Examination of Witnesses (Questions 81
WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 2009
Q81 Chairman: May I welcome Sir Paul
Ennals, Ellie Evans, Peter Traves and Philip Noyes to our deliberations.
Peter, may I say that we were very upset that Colin Green couldn't
come and we will take up the fact that he is not here with your
professional organisation, the Association of Directors of Children's
Services. We don't believe that it's good manners to tell a Select
Committee that someone whom we have specifically asked to give
evidence on behalf of an organisation has more pressing matters
in talking to a conference. We will seek to talk to the executive
of your organisation about that. We are very pleased that you
are here, Peter, but we think it was very discourteous of your
colleague not to be here today. I hope that that message will
go back to him personally, because I was very tempted to send
the Serjeant at Arms to take him from the conference and bring
him here, which it is our right to do. Will you remind him of
that? This is the first time this Committee has had such discourtesy,
apart from one brush with a trade union. We are not happy about
it, but it is nice to have you and it is not your fault.
Peter Traves: I totally understand
that and I will take that point back. I only heard about this
yesterday or the day before. I cleared my diary to come down,
so I feel a little like the boy who is told off for the other
Q82 Chairman: Absolutely, but it
is necessary to put it on the public record that we do not accept
such discourteous behaviour to the Committee from a professional
organisation. We are looking at home education. Paul, do you want
me to call you "Sir Paul" all the time?
Sir Paul Ennals: No, that's fine.
Q83 Chairman: Okay, no titles then.
I welcome you all. I will give you a couple of minutes each to
say where we are, what you think of Badman and what you would
like to see come out of this inquiry. Paul, I start with you.
Sir Paul Ennals: I am Paul Ennals,
chief executive of the National Children's Bureau and I was invited
to be a member of the advisory group for the Graham Badman review,
which meant that I attended two or three meetings and had the
opportunity to comment on a draft report. I accepted the invitation
for three reasons that might come up during this session. First,
I have long felt that much more supportpositive, constructive,
active supportcould and should be offered and made available
to home educators. Secondly, I felt that there are some genuine
and significant safeguarding concerns about a very small proportion
of children within that community. Thirdly, and related to that,
because NCB is an umbrella organisation whose membership includes
not only home education organisations such as Education Otherwise
but local authorities, I felt that this is an area of public policy
which has been riven by disagreements, often through misunderstandings.
I have sought, not particularly successfully up to now, to enable
this process of the Badman review to lead to a somewhat more harmonious
and shared approach to this group of children.
Ellie Evans: I am Ellie Evans,
and I manage children missing education and elective home education
for West Sussex county council. I was part of the consultative
group on the Badman review from local authorities and was happy
to be part of that group, because, like my colleague, I feel very
passionately that all children should have a voice. They also
have a right to be protected and to receive a suitable education.
My particular concern is the conflict between children missing
education legislation and elective home education because it is
very difficult for the local authority to discharge a duty on
children missing education when we have a legitimate group that
is under the radar.
Peter Traves: I am Peter Traves,
director of children's services for Staffordshire and I was also
interviewed by Graham as part of the review. Broadly, as you know,
the ADCS welcomes the review and thinks it is balanced and generally
sensitive. However, I do think the way it is presented and the
way it is interpreted will be critical, because I think we have
to get the balance right. The key is the relationships that are
to be established between local authorities and home educators.
Unless that relationship is a positive one, no amount of legislation
is going to make this work. Local authorities must assume that
the overwhelming majority of people who educate at home do so
for very good reasons and do so very well, in many cases. The
problem, however, is that directors of children's services now
hold very substantial accountabilities for all the children who
live within their area. To be put in a position where you're simply
not aware of a significant number of those children and what's
actually happening to them is not helpful to us. I do think a
register would be helpful. I do think that some visiting process
needs to be put in place. However, the danger is that that is
perceived simply as the heavy hand of the local authority. Sometimes,
to be quite frank, it is the heavy hand of the local authority.
I don't think that's the only relationship we can have, though.
