Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
MONDAY 12 OCTOBER 2009
CBE, MS DIANA
R. JOHNSON MP AND
Q20 Mr Stuart: Is that 16
Graham Badman: Yes.3
Penny Jones: If I may clarify,
that is the count that takes place in September.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chairman: Right, we are quorate, so we
can get started. Over to you, Annette.
Q21 Annette Brooke: Please
excuse me, but I would just like to backtrack if I may, Chairman.
I received an e-mail from Home Educators, which is very partial
in terms of not identifying the local authority, and of course
I have no evidence as to the e-mail's authenticity. However, it
said, "Finally, someone got a straight answer from a local
authority. A high percentage of children arose from all the data
that we have ever had"this is from the local authority,
allegedly"and therefore that includes people that
are now adults. The 9% includes all the children known to social
care, so if they are known to social care because they are disabled
then yes, it does include disabled children". I imagine that
this is allegedly from one of the freedom of information requests,
and obviously it is contrary to your answer earlier, Graham. As
I received this, I need to check it out for my own sake. Is there
any doubt about the basis on which the data that have been collected
in local authorities have been submitted?
Graham Badman: I think that the
simple answer is, no, there is no doubt. We went back over the
data. We made sure the data were clean, and as we have said, these
data have been checked by Department for Children, Schools and
Families statisticians. The data do not include that group of
children whom you talked about; these are children who have child
protection plans. While we are briefly back on the data, may I
go back, as I was thick in relation to Graham Stuart's question
regarding the 0.2% and the 0.4%. I understand the point that you
are making, but the reason I would argue against you is that your
assumption is that the other unknown half have no children who
would be subject to a child protection plan, and that is why I
am saying that I think my statistics are right and yours are wrong.
But we have undertaken to write back to you, and we will do that.
Q22 Chairman: Is one of the
problems, Minister, that the home educators have become very cross
with you and Graham because, in a sense, there is this great focuswe
have already had it in this sessionon the percentage of
children that are in some danger because they have protection
orders on them? The home educators would, I suppose, argue that
they want to be judged across the piece. They want to be judged
on whether the children in home education get a decent education.
What Graham is dwelling on at the moment, and you to an extent,
Minister, is this quite small percentageit may be double
the national averagethat ends up with child protection
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think that
that is absolutely right, in that what the Government are interested
in, in this review, is making sure that children and young people
who are home educated are getting a good education at home. That
is what we want to make sure. We want to know who those children
and young people are, and we want to be able to say, "Yes,
we are satisfied they are getting the standard of education that
they need". That is what this is really about. Obviously
within the review, there are comments and data that have been
looked at, and we have had a series of questions now. The media
have picked up on this particular issue, and have focused in on
it. But a lot of the recommendations that Graham has brought forward
are very much about creating a positive relationship between local
authorities and home educators to support home education, and
I think that the press ought perhaps to focus a little bit more
on that particular issue, and not dwell to the extent that they
have on this one.
Q23 Chairman: But there are
serious issues, are there not?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: Very serious,
Q24 Chairman: I read the report
and imbibed as much as I could. On the one hand, as Chairman and
member of this Committee, of course I want to make sure that every
child who is home educated gets a good deal, and it is obvious
that there are some absolutely fantastic experiences for a certain
percentage of home-educated children. But there is obviously real
evidence that for a significant percentage there are some pretty
bad horror stories.
Ms Diana R. Johnson: The worrying
thing for me as a Minister is that we do not have full data sets;
we do not know about who is educating their children at home.
The figures that we are looking atperhaps 20,000 or 25,000are
estimates. There was work done by York Consulting a few years
ago, trying to give figures, and even that body found it difficult.
So, I think it would be very helpful to know who is home educating
and what numbers we are actually talking about, and then as a
Government we can feel confident that we know who these children
are and be satisfied that they are getting a good education.
Chairman: That does seem sensible. Annette,
back to you.
