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


NSPCC Response to the DCSF Proposals for the Registration and Monitoring of Home Education

INTRODUCTION.

  The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is the UK's leading charity specialising in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children. The NSPCC aims to end cruelty to children by seeking to influence legislation, policy, practice, attitudes and behaviours for the benefit of children and young people. This is achieved through a combination of service provision, lobbying, campaigning and public education.

  The NSPCC believes that, given the will, all cruelty can be prevented. In order to achieve this, it is vital that all children, whatever their needs, have a range of services that are flexible and offer them support and protection. The NSPCC has a number of services in the UK and the Channel Islands. These services aim to:

    — Prevent children being abused by working with parents and carers in vulnerable families to improve their knowledge and skills in safeguarding, and giving children and young people someone to turn to through the provision of our Listening Services.

    — Protect vulnerable children and young people from abuse by providing direct services in a number of settings, including schools and young people's centres. We also protect them by providing Listening Services for adults to ensure they have someone to turn to with their concerns; by ensuring that abused children and young people are identified and effective action is taken to protect them, and by working with young people and adults who pose a risk to children and young people to reduce the risk of abuse.

    — Help children and young people who have been abused overcome the effects of abuse and achieve their potential.

  This response draws on the experience of NSPCC staff involved in direct service provision as well as those involved in working with LSCBs on improving processes for safeguarding.

GENERAL COMMENTS

  Our interest in this subject is for one reason and that is our mission to end child cruelty. Our concern is that children are safeguarded effectively in all settings, including in the home. Our expertise is in child protection, not in education, and our comments therefore focus on the safeguarding aspects of home education.

  The following anonymised quote from a girl who called our ChildLine service in 2008/09 provides an insight into why it is important that the legislative framework must be fit for the purpose of establishing that children are safe when they are being educated at home: "My dad is hitting me and I am scared. He is touching me in naughty places. My mum gone to heaven. Dad is saying he will rape me if I tell anyone. My dad has kept me away from school last two years". (Girl aged 10)

1.  Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  Any proposals should be rooted in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Articles 12 (fulfilling children's rights to have their voices heard) and 29 (their right to an education) are of key relevance. For many home educators it does seem that they are asserting their rights as a means of protecting their children's rights. This is understandable, but the difficulty is ensuring that the views of a parent do not prevent a child from achieving their rights.

  This balance is always going to be hard to achieve. The proposals go some of the way towards this goal and we therefore support them.

2.  Do you agree that a register should be kept?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  As noted in the Badman Review: "It is a cause for concern that although approximately 20,000 home educated children and young people are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000". (para 1.3). With the movement of families it is relatively easy for a child to "disappear ", especially if there is no knowledge that the child exists. As one home educator commented "When I moved house to another local authority, no-one knew about my child because I did not have to notify". (evidence to Children, Schools and Families Select Committee 14 October 2009).

  We are also aware that home educators have been concerned because their local authority has contacted them because they believe the child is missing from education when in fact the child is being educated at home. A registration scheme would make this much less likely.

  ContactPoint will hold information on where a child is being educated and home educators can choose to have their home address recorded under that field. Local authorities will be able to identify the numbers of children in home education (where recorded) and those where no education establishment is recorded. So in essence there will be data on numbers of children recorded as being home educated and those who are missing from education (because no education establishment is recorded).

  However, the legislation under which ContactPoint operates means it cannot be used as a register.

  We therefore support the need for a simple register with clarity for parents and local authorities about registration requirements.

  Registration should be a process that is two-way and one includes providing information about the rights of and resources available to parents and children (see below).

3  Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?


AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  We have not ticked any of boxes above as our response does not fit any of them.

  The register does not need to be extensive and so basic information is all that should be required (Name, date of birth, gender, names of parents/ carers, and contact details).

  In essence we see the purpose of a register as providing the relevant local authority with enough information to ensure it is clear about the population of home-schooled children, to be able to separate home-educated children from those who are missing from education and to enable local service provision (in line with other recommendations emerging from the Badman Review).

  It would also be helpful for there to be a process which in addition places a duty on local authorities to inform children of their rights, parents of their obligations, and both parties of the range of resources available for them, for example home education groups and ChildLine.

4  Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  It would be reasonable to expect that the data held should be confirmed with parents on an annual basis to ensure it is accurate. If registration is kept simple (as we suggest in Q3) then this is not an onerous task.

  This would be similar to other requirements to confirm registration with a GP, or for the purposes of the electoral record to confirm that the information held about an individual is correct.

5.  Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  We noted in our submission to the Badman Review that offering meaningful and relevant support would be the most effective way of engaging and developing good relationships with families.

