Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 2009
Q60 Paul Holmes: You have
written about that view in The Times Educational Supplement.
You have home-educated your daughter to a very high academic leveleight
A*s at GCSE and so forthbut yours is quite a contradictory
view to a lot of other home educators'.
Simon Webb: True.
Fiona Nicholson: I think, again,
we need to know much more about what would be involved. I caught
some of the evidence given the other day, and the Minister was
saying that two sides of A4 seemed to be sufficient. I have talked
to local authorities who think that a lot of information would
be required. I help a lot of home educatorsI must have
helped more than 200to devise their educational philosophy
and report. It takes a lot of time to put their ideas across.
They are putting in a lot of information, and they repeatedly
come back to me and say, "I'm told it isn't enough. They're
going to serve a school attendance order. I still haven't given
them enough information. They want more of this, they want more
of that." I think that it will be a two-tier situation, where
you will have some articulate, confident people who will be able
to produce very little and won't find it very inconvenient at
all, and you will have an unquantifiable number of other parents
who could be made to feel inadequate. We have a consultation proposal
that says it is a criminal offence to provide inadequate information.
You could be in a state of limbo for a very long time if you still
have not provided enough information and your licence to home
educate has still not been granted. Again, we do not know what
the statement might look like. When we met the DCSF civil servant,
Iain Campbell, to discuss this at the end of June, he thought
that a couple of sentences just indicating the approach that you
might be planning to take would be all that was required. Now
it is two sides of A4, and I have known local authorities that
have not been happy with a 30-page report.
Q61 Paul Holmes: So what would
you recommend? Should it perhaps be a two-page statement, one
paragraph or the detailed academic syllabus that Simon talks about?
Fiona Nicholson: It would depend
on what was appropriate in each individual case. I find it very
easy to organise my thoughts into paragraphs in my head and then
write them down. It does not make me a better home educator; it
makes me reasonably good at dealing with authority figures. I
talk to a lot of parents who can't do that and they say, "No,
I'd rather meet somebody and talk things through". But if
the object of meeting and talking things through is to come up
with a sort of template, I do not think that would be helpful
at all. There might be a meeting with somebody from a school or
a local authority and the object of the meeting is to get some
bullet points written down, which are going to be reviewed in
six months and in a year, and your child is going to be required
to exhibit, and be progress-tested against, those things that
you said in order to have something written down in order to be
able to home educate. Graham Badman gave too much information
about what he had in the bag for us really.
Zena Hodgson: As I am sure you
are aware, quite a proportion of the home education community
likes to work in an autonomous way, responding to what their children
want to learn. So, if what is required is too much of an academic
statement, and you set out a plan for your 12 months that includes
a certain amount of academic criteria, because at the time that
is what your child is interested in, and they then say, "Actually,
no, I've changed my mind. Over the next few months I'd rather
be looking at this subject", that won't reflect the plan
that you have submitted, even though they achieve many things.
Would you then have the fear that the authority would come back
and say, "This was your plan though, and you did not stick
to it"? I think that that is also an underlying fear, certainly
for autonomous educators.
Jane Lowe: There is another issue
here, which is children who are withdrawn from school in pieces,
some of whom are suicidal. Over the years I have seen a lot of
these children, and they are not in a position to get their heads
together and think about what they want to do. This can go on
for anything up to a year. They are in such a state that if you
even mention education they are right back to square one, and
that sets up a whole cycle of fear in which they are afraid of
the pressure that will be put on them to achieve during that year.
They will have this ogre of fear of being pushed back to school,
and that is going to be hanging over them for the whole 12 months.
I think that's appalling.
Q62 Paul Holmes: What about
what Zena touched on: the philosophy of autonomous learning that
you let the child follow their interest for however long that
particular interest lasts? On the other hand, Simon has written
that that might mean that a child, after 10 or 11 years of home
education, would not have achieved some of the education that
they would need to function in the adult world.
Jane Lowe: That is something that
I have watched over the years in families that I have known, families
that I have worked with and families that I have advised, and
children who are given a free rein with their education nearly
always achieve in very extraordinary ways. If they have the resources
and the input of a friendly and concerned adult
Q63 Chairman: Has there been
any research on that?