Q25 Annette Brooke: I want
to probe on registration and I will perhaps put my cards on the
table: I am actually in favour of a simple registration scheme
because I don't want children disappearing below the radar. I
think that point is important. However, I wonder if we could just
look a bit at the applications for registration. Surely it is
going to be fairly clear-cut that a local authority will have
a right to refuse registration on the grounds of child protection,
and presumably there will be a right of appeal because that would
be a British justice situation. Can I ask you about the appeals
process that might have been thought of?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think you
are absolutely right in that any process that is set up needs
to be fair. We all know that having a right to appeal would be
part of the fairness of any procedure. These matters are out for
consultation, which does not end until 19 October. Therefore,
I am not at this stage able to give you any definitive view about
how an appeals procedure would work. All I can say is that being
fair would obviously be a key part of any procedure created.
Q26 Annette Brooke: One of
the difficulties in making sweeping statements is that the generic
term of "elective home education" covers such a wide
range. As you mentioned, I am sure that there are so many cases
that we should celebrate, and I would quite like to have seen
some case studies of good practice, which I think would have balanced
your report out a little, Graham. I take it for granted that there
is all that out there. I have certainly met a number of parents
who have removed their children from school, possibly because
their child is on the autism spectrumprobably a very frequent
reasonand the school is not providing, or is not able to
provide either protection in terms of anti-bullying or a suitable
education. I think those parents must feel very threatened that
they are now effectively going to be inspected on what they are
doing, which may be working on confidence and self-esteem, against
some unknown criteria of what a good education is. Can you comment
on that particular portion of home educators?
Graham Badman: Let me pick up
on autism first of all. My words were sincere when I described
the emotion with which some people tell me their stories, so I
accept that for many young people, home education was the last
resort. If these recommendations go through, the money, in terms
of the age-weighted pupil units, then flows to the local authority,
either because that child has been in receipt of School Action
Plus, because they are in receipt of significant services, or
because they are statemented. The opportunity will now exist for
the local authority to commission other services to support those
families. As I make very clear in my report, within special educational
needsI have cited at length the Independent Panel for Special
Education Advice's evidence, which I think is strongly supportively
of home educators' viewswhen it comes to commissioning
support for autism, it may not be the local authority that does
so. I am persuaded that some in the voluntary sector, such as
Autism In Mind, may offer better support and help than local authorities.
Under my proposals, they would be able to do that, and could be
commissioned to provide those services, with money now going for
the first time to local authorities to provide those services.
To repeat a word that I have used, I think it is perverse that
for many young people, for whom there are quite legitimate concerns
related to welfare and education, as soon as they opt out of school,
they are cut off from what they would have had in terms of value.
To go back to your first comment, Chairman, about the positive
sides of this, there are recommendations in the report about access
to examinationsif people have not previously had itto
flexible schooling and to better vacation provision, all of which,
I think, from what I have seen of the Government's response, have
been accepted. Chairman, I think you are right: there is an awful
lot that has been said about safeguarding. Most of this report
is about ensuring that the rights of children are met within the
context of home educationnot outside of itby the
better provision of services and the better engagement of home
educators in the training of local authority officers and in determining
what the services are.
Q27 Chairman: I speak as Chairman
of this Committee. Recently we have been inquiring into looked-after
children and the training of social workers. The fact of the matter
is that in this country, for some reason, anyone engaged, as a
family, with social services seems to have a stigma about itthey
feel it is a negative thing. Are we not taking the same approach
here? What we need to get from the Government and from anyone
involved with a local authority is a positive relationship that
supports home education, if that is what a parent choosesa
positive framework. There should not be a feeling that there is
inspection, and that people will come to see if you are going
to do something naughty, but a feeling that if you are trying
to do something good, they should help you to do it. Is that not
the frame that we want?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: That is certainly
the view that the Government have taken on this. It is about creating
a much more positive relationship between home educators and local
authority officers. You will see examples in the report of good
practice, which is already happening, but of course not across
the whole of England; we need to spread it.
Q28 Annette Brooke: I welcome
the recommendations of support, but I am still concerned that
a parent who really understands their particular child's needs
and has an alternative approach that will ultimately build up
confidence and communication will never fit into the round hole
of what formal schooling would advocate. I am concernedperhaps
you can reassure methat there is not enough flexibility
to allow for that approach.