I do think it's possible to establish a constructive relationship,
and if this is going to work, I think it's going to depend on
local authorities and others and the DCSF working closely with
organisations like Education Otherwise to make sure we have a
model that is supportive and critical, and that a genuine dialogue
Philip Noyes: I'm Philip Noyes,
director of public policy at the National Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children. We're a safeguarding child protection
organisation. I don't have expertise in education. Our interest
in this, though, is to ensure that every child is properly protected.
We know that most children in this country grow well and happy,
with some fits and spells on the way, but a significant minority
do not. We've got no view on people who elect to home-educate
their children being different from the rest of us, but we are
concerned to ensure that children who are educated at home receive
the best education they can and are well and safe. We are also
concerned about children who are completely under the radar altogether.
We think it's important to differentiate one from the other. We
support the Badman report. We think its logic, from the point
of view of principle, in its first chapter through to its conclusions,
is well made. We are very keen to help in whatever way we can
to ensure the right balance between regulation and partnership.
The course of this process has brought me into personal contact
with home educators that I hadn't met before, and I have huge
personal respect for them. I understand the extent to which we
mustn't offend people who do so well, but at the same time, we
need to find the children who are below the radar and make sure
Q84 Chairman: May I start the questioning
with you, Paul. The criticism of Badman is that it was done in
great haste. Some people say the research base is slipshodnot
that it's wrong, but that it's slipshodand not up to the
normal standard. Of course, it was done in five months. What do
you say to people who say, "Look, this was all done in haste,
and it's really not quite as good as it could have been"?
Sir Paul Ennals: There is certainly
not yet enough research evidence, but I think sometimes, when
we constantly ask for more research, we're just putting off some
of the trickier decisions. I think the survey has some weaknesses,
but the real problem is that I don't think it's survey data of
the type that has been undertaken which produces the answers for
us. The home education population is not a homogeneous group.
It's not one community, as indeed most of us aren't. In my mind,
there are three or four separate, as it were in broad terms, sub-groups.
There is a group who are very firmly committed to the principle
of educating their child at home. Most of them are well educated,
highly motivated and, in general, although there isn't research
evidence that's firm to show it, I suspect that they produce really
good-quality outcomes for their children. There's a second groupwe
were hearing from one earlierwhere their child has special
educational needs. Very often, the withdrawal of the child from
the school is either the failure of the schoolvery often
it isor there's something very specific about the needs
of the children. Then the third group, which also isn't a group,
is that shadowy and much smaller group where there are children
at very significant risk, either where there may be some malevolent
parentswe do know of some cases where children are withdrawn
from school to be taken out of the public eyeand others
where the parent may well have mental health difficulties. It's
thereit's really a very small proportionwhere the
serious safeguarding risks occur. When the data show, for example,
as you were analysing the other day, a smalland it is a
smallhigher ratio of children with child protection within
the home education population, that couldn't and shouldn't be
used in any way to blacken the names and the reputation of home
educating parents as a whole. What it is, I believe, identifying
is a small population that, to a certain extent, we do already
know about, some of whom will choose to use home education as
the opportunity to not be identified. We could do triple the amount
of research data looking at the figures, and I don't think it
would highlight any further what's really a series of individual
issues that we find across the country. It is the same with the
outcomes. The limited research that has been done around the educational
attainment of children has tended to be self-selected; it has
tended to be from those home education parents who are willing
to be considered, and, broadly speaking, it has shown good educational
outcomes. And I am not surprised; they are educated, they are
bright, they are deeply motivated, they are focused on the needs
of their child. Why wouldn't their child do really well out of
Q85 Chairman: You said four groups,
and you made it three.
Sir Paul Ennals: Did I? Forgive
me. Within that last group there are two sub-sets. One is the
groupI think it is very smallthat is malevolent,
and the other is very vulnerable children and families. The extra
sentence that I should have said is that I am aware of some anecdotal
evidence of many families who are advised by someone in the school
systemeither the local authority or the schoolto
withdraw their child and educate them themselves, not in the child's
best interest, and not, in my view, in the parents' best interest,
but because the child presents some behaviour challenges within
the school. That is entirely wrong, and although we don't have
objective evidence as to how many, I certainly know of some individual
Q86 Chairman: I am glad you mentioned
that category, and I reminded you to mention it, because I was
with a director of children's services yesterday evening who said
that when he took over a local authority he found a number of
schools that forced people out of school, to de-register into
home education, for the convenience of the school. Ellie, what
about the view that all this has been rushed and it wasn't nearly
as good as it could be? What is your evaluation of Badman; you've
seen the criticism and you heard the criticism, because I saw
you sitting in the Gallery just now. How do you answer the sort
of profound criticism that you heard earlier?
