Blah blah blah, government consultation, blah blah blah, home education under threat, blah blah.
I’m sorry, I’m bored now. I feel like I have spent forever trying to explain to anyone who will listen, and to a great many people who would rather not listen, that Badman is wrong, that his statistical basis lies somewhere between fabrication and fiction, that his proposals undermine the role of parents and families, that he flies in the face of the basic concept of innocent until proven guilty, and so on, and so on, and so on. I’m bored. It doesn’t seem to matter how many people people respond to the reviews, or submit evidence to the Select Committee, or reply to the consultations. With every opportunity to shout at the government, even more people seem to be motivated to do so, and none of it makes any difference. They don’t listen, and they breeze on in their own sweet way.
Ah well. In case anyone is casually interested, this is my submission to the current DCSF consultation into registration and monitoring of home education. The executive summary would be that I’m against it. All of it.
Question 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?
This consultation, and the Badman Review before it, appear to be under the impression that parents and their children both have opposing sets of rights, which are somehow in tension with one another. This is plainly untrue. Parents do not have rights, they have duties and responsibilities, most of which are specifically to protect the rights of their children. Parents do not home educate in spite of a child’s right to education. In most cases, they do so specifically because they found that the child’s right to education was not being fulfilled through attendance at school. In such circumstances, it is the parent’s legal duty to take steps to rectify the deficiency, and provide an education, since the parent remains ultimately responsible, in law, for ensuring that education is provided. There appears to be a belief in the DCSF that the child’s right is to go to school – this is not the case. How education is provided is a decision for the parent to make, based on his or her knowledge of the child, of the available options, and of the needs of the family as a whole.
The DCSF needs to stop talking about home education as if it represents a form of second class educational provision. It is a valid legal choice, which should not incur discrimination and prejudice from government departments and agencies, any more than the decisions to attend church, or to avoid eating meat, should incur government discrimination. The apparent bias against the parents as educators implies a belief that parents cannot, or can only rarely, educate a child suitably themselves. The most important knowledge for a person to have, in order to educate a child, is knowledge of the child – not theoretical knowledge of education. Parents have this knowledge in the most depth, and have the greatest personal investment in the success of the education. They are, therefore, the best placed to educate their own children. Certainly, the research done in the US and Canada suggests that home educated children achieve consistently superior results, when compared to their schooled counterparts – though the research in question did not appear in Mr Badman’s literature review, giving the impression that he did not wish to find favourable reports of home education.
The only people who are consistently claiming that home educated children are not, generally, receiving a suitable education, are Local Authorities, but recent investigation by Home Education campaigners suggests that, in many cases, LAs are making judgements about suitability based largely on prejudice and presumption, that they frequently find it difficult to conceive of a form of education that does not resemble the school model, and that (crucially) their alleged concerns are rarely backed up by the legal recourse available to them – the number of School Attendance Orders being issued is much, much smaller than the number of concerns that LAs told Mr Badman that they had, and one can only assume that this is because the LA staff know that they would not stand up in court. The children are receiving a suitable education, just one that the school-experienced educationalists do not approve of.
The proposals generally would limit the ability of parents to offer an education that was truly suitable to an individual child’s age, ability and aptitude, and reduce them to providing a version of the state’s one-size-fits-all education model, with the added hazards of excessive bureaucracy (which should never have a place in the family home) and the constant threat of registration being revoked for non-compliance.
The state does not own children. Parents are parents, not state-sanctioned childminders. The state should never attempt to place itself between loving, committed parenting, and the child.
Question 2 Do you agree that a register should be kept?
The apparent desire to allow Local Authorities to keep tabs on the educational setting of all children, not just those for whom it is providing the education, is a significant step. To date, LAs have been responsible for a) the provision of state schools for every child whose parents wish to utilise such a service; and b) pursuing any report that comes to them, that a particular child is not receiving a suitable education at all. Through these two functions, they are able to assist parents in fulfilling their legal duty to provide an education, by offering an educational service, and they are able ensure that parents who are discovered to be breaking this law are brought to justice. They have not been, and should never be, directly responsible for the education of all the children within the boundary of their authority. That role belongs to parents, who are legally responsible for providing an education, “either by regular attendance at school, or otherwise”.
