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


Memorandum submitted by the Home Education Advisory Service

  1.  The constitution of the review team

    — The range of expertise does not equip the members of the review team and the expert reference group to make informed assessments of home education in the time allowed for the review

  2.  The scope of the terms of reference of the review

    — The terms of reference do not allow for a balanced consideration of both local authority concerns and home educators' concerns

  3.  The nature of the consultation documents

    — The DCSF press notice: Morgan: action to ensure children's education & welfare: an oversimplification of the law

    — The public call for evidence versus the questionnaire for local authorities: inequalities and ill-considered questions

    — The second questionnaire for local authorities: improper methodology

    — Graham Badman's call for more information to strengthen his statistical evidence three months after his recommendations have been accepted by the Secretary of State

  4.  Comments on the review recommendations

1.  THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REVIEW TEAM

  1.1  A study of the biographies of the ten members of the expert reference group shows that the professional knowledge of the members is strongly biased towards children's services, early years and child development, disaffected, vulnerable and disadvantaged children, inclusion and safeguarding. Third sector involvement does not include any input from the home education charities. It is clear that this collective expertise, without a corresponding in-depth knowledge of home education, would render the members of the reference group incapable of making balanced judgements. The pressures upon these busy people would have made it impossible for them to reach a proper understanding of the complex phenomenon of home education in three months. In particular it was a disappointment to HEAS that Dr Alan Thomas, the country's leading expert on home education, was not invited to take part. Dr Thomas has studied home education intensively for over thirty years and he has undertaken detailed and rigorous research in Australia as well as in the UK.

  1.2  The review may be independent in that it is not a civil service review but Graham Badman's professional background in education and public service militates against an objective assessment of home education.

2.  THE SCOPE OF THE TERMS OF REFERENCE OF THE REVIEW

  2.1  The terms of reference are limited in scope because they are framed from the perspective of the local authorities; further, they reveal certain fundamental assumptions that have influenced the findings of the review.

    The review of home education will investigate:

    The barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children and advise on improvements to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children;

  2.2  This presupposes the existence of "barriers" and makes the assumption that advice on "improvements" is needed. These statements, made before evidence was gathered, indicate that the conclusions were predetermined. The review report relies heavily on rhetoric, opinion and hearsay (for example, see the quotation from the submission made by the NSPCC, which has since apologised to home educators for its unsubstantiated claims).

    The extent to which claims of home education could be used as a "cover" for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and advise on measures to prevent this;

  2.3  If the review really represented an unbiased investigation undertaken to ascertain the facts, why do the terms of reference set out to advise on preventative measures before the problems have been shown to exist?

    Whether local authorities are providing the right type, level and balance of support to home educating families to ensure they are undertaking their duties to provide a suitable full-time education to their children;

  2.4  This statement presupposes that families receive support from the local authority at present, but education law has never given them any such duty. Similarly local authorities do not provide support for parents who send their children to independent schools.

    Whether any changes to the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education are needed to support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners in ensuring all children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes.

  2.5  Many HEAS subscribers have expressed anger and alarm at the assumption that there is some kind of partnership between parents, local authorities and "other partners". The law gives parents full responsibility for the education, welfare and upbringing of their own children; the public authorities have a secondary role in the capacity of public servants in all but a small number of special cases.

3.  THE NATURE OF THE CONSULTATION DOCUMENTS

The DCSF press notice: Morgan: action to ensure children's education & welfare (2009/013)

  3.1  Section 436A of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 is misquoted by saying that statutory guidance "makes clear that local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish that every school-age child is receiving a suitable education, …" (italics ours). Section 436A actually says that the local authority must make arrangements "to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area" of school age who are not receiving suitable education. HEAS deplores such dangerously imprecise statements which by constant repetition in the media will have a powerful effect upon public expectations.

  3.2  Baroness Morgan is quoted as saying: "Making sure that children are safe, well and receive a good education is our most serious responsibility". Many home educators have asked HEAS to reaffirm that the responsibility for children's safety and education belongs to parents and not to the Government.

  3.3  The last paragraph contains the claim that local authorities are "charged with ensuring that all children are safe, well and receiving an education that is both enjoyable and allows for the expression of all aptitudes and abilities". This duty belongs to the parents, not to the local authority, and home educators have reacted with anger and dismay at this theft of their natural duty.

