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It is interesting that about the time that this happened in the past week or so, the case of the young child in Birmingham who was tragically starved to death came up. A number of home educating parents reacted angrily to that; they said that that was nothing to do with home education but with a failure of the local authority. Whether it is or is not does not alter the fact that some parents will choose to take their children away from where they can be seen by the public for reasons which are not good. We have to address this issue. It is not enough to say, as some people did in their comments, that you cannot make the law apply just because of one case; the trouble is that there will be other cases. I believe-I may be right, I may be wrong-that home education will grow. If it does and you want to remove your child from the attention of the authorities, you are signalling that this is the way to do it. That is what that family did in Birmingham.
The third comment I put on is that there are cases in this country of girls being kept out of normal education because it is not believed that they should be able to read, write, do science and so on. That is also a problem in certain communities and certain places. It is not confined to overseas groups by any means, as some people believe, or to certain religious groups, although religion sometimes comes into it. Again these children have rights; they are children and they have rights. I believe home education is right-I have no problems about that-but we need regulation.
I would ask Members who have commented on this to go back to the blog over the past couple of days and look at the entries. I was quite worried by some of the comments. People are doing this for good reasons, I am sure, but I was worried about some of the underlying attitudes towards the rights of children. We need to bear this in mind, particularly when taking into account the United Nations declaration on the rights of the child and the need to respond to that.
Many parents seem to want to home educate-I am reading between the lines here-because of bullying. However, bullying has always been around and is always a problem; you cannot avoid it altogether. Parents have different views on this. I say this gently, but parents have to make a decision about how much they protect a child by removing them from a situation, or how much you protect them by keeping them in a situation and helping them to find their way through it. I certainly come into the second category. I have never played what I regard as an overprotective role. Where bullying is concerned, it is necessary both to intervene with the school and help your child to see the process through because, however long you live as a parent, you are not going to be able to look after your child for ever.
I referred to two cases of home education that I know about personally-I know of very few-which make the case for regulation. In the first case, a woman took her child out of my son's school in Acton-I do not know why-and, as far as I know, she has done very well; she was certainly committed and I suspect she was very good at it. Another woman, who was also a good mother, was good at it most of the time but had bouts of depression. She was not depressed to the extent that she would be taken into hospital, but to the extent where she was not able to do the job at home. So not only was the child not being educated, suddenly they were acting as a carer in the home for their mother. That is not a good situation. So when people say that you do not need regulation or inspection, I think they are wrong.
The other thing that puzzled me about the reaction of many parents was the incredible hostility to Graham Badman, who wrote the report. So I went away and reread it-I had not read it very carefully in the first place-and I can understand some of the things that they are worried about. However, he says about the training of officers who have to be part of the inspection process:
Graham Badman goes on to recommend that people who home educate should have access to additional resources. What would you do with your child if you wanted them to have good science lessons? Where is your science laboratory going to be? What about if you want them to have wide musical experience? Where will that be unless you just take them to places or pay for it individually? The educational authority can provide
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If home education is done well, it will benefit enormously from additional support. If it is done badly, then it is important that those children have their rights respected too. I encourage those who have spoken about this to read the comments on the blog, as a parent or as someone who thinks that children have rights and see if they think that all those people have the right balance between the rights of parents and of children. It is difficult-it is not easy. I do not have the right answer, but home education is here to stay; it might well grow, but at the edges there will be very real problems, so we need a regulatory system that picks that up and responds to it. I hope that the Government will not lose sight of that. I think that they are addressing it quite well at the moment, but it is still very early days.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I shall speak solely in support of Clauses 28 and 30. I feel sure that the whole House will share with me the hope that the day will never come when we fail to be shocked when something awful happens to a child or young person who has already been identified by the local services as being in danger of suffering serious neglect or deliberate harm. It is for that reason that I welcome the parts of the Bill that strengthen the work of the local safeguarding children boards. Indeed, I commend the Government on the progress made since the death of Victoria Climbié. As a result, in every local authority there is now a director of children's services, a local safeguarding children board and a lead member for children's services, as well as the availability of considerable guidance on good practice, including in inter-agency working.
The work of local safeguarding children boards is of immense importance, not least in undertaking serious case reviews when a child has been killed or seriously injured and abuse or neglect is known, or suspected, to have been a factor. However, does the Minister agree that the purpose of these reviews is not always well understood? Is it not important that we recognise that these reviews, important as they are, are not inquiries and that it is certainly not within their remit to apportion blame? As your Lordships will recall, the primary function of these reviews is to learn lessons to improve service provision by highlighting ways to improve
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Does the Minister agree that in these circumstances, success depends predominantly on securing voluntary contributions by everyone with knowledge of the child and the family? The challenge is to persuade everyone involved to have the confidence to be open and frank with the review. It is important to recognise that this often entails family members, neighbours and others revealing aspects of their sometimes chaotic lives that they might well prefer to remain hidden, and helping professional staff to be willing to expose less than adequate performance or conflicts between agencies.