Ellie Evans: I think it's very
difficult to depend totally on data because, as we've already
mentioned, there is a tremendous amount we don't know, and therefore
to actually get a complete data set around this subject is, I
think, very difficult. There is no substantial quantity of data,
as you say, about outcomes. Even in child protection issues, on
which I know, obviously, we've been asked for data. In local authorities,
some of that data is not aggregated, either, so it's very difficult
to actually deliver the data when asked for it, and I know that
I personally have struggled to deliver data for various surveys
that have gone around.
Q87 Chairman: Is it only a question
of data? Perhaps I'll turn to Philip on this. We have all these
universities with research departments and, as I ask our special
advisers to this Committee, is there no research in local authority
areas to find out what the scale of this is, what the challenges
are, and how many people are involved? Even if we took a number
of local authorities and researched themand I don't mean
just data, though data is useful, but in-depth research, and knowing
what's going on in, say, an urban area of our country, and a rural
area and so onsurely that research must have been done,
or surely your organisation or somebody should have commissioned
Philip Noyes: Research may well
follow on this discussion, but there is a real poverty of research
into demographics of young people and what they receive from local
authorities. Also, it is very difficult to piece together the
scale of safeguarding concerns and abuse in this country. We,
the NSPCC, are in the middle of a prevalence study to understand
the scale of abuse in this country, but there is nothing that
replicates some American work to understand the incidencehow
much there is in a particular place in a particular year. So when
I had a look at Mr Badman's report I was surprised at some lack
of detail around how the relationship between the home educators
and the local authorities works now. I wasn't surprised at the
lack of evidence about children below the radar or the scale of
maltreatment in our communities. May I say something else about
it being rushed. We didn't actually feel it was any different
to the rush that is now just part of life when we are asked to
consult for government; things happen at a very quick pace. I
sympathise if he would have liked longer and didn't get it.
Chairman: Peter, what's your view on
Peter Traves: I think it's a little
bit harsh to say that it's not of an over-good quality, to be
quite honest, Chair.
Chairman: I am not saying it is. I'm
saying that people have said it is. It's my job to ask if that
is right or not.
Peter Traves: No, I don't think
it is. This is not a piece of academic research. It is actually
a report, as you know. The key question is does it raise the right
questions from which we can move forward. I think that the report
does raise the right questions. The problem would be if we rushed
from this to legislation that was based solely around concerns
about safeguarding. We do need to look at the safeguarding issue.
The danger is that that would push us in a particular direction
that I think would be unnecessarily heavy-handed because, to be
quite frank, Graham Badman says clearly in the report that, from
what he's seen, there isn't evidence that home education is used
on a large scale to disguise the abuse of children. We also know
that there are a significant number of children who go to school
who are abused, and that is not always picked up. My point is
that we need to move from this report to a constructive dialogue
with those organisations that are involved in home education to
move things forward. There are things in here that are actually
absolutely right. I do not understand the argument against registration
if it is done sensitively.
Chairman: Right, let's move on.
Q88 Mr Chaytor: I have a question
for Peter. First, on the issue of registration, the submission
of the Association of Directors of Children's Services says that
further legal technicalities are needed to ensure local authorities
have the powers that they need to carry out the registration system.
What are the issues surrounding the powers in respect of registration?
Peter Traves: First of all, at
the moment, we don't know how many children are educated at home.
It is interesting that in his discussion with me, Graham Badman
talked about a figure that was a multiple of three from the figures
that are known. The first problem that a local authority has is,
because it is actually something people can do of their own accord
and they are not compelled to register, that we simply do not
know how many children are, for example, educated at home in Staffordshire.
We guess it is at least twice as many as are actually registered.