Graham Badman: There is certainly
nothing in this report to suggest that there should not be that
flexibility. We have had a quite deliberate distinction between
the way that youngsters with special educational needs and others
who are electively home educated are treated. I take the view
that some people have absolutely prospered through being home
educated. Sometimes they are not home educated for the entirety
of a normal school career; sometimes they do so to recoup, if
you wish, and then they re-enter school, perhaps on a part-time
basis. I do not think there is any suggestion that the rights
of parents who are dealing with young children, sometimes with
quite specific needs, will in any way be negated. On the contrary,
what we are trying to say is that it is important that the state
knows what is happening to them. Equally, the state has responsibilities
to ensure that support is given to them.
Q29 Mr Pelling: Could the
flexibility go so far as to drop the idea of registration and
just have the approach that there should be an obligation to receive
advice? Could you go that far in terms of flexibility?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I would say
on that point that the reason why local authorities need to have
numbers on how many children are being home educated in their
local authority area is so that they can plan services and make
resources available. That would be very difficult if you did not
actually know how many children were being home educated. That
is part of the problem that local authorities are describing to
us at the momentthey do not actually know.
Q30 Mr Pelling: But there
is a sanction, is there not, in terms of the local authority having
gone through its registration process?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: Are you
asking if there will be a sanction?
Mr Pelling: Yes.
Ms Diana R. Johnson: Again, this
is the consultation period, so I cannot say what will come out
at the end of the consultation. Certainly, a lot of people have
been writing in about the registration requirements, but it closes
on 19 October and then the Government will have to look at it.
Q31 Mr Pelling: So, in terms
of the open-minded approach that is being taken to the consultation,
it will still be a possibility not to have registration with sanctioning.
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I don't want
to pre-judge things. Clearly, in having a registration process,
you would think that if you didn't register, that would have to
be thought through. It seems to me silly not to be registering
Graham Badman: I don't want to
fall foul of the trap of forgetting that hard cases make bad law.
It is nevertheless the case that registration is a relatively
simple process. You are talking about it happening only annually.
It is not a great intrusion into families that are conducting
a normal process of elective home education. But there are hard
cases. There are some tragedies in our country that we need to
try to prevent as far as we can. Let me cite something said by
Daniel Monk, an expert in the legalities of home education, in
the Child and Family Law Quarterly of 2009: "Parents
who home educate are not simply performing a private duty, but
also a public function. For all these reasons the case for compulsory
registration is logical, legitimate and compelling."
Q32 Mr Pelling: Is it not
the philosophy of this approach that it is important for the state
to intervene in the life of the family to ensure that the rights
of the child are protected? Is that not the backbone behind this
Graham Badman: I interpret it
in a slightly different way. The UN convention represents the
wishes of this country for all the children in it. All I am saying
is that there need to be some changes to guarantee absolutely
that the rights of children to an education and freedom of speech,
so that they are able to give a view about their lot in life,
are met. I agree with you, but I argue the case from the point
of view of the rights of the child.
Q33 Lynda Waltho: One of the
areas on which I and my colleagues have been lobbied by many people
is the proposal to interview the child and to enter the home.
Many home educators have pointed out that even police officers
need a suspicion or a warrant so to do. In your report, you concede
that some local authorities are not making effective use of current
powers. Will you spell out why local authorities need new powers
rather than just a better understanding of what they can do already?
Graham Badman: Let me quote a
local authority, which said, "Given that Local Authorities
do not have the power to see the child or enter the house, we
have no direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children
currently being educated at home. By submitting a report in the
post, we cannot guarantee that children ARE receiving the provision
identified, moreover, we cannot see if the child is meeting the
Every Child Matters outcomes. There is no way knowing that they
are even in the country and we cannot be certain that they are
living in the address provided. This has huge implications re:
the `Children Missing from Education' guidance and procedures.