  In our experience criminalising parents is not the best approach and compliance should be achieved through other means. However, this would clearly need to be kept under review; we recognise that in exceptional cases it may be the only means left for a local authority to ensure compliance.

6(a)  Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?


AgreeDisagreeNot sure




Comments:

6(b)  Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?


AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

7.  Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  It is important that any approach is consistent across England. One of the valid criticisms to date has been the inconsistencies between different local authorities and their activities in relation to home education. It is important that children in all local authorities should benefit from the enhanced safeguarding potential of registration and monitoring. To achieve this guidance would need to be statutory.

8.  Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  Any decisions about a child need to be based on the specific circumstances and concerns about that child.

  Where there are substantial safeguarding concerns relating to parents/carers of the child, then as part of any decision making, one would expect there to be clear consideration given of the most appropriate and safe place for the child to be educated. Where this is a child being home educated, then it may be appropriate to say that education cannot continue at home or until such time that the situation is satisfactorily resolved with all parties agreed.

  However, it would not make sense to require a child to end home education, in cases where: the risks to the child are not related to their parent/carer or where the parents/carers are assessed as being capable of protecting the child.

  For example, it may be an abusive parent who is not living at home and not involved in providing the home education but sees the child regularly. In that case the risk is not at the home and so it would not be reasonable for the home education to stop.

9.  Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




 Comments:

  From the education point of view, this seems to be reasonable notice, but we would defer to others.

  We take the view that the two week notice is not relevant if there are concerns reported about a child. Local authorities and their partners will have processes in place which they will use if they have a concern to decide what action to take and when.

  In working through this issue it is important to separate out the processes set 1989 around child protection and children in need, and the processes in relation to home education. In our reading of the consultation document, we read the two weeks as being of relevance to the provision of education and not of relevance in relation to safeguarding concerns.

  There are two issues, the first being whether the child is "safe"; the second being where they are receiving an "education". To obtain good answers to both questions relies on skilled and experienced staff being able to engage with both children and parents. We know that home educators have, for good reason, frequently cited very poor experiences of engaging with local authorities. So there is an understandable wariness and distrust. In our response to the review we noted that "Processes that focus on support tend to be more successful in engaging with the majority of families and are more likely to lead to improved outcomes, than a focus on monitoring and prescription. However, local authority staff involved in this process must be trained to identify signs of abuse and know what to do if they suspect it, or if a child discloses abuse".

  We know from the correspondence and discussion with home educators that a key issue has been the experience, skills and knowledge of the staff involved. We agree with recommendation 22 which is about ensuring that staff with appropriate knowledge and training undertake this work.

  In discussions with our staff it is clear that home visits are important, and they should take place. We note however that for these to be meaningful and helpful the staff undertaking them need to be skilled and competent, including in identifying possible signs of child abuse or neglect. The key issue for the NSPCC is ensuring the skills and competence of the staff involved.

10.  Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?


x AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  The practice of our staff highlights the importance of speaking to children alone unless that creates distress for the child; we therefore agree that local authorities should have this power. We would also note that there should be a clear record which notes reasons also for not seeing the child alone.

  As with Q9 it is crucial that staff have the pre-requisite skills to communicate with children and know what to do if a child raises an issue, be it about not wanting to be home educated or about abuse. The NSPCC has developed a number of resources for a range of organisations and professional groups on safeguarding and child protection. For example we have developed EduCare which is a set of modules to support people developing an understanding of child protection and knowing what to do. We would be happy to offer our support in developing resources or training for staff.

  We note the concern expressed by some home educators, that their children have been traumatised by their past experiences of the education system and this would lead to further traumatisation. Depending on the circumstances and how long ago it happened, it may be insensitive to expect a child to be seen alone, but decisions should be made in discussion with parents. However, most children (who have not had traumatic experiences) are resilient and it would be reasonable to expect them to be able to cope with meeting an unknown adult and handle some discussion about their learning.

11.  Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.


AgreeDisagree Not sure




Comments:

  We have not ticked any of boxes above as our response does not fit any of them.

  There does need to be engagement between the family and the local authority. Getting the approach right first time is vital as that sets the agenda for future working.

  The model suggested of within four weeks, then six months and then annually sounds reasonable. Rather than prescribing a visit to the premises within the first four weeks, it may be better to require that one of those first three visits should be to the premises. Meeting initially on neutral ground may be more beneficial for some parents/children and once there has been some engagement it may "feel" safer for the parents/child to allow them into the premises of learning.

  There does need to be clarity about the nature of the assessment and this is best managed by such an assessment being developed collaboratively between home educators, educators and government. Any records should be shared with children and their parents.

October 2009






 
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