Examination of Witnesses (Questions 43
WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 2009
Q43 Chairman: I welcome Zena
Hodgson, Jane Lowe, Fiona Nicholson, Carole Rutherford and Simon
Webb to our deliberations today. All of you know that following
the Badman report we thought that it was the right time to consider
home schooling. We started off on Monday. It is a short inquiry,
but in the run-up to a general election, Select Committee inquiries
tend to be short; we cannot afford the time for the very long
ones that we specialise in at other times of the cycle. As our
recent inquiry into false allegations against teachers shows,
it does not mean to say that we cannot write a very good report
and make a difference to what is going on out there. I am going
to riff through very quickly and ask everyone to introduce themselves
and say exactly what their interest is in this particular issue.
I want very fast responses on that. May I start with Zena? I hope
you don't mind that we slip into first names in this Committee.
However, if you want to be called Dr Webb or Professor Rutherford
or Mrs or Ms, we will do so. You must still call me Chair, though.
Zena Hodgson: I am Zena from the
Home Education Centre in Chard, Somerset. I am in the fortunate
position to be part of a fantastic group of home educators who
are located in the progressively thinking county of Somerset.
Our concern is that the recommendations put forward by the Badman
review will undermine the achievements that have been made between
the home education community and the local authority to date,
and that any further relationships between the two parties will
become unworkable. At the moment, they stand on a very equal footing.
The balance of power is very equal, so everything tends to come
out of a good balance of collaboration between the two, with no
Chairman: You have a good relationship
with your local authority and you don't want the boat rocked.
Zena Hodgson: It's not a
case of the boat being rocked. The balance of power is fairly
even. Somerset, under the equalities and diversities department,
approached us, almost as a cultural minority, and simply said,
"We want to help you. Tell us about yourselves and let us
see what we can do." From that basic question, a reasonable
dialogue has occurred and many great things have been achieved,
including exam access for our children and grants specifically
for resources for the home ed community.
Chairman: We will drill down on that
in a minute.
Jane Lowe: I am Jane Lowe from
the Home Education Advisory Service. I am also a retired home
educator. I have two children, aged 23 and 25. I am a teacher
and have spent all my life with a passion for education of various
kinds. I have been fully involved with home education all the
time that my children were educated at home and since. Our Home
Education Advisory Service is very concerned about this review.
We feel that it has not scratched the surface of home education,
that it is hasty and ill-considered, and that the recommendations
will be very damaging. They will not achieve what they set out
to achieve and they will be far more expensive than anybody has
realised. I have done an independent study to give some idea of
the costs involved.
Chairman: Which you submitted at the
Jane Lowe: Yes, it has gone in.
Fiona Nicholson: I am Fiona Nicholson.
I am chair of Education Otherwise, a government policy group,
and I am a trustee of Education Otherwise. I am also a home educating
parent. I have a 16-year-old who has never been to school. I meet
with a great many local authorities. I have a good policy relationship
with my local authority in Sheffield and I attend regional forums
of local authorities. Three, four or five times, I have met with
groups of 20 or 30 home education officials in local authorities.
We have had all-day meetings. So I feel I have a very broad experience
to bring to this. Again, my feeling is, as we put in our submission,
that the report was very rushed. Graham Badman wasn't given enough
time. We are not being given enough now. I've had a ridiculous
number of phone calls and e-mails from people saying, "You
must mention this," but I can't possibly do that. So I'm
here to say I haven't got enough time.
Carole Rutherford: I am Carole
Rutherford and I am co-founder of Autism in Mind. We support parents
in school and home educators. We can see the pathway that leads
parents to come out of the system and into home education. We
feel that the review was rushed and that special educational needs
were, as always, very much an add-on. We don't feel that they
were looked at in the light of what the recommendations could
do to children with special educational needs, who are often very
traumatised when they come out of the system. We don't feel that
we had enough time to input, and I've got to agree that we don't
have enough time today either.