We feel as a LA that we have a duty of care to the children educated
in our area and that we cannot fulfil this duty of care if we
have no access to the child or the family." That is an accurate
view of the response from local authorities, almost universally,
in terms of the feedback on the report. Yes, of course, I understand
the sensitivities of interviewing the child and the child alone,
but I hope that, given what we have said about training, it is,
in a sense, the last resortthat proper relationships are
established and that it would only be in extremis that a local
authority would want to use the powers. We have those powers,
but it does not mean that we need to exercise them. Crucially,
I have also argued in the report that there should be the presence
of another trusted adult. The person does not necessarily need
to be an unknown officer alone with the child. I understand those
sensitivities and, again, I make the point in the report, in a
direct quote from Jane Lowe, from whom I think you are getting
evidence. She wrote a very good book full of case studies on the
good practice in home education, and said that, if you educate
at home, it is still first and foremost a home. Whatever training
is given, officers need to respect that, and they need to caveat
their approach by asking, "Have I assessed the risk appropriately?
Do I need to do this?" I am arguing for a greater flow of
information that would enable anyone with a quite proper regard
for the safety of children to exercise the power without being
Q34 Lynda Waltho: That is
helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child
throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child
is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?
Graham Badman: That is the one
question that I was dreading from this Committee.
Lynda Waltho: Oh, sorry.
Graham Badman: It is a very good
Chairman: As you have been dreading it,
can it be repeated?
Lynda Waltho: What if the voice of the
child is that he or she does not want to meet, or refuses to meet,
someone from the authority?
Graham Badman: My view then would
be that it is up to the sensitivity of the officer to judge whether
or not that is truly what the child wishes or whether it is a
view that has been given to them by the parent that they have
repeated. That is quite difficult to determine. That being said,
we are making provision that other trusted adults can be engaged,
and I repeat that speaking to the child and the requirement to
speak to them would have to be used after a whole range of other
avenues of approach and co-operation had been explored. I go back
to my first statement to the Chairman of this Committee. I don't
think there is anything in the report that prevents good elective
home educators from continuing to do what they have always done.
All we are going to do is to offer them greater services and greater
protection for a minoritybut a significant minority. I
can well understand that there may be children, particularly on
the autistic spectrum, who would be completely fazed by that.
I have indicated that within the section on special educational
needs as well. I understand that point, but judge each case on
its merits. What we cannot legislate for is every single occurrence.
We have to trust to the good sense of those involved in the support
of home educators, whether they be from the local authority or
whether they are commissioned from the voluntary sector.
Chairman: I don't think you should be
so defensive about this, Graham. When we did our inquiry into
looked-after children, I don't think we really got under the surface
of that whole inquiry until we met children who had been in care,
or were in care, on their own and talked to them. We intend to
talk to home-educated children on their own as a group, but I
really can't see how we can evade trying to do that, even though
we must do it in a sympathetic and sensitive way.
Q35 Lynda Waltho: Going on
from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response, but you're talking
a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to
me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted
to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie
your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless
pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a
last resort and everything's going to beI just wonder where
it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't
Penny Jones: We have talked to
local authorities, and we've made an estimate of the amount of
time. When we looked at the cost of implementing these recommendations,
we did explicitly consider the length of time it would take to
train officials, how much it was going to cost to develop training
packages and the cost of backfilling when people were off going
training. We put a cost in, and that's part of the cost we've
given in our full response, so it's in there. We think it's fully
costed, and we have consulted, so hopefully the resources will
be there. They've been earmarked.
Q36 Mr Chaytor: Minister,
if the statistics on numbers of children are so difficult to collate,
presumably there are no statistics on learning outcomes. Do we
assume we have no information at all on any learning outcomes
of the 20,000 to 40,000 children we're talking about?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think they
would be incomplete, wouldn't they? Because we don't know how
many children we're talking about, finding the outcomes for those
children, the data we've got is incomplete. You could look at
GCSE results, but obviously, that may not encompass all children
who are home-educated.
Q37 Mr Chaytor: Do GCSE statistics
or Key Stage 2 standard assessment tests indicate whether the
child has been home-educated or not?
Penny Jones: I think the difficulty
is that we don't have systematic data for the outcomes of these
children. There have been a number of academic studies, both here
and quite a lot in America as well, showing that generally, home-educated
children attain well, but there is always a question as to how
representative the sample is. Unless and until we can get a cross-section
of the whole population of home-educated children, we actually
can't answer the question "How do the outcomes compare with
the population as a whole?" The difficulty we've got with
GCSEs and the key stage examinations is that yes, the young people
may take these tests, but then when we look at our statistics,
those individuals aren't recognised as being home-educated, so
we can't just lift up the data and look at it. I don't know if
Graham wants to add anything.