The reality is that the local safeguarding children boards have few powers in this respect when conducting serious case reviews. Indeed, their main power rests solely on persuasion and the guarantee of personal confidentiality to each and every contributor. I therefore welcome the provisions included in the Bill to enable local safeguarding boards to better gather all the relevant information they need to carry out their functions.
In the progress report that I prepared on child protection in England, I indicated that these boards must have access to full information and must see all the key players in order to give greater confidence that serious case reviews, and indeed child death review processes, are doing the job intended of them. Because of comments made elsewhere, not least in another place, does the Minister agree that any local authority or health authority can formally establish an inquiry either in circumstances where the criteria for a serious case review are not met or in addition to such a review?
I hope the House will excuse a personal reflection. When, some 10 years ago, I was persuaded to chair an inquiry of this kind established jointly by a local authority and a health authority, following the conviction of a patient of the mental health services for the death of a local person, the limits of the powers of the inquiry to gather evidence were all too evident. Indeed, if media reports are correct-I realise that that is always a big "if"-mention was made in the inquiry report on the hospital in Mid-Staffordshire that the former chief executive of the hospital declined to give evidence to that inquiry, which was conducted by a leading QC. If that is correct, it demonstrates all too clearly the need for everything to be done to assist serious case reviews to access all the relevant information.
If I may make another personal comment, when Parliament established the independent statutory inquiry following the death of Victoria Climbié, it invested in the inquiry very wide powers, which frankly I never expected to have to use. In the event, though, sadly, I had to employ each one of those powers. I mention that only to emphasise that serious case reviews are very different from inquiries and must be treated as such. Most of all, we should not underestimate the difficult task that we have given to those who conduct these serious case reviews-a task so important that, on average, 100 or so such reviews are initiated each year in this country. Chairing or writing the report of
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It is clear to me, and I hope the Minister will agree, that it would be entirely unreasonable to embark on a serious case review and at the outset give a guarantee of confidentiality to all concerned, only for that to be disregarded later.
I was somewhat surprised that mention has been made elsewhere that it would be possible to preserve the confidentiality of these review reports by redacting sections of them. I would have thought that the other place might already have had sufficient experience of the hazards of trying to publish sensitive material in a redacted way. I hope the Minister will agree that any attempt to handle a report of a serious case review in this way would result in page after page being blacked out. Therefore, it would not achieve the objective that those who mention this possibility have in mind.
Furthermore, it is surely unrealistic to think that only certain review reports would be published, not least because at the outset it is impossible to know which reports are likely to attract most media attention. More than that, it is surely important to recognise that the suffering of every child must be of equal concern and that we must guard against allowing the degree of media interest to determine which reports can or cannot be published. I feel strongly about this point because I believe that we have entrusted a most arduous task to those who conduct serious case reviews. In my view, the legislation and guidance that is currently laid before Parliament needs either to be protected or, I fear, that it will need to be abandoned. That is why I warmly commend Clauses 28 and 29 to the House and I hope that they will command the support of the whole House.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I grow potatoes like this Bill-they look pretty good when you dig them up, but when you have washed them, knocked the knobbly bits off, peeled them, cut out the rotten bits and dug the slugs out of their holes, you wonder why you bothered. The first part just seems to me to be sheer electioneering. What is the point of a guarantee which is no guarantee? What is the point of promising people things that are so ill defined that they do not really know what they are getting? How on earth is a personal home-school agreement practical? The point of home-school agreements is that they apply to the whole school; that they are universal, simple and understandable. You may need a few personal ones in very extreme cases, but you are going to need an extra head teacher just to handle home-school agreements, if you give them the time that they will require.
I am not at all confident that we should move ahead with the Rose review, as proposed in this Bill. The abandonment of knowledge in favour just of learning seems to me to be against all experience. There is no mention, as the right reverend Prelate remarked, of religious education. There is precious little mention of foreign languages. There is no specification of the knowledge which should underpin learning. We are really drifting into some very strange territory. It is a
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It is not at all clear to me where this Government now stand in relation to the rights and practices of faith schools. It is in the nature of faiths, or at least some parts of them, that followers believe that they are the only ones who are going to be saved and that certain practices are a sin and should not be contemplated. How can you compel those schools to go against the fundamental tenets of their religion? It does not seem to me that the Government have worked out that contradiction at all.
It disappoints me, too, that we seem to be looking at PSHE in a very old-fashioned way, as a collection of things that children are to be told to do or not to do, rather than teaching children how to make decisions for themselves and how to tackle the unexpected and the unknown as well as they will tackle the predetermined questions that go into the PSHE syllabuses. That part of the Bill deserves a lot of attention. The same applies to the rest of it, but the part about home education is the bit that I would wish to cut out.
The noble Baroness said today that in a very small number of cases education is not satisfactory. She told me, when we met to discuss the Bill a day or two ago, that there was no intention to impose a curriculum; and that there was unequivocal support from the Government of the right to home-educate. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that legislation in this area is inevitable, but why then is the Bill as it is? Why is the home education community up in arms? I share with the home education community the fears that it expresses on the blog, on my blog and elsewhere. There seems to be something in the DCSF, which I have not identified in any of the people I have met, that is malevolent to home education and wishes to destroy it.