Chairman: You know that the Committee
takes special educational needs provision very seriously. Simon.
Simon Webb: I have a 16-year-old
daughter whom I never sent to school. I taught her all her life.
Chairman: That was very brief. We will
come back to that. Let us drill down into the questioning. Graham.
Q44 Mr Stuart: There seems
to be quite a discrepancy between the articulate representatives
of the home education community and what local authority officers
say is a large bulk of people who are perhaps less articulate
and less capable, which prompts authorities to believe that the
Badman recommendations will provide support. What is your response
Jane Lowe: I also do some work
for my local authority. I do freelance workone-to-one tuitionwith
some of the children you are talking about. The local authority
knows very well who these children are, because they have a track
record of problems and attendance issues in school and they are
often known to other services as well. There are a number of such
children in every local authorityit varies according to
the demographic of the authority concernedbut the Badman
recommendations are not going to address that issue at all, because
the people involved are already known about and they are not home
educatorsthey are the non-home educators. There are many
shades of home educator, but the people there are concerns about
are not home educators.
Fiona Nicholson: I echo what Jane
said, but we must also be aware of the danger of just taking anecdotal
evidence along the lines of "I met a home educator once,
and they said such and such" or "A number of local authorities
have said such and such to me." Everybody has a completely
different experience of the home educators in their local authorities.
I have had local authorities say one thing to me, but I have also
had local authorities say completely different things to me. As
you know, my mantra is that we need to do a lot more research
into the home education community. We should start by looking
at the home educators we already know about. Local authorities
know of 20,000 home-educated children and young people. Education
Otherwise has begun to do research in that area, and we are researching
local authorities, but if we stick to anecdotal evidencethings
along the lines of "Here's a problem that we've defined for
you. How would you solve it?"policy is going to get
Zena Hodgson: One of my main roles
at the centre is as a support officer because I do the administration,
run the website and receive inquiries from home educators and
groups looking for advice. Given that our members and the wider
community use us as a point of contact, I deal with many home
educators who, although they are not as vocal as some, are in
contact with those who are vocal and who are the point of contact
or the link with authorities. Just because people are not speaking
out themselves, they are not out of the loop in terms of support.
They have groups and representatives as their points of contact.
Q45 Mr Stuart: Before you
comment on that, Carole, can you tell us whether you support Fiona's
desire to see more research?
Carole Rutherford: Absolutely.
There is no research at all that I know of that is wrapped around
special educational needs and that is part of the problem, because
we cannot come here today and say, "Well, this is what we
know for certain about children with special educational needs."
I cannot say to you with 100% authority that all children with
special educational needs who are home educated are going to do
better. I can tell you what parents tell us of the difference
in their children after a very short period of time. With regard
to parents not being as vocal, if you are looking after a child
with a disability or special educational needs, it is often not
as easy to become as vocal or as involved. That is when parents
come to the likes of Autism in Mind and the National Autistic
Society to fight their corner for them, because they are too busy,
embroiled in teaching their own children. So they are there and,
yes, they may look like a silent majority, but it does not mean
that they are silent, because they are actually contacting groups
to do it on their behalf.
Q46 Mr Stuart: Does everybody
think there should be more research into the home education community?
Would you all agree with the criticism that, essentially, the
Badman review has come in without doing that research and that
the statistical handling so far looks pretty weak on things like
level of abuse and child protection plans? It does not seem to
bear much scrutiny. Looking at other Government statistics, it
would appear that the level of abuse among home-educated children
Chairman: Graham, I think you should
ask questions rather then tell them the answers.
Mr Stuart: I just wanted to find out
whether anyone disagreed with that view.
Fiona Nicholson: It seems to me
that Graham Badman was being asked to present findings at almost
the time, or later the same hour, as he was being expected to
conduct research. That does not seem to me to be a very robust
or academic way to go about things. He did not have the evidence
base before he started to go out and talk to people, and that
work still needs to be done at some point. We need to do that
work. Education Otherwise has started comprehensive research into
local authorities. We have sent out very detailed questionnaires
and we are going to present that research shortly. It is a massive
job. I am gesturing at a huge pile of raw data which we have.