Jane Lowe: Alan Thomas has done
a lot of research. He has actually been and stayed with families
Q64 Chairman: Is he an objective
Jane Lowe: He is not a home educator.
He is a fully-fledged academic.
Chairman: He is very positive about home
Jane Lowe: Yes, he is.
Q65 Paul Holmes: Simon wrote
"Children raised in this way may well spend months pursuing
a favourite topic, but they are unlikely to study a well-rounded
curriculum ... and therefore to acquire formal qualifications
... The restriction of a child's life chances by the early decision
of a parent, sometimes when the child is only four or five, must
surely be examined." Some years ago, I was approached by
one person in my constituency who had been home educated. In his
mid to late-20s he found that he did not have access to the professional
qualifications that would allow him to take over his father's
accountancy firm. So, the home education choices that were made
quite a long time earlier, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed,
meant that he now could not do what he wanted to do as an adult.
Fiona Nicholson: Lifelong learning.
Obviously, we need more longitudinal studies because there is
a paucity of them. The idea that something stops at 16 or 18 and
that you cannot access qualifications later is something that
we need to tear up. We need to tear up the book that says that.
My son has not got formal qualifications at the age of 16 because
we do not think that it is necessary. If he needs them in his
early 20s, I am entirely confident that he will have the nous
to go and get them. If that is a problem and at 24 he is already
too old and there is ageism in the workplace, that is another
distressing thing. There are a lot of young people coming out
of university, and they are 21. A home education parent could
say, "We have ticked the box. We have done all we could."
It does not necessarily make them fulfilled, successful, productive
adults. I was one of those people myself, and it did not get me
anywhere; I was working in a shop.
Carole Rutherford: It is well
documented that children with autism learn better if they follow
a subject that is one of their special interests. That does not
mean that once you start with one subject it does not evolve into
something else, but the child still feels that the emphasis is
on the subject that it likes and it evolves from there. It is
much easier to teach a child with autism if you start with something
that they enjoy. Then you add on to it, and it is amazing where
that can lead to. You are also enhancing things such as social
skills and life skills. At the end of the home education of my
two sons, if they are well able to look after themselves, I will
feel that I have achieved. Yes, I want them to work, but I want
them to have life skills.
Q66 Paul Holmes: Some parents
who are home educators are very committed to autonomous learning,
some are looking at rebuilding a child's self-confidence and dealing
with special educational needs. You have others, as Simon was
saying, who will get eight A*s at GCSE. There is a vast range.
Going back to earlier evidence, what about all those parents,
many of whom we do not know about, who have not got a clue how
to cope with any of this? I have always admired home educators
because of the amount of work that they do. I am a former teacher,
but I could not teach science. So, what about all the home educators
who are not in these self-confident, different and contradictory
Simon Webb: As far as not being
able to do science goes, we did our GCSE science in the kitchen.
It is not necessary to have a well-equipped laboratory to study
science; anybody can do it from materials that they buy from the
chemist shop. It is honestly not a problem. As far as autonomous
education goes, the problem is that we know that conventional
teaching works pretty well with most children, and that it fails
some of them. We do not know the same about autonomous education.
It is possible that it is very successful with a few, and that
a few will get to Oxford, but it might fail more than it succeeds
with. That is why there is a need for more research.
Fiona Nicholson: I would like
to address the issue of support. Paul, you said that you had met
home educators, or you felt that there were home educators who
would benefit from more support or who need more support. I agree
with you. I have not met the same people, but home education support
organisations and home education local groups are contacted all
the time by parents who want more information about absolutely
everything. They will come back and check. They test out anything
that you have said with any other groups. I know that they do
that with the local authorities as well. They will ask masses
of questions about what they can do. Home education support organisations
do what they can, but there has not been much from local authorities.
The Badman report has been presented as something that offers
more support. To say that I am sceptical would be an understatement,
but if more of that could be available, that would be excellent.
It would be good to have more resources and places where people
could go to for information and non-judgmental supportthe
equivalent of a constituency surgery for an MP. I know that that
does happen in some areas. North Yorkshire, for example, does
Q67 Paul Holmes: But Graham
Badman said on Monday afternoon that that is a lot of the intention
of his report. He would argue that unless you register everyone,
and unless you ask for a statement of learning, whatever that
is, there might be a lot of home educator parents who don't know
what they don't know, what they might need to be doing or how
to ask for help.