Legislation should require people to register the fact that they
have chosen elsewhere, because, after all, in relation to any
other form of education, we would know where that child is. It
is the assumption of some home educators that that would automatically
lead to an intrusive and harsh approach from the local authority.
That is what we need to reassure people about. We do need to know
where children are and we need the power to require people to
let us know.
Q89 Mr Chaytor: But from the local
authority's point of view, I appreciate that there has not been
a power to register in the past. Isn't it pretty self-evident
that this is something that local authorities should have been
doing? Local authorities have access to data on births and the
number of children in primary and secondary schools, and they
have access to the number of children registered with Connexions.
Isn't it possible to work out the number of kids who are not in
school? Why haven't local authorities been doing that over many
Peter Traves: Not really, David.
We do have access to data on births through the NHS, but every
child born in Staffordshire doesn't stay there for ever. Children
move in and out of Staffordshire all the time. Consequently, the
population is turbulent. In some parts of the countryLondon
is a classic casethat turbulence is of a very, very high
nature. So the data to which we would have access simply wouldn't
allow us any confidence that we know of all the children who are
in our authority at the moment.
Q90 Mr Chaytor: But shouldn't local
authorities have made some kind of effort to do that? Accepting
the proviso about migration in and out, they should have made
some kind of effort to do this. They don't seem to have done so
at allhence, the criticisms of the Badman report that it
didn't have a solid basis of statistics to underpin it.
Peter Traves: Actually, I think
every effort is made to try to establish the children who are
living in the local authority. It's just that, at the moment,
we don't have sufficient confidence that the evidence base we
have access to tells us exactly how many children are there.
Q91 Mr Chaytor: Moving on from registration,
what about refusing registration? What do you see as the criteria
on which a local authority ought to be able to refuse registration
of a home educator?
Peter Traves: I think there are
two areas in which that would be possible. One would clearly be
where there were concerns about safeguarding issues for a childa
child who we perhaps already had concerns about through the health
service or other agencies that we work with in the children's
trust. If there were concerns, it would be absolutely right and
proper for a director of children's services and for the children's
trust to refuse the right to educate at home.
Q92 Mr Chaytor: As of now, a child
is put on the child protection register. Shouldn't the local authority
know if that child is being educated at home? Why isn't there
an intervention to prevent that as of now, because the knowledge
Peter Traves: I think that in
many authorities there is an intervention in that case. The problem
in general, David, is not the children who are on the child protection
register but those who should be on it.
Chairman: Can we bring Ellie in on this,
as she has expertise?
Ellie Evans: Going back to finding
children and knowing the whereabouts of children in our authority,
obviously, since the Education and Inspections Act 2006, we have
had a duty to find children who are missing from education. We
have actively been seeking them. However, some members of the
home educating community have autonomous learning as their ethos,
and some of them tend not to engage with any state intervention
whatsoever. We cannot make an assumption that they are engaged
with someonethey are not always engaged with someone. They
are totally within their own community. We actively work with
partner agencies to find children who are missing from education.
That may deliver a home educated person at the same time, because
there is an assumption that if a child is not in a school, they
are missing from education, but clearly they are not. I would
reiterate that we have some very good home educators who we work
incredibly well with, and we embrace what they are doing through
such education. Going back to challenging when a child is on a
child protection plan, that is actually quite difficult. We would
have to go to a court and persuade it on welfare groundswe
may not be able to. It is not a given in child protection legislation
that you can refuse home education. You would have to present
the case in a court, and challenge and say that on welfare grounds
the child should not be home educated.
Q93 Mr Chaytor: So, as of now, in
your local authority and many others, children on the child protection
register with a child protection plan are being home educated,
and that is widely known.
Ellie Evans: I would tend to ask
the chair of a case conference to make a recommendation that the
child should not be home educated. I tend to go through it that
way, but it is difficult because there is no legislation around
this at all.
Q94 Mr Chaytor: Can I pursue another
question with you, Ellie. On the issue of quality in education,
if a parent were completely distraught with the way their child
was being taught or cared for in a conventional school and withdrew
the child, and then the local authority came along and refused
to register the parent as a home educator, where would that leave
the child? Secondly, what criteria would you look for for successful
registration, or, conversely, what criteria would you look for
to deregister or not register a parent?
