany who have literally fled to England to avoid having their children taken from them or having huge fines imposed, because it is not liberal enough. They are coming here because it is a haven and a place in which, at present, we can home educate in peace without judgment from authorities that really do not have any right or reason to do so.
Graham Badman: In Germany, there is no such thing as home education. It is prohibited.
Chloe Watson: May I contradict you? I know families who are home educating in Germany at this time.
Graham Badman: Well then, they are doing so outside the framework of the law, but that is not for me to debate.
Q 110Mr. Stuart: It is a Nazi law, but never mind. It was passed by the Nazis in 1938, specifically to stop children escaping the inculcation of Nazi propaganda.
Graham Badman: We agree. That is absolutely the case.
As for the USA, there is no countrywide system. It is done on a state system—some are very liberal, and some have powers of intervention. There is no national system. I can tell you that this report has been picked up by Stanford, which is very interested in it not least, of course, because of the very high-profile case that is currently running in America. My claim about other nations is simply to make the point that, where there is a registration process, there is not the sort of civil disobedience that you fear.
Fiona Nicholson: I cannot overstate the fear and apprehension that home educators are experiencing over the Bill. If it were to pass into legislation, it would be two years before we will see any of it. But there are people right now who are hardly sleeping and hardly able to eat. That has been the case for a whole year, because they are in dread of what will happen. Whether that would lead to mass civil disobedience, I have absolutely no idea.
I really believe that you will not find home-education support organisations that will deliver training on how to implement the Bill, so in respect of all those plans for softening the edges and making it palatable and home-education friendly, I cannot see where you will find such people. There are two home-education support charities: Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service. They are both registered charities. They are membership subscription organisations. They get their funding entirely from member subscriptions. Our members are not paying ours to help the Government to implement the Bill, so unless you set up your own home-education support organisation, I do not really see how you will find home educators to train local authorities to deliver the Bill, even with substantial amendments. It will be very difficult.
Sir Paul Ennals: I recognise the validity of much of what Fiona says. I am not sure whether it is normal practice for the Committee to take such factors into account when deciding the best legislation for meeting the needs of the population that it is concerned about. I do not think that it should be either. I said earlier that I really regret the way in which the debate over the past few months has ended up polarised. It is a real cause of regret that it is now much more difficult for many people to feel that they can put forward a public statement about this, because of the abusive e-mails that they, I and others would receive in those circumstances. Like members of the Committee, I recognise that that goes with the job, but not all my colleagues who work in the sector do. That is why it is much harder to find people working in the field of children who feel confident enough to come to such sittings to put propositions that might not be popular with some sections of the home-education lobby. Over many years, I have worked very closely with many of them, which is why I particularly regret this and why I continue to say that we need to find ways of improving the outcome and support for them. But we should not be using anxiety from some individuals as an argument in itself for resiling from measures, if the measures can themselves pass muster in meeting needs. That is a question for the Committee.
Q 111Mr. Gibb: Sir Paul, I think that this indicates how badly the whole measure has been handled from start to finish. You cannot blame members of the public who are unhappy with the things that emanate from the House of Commons. We have to blame the Government and, I am afraid to say, Graham Badman, for how the whole matter has been handled. People’s views about our legislation and proposals are very valid, and need to be taken very seriously when we legislate.
May I give Chloe Watson and Fiona Nicholson an opportunity now—because I do not think they have really had one—to set out their case why they are so opposed to these proposals? In particular, would you mind, when answering the question, trying to incorporate in the answers the issue about safeguarding, which I am concerned about, and the issue that Graham Badman mentioned, which is that the home-educated population has twice the rate of NEETs compared with the population as a whole? Could you broadly set out your case now as to why you are so opposed to this legislation?
Chloe Watson: First, I want to make a quick point to Sir Paul. You are saying that it is the anxieties of a few. I think the consultation results will come out, and the view was markedly against the proposals. It is not that home educators are not responding. They are responding. Sure, not everyone is. That does not mean they oppose the ones who are responding. Everyone has been able to respond; nobody has been silenced. So why not listen to the people who know what they are talking about—the people who are doing the home educating, who live it, who live with the consequences of what they do? As parents, you care that your child gets a good education. You cannot help that as a parent. It is a biological imperative. Why not listen to the people who are saying, “This will wreck my child’s life”? Why not take notice of that, over and above the people who think, “Oh well, maybe in a few cases something might go wrong”? Until we as home educators are presented with evidence that there are serious problems with home education that cannot be fixed within the current system, we are not open to letting people into our houses to judge us and subject us to all sorts of ridiculous regulation.