In a democracy, parents, along with any other citizen, must be assumed to be complying with the law, unless there is clear evidence to suggest that they are not. To keep a register of those parents who choose, quite legally, to educate their children themselves, is akin to maintaining a register of vegetarians, in case some of them are criminally neglecting their offspring through the deprivation of protein. Home education is a legal choice, sometimes based on personal beliefs and philosophies, and it is clear discrimination for that choice to incur the intrusion into a family’s life, through the compulsory use of personal information in a database. The insulting implication is that home educators are so likely to be breaking the law, that they need to be watched.
Every database which holds information on a person increases the risk of that information escaping into the wrong hands, resulting in individuals being targetted for identity theft, child grooming, and any of a range of other offences. It is impossible for government, indeed, for anyone, to guarantee the integrity of data held in a database. The only way to guarantee its safety, is not to gather it. As a result, a register of home educators, with no obvious purpose, offers an increase in risk to home educators, with no benefit to them.
A compulsory registration scheme merely adds to the bureaucratic workload of home educating parents, detracting from the time and energy they might otherwise have spent educating their children. Registration offers no advantages to the registered, and registration alone (without arrangements for monitoring, etc) achieves nothing at all, except to add to the number of places from which ones personal details can be stolen.
Most home educators currently consider registration with the Local Authority to be avoided if at all possible. This is not because they have anything to hide, in the vast majority of cases. It is merely because registration offers no benefits at all, and inconvenience, bureaucracy, stress and intrusion into family life, that is entirely unwarranted.
In the unlikely event that the case for registration can be proven, it should be noted that a child’s educational setting is already listed in ContactPoint. There seems to be no merit in an additional, separate register of home educators – if such a list is truly necessary, the pre-existing ContactPoint should be the source.
3. Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?
I have made clear in my response to Question 2, that I consider registration to be intrusive, unnecessary, insulting, and risk-laden.
In addition to these general concerns, I also object to the requirement to provide “a statement of approach to education, and the location where education is conducted if not the home”. Home education is a family function. Just because education is a function most commonly delegated to institutions, is not a reason to expect families to submit to a level of bureaucracy most commonly found in such institutions. It is not clear how much detail would be required from these two statements, or what their purpose would be. However, it is clear that as a first-stage requirement, or even prerequisite to home education, they would be unreasonably daunting to many parents.
Many home educated children are deregistered from school at a time of crisis. Mr Badman, and many of the Local Authorities, are inclined to imply that during a crisis is the very worst time to make the decision to home educate. However, it is not a decision that families take lightly, and in many cases, it is only taken when the family reaches a level of desperation that leaves them unable to see another option. Expecting parents to produce a document adequately outlining what education they are going to provide, in such circumstances as these, is unreasonable, and unrealistic. Even in a home educating family that is enjoying calm, happy, productive times, it is not necessarily possible to predict with any detail what topics will be covered, or what children will learn. Home education is not like school. The level of structure and advanced planning involved varies enormously between families, and even in the most structured of families, a plan or curriculum can be changed completely at short notice, in order to better meet needs of the child concerned. In families who follow a more thoroughly child-led approach, predicting where the child might lead would be little more than an act of clairvoyance. This does not mean that child is not receiving a suitable education. It merely means that the details of that education cannot be easily predicted in advance.
The requirement to give details of the “location where education is conducted” is bizarre, irrelevant, and a betrayal of the school-focussed perspective of the DCSF. Home education is not like school. It does not involve arriving at a venue, spending six hours there, and then leaving to go home. It happens wherever the child happens to be, at any time of the day or night that suits the family as a whole, and the child in particular. It includes clubs and activities, trips out, car journeys, visits to friends and family, and presence at any number of locations and venues. The question would be entirely without meaning to many home educators. If, as I suspect, it is actually intended to mean, “Let us inspect your house,” then I refer to my answer to Question 2. It is discriminatory to demand to inspect the homes of home educators, just because they are home educators. The desire to do so betrays both an assumption that adequate resources are unlikely to be available, and an assumption a government inspector will be able to make value judgements about the quality of a child’s education, either by looking to see if books or a computer are in evidence, or by evaluating when the carpet was last hoovered. In either case, such an inspection proves nothing about education, but is hugely disruptive and intrusive to the family concerned.
