Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 2009
Q100 Chairman: A health visitor has
the right to enter any premises, I understand, unlike social workers.
Ellie Evans: But parents can still
opt out and, in my experience, health visitors wouldn't force
themselves on a family unless, again, there was some sort of concern.
Chairman: What about our two wingers
here, Paul and Phil? Is that right or not?
Sir Paul Ennals: I am not quite
Philip Noyes: I'm not sure. I
thought not, actually. I thought there was one statutory visit
that health visitors have to make at 15 days for the baby and
after that contact with a health visitor, I thought, was voluntary.
Chairman: Sorry, Lynda, back to you.
Q101 Lynda Waltho: I am quite happy
with that answer. In three of the four cases that Badman cites
in the serious case reviews, the children had been seen by social
services several times prior to the incident that caused the review.
In the light of that, how valuable will additional home visits
be in those situations?
Ellie Evans: Sorry, are we talking
about safeguarding concerns or education provision?
Lynda Waltho: Safeguarding.
Ellie Evans: It depends on the
level of the concern. If social care is engaged, it doesn't necessarily
mean that it has gone to a child protection plan. It could be
an initial assessment or something like that. It doesn't necessarily
mean that we have moved on to a child protection plan. Additional
visits, certainly from education professionals, will primarily
monitor the educational provision.
Peter Traves: The other thing
is that, although it is taking a while, there is a growing sense
of an overall children's service around the five outcomes. I used
to do a lot of home visits when I worked in Shropshire in the
1990s. Now, there is a greater view about the five outcomes and
a greater sense that the people involved in educational visits
and the social workers involved in social work visits will take
a broader view across those five outcomes. It is by no means complete
yet, and we have not arrived at that destination. However, the
speed of the growth of awareness should not be underestimated.
I think that those serious case reviews were picking up failures
on the part of the process, rather than an improving trend.
Philip Noyes: I was going to give
the slightly different answer that safeguardingand good
it ismeans trying to remove false negative information
or missing things and eliminating false positives or thinking
abuse is there when it is not. The fact that some things have
been missed does not militate against the need to be concerned
and vigilant. With Every Child Matters and the five outcomes has
come the verb "to safeguard" and the sense that safeguarding
is preventive and not just the storm-trooping kind of child protection
work. The mindset that the DCSF quite rightly wants to inculcate
in everybody is a sense that safeguarding is everyone's responsibility:
everybody, regardless of whether they are specialist professionals
or people at the periphery of children's lives, should have a
soft-touch awareness of when a child might be at risk and know
what to do next. From our point of view, those failures to recognise
abuse are serious as they stand, but they do not militate against
the need for a sensitive, soft-touch approach to a sense of vulnerability
or what the home visitor does next if he or she is concerned.
Q102 Lynda Waltho: How about the
confidence of home educators in the people who will be visiting?
How do local authorities typically staff their home education
teams? How much knowledge do the officers have of safeguarding
Chairman: Who wants to take that? Ellie?
Lynda Waltho: I am sorry, it is just
that you are the expert witness on this one.
Ellie Evans: The advisory teachers
that we have in our authority are education-based. However, they
all have safeguarding training on a rolling programme. I feel
quite confident that they have the ability to recognise abuse,
for example, and know where to go next. They are fully conversant
with the process. As I say, they are primarily education-based
because the bottom line is that that is what we are asking them
to check out the provision of.
Q103 Lynda Waltho: Would that be
the case across all local authorities or the majority of them?
Do you have that information?
Sir Paul Ennals: I think that
is what I wanted to say. In the same way as the home education
community is not homogenous, I do not think that local authority
services in this area are. ManyI would say mostof
them are largely staffed by people whose expertise and background
is in education, maybe from inspection and advisory services.
There are more now that involve and bring together the services
with children missing from education, which strengthens the safeguarding
aspect. On one level, that is positive and on another, it might
make home educators feel more nervous and anxious. There are different
levels of qualification in teams across the country. There is
not a standard level of qualification. The education and social
work population is quite varied in its levels of qualification
Q104 Lynda Waltho: Would it be useful
if there was a standard or a level?
Sir Paul Ennals: I am not sure
about a standard. I would certainly like to see a higher level
of qualifications across the piece and more effective and appropriate
training made available. It is one of Graham Badman's recommendations
that something be done about that. The circumstances in Somerset
are very different from those in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. It
would be quite hard to produce one national model that requires
a certain level of qualifications, size of team and certain backgrounds.
Ellie Evans: I want to add that
my team have gained greatly from the home educating community
as well. Some of my members of staff have been there for 10 years
and have learned a great deal from the home educating community.