Q47 Chairman: But you would
not deny, Fiona, that it seems strange we do not really know how
many home-educated children there are and where they are.
Fiona Nicholson: Absolutely.
Q48 Chairman: You would have
thought that that would be important for us to know in each local
authority area. Would we all agree on that?
Fiona Nicholson: It is strange
that you don't know, yes.
Zena Hodgson: I think if you look
at the situation, in a way, it is just about data collation, because,
at the end of the day, I think it is very difficult for children,
or for anybody in fact, to be hidden from the system. We are registered
in many ways. The birth of a child is registered, you are registered
at a GP, you register for child benefit and in all those kinds
Q49 Chairman: Zena, as a Member
of Parliament, I know children disappear all the time in my constituency.
It's a very real concern. It isn't only runaway children, but
children who disappear overseas and when you try to track them
it is impossible because we don't have the data. I am sorry, I
have to correct you on that as a working constituency Member.
Jane Lowe: On disappearing children,
the idea of a registration scheme is not going to do anything
at all, because if any parent is suitably evil or deranged that
they want to abduct and abuse a child, they are not going to take
any notice of the minor offence of not registering themselves
with the local authority as a home educator if they are that bent
on committing a major crime. I think it is going to miss the point.
Q50 Helen Southworth: This
is a similar question, but from a slightly different angle. One
of the difficulties about identifying children who go missing
and who are at risk is finding them among the children who are
perfectly safe and happy but you just don't know about. Do you
think that the benefit of being able to find those children, probably
a very small number, who are at risk is sufficient that we should
press to find the information so that we can identify them from
among the wider group?
Fiona Nicholson: Since we are
actually talking about registration, we need to establish what
the purpose of registration would be, and you seem to be saying
that the purpose would be that decent people would eliminate themselves
Q51 Helen Southworth: No,
not at all. I was asking if it had the other effect that it would
enable this to be continued, would that be beneficial?
Fiona Nicholson: If registration
Helen Southworth: If the fact that you
could identify and know who the children being home educated are,
that could help to identify some children who were just missing.
Fiona Nicholson: But we have statutory
guidance on children missing education.
Helen Southworth: Perhaps I have asked
too complicated a question.
Chairman: Let us move on.
Q52 Annette Brooke: I would
like a straight yes or no answer from each member of the panel.
Imagine a very simple registration scheme that gets rid of all
the strings and conditions in the Badman report and literally
signs upgiven that if a child goes to a local school, there
is knowledge that the child is at the local schooljust
to providing the knowledge that a child is being home educated
at X address. Let us start with a very simple principle and at
least we would get some indication of numbers, although I accept
what you said, Fiona. Do you feel strongly about the simplest
of registration schemes?
Simon Webb: I cannot see any possible
objection to it, personally. Actually, my daughter went missing
because she was born in one local authority area but we moved
to another when she was six. Nobody had any idea of whether she
was at school and, when we moved, nobody knew what happened to
her. I could have done her in and buried her in the garden in
Tottenham, and then moved to Loughton and no one would have been
any the wiser. She had no official existence in effect, so no,
I cannot see any possible objection to a registration scheme.
Carole Rutherford: It depends
on what it leads to. We are going to have to re-register every
year. When you enrol at a school, you don't go back every year
and ask, "Can I continue with my name on the roll?"
The majority of home educators with special educational needs
children are already known, because you cannot have a child with
a disability who isn't seen by somebody at some point. In a way,
we are already there; people already know us. If you have de-registered,
and the vast majority of them have, you are known.
Q53 Chairman: So if it is
already known, you wouldn't mind having a register as well?
Carole Rutherford: The parents
who I speak to tell me that yes, they would actually mind that.