Being daunted by the bureaucratic requirements of the registration regime should in no way be considered to indicate unsuitability of a parent to home educate. The skills required to suitably educate ones own child are vastly different to the skills required to jump through government hoops through form-filling. Staff at schools and in Local Authorities are, in part, employed for their ability to negotiate such hoops (though schools regularly complain about the paperwork overwhelming the educational role). Bureaucracy has no place in family life, and should have no part in a parent’s decision to educate their child.
Question 4 Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?
As I have made clear, I do not agree with the proposed register, and therefore cannot possibly agree to a requirement for parents to maintain the data held within it. The comparison between the registration system described here, and the types used for prisoners on probation, for example, is distasteful, and insulting to law-abiding home educators. I have been avoiding making sensationalist comparisons with how Jews were registered and tracked in Nazi Germany, for fear of seeming to belittle the events of that time. However, the comparison increasingly presents itself, and I am having difficulty in ignoring it.
Q5 Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
Since the information which the consultation suggests would be required from home educators is so badly defined, so completely at odds with how home education functions, and so discriminatory and insulting to home educators, to criminalise the failure of parents to contribute that information would cross the line from discrimination into persecution. Parents are not responsible to the state for the lawful decisions they make regarding their family life, and neither should they be so.
If the government were to decide to criminalise home educators who did not comply, they would necessarily have to point out the requirement to all parents, presumably at the point of application for a child’s first school place. This could have the effect of introducing home education as a possibility to a wide range of people who would not have otherwise considered the idea. I suspect that such a thing would represent an unintended consequence, and be the very opposite of the original goal of the legislation.
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?
This question is simply not adequately explained, which makes it very difficult to answer comprehensively. It is not clear, either here, or in the Badman report, whether the child would be expected to attend during this 20 day period. It is not clear whether the school and/or Local Authority would spend the 20 days attempting to pressurise the family into cancelling their deregistration. It is not clear how a 20 day cooling off period, in which a child was not attending, would affect a school’s attendance targets. It is not clear whether parents with no intention to home educate would be able to use this “cooling off period” to take their children on holiday during term-time, and then claim to have changed their minds, and cancel their deregistration. It is not clear whether schools or Local Authorities could use this 20 day period to get “troublesome” pupils out of the way, eg, during an Ofsted inspection.
In some, very popular schools, it is possible for a child’s vacated school place to be filled very quickly, preventing the family from changing their minds shortly after the initial deregistration decision. However, the number of unanswered questions surrounding this proposal suggest that a whole new consultation would be necessary, before such a thing could implemented.
6 b) Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?
Absolutely not. A child’s achievement and projected attainment information is sensitive data which is personal to them. It belongs to the child, is covered under the Data Protection Act, and should only be made available to the child and his/her parents. Passing such information to the Local Authority is a breach of trust.
The parents are responsible for providing a suitable education for the child. It is the parents, and the parents alone, for whom the school’s opinion on a child’s achievements and future potential is relevant. It is common for parents who have deregistered a child to do so after a long period of disagreement with the school, possibly regarding the child’s ability. For that parent to then be held to ransom by the school’s statements regarding the child’s capability is to compound the problem that deregistration sought to solve.
Q7 Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?
As I understand it, this is simply a way of asking if the DCSF should arrange to make all the changes I have objected to in questions 1 to 6, by means of statutory instruments which would not require the approval of Parliament. Absolutely not.
I have explained in great depth how the proposed registration of home educated children is discriminatory, unjust and anti-democratic. The registration scheme amounts to an appropriation of parental responsibility by government. It fundamentally changes the legal role and position of parents – all parents, not just home educators – in this country, by giving Local Authorities, not parents, the ultimate power to decide on the best way to educate a child. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should such changes as these be nodded through in the form of statutory guidance. The implications are enormous, and warrant a full, public debate, and the benefit of the whole parliamentary process.