I think that it has been a bit of a two-way process, for sure.
Chairman: Helen, do you want to ask a
supplementary question on this subject?
Q105 Helen Southworth: Yes. May I
ask a question in general terms about orthodoxy. In terms of a
home visit, it is a judgmental home visit by its purpose. How
confident are you that the issues around the cultures of home
education by choice are understood by people within the home visit
process and that that understanding can be built into this? Are
you confident that there will not be culture clashes, misunderstandings
and bad judgments?
Peter Traves: I am quite happy
to answer that one.
Q106 Chairman: Peter, are you from
a social background or an education background?
Peter Traves: I am from an education
Chairman: Thank you. I asked because
we have not had your CV.
Peter Traves: Sorry. I was a teacher
in inner London for many years and I worked in an advisory service,
both in London and in Shropshire. I was a head teacher and now
I am a director of children's services. In terms of orthodoxy,
I must say that there is a danger of a mystique being created
here about what we mean by "good education". What we
are talking about is differences in terms of pedagogy and differences
in terms of methodology. Anybody who is half-decent who goes to
look at home education and expects to see a replication of what
takes place in a school is entirely missing the point, because
the whole advantage of educating at home as against school is
that freedom and that flexibility. What we should be looking at
are the outcomes. Is that child growing in confidence, in relation
to the situation that they are in? I say that because I take the
point that some children have been in pieces from their educational
experience before, and it would be utterly unrealistic to make
the same demands of them. Is that child, over a period of time,
gaining a wider view of the kinds of knowledge that common sense
would suggest we require to operate in our society? I think that
the point was made by one of the witnesses in the first group
that literacy is not a negotiable skill for most people. If somebody
ends up at the end of their education experience being illiterate
or poorly literate, that is inappropriate education. So I think
that there is a danger here that we are confusing methodologyI
think that most visitors are sympathetic to a variety of methodologieswith
the outcomes. What is the child learning? What progress are they
making in terms of their self-esteem, their confidence and their
love of learning?
Chairman: Right. Two quick supplementary
questions. You first, Edward.
Q107 Mr Timpson: You might have heard
from those giving evidence earlier that one of their main concerns
about the Badman recommendations is the proposal for the local
authority officer, whoever that may be, to have the right of access
to the child and to interview the child without the presence of
the child's parents. They are right to be concerned about that,
are they not?
Ellie Evans: It is my understanding
that that is only if appropriate. We tend to miss the condition
"if appropriate", which is really substantial in this
regard. If it is appropriate, the child will be seen. I have experience
of children who have not wanted to continue with home education
but the parent has desired it. It would have been appropriate
at that point to obtain that child's views, and it was only because
his cousin had gone into a school and said that he was so discontented
that we managed to ascertain that. That would have been appropriate,
because of the age of the child. There is also a proviso that
another "trusted adult" could be present. I think that
the idea of an officer sitting in a room who is a stranger to
a child is not appropriate. We must remember that there are additional
words in that whole phraseology, rather than just, "We're
going to interview a child on a one-to-one basis", because
that is not what Badman intended, as I understand it.
Q108 Mr Timpson: But it goes back
to Helen's point about the fact that a judgement will have to
be made in each individual case, and that judgement will be subjective.
One of the concerns is, as has been demonstrated with some home
education teams around the countryPaul alluded to this
earlierthat there is a range of ability in the people involved
in that process and that they will not have the skills to make
an appropriate judgement. Is that judgement based on looking at
educational attainment, or on a safeguarding issue? It is a very
grey area and I am not sure at the moment that we know exactly
what "if appropriate" means.
Ellie Evans: But we would have
the freedom to commission somebody who did know.
Q109 Mr Timpson: Then we are into
a resources issue, aren't we?
Ellie Evans: Yes.
Q110 Chairman: But Ellie, surely
in our recent experience of high-profile tragedies in the child
care area, the social work profession has been criticised in particular
cases where it did not talk to the child on its own. One of the
major criticisms of work in one or two of the notorious cases
that we have had was the failure to talk to the child on their
own. Why is that appropriate to social work in one situation but
not in another?
Philip Noyes: We supported the
recommendation to see children on their own, but there would be
a caveat. If there was a situation in which the child was clearly
in distress and really could not cope with seeing the visitor
on her own, it would be perfectly reasonable to write down the
fact that you could not see them. But it is an important matter
of principle, for educational reasons as well as for the general
role, rather than just safeguarding, that the child sitting on
her own has an opportunity to say what she thinks.
Q111 Chairman: But when we looked
at looked-after children, there were some who said, "We never
got the chance to talk to anyone on our own. There was always
someonea carer or someone elsewho we were worried
might overhear what we said."