Why else does the Bill start from the principle that you are only allowed to home-educate if the local authority gives you permission to do so? It may withdraw that permission, on review, every year. Why do we start with the idea that you have to produce a syllabus to be allowed to home-educate, when the basis of autonomous education is that the child follows their own path, with you at their side? You cannot produce a syllabus until a year has passed and you look back. Why do none of those good things in the Badman review, about training and support, appear in the Bill?
What has done the damage in making progress in what, I agree, is an inevitable direction, is what is written in the Bill. The Badman report was hard enough. The thing that hurt there was the idea that it should be compulsory for your child to spend time alone with an inspector. Having time alone with an inspector is not something which one would readily allow for one's own children, even though they are in school. It is not in the Bill but it was in the Badman report. It is in the Bill by implication. If you do not allow the access to your child that the local authority requires, it can refuse home education, and that access may include-if the local authority judges it right-time alone with an inspector.
We seem to have set out, in going down a quite proper road, with the wrong foot and, as a result, trodden on a landmine and found ourselves blown up. We must realise that we cannot carry on, particularly with no Committee stage, to make something of Clauses 26 and 27 and Schedule 1. They must be restarted and revisited. There are some good principles on which this can be done. The first is to recognise what my noble friend Lady Verma said. Our school system is far from perfect and for children in care we do even worse. We should not expect something from home-educating parents that we do not deliver in the system which we present as an alternative.
We should show respect to home-educating parents, who are, in most cases, shouldering burdens and responsibilities which, otherwise, we would have to shoulder. There are people who home-educate purely out of conviction. There is certainly a strong stream of those. However, there are many parents who home-educate children with special needs or children who, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, have been bullied.
It is fine to work with the school. I thoroughly encourage the remedy that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, suggested; but schools are not perfect. Many schools still do not deal with bullying properly. You can get to the point where a child is prostrate at the thought of going to school, cries continually, will not do it and is obviously very distressed. You know-because you have seen the head teacher or tried to get through to the school-that they are not dealing with the bullying but are allowing it to continue. Under those circumstances, home education is a totally reasonable alternative. Where children with special needs are not being properly dealt with, it is also a much better alternative. The situation is much better than it used to be, but it is not perfect. Many schools do not deal well with special needs. These parents are taking on often difficult children but always difficult cases and are looking after them without support. That deserves our respect.
Where we have evidence-evidence is pretty thin on the ground in this country but it has been produced in other countries-home education seems on average to be at least as good as school education. We should not have fundamental prejudices against it but we have to recognise that in most cases the style will be different. There are things you can do one-to-one that you just cannot do in school. In school you require structure, curricula and timetables. If you are one-to-one, you can go without that. The Bill ought to start out by respecting all those things and then go on to provide assistance. Children who are being home educated find it very hard to take exams because there is nowhere for them to take them. Where do you find a centre to take GCSEs? How do you deal with the modern GCSEs that require moderation of coursework? There is no capacity for that in home education. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, pointed out, it is extremely difficult to get remedial help or specialist help when your child has problems in a particular area. There is much good practice in providing special educational needs support, but it is extremely deficient in some areas.
If you provide support for home education, most-but not all-home educating parents will take advantage of it. You will get to see as much of those children as
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That is another reason why the department is not trusted. It has produced a range of figures in the impact assessment that are frankly daffy. It said that 20 per cent of children are not receiving a suitable education: 15 per cent of that figure are children who have not been assessed, and only 5 per cent have any question mark over them. The real figure of pupils who ought to be being better educated is something like 2 or 3 per cent. It said that there was a double risk of children who were being home educated being the subject of safeguarding concerns. Again, it has messed up the figures there. The absolute number-51 children in home education-were giving cause for concern, but it divided that by the number of children in home education that it knew about, whereas it knows that there are two, three, or four times as many who are not registered. However, any of those who are not registered and who become the cause of concern immediately move into the registered section. Therefore, rather than looking at double the risk, you are looking at about half the risk of children in home education causing concern if you do the statistics right. The Government's deliberate distortion of the position has really upset the home education community, and I am not at all surprised. A bit of honesty and openness would go a long way.
As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, we will get regulation at the end of the day, but there are underlying concerns. There are changes in our society that are bound to have an impact on home education. My basic message to the Government on home education is: let us begin again. Let us forget about this section of the Bill, cut it out when it comes to the wash-up, and begin again. That way we have a hope of getting something which will do justice to the home education community and calm the fears and concerns we have for the children involved.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, I, too, wish to address the issue of home schooling, which is covered by Clause 26 and Schedule 1. There has been massive representation on this issue from home educators who object to registration and see the provisions as taking away the right to educate at home, whereas it is merely a system of registration and not a very onerous one at that. We do not know what we do not know. There are no firm statistics about the number of children receiving home education, although it is commonly said to be 80,000. We do not know how representative in terms of quality and quantity the home educators who have flooded their MPs, and my blog site, with their views
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