Section 7 of the Education Act holds parents responsible for the education of their children, and has done so since 1944. If the government really thinks it wise, appropriate and valid to change this fundamental element of parental responsibility, it should be prepared to do it properly.
For the record, I find the attempt to slip home education monitoring into the Improving Schools & Safeguarding Children Bill, before the current consultation is over, utterly reprehensible. The looming general election is no excuse to bypass due process in this, or any other matter.
On the other hand, I would welcome making the current Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities (2007) statutory. They are actually very good, and obliging Local Authorities to stick to them would be helpful.
Q8 Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?
I find this proposal to be the least logical idea in the whole Badman report. Education and safeguarding are two entirely separate matters. Mixing them up like this helps no-one.
The implication would appear to be that a family home can be safe for a child during evenings, weekends and school holidays, but not during term-time between the hours of 9am and 3pm. That is clearly nonsense. If a child is at risk of suffering serious harm at home, they should not be there. The form of their education is irrelevant. If there is no evidence of such risk, then there is no reason to prevent a family from caring for their children by whatever means they see fit, including with reference to their education.
The assumptions behind this proposal are fundamentally flawed. There is an assumption that a child who is at risk, but is in school, is therefore being kept safe through daily monitoring. The number of abused children who only disclose their abuse after reaching adulthood would suggest that this is not true. There is an assumption that home educated children are kept out of sight of the world, and are therefore invisible to those who might otherwise intervene in their plight, should intervention be necessary. Mr Badman, however, found no evidence at all that this was the case. The vast majority of home educated children are constantly out and about in the community, joining clubs, making friends, taking learning opportunities from all around them. Indeed, some home educators find that they are reported to Social Services by neighbours, simply because their children were noted as not being in school.
I appreciate that the government is trying to limit the damage caused by a series of high-profile child abuse cases. In none of those cases, however, was the child in question “hidden”. In all cases, the children had been reported to Social Services, and/or seen by health professionals, and in all cases, it was the failure of staff to implement the existing procedures that led to the death of the child. Targetting new groups for new procedures will not solve that problem. The government should invest its limited resources in funding, staffing, training and accountability within their existing Social Services teams, regarding their existing case loads. Home education does not represent an increased risk of child abuse – indeed, the statistics gathered by home educators during the summer of 2009 suggest that home educated children are less than a quarter as likely to be abused or neglected as the general population (0.29%, compared to 1.3%).
For the record, Local Authorities who treat a parent’s right to offer evidence of their educational provision by means other than a home visit, as a “safeguarding concern” should be told in no uncertain terms that such a thing is not acceptable. There are many reasons why a parent might prefer to deal with the LA by other means, including personal preference, and they are perfectly within their rights to make that choice. Again, conflating the suitability of the education with the safety of the child is dangerous and unhelpful.
Q9 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?
I refer to my answer to Question 3: It is discriminatory to demand to inspect the homes of home educators, just because they are home educators. The desire to do so betrays both an assumption that adequate resources are unlikely to be available, and an assumption a government inspector will be able to make value judgements about the quality of a child’s education, either by looking to see if books or a computer are in evidence, or by evaluating when the carpet was last hoovered. In either case, such an inspection proves nothing about education, but is hugely disruptive and intrusive to the family concerned. In any case, “the premises where home education is taking place” is a phrase devoid of meaning to many home educators, and a betrayal of the school-focussed perspective of the DCSF. Home education is not like school. It does not involve arriving at a venue, spending six hours there, and then leaving to go home. It happens wherever the child happens to be, at any time of the day or night that suits the family as a whole, and the child in particular. It includes clubs and activities, trips out, car journeys, visits to friends and family, and presence at any number of locations and venues.
Giving Local Authorities the right to enter private homes as a matter of course is a violation of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8. Home educators, just like everyone else, have a right to their private family lives, and to be left in peace.
