Sunday, 22 November 2009

The impact of the impact assessment

The impact assessment [opens PDF] for the Children Schools and Families Bill has been released. The CSF Bill section 26 relates to the proposals for licensing and monitoring home education in England.

Page 87:
"Children in the first year will all receive 2 * 4 hour meetings with LA officer
50% of children in the first year will receive an additional 2 * 4 hour sessions.
All children receive 1 x 8 hour visit at the end of the year.
50% will receive an additional 1 x 8 hour visit."


Remember: I have done nothing wrong. No one has any evidence to say I have done anything wrong. The same is true of nearly every other home educator in England. We are ordinary, honourable, law-abiding people doing the best for our children that we can. There is no evidence anywhere that says otherwise. The very few kids who have a bad time of it at home are caught by Children's Services or Education Welfare. Whether these services act to help those children depends on how well they understand their duties and the legislation that supports them in the pursuit of those duties. That is beside the point. Even by Badman's figures, 0.4% of the 20,000 children (about 80 kids) have been found and put on protection plans and the other 19,920 are not a problem. There is no suspicion that they may be a problem. There is no evidence of anything amiss, and without evidence there is no case for intervention.

What of the other 20-60,000 children who are not known to LAs, my own included; children that, a few LAs say (despite not knowing them, and having no objective definition of the term 'adequate'), are receiving an inadequate education? There is no evidence of a problem with them either. Not a sniff, not a hint, not a concerned note from a neighbour or doctor or an offhand comment from a friend or relative. Children not in school do not live in a vacuum. If there were a problem, someone would have noticed.

And yet the state will waste precious resources, which could be used to help children who actually are in need, on sending an inspector to my house for two four hour sessions and an eight hour session every year? And to do the same for every one of up to 80,000 other children who have also never given the slightest indication of a problem? All based on some unidentified person's "concerns" and another man's made up statistics? Statistics that are at best debatable, at worst conclusively proven to be wrong?

What the hell are these people on? Are they trying to drain Local Authorities of resources to help those actually in need? Do they want more Baby P's to happen? Or do they realise they are going out after the next election, and want to leave a big stinking mess on the desk of their successors?

It has been pointed out that registered childminders are inspected once every 3 or 4 years by Ofsted, despite the fact that they look after other people's children, often very young, and sometimes including those with special needs. I spend the daylight hours with my children and so I have to be inspected for a total of two working days every year. And they dare to call this proportionate?

Every good person should be outraged and amazed at this insideous Bill, and this attendant impact assessment, and should be writing to their MP right now. Every good person should be declaring their intent to oppose these massive and expensive intrusions on the privacy of families across the country for the sake of their own children, the children of all other home educators of England, and the children whose welfare is being put at risk because attention and resources are being diverted to hound the innocent, purely due to ideology, ignorance and fear rather than any evidence of need.

And their estimated cost of this unbelievable crime against children and the family? £20.5m to start up, £10m p.a. thereafter. Are they out of their tiny little minds? How can any reasonable person believe this?

This is not acceptable, it is a huge waste of time and money, and it will cost children their lives. I will not participate with this process. To hell with them all. If any of this goes through I will lose any tiny scrap of belief in this country that I still have. I will know for certain that the English Law is not just an ass, it's a corpse, and that England itself is heartless, soulless and dead.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Join the dots

... Dot... Dot...

My six year old daughter just loves join-the-dots pictures. This is fine by me. They help her with counting, something she has always enjoyed. Some clever people thought of creating them with the dots numbered in multiples of two, three and so on to help with learning 'times tables' and sequences. There are also basic alphabetised dot to dots for little people learning their ABC. Of course she also learns fine motor skills in the manipulation of her pencil in a straight line from point to point, patience to make sure she doesn't rush and join the wrong dots just because in her haste it looks likely, and image interpretation as she tries to work out what the completed drawing will be. And then there is the satisfaction of sitting back at the end and looking at the big picture. Perhaps colouring it in if she feels like employing such embellishments.

Dot... Dot... Dot...

Some people need help joining the dots.

Here are a few dots. Can you tell what it is yet?

