Memorandum submitted by Roxane Featherstone (CS 05)

 

1.  There are strong reasons to think that Schedule 1 will be both useless and extremely damaging.

2.  It will be useless because it will not work to unearth hidden abuse. 

3.  It is highly probable that the number of children who are abused who are not at school and who are not already known to the authorities is very small indeed, what with the very high social services referral rate of home educated families, the large majority of which are utterly spurious and which happen as a result of village gossip.  If indeed there really are any hidden abusive families out there, they would have to be keeping their children hidden under the stairs in order to avoid referral.

4.  The sad fact is that Schedule 1 will not cause these children, if indeed they exist at all, to be found for it would not be rational for these families to come forward to register, since what have these parents got to lose? The worst that could happen to them under Schedule 1 if they don't register is that their children will be sent back to school and given that far worse could happen to them if they were known, it would be rational decision on their part to keep schtum.

5.  Schedule 1 will not only be useless in unearthing hidden abuse, but it will also be extremely damaging with regard to the education of children.  It will, without a shadow of a doubt, damage the education of thousands of home educated children.  The reason for this is that parents will no longer be able to tailor the education to ensure that it is suitable for their child.  Instead, they will have to tailor the education of their child in order that it be suitable for the Local Authority inspector.

6.   Only yesterday, on one of the home education email lists, we read of a family where the apparently very satisfactory autonomous education of a child was deemed unsuitable by an LA inspector. Should Schedule 1 be enacted in law, such a child is highly likely to be forcibly returned to school. What parent, knowing this, would dare to follow the autonomous route, even if they are well aware that autonomous education is by far the most suitable form of education for their particular child?

7.  It appears that the Labour government want to pretend that an LA officer, who only meets with the child up to two times a year, will understand his needs far better than a parent who has known him all his life.

8.  It also appears that Labour's contention that parents raise children, not the state, are but hollow, meaningless words.  The state will, by enacting Schedule 1, become responsible for making the key decisions as to how children are raised, which surely means that the government is appropriating the role of parent.

9.  Diana Johnson continues to maintain that these measures are "light touch".  Given that the proposals could cause a family to completely change their form of education, and that this would impact upon every single corner of their lives, (since HE is not divorced from life in the same way that education and life are separated for children in schools), it would be an a complete misrepresentation of the reality of the impact of Schedule 1 to describe it as "light touch". 

10.  The DCSF are very concerned to be seen to be "doing something" about abuse in families.  However, Schedule 1 will not prevent the few isolated cases that might hit the red tops for the reason stated in the first paragraph above.  Further, Schedule 1 would be hugely damaging to the education of children.

11.  Schedule 1 would also be a monstrous waste of public money which could be used far more constructively to genuinely prevent abuse of children by being diverted to overloaded social work departments. Given the fact that the government has admitted that it will indeed have to make cuts in public services, it behoves them not to waste these extremely limited resources on needlessly inspecting thousands of well-functioning families.

12.  The red tops might as well carry the headline "Ed Balls enforces monitoring of completely law-abiding, well-functioning families whilst social services departments can't manage their workload of known problem families" for this IS the reality of what is being proposed.

13.  Instead of proceeding with Schedule 1, the Secretary of State should strive to ensure that LAs understand the current legislation which, apart from the most recent, revised guidance on Identifying Children Missing an Education in January 2009,

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/resources-and-practice/IG00202/

has evolved to allow for the fact that parents, not the state, should raise children.  In particular, he should help LAs understand the limits of their responsibilities under s436a of Education and Inspections Act 2006, in which regard we would ask him to take the pressure off LAs by reinstating the earlier version of Guidance on Identifying Children Missing an Education from February 2007. Section 3.3 of this guidance in effect allowed parents to determine the form of education of their children and enabled LAs to make a proportionate and less wasteful response to HE families.

14.  A copy of this guidance can be found here:

http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2008/08/february-2007-guidance-on-cme.html

15.  In recent years, both New Zealand and Ontario have concluded that mandatory inspections for all home-educated children were unnecessary and have replaced them with genuinely "light touch" notification schemes. 

16.  We have recently seen that the Stop and Search powers, which the police requested and which Labour delivered, have been deemed excessive by the European Courts. We believe that Schedule 1 is similarly excessive in its impact upon law-abiding citizens since it will involve the universal appropriation of parental rights and the invasion of privacy of thousands of completely innocent families. We only hope that home educators will not have to demonstrate these facts to a European Court.

January 2010