The Review of Elective Home Education - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  Q20  Mr Stuart: Is that 16 to 18-year-olds?

  Graham Badman: Yes.[76]3

  Penny Jones: If I may clarify, that is the count that takes place in September.

  Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

  On resuming—

  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 focus—we have already had it in this session—on 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 percentage—it may be double the national average—that ends up with child protection orders.

  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, yes.

  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 at—perhaps 20,000 or 25,000—are 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 spectrum—probably a very frequent reason—and 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 needs—I have cited at length the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice's evidence, which I think is strongly supportively of home educators' views—when 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 examinations—if people have not previously had it—to 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 education—not outside of it—by 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 it—they 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 chooses—a 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 concerned—perhaps you can reassure me—that 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 moment—they 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 everyone.

  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 approach?

  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 resort—that 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 draconian.

  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 question.

  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 minority—but 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 be—I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?

  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 told—obviously, this is all very provisional at the moment—that 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 time—forgive me while I find the right page—was 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

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