Dot... Dot... Dot...
  • The Independent Safeguarding Authority has been tasked with maintaining another database. This latest in a swathe of state databases will be used to vet anyone, including parents, who has regular contact with children through their church sunday school, Scout troop, football club, and so on. It will be the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world and involves unprecedented delving into the subject's personal and employment history.
  • DNA information is held for every person who has come into contact with the police, even those stepping forward voluntarily to help with enquiries. There are repeated calls to extend this to mandatory samples to be taken from every citizen of the UK. Police have been reported to be stopping children for inconsequential matters, taking DNA swabs, then releasing them without charge. Currently the decision as to whether such DNA information is ever destroyed is discretionary. After a long campaign against them, police recently agreed to destroy records of 100 children whose DNA was taken, but who have not been charged of any crime. 17,000 records still exist in Humberside alone.
  • Health and Safety inspectors are to be given access to the home to assess whether parents are providing a safe environment for their children. "All practitioners who visit families and carers with children and young people aged under 15 [will be asked] to provide home safety advice and conduct a home risk assessment where necessary."
  • All telecoms companies and Internet Service Providers will shortly be required by law to keep a record of all emails, mobile and landline phone calls, texts, and the history of websites visited for every person in the country. The new law will increase the amount of personal data which can be accessed by officials through the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which is supposed to be used to combat terrorism. The powers enacted by RIPA have already been abused causing millions of pounds of damage to private citizens, the elderly and even holocaust survivors.
  • Croydon Council have installed hidden cameras inside private homes, to spy on neighbours, teenagers and potential anti-social groups on the street. This is a pilot for a scheme planned to be rolled out in other areas.
  • Lincolnshire is piloting a 'wellbeing' questionnaire of 83 questions for parents to answer concerning their children and themselves. The Dept. of Health wants this to be rolled out to all parents in England & Wales. Questions include whether the child lies or steals, how many takeaways they eat, whether they have many friends, and how well the parents themselves did at school. The information is to be held on a database indefinitely. Filling in the questionnaire is not compulsory, but parents fear that not doing so, like disagreeing with a doctor or arguing with a teacher, will count as a 'black mark' against them and their children will be seen as being at risk.

Have you spotted the picture yet? Can you tell what it is? Maybe some more dots will help...

Dot... Dot... Dot...
  • The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee interviewed Maggie Atkinson, candidate for the post of Children's Commissioner. This position exists to "promote the views and best interests of all children and young people." The Select Committee recommended that Ms Atkinson not be given the role as she was deemed not to be independent enough of the DCSF to "challenge the satus quo on children's behalf." Secretary of State Ed Balls declined to take their advice and hired her anyway. There remain serious doubts as to Ms Atkinson's independence.
  • Ofsted have stated that they want all parents of home educated children to be CRB checked.
"Current guidance states that parents may employ other people to educate their children and that parents are responsible for 'ensuring that those whom they engage are suitable to have access to children'."
Therefore, they conclude, if the parent has access to their children for the purposes of educating them, it stands to reason they should undergo the same checks as everyone else.
"Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks should be a requirement of registration."
  • Home educators also face registration and monitoring to ensure that their children are safe and well and are receiving an education in line with what local authorities believe is suitable. This will give inspectors mandatory access to the homes of families, the power to deny the children's right to be educated outside of the state school system, influence over the curriculum and method of learning which the family uses, and the right to take the child away from parents for questioning. This is to be done with no evidence or suspicion that anything is wrong with the wellbeing or education of the child. It amounts to saying that, if your child is not in school in daylight hours on a weekday, they are vulnerable and need to be safeguarded.
Dot... Dot... Dot...

OK. Have I made this picture plain enough yet? This isn't just about single issues. I've been involved in the battle for the rights of honourable, law-abiding home educators to carry on with their lives unmolested by the state and its minions for quite a while now. Others have been fighting that battle for years, even decades. At every turn the Powers That Be collude to lie and cheat, to defame and patronise us, to get us the hell out of the way because they know what is best for our children, and we can either go along with it or be set aside. And don't imagine independent advice will be heeded. If that advice goes against policy, it will be ignored and the advisor vilified. This is policy based evidence making. This is ideology. Facts and truth have nothing to do with it, let alone free will.

We are distracted by our personal fights, but we need now more than ever to raise public awareness of the overall strategy behind the weapons of suspicion and ignorance being ranged against us. The desperation of the current government to arrange their tools of oppression before the next general election may be their undoing as these sledgehammers are falling at an ever increasing rate. Everyone is noticing because now everyone is affected, or knows someone who is. There can be little doubt now in anyone's mind that we are facing an attempt by state to wrest any remaining personal power and individuality from our hands in the name of safeguarding. Call it Fascism, Communism, Marxism or Communitarianism, it all amounts to the imposition of the will of the government over and above the will of the people. Time to get together with all those good people of like mind and tell them we've had enough.

My next post will hopefully deal with what needs to be done. Here's a hint: Just say no.

Dot... Dot... Dot...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Our case against change

"In my 30 odd years of professional life in education I have rarely encountered a process, the entirety of which was so slap dash, panic driven, and nakedly and naively populist."
From the submission by Professor James C Conroy, member of Graham Badman's Expert Reference Group.