Chairman: They would mind having a register?
Carole Rutherford: They don't
want to be registered because they feel as if they have been pursued
enough by local authorities. That was probably the reason why
they have come out of the system; they don't want to have to start
all over again with the local authorities.
Q54 Chairman: So your answer
to Annette is no?
Fiona Nicholson: My answer is
that it is a really bad time to be asking thisat the end
of the Badman review. If that had been the question at the beginning
of the review, we would have put all our trust issues on the table
and said, "Call us paranoid, but we fear that it would lead
to a definition of suitable education and efficient education
and that it would be far more intrusive." We would have hoped
that somebody would give us some kind of reassurance. We have
all had a look at the big blue book, the Graham Badman report,
and it is really difficult now to answer a hypothetical question
about how we feel about simple registration. If we could stop
the clock and things such as the Badman review had never happened,
and we had not seen what is entrained for us
Q55 Chairman: I am sorry,
but this is a bit hypothetical. Are you against a register or
not? Before Badman's review and now, were you or were you not
in favour of a register so that we would know where our children
are in this country?
Fiona Nicholson: I thought it
was inevitable that it would happen.
Q56 Chairman: But you would
not approve of it happening?
Fiona Nicholson: I am not taking
a position on whether I think it is a good or a bad thing.
Chairman: Okay, that's a don't know.
Jane Lowe: I have thought about
this for years and I can see that it is a comforting prospect,
but I really don't think it would achieve what it sets out to
achieve, so no, I am not in favour of it.
Chairman: Annette asked for a yes or
no answer and I am trying to get it for her.
Zena Hodgson: I echo what Jane
said. I can see why you would need to have it, and a pure headcount
situation would seem okay on the face of it, but I am sure that
it would not simply be that. As Jane said, at the end of the day,
if that register is to protect the tiny one or two that happen,
if a family is ardently intent on doing something heinous and
wanting to hide, you would not be able to compel that person to
be on the register. There would be all the innocents, as it were,
who would put their hands up and be on the register, while those
whom you are worried about would still not be on it.
Q57 Annette Brooke: May I
pursue that question. Obviously, you can now register voluntarily.
How many of you are registered, or were registered?
Chairman: Three have their hands up.
Annette Brooke: I think that I am primarily
on your side
Chairman: Sorry. That was Simon Webb,
Caroline and Fiona. Hansard cannot see hands in the air.
For the record, Jane and Zena indicated that they were not registered.
Q58 Annette Brooke: I was
hoping that I might achieve a consensus that a simple registration
scheme was acceptable, and then work through the great long list
of add-ons that come afterwards. I can see how those add-ons are
troubling people. There is a general lack of confidence in the
ability of local authority officers. We have described how a partnership
approach can work. I suggest that it is reasonable that people
would want to be confident that there was a minimum standard to
be met. I am totally opposed to making you conform and putting
you in a straitjacket, but how in your view can the local authority
establish education basicsthis is where the local authority
should be making visitswithout sucking you into the National
Curriculum and all the things that we find too restrictive?
Carole Rutherford: It has got
to be relative to the child, and that will be the problem. In
looking at levels of attainment and what the child can do, we
will be taking into consideration their special educational needs
or disability. Parents are telling me that many local authorities
do not do that, as it is not what they are interested in. Our
outcomes and achievements will be completely different from those
where special educational needs are not taken into account. That
is not to say that we do not educate our children in the basic
things; it is just that they need to be taught some things that
the system does not teach. Parents who have come out of the system
are so often bruised by itthey may have no relationship
at all left with their local authority, having fought for provision
statements or whatever and failedthat the very last thing
they want is to have somebody coming into the home to assess them
who fails to provide for their child. How can somebody tell a
parent, "This is what your child should be doing," if
they have failed that child? What we are looking at is fear among
parents who have children with disabilities. It is not hysteria
but fear, because they know where such things can lead. We know
how difficult it is to prove that your child has a special educational
needs. That sounds stupid, but if a child is autistic or has a
hidden disability, they may as well not have the diagnosis, because
the schools think they know better. We have paediatricians and
other people going into schools and saying, "This is what
the child needs," but then that is promptly ignored or the
school knows better. Parents don't want to have to start again.