  3.4  HEAS objects strongly to the distortion of the legal position in the DCSF's press notice. Removing the all-important qualifying statements places enormous pressure upon the local authorities particularly with regard to safeguarding. These unreasonable expectations are perpetuated throughout the Badman review report and recommendations. In turn, pressure upon the local authorities will cause them to make unjustified demands upon home educating families. Professor David Hoyle makes exactly the same observation in his critique of the development of the Every Child Matters agenda as a practical strategy (see Hoyle, David (2008) "Problematizing Every Child Matters", the encyclopaedia of informal education); HEAS can report that during the past six months there has been a significant increase in the number of calls from home educators who have been referred to social services simply for electing to educate their children at home.

The public call for evidence versus the questionnaire for local authorities

  3.5  On meeting the review team HEAS representatives said that there had been many investigations into home education in recent years and asked why this review had been deemed necessary. Graham Badman explained that during recent consultations the Secretary of State had been beset on one hand by local authorities and other organisations calling for more powers and on the other by passionate arguments from home educators against the procedures of some local authorities. The review was represented to HEAS as an exercise in evaluating the evidence for these opposing points of view but it is heavily biased towards the local authority viewpoint.

  3.6  The public call for evidence consisted of a derisory and ill-considered six-question document that was only available online. Home educators were rightly offended when they were asked if their children were able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes. No question was asked about families' experiences of local authorities. Further, a very short response time was given and the online questionnaire was not widely advertised; by contrast, the review team wrote personally to every local authority in England asking for their responses via a detailed 60-question questionnaire.

  HEAS was concerned about the fact that families who did not have internet access would be excluded. In a Parliamentary Question on 23 February 2009 (Hansard 23 Feb 2009: Column 455W), Damian Green MP asked the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families "what steps he has taken to ensure that people who do not have access to the internet are able to respond to his Department's consultation on home educators". In reply Jim Knight MP stated that "Evidence can be supplied to the review team using an online form, through email or by writing to the review team". HEAS asked for the address for written replies and circulated the questionnaire to all HEAS subscribers. Despite Mr Knight's assurance the review team then retracted the offer of receiving written responses on the grounds that it might be unfair to other groups and individuals who had not been included. Around 100 families replied to HEAS' mailing but their views were not counted with the online responses.

  3.7  The questionnaire for local authorities consisted of 20 questions about data and tracking, 3 about supporting families, and 28 about assessment and monitoring. The questions on data and tracking included some which asked about total numbers of children not registered with the local authority. These questions invite local authorities to guess how many children were not registered with them when it is obvious to anyone that such "information" is worthless. Question 26 invites the local authority to choose between the following: "yes, we are confident we know about all home educated children in the area/We think we know about the vast majority of home educated children in the area/We probably do not know about a fair number of home educated children in the area/We probably do not know about a significant proportion of home educated children in the area". It is difficult to believe that significant sums of public money were spent in asking these questions, answering them and collating the replies; this is simply "think of a number".

  3.8  The questions on assessment and monitoring have expectations of initial assessment visits, regular monitoring visits, sight of the child (and "further action" if the child is not seen) and systems to track children's educational progress. Information is sought regarding how many children are receiving "suitable, full time (20 hours a week) education". None of these presuppositions has any basis in education law and the DCSF document Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities (DCSF, 2007) confirms that families are not required to provide this information. It is unacceptable for evidence to be gathered—upon which the review recommendations are based—by means of questions about procedures that are not currently required by law.

The second questionnaire for local authorities

  3.9  This document was sent to the 90 local authorities who returned the initial questionnaire and 25 local authorities responded to it. The findings of this second survey form a large part of Mr Badman's justification for his registration and monitoring recommendations; by means of a highly improper extrapolation from this very small number of local authority responses he decides that 6.75% of home educated children are known to social care in some capacity. This methodology is fundamentally unsound and it calls into question the integrity of the entire review.

  3.10  Mr Badman observes that "the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population". He omits to say how many local authorities fall into this category; further, this assertion is worthless unless further information is provided about the profile of the areas concerned.

  3.11  HEAS considers that if a mere 20 out of the 150 local authorities were the only ones to be troubled enough to submit further evidence this indicates that home educators do not cause much concern in the great majority of local authority areas. Further, it would be improper to draw conclusions from the proportion of home educated children known to social care in the 25 local authorities without researching two related issues: first, what proportion of children in the school population in each area is known to children's social care? Second, how carefully is the distinction drawn in each area between bona fide home educators and non-educators who are already well known to the Education Welfare Service for failing to ensure that their children attend school regularly? It has been a matter of concern to HEAS for many years that some local authorities do not make a clear distinction between these two groups of families.