Philip Noyes: In the safeguarding
context, we hope that that will be the No. 1 point in the new
"Working Together" document. They must be seen on their
own and have the opportunity to say what they think. There is
a skills issue linked to the quality of the person on the other
end of the conversation. They must be able to understand what
is being said and be able to listen to what the child is saying
and deal with it sensitively. That is a whole other area around
training for the role.
Q112 Mr Stuart: Do you all accept
the fundamental right of parents to home educate?
Philip Noyes: Yes.
Peter Traves: Yes.
Ellie Evans: Yes.
Sir Paul Ennals: Yes.
Q113 Mr Stuart: Peter, you said you
didn't understand the argument against registration. Isn't there
a principle that regulation and registration in almost any area
should have to pass a high hurdle of need before it is brought
in? There should not be an assumption that the state regulates
and registers us all in business or our personal lives for its
convenience. You said that there are responsibilities and that
it is not very helpful for us not to have all that data. Parents
and children are not there to help you meet your responsibilities.
Peter Traves: May I be clear about
what those accountabilities are. If something happens to a child
in terms of any of those five outcomes, we are held directly to
account. This is not some kind of button counting. We have seen
recently what happens to directors of children's services when
things go seriously wrong. It is not only a case of sacking; it
is public humiliation. It is a very serious matter. If I get it
wrong in my job with children across a broad area, I am held to
account for children's welfare. I think that not knowing that
there are children living and being educated in my area is unreasonable
if I am being held to that account. It is not about state control;
it is about being aware. What we do with that information can
either make it an oppressive or a reasonable relationship.
Q114 Mr Stuart: Do you think a higher
percentage of children are failed in poorly performing schools
than in home education overall?
Peter Traves: I think a higher
proportion of children are failed in relation to their social
background in this country at the moment. That is the biggest
single issue in terms of failure in education.
Q115 Mr Stuart: My point is about
failing schools. You say that you cannot see the argument against
registration. The irony is that, on average, four in 10 boys leave
primary school unable to write properly according to Government
levels. That means, in the worst schools, it is massively hard
now. The worst parents in this country, as we know from our looking
into looked-after children
Chairman: No other member of the Committee
would recognise that.
Mr Stuart: That is not necessarily the
case. I often don't recognise what is said by other members of
the Committee; you don't have to agree with all the questions,
Chairman. The point is that when you look at children in care,
you will see that the worst parents in the country appear to be
corporate parents. So we have local authorities who are failing
with schools and with looked-after children, and they are sending
officers to the homes of people who have withdrawn their children
very often as an act of safeguarding from failing local authority
provision. Can you not see an irony there, and should there not
be a very high bar before the state, regardless of the responsibilities
Peter Traves: May I respond to
that. I don't see how the issue of failing schools negates the
issue about our responsibility to children who are not educated
in schools. We have a responsibility to improve all schools, and
that is absolutely right and proper. On the issue of withdrawal,
parents withdraw their children from school for a whole range
of reasons. I did six years of home visits, and there were parents
who withdrew their children because we had failed themthat
is absolutely true. There were parents who had withdrawn their
children for ideological reasons because they had a profound belief
in a different form of education, which I respected. There were
also parents who withdrew their children for particular religious
views because they wanted those views inculcated in that child.
It is not just about the rights of parents, but about the rights
of children. It is not necessarily about the state's responsibility
to children, but about the community's responsibility to them.
Sir Paul Ennals: Much has already
been said about this. With regard to the constraints on introducing
a new registration system, we need to be satisfied that it is
a proportionate response to a problem that is there. I do believe
that there is sufficient evidence of weakness, either on some
safeguarding issues and/or on the need for the local authority
to be more able to provide the right support for the family, to
justify a registration system. I think that the registration system
should be only light touch, and it does not need to be over-elaborate.
I am actually not sure that a new criminal offence is required
for not completing it, because with the legal framework on school
attendance orders, as amended in 2006, the necessary legal framework
is already in place to ensure that if someone has refused or failed
to register, there is an existing legislative means for following
that up. As long as it is light-touch, sensitive and formative,
rather than simply trying to catch people out, I believe it is
a proportionate response to the situation.
Ellie Evans: I agree with Paul.
However, the registration process, going back to the legislation
on children missing education, is learning from a serious case
review for a serious case. Lord Laming had done considerable research,
and that inquiry was not rushed and is considerable. Out of that
came the recommendation that local authorities must identify children
who are not in suitable education. If we do not do something about
the registration process, we are almost contradicting ourselves.