The idea of giving “2 weeks notice” is both rude, and potentially unworkable. Home educators are private individuals with lives and responsibilities. They are not sitting around waiting for their LA to turn up, and in some cases, they are much more inclined to go away for periods of several weeks or months. Does the DCSF anticipate criminalising home educators who choose to take their children away for a month, for not keeping an appointment made with two weeks’ notice?
Q10 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?
Absolutely not. The only circumstances under which a child should be interviewed without the presence and support of their parents, are when that child is at serious risk of harm, ie, within the context of the existing legislation that Social Services teams use to protect children. In every other case, the right to interview a child at all should be at the discretion of the parents, and the right to interview a child alone should not even be requested by education professionals seeking to engage in good practice. All children are vulnerable, by their very nature as children, and the suggestion in the question that only the most vulnerable should be allowed any adult support at all, is reprehensible. For the majority of children, parents are the key supporter in times of stress, and such an interview has the potential to be very stressful indeed. The children should not be abandoned to a stranger.
Mr Badman’s implication that children should be given the opportunity, not to disclose abuse, but to disclose their secret desire to be educated at school, flies entirely in the face of the legal role of parents. Children are entitled to have their voices heard in matters that affect them, but it is the role of their parents, not the Local Authority, to decide how that voice will affect the decisions to be taken regarding their education, just as it is the parents who are responsible for making all the other decisions surrounding the running of the family. Not all children are happy with all the decisions made by their parents on their behalf. Arguably, most children are distinctly unhappy with some of those decisions. However, the decisions remain with the parents, whose greater knowledge, wisdom and experience can usually be relied upon. It is, of course, particularly farcical, that no-one would dream of offering schooled children the opportunity to demand to be home educated, even though their enrolment at school was just as much a decision of their parents, with which they may or may not agree.
There is no reason to assume that the hypothetical abuse victim would use their annual interview with a stranger from the LA to disclose the abuse. Children who disclose abuse generally do so to trusted adults, with whom they have built relationships over a long period of time. If the child has not disclosed the abuse to their friends, extended family, Brown Owl or swimming tutor, the likelihood of their doing so in this situation is slim in the extreme.
The consultation, and the Badman report before it, gives no indication of how a child who refused to be left alone with an LA official might be regarded. It is not clear whether the parents would be penalised for such a refusal, or whether they would be expected to force the child to comply – in the latter case, it seems like an odd way to listen to a child’s voice, to ignore their refusal to be interviewed.
Q 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.
I consider the current law to be adequate. It allows for Local Authorities to investigate whether a child is in receipt of a suitable education, and if they are presented with evidence that would convince a reasonable person that that he or she is, they should consider their duty fulfilled. The desire to monitor continuously suggests a belief that parents might provide an education at one time, but then cease to do so. This seems very unlikely to be the case – if a parent is prepared to take the time and trouble to provide an education once, they are very likely to continue doing so.
Monitoring, on the other hand, gives the Local Authority a responsibility for the quality of education that they have not previously had. It opens them up all kinds legal challenges, for undertaking a responsibility that previously belonged to parents.
Local Authorities seem very unwilling to utilise the powers that are currently available to them, through existing legislation. This being the case, their constant demands for greater powers through new legislation are inexplicable. There is no need to make regular monitoring compulsory. There is only a need for LAs to follow the rules and guidelines which already exist.
The DCSF has failed entirely to demonstrate that monitoring would improve the quality of home education, would solve any identifiable problem, or would do anything other than cost a great deal of money to implement. This is a white elephant proposal that should be scrapped.
Those points aside, I feel bound to point out that four weeks is a very short period of time after deregistration for a family, potentially in recovery from a major crisis, to deal with an LA inspection. The time scales, if they must exist at all, should allow a period of at least six months, for a family to recover themselves emotionally, organise themselves practically, and bring themselves to a place of having something to discuss. Nothing is likely to subvert a child’s recovery from a stressful school experience, like a compulsory visit from an official with the authority to send them back to school. The whole idea is abhorrent.