On the regulations, first, the Bill does not actually take account of the needs of the child, and HEYC is very firmly in favour of the child’s needs being met, not left in the dust for the sake of administration. Secondly, the Bill completely changes the balance of rights between parent and child, and local authority. The rights of parents and children remain the same to each other, but now local authorities have powers. It has not given parents or children more power to get what they want or need. It has not given rights to children. It has given rights to Government, and it is not what we want. We have withdrawn from the system because, for whatever reason, the system is not what we want. You cannot then turn round and say, “I’m afraid that’s not good enough. We’re going to come and inspect you anyway.” That is not reasonable and we really will not stand for it. I cannot put it any better.
Fiona Nicholson: To take the issue of safeguarding, my organisation—Education Otherwise—has consistently said that far more non-judgmental support should be available, so that there is more information about what you are walking into and a lot more information about what you might be landing somebody else in if you asked for support, help or any form of intervention for them. That needs to be in place; it is not there at the moment. The idea that you could rescue individuals by going to every family and trying to ascertain which families needed to be brought out or changed is an incredibly inefficient way to go about it.
If you had a system whereby people would come to you—if you had a system whereby home educators trusted that some good would come of reporting somebody to social services, for instance—you would be in a very different position from where we are now. The idea that you can police people, that you can go to them, that you can inspect their educational provision, that you can take the child to one side, with or without a trusted adult, for 10 minutes or half an hour and say, “Do you have any bruises?” or “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” and then go away and think you have sorted it is just not correct; that is box-ticking. You are not going to get that from anything that you are doing. You would have to just put down what is being proposed at present and put in far more partnership working between home educators, home education support organisations, local authorities and national Government representatives, which you just do not have at the moment.
This entire Bill has never been tried. All the measures in it are designed so that people eliminate themselves from inquiries and so that you can still zero in on individual cases, thinking that you will be able to spot them and then thinking that you will be able to make a difference when you have spotted them. Experience shows us that very often a difference is not made; you identify that a child has needs, you simply record that a child has needs and then you move on to identify somebody else. You bury the fact that something needs to be done under a mass of data about that family and that child. All the serious cases were not undocumented—there was not a lack of information, but nothing is done with it. Services are not joined up and people are not given the help that they say they want. So you would have to start doing it in a completely different way, but I believe that it would start with non-judgmental support.
Q 112Mr. Gibb: How do you and Chloe tackle the accusation about the quality of home education that is leading to these NEET statistics?
Chloe Watson: So far, there is no evidence from any unbiased body that home education is any worse than school education. It is considered equal or better by all authorities that are not local authorities. Local authorities have cited the 50 per cent. that Graham quoted. I strongly believe that it is nothing like that, given that I know thousands of home educators and not one of them has an unsuitable education in my eyes or their eyes.
Obviously, a local authority is judging by its standards. You cannot necessarily do that, because that is sometimes just one individual going around the houses, and what do they know about a child’s individual circumstances and education? The people who actually know if a child is progressing and learning things, whether it is reading, writing and maths, social interaction or tree-climbing—you cannot say as a local authority that that is education. For a parent, however, that might be more important and really the final judge cannot be a local authority that has to tick certain boxes, because we do not actually have a definitive “This is a good education”. You cannot say, “This child is having a good education.” We do not know what a good education is. No one has a monopoly on the means by which any education may be achieved.
You cannot go in saying, “Oh, well, this person hasn’t learned to read at this age or that age”. You have to look at the person’s long-term outcomes. If, by the age of 30, they are happy and earning, you cannot necessarily say before then. Sure, they might not have learned to read or write until they were 14. I know a child who was like that and they are now earning a perfectly good wage, they are a chef and they are happy. What can you say about that? Sure, if you are going to inspect them, you can say, “Oh, that’s not good enough. 14 and can’t read? Back to school with you.”
Q 113Mr. Gibb: What about your qualifications? Can you tell us what you achieved?
Chloe Watson: I personally have been able to get access to a school to take some exams. I have not taken the full five GCSEs at A to C that you are supposed to get. I took double science and maths. I took them two years early and in half a year, and I got A*—top end of the range. Then I proceeded to do A-level maths and physics, again two years ahead but at normal speed this time, and I got As in both of those. I also did GCSE Latin, at the same time as my peers, and I got an A in that.
That has done me fine, according to my judgment, but I have no English qualification, no history or geography or art or anything. Yet I am employed. I am an educational researcher, as I have said. I also tutor in maths, English and Latin, and I am doing fine for myself, I think.
I do not think that my education has been let down in any way, yet technically I am not able to receive child benefits because currently I am doing further maths AS-level. I am only doing that one A-level, because I took the others early. They now say, “Oh, you’re not having full-time education”, which I suppose is true.
I also think that I am a registered NEET, because I have not responded to Connexions; I have not taken any notice of what Connexions is telling me. I saw Connexions once about possibly going to university. I have decided against that; I will do Open university. So I do not know where I stand on that; I do not know if I am a NEET statistic, or not.
 
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