Q116 Annette Brooke: Can I quickly
backtrack to the home visit. I feel that perhaps there is the
wrong entanglement between the need to assess on educational grounds
and to make assessments on safeguarding. In the school situation,
I would expect teachers to be trained to recognise certain symptoms
and then report them so that there will be justification for further
investigation. I feel that home educators are feeling threatened
because the person who is coming to assess the education is assessing
them on safeguarding. Is there a case for having home visits,
with working in partnership and all the things we like, such as
a formative process, but in a way that that person is highly trained
to pick up signals and then report them so that action is taken
when needed, rather than this process of casting everyone in the
Sir Paul Ennals: I agree entirely
Annette Brooke: Do I get agreement on
that? Gosh! Thank you. That has made me feel better about it.
Chairman: For the purposes of Hansard,
all the witnesses agree.
Q117 Annette Brooke: It is so unusual
for people to agree with me that I shall keep going. My real question
is about the other tricky position: having to provide a statement.
I have not got my head around what will be the right balance between
encouraging exciting forms of education for children that are
right for the child and actually ensuring that there might be
a minimum requirement, say, in literacy. Peter and Ellie, what
on earth will the statement look and feel like?
Peter Traves: I have to say I
think that the last people who should write this on their own
are local authorities, quite frankly. I do think that this is
something we would have to do in negotiation and discussion with
home educators. I come back to the point that I don't think it
is beyond the wit of human beings to define what we think children
ought to be demonstrating in terms of a sound educational experience.
I think the problem would be if we in any way linked it. There
are some worrying things about age-appropriateness that have all
the signs of national curriculum about it, and I do think what
we need for the next stage is a sensible discussion with organisations
like Education Otherwise to say, "How can we reflect the
strengths of home education but also protect the right of children
to grow up so that they do have the skills and knowledge that
are going to be necessary for them to perhaps make different decisions
from their parents?"
Ellie Evans: On Monday, I noticed
that Graham Badman alluded to an article by Daniel Monk. Within
that article on planning an education provision for a child, it
was the intentionthe actual provision had been thought
through as a basic fundamentalthat there was going to be
consistent involvement of parents and other significant carers;
that there would be thought-through reasons for electively home
educating, signs of commitment and enthusiasm from the parents,
and a recognition of the child's needs, which is quite key and
core to this; that there would be opportunities for the child
to be stimulated by their learning experiences and involvement
in further activities; that there would be a wide variety of interests
appropriate to the child's development and access to resources
to meet their objectives; and that there would be opportunities
for children to interact with their peers and others. I think
that is probably quite a good basis for a statement, but obviously
it would have to be discussed further. I would very much like
to work with the home educating community to derive that statement,
but I think that is quite a good basis, particularly with regard
to the commitment and enthusiasm of the parents, because I am
aware that people do withdraw children, perhaps to avoid prosecution,
and they haven't thought about it at all. It is an alternative
to being prosecuted, or to having the local authority on your
back for your child not attending school, for example.
Q118 Annette Brooke: I am pleased
that Paul wants to add to that. What is the balance, Paul?
Sir Paul Ennals: The key thing,
if anything, is the last one. I am most interested in using it
as a trigger to avoidto flush outthose cases that
we referred to earlier on, where local authorities and schools,
on some occasions, are inappropriately advising parents, or, similarly,
where some parents are inappropriately, on the spur of the moment,
taking decisions, maybe out of a fit of pique with the school.
Simply the requirement to set outI tend to think no more
than two pages would do it, I suspectthe basics of what
they actually intended to do with their child would flush out,
I believe, some of the ones that are of greatest concern to me.
I do believe it would not represent a challenge or an unnecessarily
high hurdle to the vast majority of home educating parents, who
are more than able to design the way in which they're intending
Chairman: Annette, what do you think?
Annette Brooke: I'll pass on that. I
don't think we're quite seeing what this is going to look like,
Q119 Chairman: Can I just ask you
this, because I didn't ask the former group of witnesses, although
I know some of them are in the room so they'll hear it. As I read
Badman, I felt that having in every children's trust and every
local authority area a group who are knowledgeable about home
education meeting, and a sub-group of the children's trust, seemed
like a very positive idea. Would you value that in terms of being
able to meet on a regular basis to consult and learn from them?
Peter Traves: We have in Staffordshire
appointed, through the trust, the children's commissioner, whose
function is actually to answer directly to the trust and to relate
to the different groups of parents: all parents, but also particular
interest groups. I think, for us, that would be a good means of
connecting it through to the children's trust: for the commissioner
to say, "It's your job to relate to this group, to find ways
of talking." However, she is not the employee of the local
authority. She is not answerable to the local authority; she is
answerable to the trust, and she is primarily there to promote
the interests and views of parents.