Jane Lowe: I am sure that there
are some parents who would like support, and there are other parents
who are perfectly happy to do it in their own way without support.
If registration is somehow necessary for providing support, why
can it not be voluntary, so that if anyone wants support, they
can sign up for it?
Q68 Paul Holmes: But how do
you reach home-educating parents who don't know what they're not
delivering because they are not articulate, well-educated or self-educated
Jane Lowe: I don't think you have
to be articulate, confident or particularly well educated. I think
if you are desperate as a family, and if you have a problem, you
will work at it and solve it. We find people coming to us all
the time, who are in that situation. You give them a little bit
of help, and off they go. The first parent I met, nearly 20 years
ago, was a woman whose husband was a lorry driver. She had four
children, one of whom was in deep trouble at school. She took
in ironing and paid a lady down the road, a teacher, to come in
once a week. That child is now in their 20s, working and happy.
They can do it.
Q69 Mr Carswell: I have a
general question for the panel. In Clacton, the parents of 16
children have, rightly in my opinion, refused to send their children
to a school that they believe is not able to provide the children
with a proper education. They have successfully demanded that
they receive a home education grant from the local education authority.
Is this something that you welcome, and do you think that the
sort of extra regulation and oversight demanded by Badman could
be conditional on receiving the grant? If you get the grant, you
can be overseen by the state, but if you do not, it should leave
Zena Hodgson: I am from the Home
Education Centre, and we were approached by Somerset, who said
that it had managed to put aside some sums to assist home educators.
It asked whether we would accept it, as they felt that they were
not able to give it to individual families, but could give it
to a group to spend the money best to benefit as many home educators
Chairman: Zena, you are not answering
Q70 Mr Carswell: Would you
like a legal right so that home educators could say to the local
authority, "It is my moneygive it to me now"?
Zena Hodgson: As a family?
Mr Carswell: As an individual. My child,
my moneygive it.
Zena Hodgson: Yes, I suppose.
There will always be things that your children would want to better
Fiona Nicholson: My understanding
about the situation in Clacton was that the parents were setting
up a small school. If there is a political party that supports
groups of parents setting up small schools, that would be an option
that some home educators will want to take.
Q71 Chairman: That is not
home education, though, is it?
Fiona Nicholson: No, I don't think
that is home education. When we look at the incredibly small amount
of money, Education Otherwise is doing research into the money
that local authorities are able to spend at the moment on home
education. There is a local authority that has 269 children on
their books and they spend £17,000 a year in total on staff,
training and support for those 269. There is another local authority
that will spend £125,000. We are getting those figures about
the money in now. There is a lot of money that is not in home
education, and so to try to decide where we will put the money
that we do not have is very hard.
Q72 Mr Carswell: So you would
not like to see a legal right to allow home educators to control
their child's money?
Fiona Nicholson: I don't see that
you could possibly have a situation where the money follows the
Carole Rutherford: It is difficult
to believe that the money would be there because, when we fought
for support in the system, the money was not there to support
us. Some parents may say yes, but I think the majority of parents
home-educating special needs children would say no, because they
just want to be left alone to get on with it. We don't necessarily
want to be invisiblewe just want to be able to get on with
educating our children.
Simon Webb: I live in Essex, so
I have an interest in this. I had to pay £120 for every GCSE
that my daughter took. It cost me nearly £1,000. I tried
to get the money from Essex, but there was absolutely nothing
doing. I pay council tax, but I cannot get the services from the
Q73 Mr Chaytor: What interests
me is that those who are confident about the quality and value
of home education as it stands are so reluctant to consider a
registration scheme or a process to assess their children by the
same criteria as other children. If people were nervous or unsure
about the quality of what was going on behind closed doors, I
can see that they would be nervous about registration, but what
is the objection if you are confident about the quality of what
is being done?
Jane Lowe: The problem is that
the local authorities don't leave people alonethey interfere
with what is being done.