  3.12  HEAS notes that although local authorities were asked by the review team for anonymised case studies and specific details of their concerns about families, the home education organisations were not asked to provide corresponding evidence of their concerns about the procedures of local authorities. The organisations were, however, asked by the review team on several occasions to provide details of good practice amongst local authorities.

  3.13  HEAS representatives have been advising families for the past 15 years; there have been many cases where local authorities have treated families unfairly through lack of awareness of the legal position. Some local authorities adopt draconian policies which cause a great deal of distress to families. Sometimes these problems cause a dramatic drop in the number of home educating families known to HEAS and Education Otherwise in these areas, and localised problems of this kind may often be attributed to the influence of a particular officer.

  3.14  Unfortunately some local authority staff do make ill-informed and subjective judgements about families' arrangements; sometimes local authorities will not be persuaded that school criteria do not apply to education at home. It is manifestly unjust that the Badman review failed to make any inquiry into the issue. Paragraph 5.1 of Mr Badman's review report is a clear demonstration of his personal bias. It is certain that Mr Badman's "evidence base" (letter to the Directors of Children's Services dated 17 September 2009) which shows "a small but significant proportion of home educated children are receiving no, or an inadequate, education" will include a number of cases where inadequately-trained local authority officers have failed to make a proper assessment of the home education provision.

Graham Badman's call for more information to strengthen his statistical evidence three months after his recommendations have been accepted by the Secretary of State

  3.15  HEAS was astonished to learn of Mr Badman's attempt to improve the quality of the evidence upon which his recommendations were based after they have been accepted and included in draft legislation. We hope that he will be seeking to provide breadth and balance in his evidence by enquiring about the experiences of families who have been unjustly treated by their local authorities.

  3.16  Mr Badman is also seeking more information to justify his claim that large numbers of home educated children are not in education, employment or training (Neet). He has appealed for comparative figures for home educated young people and for all 2008 leavers from the local authorities' input to the Connexions annual survey but this information is likely to be misleading. HEAS' information about local authority involvement with young people in the last year of compulsory education has shown that pressure on resources means that very many are not followed up at this stage. Our own information from our membership indicates that it is rare to find a home educated person who is Neet.

4.  COMMENTS ON THE REVIEW RECOMMENDATIONS

  4.1  Mr Badman is disingenuous in his claim that most of his recommendations have not been challenged because the evidence base for them is sound. The DCSF consultation provides a mechanism for challenging the four "urgent" recommendations concerning compulsory registration and monitoring only (numbers 1, 17, 23 and 24) but HEAS, along with many other home educators, finds that the remaining recommendations are mostly irrelevant and of negligible benefit.

  4.2  Mr Badman's highly selective evaluation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, European legislation and education law imposes a crude and totally fictitious polarity between the parents' rights and the child's rights. Legal opinion obtained by HEAS indicates that the registration and monitoring proposals are unsound.

  4.3  What would be achieved by making registration compulsory? How would children be kept safe by means of an annual visit from a local authority official? Registration and monitoring will have no benefits for vulnerable children because their identities are already known.

  4.4  There is no evidence for the assertion that there are thousands of children who are unknown to the local authorities or to the home education networks. The hypothetical risk that unknown children may suffer harm is outweighed by the real suffering inflicted upon children by local authority staff who do not understand home education; many of these could be forced back into school without due cause.

  4.5  LA monitoring staff would be held to account if abuse of a home educated child were to go unnoticed: fear of the consequences would result in a great number of false positives which would traumatise decent families and take attention and resources away from children who are genuinely at risk.

  4.6  A study of the financial implications of the review's recommendations commissioned by HEAS has revealed a minimum cost estimate of the need for a £60-£150 million increase in the state education budget. Only 8% of this figure would be attributable to the proposals for support for home educators. A worst case scenario could result in costs of up to £500 million annually if the proposals were to lead to the virtual extinction of the home educating population, if this should amount to approximately 45,000 children.

  4.7  HEAS calls for this hasty and ill-considered review and its recommendations to be abandoned; there is insufficient evidence to justify its recommendations and they represent a massive expenditure of public money that will achieve nothing of any significance.

September 2009






 
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