Ellie Evans: Going back to the
breakdown of a relationship with a school, I welcome the recommendation
in the Badman report for a 20-day cooling-off period in which
the child is not removed from the roll. A tremendous amount of
work can be done, and there can be a multi-agency approach to
resolving issues, so it is not necessary for a child to come off
the school roll. Sometimes, in my experience, there has been a
knee-jerk reaction, but perhaps matters could be resolved or we
could offer alternative provision. That is something that I would
really welcome. On the criteria for registration, if a child comes
off a school roll, it is the school's responsibility to let us
know that the child has been withdrawn from school by the parent.
We would then make contact with the parent and give them all the
information around elective home education. It is the school's
responsibility, not the parent's, to let us know. We work very
closely with home educating families. I have some fantastic advisers
who work very closely with them and have very good relationships
with them. Home educators are embraced and work very well with
Q95 Mr Chaytor: What guidance does
your authority give to schools about encouraging parents to withdraw
their children and become home educators in order to avoid exclusion
or other disciplinary procedures?
Ellie Evans: It is straightforward:
schools should not be doing it. It is as simple as that.
Q96 Mr Chaytor: Right. What is your
assessment of the extent to which schools in other local authorities
encourage parents to withdraw children?
Ellie Evans: I think it is very
difficult for schools because they have certain criteria that
they have to meet and benchmarking that they have to perform with
regard to examination results and the measures that are placed
upon them. I would challenge a school if I understood that that
practice were happening. I would personally challenge the school
and go much further up the food chain if I felt it necessary.
Q97 Mr Chaytor: That doesn't answer
the question, does it? The question is what is your assessment
of the extent of the problem with the local authorities. Would
5% of schools be doing that? How many parents out of the recorded
20,000 home educators across the country have become home educators
because they were encouraged to do so by the schools as a means
of avoiding exclusion or making it easier for the school?
Ellie Evans: I can't answer that
question. I really don't know. It is not a piece of research I
am familiar with.
Chairman: Peter wanted to come in.
Peter Traves: I could not answer
specifically on that one, either, David. What I can say is that
things such as unofficial exclusions from school, particularly
for children on the autistic spectrum, are more common than the
encouragement to home education. One thing I have been doing in
my authority is working with an organisation called Jigsaw, which
is a pressure group of parents. I made it explicit that I would
want any parent who receives that advice from a school to contact
me directly. I have had a number of direct contacts in that way
and it has led to some robust discussions with head teachers.
Q98 Lynda Waltho: I would like to
look at home visits by a local authority. There is a significant
group of home educators who believe that local authorities already
have sufficient powers to intervene should they be worried about
welfare or educational provision, specifically within the Children
Act 1989. Could you spell out, Ellie, what an authority can do
at the moment and why you think that may be inadequate?
Ellie Evans: Currently we are
engaging with the children as they come out of school. There is
no necessity for a parent who has a child rising five to inform
us that they are going to choose the elective home education route.
That is when it is very difficult because we do not necessarily
know about those children. When the children are withdrawn from
school, we make contact with the parents and say that we will
offer advice and support for home education. If a parent decides
that they don't want that intervention, they can write a report
to give us information around the provision that they are intending
and they can do that on an annual basis. I have a family where
we haven't seen the children for five years. We have no rights
to see those children in the current situation. Clearly, our concern
that we haven't seen them does not constitute a risk of significant
harm and therefore we can't raise a question with social care,
for example, because we haven't seen the children. That's not
sufficient. It is a limbo situation. Hopefully, home-educating
parents will work with us and the advisers. They have got some
good relationships with a lot of our home-educating families but
in the current situation, we have no rights to see children; we
have no rights to check the education provision because we have
a letter or report sent by a parent and we have to accept that.
Lynda Waltho: I don't know if Peter has
anything to add. I would be interested.
Peter Traves: I think Ellie is
right on that and considerably more expert than I am in that area.
Q99 Chairman: Do you talk to health
visitors and people like that? They have access, better access
than you, don't they?
Ellie Evans: If a parent wants
to engage. If a parent doesn't want to engage, they haven't.