Q74 Mr Chaytor: But there
is no registration scheme in place yet, so how can you make that
Jane Lowe: Children who are withdrawn
from school are known to the local authority, and the authority
normally makes inquiries as to the education that is being provided
Mr Chaytor: Because parents have a responsibility
to ensure that their children are properly educated.
Jane Lowe: Because parents have
delegated that duty to the school and then taken that duty back.
The local authority knows about them, so it checks up to see whether
education is being providedthat is what happens. The parent
has taken a child out of school and often faces a problem because
of the situation that has led to that child being withdrawn, so
they cannot just switch seamlessly into some kind of delightful
arrangement at homeit takes a while to set things up, to
sort things out, to calm the child down, to find out what resources
you have and to find the way forward. Obviously, parents will
not be happy about the demand that we prepare a statement, that
we should be seen within x days of withdrawing our child from
school and that everything should be in place. That is not reasonable,
and it is no wonder that parents are worried about it.
Q75 Mr Chaytor: Do you think
that parents should be able to give their children medical attention
at home without any registration? What is the difference between
setting yourself up as a teacher or as a doctor at home?
Jane Lowe: All adults can learn,
but not all adults have the technical expertise to do brain surgery
at homethat is just not reasonable.
Q76 Mr Chaytor: I agree, but
should there not be some objective assessment of levels of capability?
Is there not a wider issue for the community in that the child
is not the personal possession of the parent, but a member of
the wider community?
Jane Lowe: The child is not the
possession of the State, for the State to impose its rules on.
Mr Chaytor: No, but the child is a member
of the wider community.
Chairman: Can we have just one question
at a time and no comments on questions? David, get on with your
Q77 Mr Chaytor: I am just
curious as to why you are so reluctant to demonstrate the quality
of what you are doing. You are happy to assert it, but not to
Carole Rutherford: It is not the
quality of what we are doing that we are worried about; it is
local authorities coming into our homes and seeing our children,
who are often traumatised and suicidal. I have a good relationship
with my local authority and I want it to continue, but when we
took our son out of school, he had cyclical vomiting syndrome
as well as autism. He would wrap himself in a duvet and lie under
his bed if anybody so much as knocked on the door, because he
didn't want anybody to come in. If I'd had the home ed people
at my door three or four weeks after we took him out of school,
they would have seriously worried about what was going on. Now,
six or seven years down the line, it is different. So it is not
about the quality of my provision; it's about everything that
comes with thatit's about the intrusion into the home.
They are not even saying that you can be seen somewhere elseit
has to be the place of education, as if we were running a business.
We're not talking about a place of businessit's our home.
We are trying to do the best that we can for our children.
Mr Chaytor: I understand that point completely.
Carole Rutherford: But the law,
the way it is at the moment, says that it is my responsibility
to educate my child. It does not say that I have a responsibility
to minister to him in a medical capacity, but it does say that
it is my responsibility to educate him.
Mr Chaytor: I understand completely the
point about the initial period of withdrawal from school and the
trauma, and about the difficulties of children with special educational
needs, perhaps, but surely over a period of time
Carole Rutherford: It does not
go away if you are autistic. Over a period of time, you are still
autistic, and it is still going to be the same 10 years down the
Q78 Mr Chaytor: Lots of children
in mainstream schools and special schools are on the autistic
spectrum, so is it your argument that under no circumstances whatsoever
should there be any objective assessment of the progress a child
has made or of the achievements of particular children who are
educated at home?
Carole Rutherford: Not unless
the person we were involved with knew specifically about the condition
and was trained about the condition. Having another person that
just knows my son would not be enough for me: it would have to
be someone I trust to understand an answer my son gave them, because
often children with special educational needs, especially those
with autism, give the answer that they think adults expect from
them. It is not necessarily the right answer, but if they can
give an answer that they think will shut the adult up, even if
they are autistic, they will give it.
Q79 Mr Chaytor: But isn't
this issue dealt with by one of the recommendations in the Badman
Carole Rutherford: No.
Mr Chaytor: Can I tell you what recommendation
I think it is? Isn't it dealt with in the recommendation that
recognises that there is a need for further training?
Carole Rutherford: But it doesn't
mention special educational needs.