If a relationship has completely broken down, as often happens,
where can you start to rebuild faith? There is no mention of training
for special educational needs. Yes, safeguarding is mentioned,
and it is vital, but if you don't understand
Chairman: Carole, would you stick to
the question? I know that you want to go on to other matters,
but hold fire for a moment. Who else wanted to answer our question?
Simon Webb: Leaving aside children
with special educational needs, I am against an over-prescriptive
approach. I have never had any dealings with the National Curriculum,
but if I met a child of 12 who was completely illiterate, it would
not be hard for me to know that something was amiss educationally.
If I met a child of 14 who was unable to work out in his head
the change from a £10 note, I could be reasonably sure of
guessing that he was not receiving a proper education. It should
be a fairly simple matter. They should not be testing children
in a formal way, but it is fairly easy to guess whether a child
is receiving an education.
Fiona Nicholson: I would like
to address the issue of why people would not want to have a relationship
with the local authority, do more research in that area, and actually
answer your question by saying, "Go to people who haven't
wanted to do it. Go to people who were pushed into it and found
that it didn't work for them, and ask them what would have made
things better." I think you will get a whole range of answers,
but I think that should help to inform any kind of training programme
that is brought in for local authority officers. Ask people what
Jane Lowe: Over the past 20 years,
I have been supporting families all over the countryby
phone and sometimes by visitwho have had problems with
their local authority in getting the local authority officer to
understand what they are doing. This is a real issue. We often
get inquiries from local authority officers themselves who have
just been given the task of monitoring home educators. They haven't
a clue what they're doing, and they say so very honestly to us.
They say, "Can you tell us about home education?" I
had one two weeks ago. We cannot ignore this one, because the
people who are doing the job are cast in the school mould. A lot
of them are retired head teachers. A lot of them are very willing
and very kind, but they simply don't know what they're looking
Zena Hodgson: That is where I
would like to reiterate how Somerset actually is different with
this. As far as I am aware, it is the only county in the country
where this was under equalities and diversities, and therefore
approached almost as a cultural need rather than an educational
or an educational welfare need. Coming with the very open question
of "We want to help; tell us about yourselves and what you
need" allows that learning process for the local authority
as well so that it understands what its particular community wants.
Through that openness, the achievements that have been made through
itthat equal dialogue of "Help us understand what
the picture is"and seeing that it has worked for us
has meant that, again, we have been approached by other counties.
We have been asked to go to meetings with Devon and Dorset, and
we even had a Gloucester lead come into the visitor centre to
try and get some clues on how they could get in touch with their
community in a more meaningful way. In fact, a new lead for Dorset
has just been appointed, and he is now coming from a position
of inclusion and complex needs, which again is similar to the
equality point of view. He very much disagreed with some of the
Badman report, because he felt that it was not open enough to
invite all the questions from the community about what they need.
Q59 Paul Holmes: On the Badman
report's suggestions about requiring a statement of learning,
I know that a number of home educatorsboth nationally and
the ones I've met in Chesterfieldhave been very concerned
about that and the implication that it might be imposing all sorts
of very restrictive prescriptions. Does anybody want to elaborate
Simon Webb: I can't imagine that
any parent educating their child did not have at least some vague
idea of what they would like to see that child doing in a year's
time. For example, if you had a child of 11 who was unable to
read, you would surely have at least the hope that by the time
they were 12, they would be able to read, assuming they did not
have special needs. If you were entering them for examinations,
surely you would be wanting to plan, realise what the syllabus
for the examinations would be, and know what you would be doing
in a year or two's time. I can't see any objection, personally.
18 See Ev 79. Back
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