Graham Badman: One positive thing.
Extending examination centres in the way in which I think the
report recommends was always at the top when I asked home educators
to give me their shopping list. "What do you want from it?"
They wanted the access. That will give us better data in terms
of entry to examinations and performance, but I think the NEETs
data is stark and needs further examination. I suspect that there's
an untapped mine of information in Jobcentre Plus that also could
be sought. If I can turn the question round, if you're asking
me "Do we know enough about the outcomes of a substantial
number of young people?", I think quite clearly and unequivocally
no. That is not to say they don't have any; we just don't know.
To go back to anecdote and case study, I have met some extraordinarily
accomplished young people who've done very well and sailed through
university and so forth, sometimes developing very late, and others
for whom the attainments are absolutely minimal. We don't know
enough about that and therefore local authorities did not know
when to intervene to provide something additional that could have
improved their attainments.
Q38 Mr Chaytor: Could you
tell us a little about the proposal for a statement of intended
learning? How detailed is that going to be and who is going to
draw it up?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I've asked
about that and I was toldobviously, this is all very provisional
at the momentthat people would be required to produce no
more than two sides of A4. There are certain issues with autonomous
learning that need to be addressed. That's why one of the recommendations
is looking at putting some further research into autonomous learning
and how that could be fitted into providing a statement on a yearly
basis. So there is work to do, including looking at the issue
of what is suitable and efficient education. Some further work
needs to be addressed to look at that and to flesh it out, but
in terms of the statement, my view certainly is it would not be
more than a few pages.
Graham Badman: I'm delighted to
say it won't be me doing this. We shall leave the space on Facebook
for somebody else, which is a blessed relief, but against the
background of the demands of 21st-century society, I go back to
the UN convention, because the UN convention actually doesn't
specify just the right to education; it specifies the right to
take part in society and to have that requisite level of qualifications.
Although I understand why autonomous educators believe it would
be difficult to outline that, equally I cannot conceive of a situation
where, for example, a child of middle secondary years does not
know something about oriental history, given the world as it is
now; does not know something about carbon sequestration, if they
are interested in science; and does not know something about the
nature of the economy. So, even if you go to the broadest spectrum
of what constitutes a curriculum and an entitlement, it would
not be difficult to get beyond that definition. I think it's intriguing
that the Royal Society of Arts has defined a curriculum in about
two pages. I actually tried it on home educators and said, "Well,
have a look at this." They in the main rejected that as well,
but there have to be some broad-brushstroke elements to what is
reasonable in a statement that, as I've said in the report, gives
the child choices. If you don't know about something, how can
you make a choice? Going back to "Elective Home Education",
I cite at the end the court judgment in the Harrison case. What
was said at that timeforgive me while I find the right
pagewas this: "in our judgement `education' demands
at least an element of supervision; merely to allow a child to
follow its own devices in the hope that it will acquire knowledge
by imitation, experiment or experience in its own way and in its
own good time is neither systematic nor instructive ... such a
course would not be education but, at best, childminding."
That was the court's judgment in the case of Harrison and Harrison.
Q39 Mr Chaytor: The logic
of that is that the statement of intended learning does have a
requirement to conform to certain general outcomes or to work
towards certain general outcomes, doesn't it? It's not simply
tailored to the individual child.
Graham Badman: I will answer that.
I am independent and I really am truly independent and it is beyond
my brief, but as somebody who has spent more than 40 years in
education, whether we like it or not, we have a world defined
by systems of knowledge. If you're going to take part in that
world, you need to understand how those systems and knowledge
developed. It doesn't mean to say you have to be equally interested
in everything, but you have to know something and so I repeat:
it will not be me doing this, which I'm sure will be a great relief
to all home educators, but I would go for an education system
that if it does not define the outcomes, at least defines a curriculum
structure that allows that child to make choices.
76 3 Note by witness: The figures are not for
16 to 18-year-olds. The figures are drawn from the Autumn survey
of children who left (or in the case of Home Educated children
would have left) school the previous summer. Back