Mr Chaytor: Well, that doesn't say very
much about the nature of the training.
Carole Rutherford: It mentions
safeguarding and puts that at the top. If you put safeguarding
at the top, the safeguarding has got to include children with
special educational needs and how you would approach those children.
Chairman: This is becoming a dialogue.
Fiona, what is your answer to David's question?
Fiona Nicholson: When we first
came in here we were being asked whether we objected to a simple
registration scheme, and I imagine that we might have sounded
quite paranoid when we said it would not stop here. It has already
not stopped here, about 15 minutes later. This is on the level
of an "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"
line of questioning, which we get all the time. It is extremely
difficult to answer on that negative basis, and that is why you
are finding very well-defended positions.
Chairman: Let me put this down very straight:
this is a Select Committee. There are 14 members and they have
their own opinions and ask their own questions. You interpret
us as having moved position in 15 minutes, but that is not the
collective view of the Committee. This is a group of very distinct
individuals who want to find out the facts, and that is why we
are asking the questions. It may be that questions from David
are from a different angle than those from Graham, but that is
the nature of Select Committees.
Mr Stuart: That is certainly true.
Q80 Mr Chaytor: If you are asked
these questions all the time, surely it must become easier, rather
than more difficult, to provide answers. You have voluntarily
registered, as you told us before, so what is your objection?
Do you have a profound objection to an external assessor coming
to discuss with you the progress of your child or the achievements
of your children? I genuinely do not understand the basis of the
objection. I of course understand some of the specific points
that Carole has made about children on the autistic spectrum and
the issue of the period of time after the withdrawal from school,
but how can you justify locking the door against the world outside
over several years? I don't understand that.
Fiona Nicholson: I don't see why
we have moved to "locking the door against the outside world".
In my local authority in Sheffield we have a group of home educating
parents who meet regularly with the local authority, and in some
of those cases the parents are not known officially and are not
on the books, but they are not hidden .They will go and talk to
the councillors, line managers and individuals who are the home
education visitors, and their children will be there as well and
there will be that level of interaction. We have invited them
to visit our groups and they have been to visit groups and talk
to people. They are not checking in names at the door. They are
aware that they will be talking to people who are not officially
known and register them. It is very active outreach work that
they are doing and I think it is very good. In the local authorities
that I have applauded, such as those North Yorkshire and Somerset,
the same things are happening. If you are focusing in on a one-to-one
inspection with somebody interrogating, questioning or interviewing
individual family members, that is something that I would want
to move away from. I did it for myself and my family for specific
reasons. I am a single parent and my son's father, at that point,
was concerned because he felt that my son was not being tested
in any way. Because my son is not at all good with surprises,
I did not want somebody to knock on the door and say, "You
have got nothing to hide and nothing to fear. We are going to
come and test you now." So I voluntarily made contact. People
do not voluntarily make contact and we need to look at why they
would not want to make contact with the local authority. That
seems to me the central issue to address. Why are people given
the choice? Why is it so bizarre that I made the decision to grass
myself up? That is really what you need to look at.
Chairman: Let us hear from Zena and Simon,
and then we are really running out of time.
Zena Hodgson: Can I just add that
I am not officially registered, but I am evidently not hidden.
The duty for my children to receive an education lies with me,
not with the State. I know that that duty is being fulfilled.
I know that my children are progressing and developing in a way
that they are happy with and we are happy with as a family. I
do not believe that that emphasis should change and that the state
should have more of a say about how well my children are progressing,
over how I feel they are progressing.
Simon Webb: Parents might have
responsibility for their children's education, but all the rights
in this case are with the child. The child has a right to a suitable
education. If it is not receiving suitable education and it is
not getting that right, society has a stake in establishing whether
the rights of the child are being respected in regard to receiving
an education. In that case, the parents would have to give way
to society's legitimate interest in the case.
Chairman: This has been a very interesting
session. I am sorry that we have run out of time, but we have
another session before 12 o'clock, when people have to move across
to Prime Minister's Question Time. Thank you very much. This is
not the end of the dialogue. If you go away and think that there
are things we didn't ask you or things that you didn't have a
chance to say, we are very open to dialogue. Thank you all for
21 See Ev 81. Back