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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 42)



  Q40  Chairman: All this to-ing and fro-ing between you and David is instructive, but you have not mentioned anything about the other purpose of going to school: mixing with one's age group, and with those of other ages, socialising and becoming a social citizen and a civic person. A lot of people who believe in home education believe that they produce better citizens than the citizens that go to school. Has any research been done on the qualitative outcomes of these different experiences?

  Graham Badman: Not to my knowledge, but I was careful when citing evidence to take the views of the Church of England, which of course is a major provider of schooling in this country, about the benefits of going to school and of understanding how other people live their lives, according to other religions and faiths and so forth. To my knowledge, I have seen nothing that says you can make a judgement about the roundedness of a person who either has or has not been to school. I have met some really nice people who are home educated and some very strange people who have been school educated.

  Chairman: Yes, it's all those posh public schools. You know that's a joke, Edward Timpson.

  Q41  Mr Timpson: That's not on my curriculum vitae. Graham, can I go back to the point about statement of approach. My concern, which was borne out a bit when we explored this area, is that for a lot of people who educate their children at home, partly because, as I said before, they despair at the schooling system in their area, but also because they want the freedom to teach their children in the way they feel will bring them into the wider world as citizens who we all want, is not this idea of having outcomes, as you say, or a broad-brush curriculum, just the thin end of the wedge? We must then look at the statutory guidance that will have to be given and the regulations that will have to be put in place, and that provides the state with the opportunity to go into the home and dictate to the parents what they have to teach. My concern is that this is actually a way of ensuring that you regulate the form of education these children are having, as opposed to giving the parents the freedom to provide the education that will provide the outcomes but without being straitjacketed by national strategies and a national curriculum, which started off, as we know, being applied with a broad brush in this country in the late 1980s, but it has now become a very closely prescribed curriculum. The danger is that the same will happen for parents who home educate their children.

  Graham Badman: In the report I used the words, broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated. Those who have been around a bit will know that those are taken from the red book that preceded the coming of the National Curriculum—it was the old HMI definition of what constitutes a sensible education. I think that what you heard the Minister say in her opening statement in accepting these recommendations, if they are accepted in full, is that you would not be in the situation that other countries, such as the Netherlands, are in, with compulsory application of national curriculum. So, if anyone interprets what I am recommending in that way, I will not have done my job right and it would be a mistake. I think that it is also fair to point out that if you try to define what home education is about, you will lose. You just cannot pin it down, because there are as many views and models of home education out there as there are home educators. I actually wrote that into the report: in seeking for a system, there is no system. There is an enormous variation, and you see that in the case studies in the books that home educators have written, from those who have a rigid timetable for the day to those who actually take whatever is in the child's mind and try to develop it over a period of days, or even weeks. You cannot offer a curriculum model that sets out what you want for that range of opinion. I am saying that there needs to be some greater definition of what constitutes an effective education, and a working group should look at that. Going back to David Chaytor's comment, at the end of that process surely we want all children to have achieved something. That achievement may be to become a chess grand master, to play the cello brilliantly or to play football for England—I do not care what it is—but if you have that ambition for your child and have something you really want for them, you have to have some way of being able to spell it out and you have to have a route map you can take for it. Elizabeth Green, who is sitting behind me and who was the officer who worked with me, and I took evidence from home educators. I actually said at the end of it, "Gosh, I wish I had had that quality of education, in terms of what was being brought in—an understanding of the classics at a much earlier stage, access to music that I never got at school." So, I am not arguing for that prescription; all I am saying is beware of that prescription. I actually used the words, "this is not over-prescriptive". All I am saying, though, is that in terms of getting what is right for your child you cannot leave it, as the judgment in the Harrison case said, to laissez-faire. There has to be something which comes from the parent for their child. I am not arguing that the state should write it. I stick to my words: broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated, sufficient to enable a child to make choices.

  Q42  Mr Timpson: You spoke about light-touch monitoring and it sounds like you also talked to them about a light-touch curriculum. You have given us examples of countries where home education is illegal, or is made more difficult by their monitoring system, or at least is more closely monitored—Germany, Holland, Finland and so on. Have you got an example of a country where they do have light-touch monitoring, where there are systems in place, where there is registration, but it is left to the home educators to get on with educating their children rather than it being prescribed to them? Because that might provide some reassurance that there is a model that will work and will not continue down from the thin wedge to the thick wedge.

  Graham Badman: In the process in Scotland there is of course registration, but if you want the example that I used, it was Tasmania. I looked hard at the Tasmanian model, where they actually involve home educators in the monitoring of home educators. I have to tell you that when I tried that on groups of home educators, it was roundly rejected. They did not want that third party judgement any more than they wanted local authority third party judgement. I risked their wrath further by including it in the report—even by saying that they rejected it. But it does seem to me that the model in Tasmania offers some reassurance to home educators that they are not being put in the dock; that those who understand it are going to be engaged in their support and advice and monitoring if they wish, but also that they have a view. My line on that would be that if you want to try and guarantee such light monitoring, then home educators should respond to the opportunities, if this report is adopted and taken, to create a reference group in every local authority in this land, which they do not have at the moment. The biggest organisation representing home educators has only 4,000 members. It is not a representative body in terms of a huge body and they admit that. So, there is an opportunity for all local authorities to have a reference group. There is an opportunity for home educators to be engaged in that definition of curriculum; it is not going to be done to them. Our recommendation is very clear that they should be engaged in the process. They should be engaged in the training so if they want, if you like, to come out of the shadows because they feel that the spotlight is now shining upon them, they have an opportunity to shape what happens to them as well.

  Chairman: I think that is a good point to draw stumps. I think we have had a very good session and thank you Penny Jones, the Minister and Graham Badman. I apologise to everyone here that this has been a rather disconnected session, first of all because of the overrun in the first part of the session on the Children's Commissioner, and secondly with the Division, but I thought we got through it after all. So, thanks everyone for being so patient and we will carry on with the inquiry. Thank you.

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