I have been delighted to read the many submissions to the Children Schools and Families Select Committee by home educators, their supporters, organisations and several independent interested parties. This body of evidence shows the lie in Graham Badman's words to the Select Committee that opposition to his Review of Elective Home Education was mainly being perpetrated by a "vociferous minority."

"I have to say, Chairman, I have been somewhat surprised by the reaction of a vociferous minority - and I do think it is a vociferous minority; I can actually count the number of people who have done it. " - Graham Badman, oral evidence to Select Committee, 12 October 2009.
At the time of writing, over 200 submissions have been listed on the Parliamentary website, all but a fraction of which give thoughtful, erudite, knowledgeable and damning critiques of the Badman Review, its supposed independence, its methods and conduct, and the recommendations that have come out of it. Memoranda have been supplied by home educating parents; national home education organisations such as Education Otherwise, the Home Education Research Association, and Action for Home Education; local home education groups; and other bodies such as the Church of England, The Family Education Trust, The National Autistic Society, and the Institute of Education.

If Mr Badman can count the number of people represented here, he must h
ave a very good head for figures. Unfortunately, as shown by the submission by William Wallace BSc, MSc, MPhil, FSS, AFIMA, hs figures simply do not add up.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

William Wallace
has served as a Local Government Statistician, and is a Research Fellow and Senior University Lecturer in Statistics.
"I can say without any hesitation that the information on methodology casts grave doubt on any use of the results from the Badman Review, or its follow up, to sensibly inform government decisions with respect to elective home education."
His memorandum gives extensive evidence that the statistical basis for Graham Badman's conclusions, particularly that relating to his key idea that the number of home educators known to social care is "disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population", is unsafe and very far from the standard and rigour that should be expected from a document informing possible changes to this country's primary legislation.

Perhaps responding to public criticism of the use of the term "known to social care", Mr Badman changed his terms of reference in his Select Committee hearing and referred instead to children subject to a CPP (Child Protection Plan). Mr Wallace finds his evidence to support this also extremely lacking.

"...some authorities have been using CPPs as a way of forcing EHE children back to school. With such small numbers involved with EHE and certainly CPPs, any distortion in the representativeness of the sample is likely to result in statistical error."

This lack of academic rigour is noted also by Dr Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison. Dr Thomas is a Visiting Fellow at the University of London Institute of Education He has spent 15 years researching home education, particularly autonomous education and informal learning and is an acknowledged expert in his field. It is worth noting that he came to autonomous education as a sceptic, but through his studies of its use and its outcomes, he has become a passionate advocate for informal learning and home education generally. He says:
"Overall, the Review displays a lack of rigour and accuracy combined with unsubstantiated opinions in relation to our area of expertise. Mr. Badman proposes that research into autonomous education should be undertaken and, at the same time, sets out a detailed system of monitoring that would actually prohibit it."
We will look at the unsubstantiated opinions later when we consider whether Mr Badman is as truly independent as he says.

Dr Thomas also comments on the literature used to inform the review. Despite Mr Badman's assurances, no literature review was included in his report, and had to be recovered by Freedom of Information Act requests.
"It ignores vast swathes of relevant educational research both in the mainstream and in relation to home education. Moreover, it is impossible to see on what basis the ad hoc and piecemeal selection of research referred to within the Review has been selected.

"Similarly, reference is made to the policies and circumstances of home education in some other countries but why these countries have been selected from the very large numbers of countries in which home education is practised is not discernible. As well as research into home education, including ours, research in mainstream education also sheds considerable light on alternative, informal and autonomous education. Examples of this are research into personalised learning, experiential learning, the importance of parental involvement, following the interests of the child and pupil responsibility for learning. None of this is discussed in either the Review or the literature review."
A group of Muslim Home Educators found the uncritical inclusion of German policy on home education especially distasteful.
"The report makes favourable reference to German case law. Germany is the only Western nation where home education is illegal... Home education was outlawed in Germany in 1938, as Adolf Hitler did not want children escaping the influence of the Hitler Youth and Nazi philosophy. We are alarmed that a report commissioned by New Labour should make such uncritical reference to a law passed by a Nazi government, while at the same ignoring the situation in the US where there are over one and a half million home educated children and a considerable body of evidence, both state and independent, which attests to the validity and efficacy of home education."

Quotes out of context

As well as showing a lack of rigour in his statistics, Mr Badman on several occasions uses quotations to support his argument in a way which seems less than honest.

The Church of England Education Division submitted evidence to the Review. Mr Badman used three paragraphs from their submission to support his spurious theory that home educated children are cut off from 'the real world' (the school environment couldn't possibly be described as an artificial society, could it?) and may be denied exposure to other beliefs, philosophies and religions. However, it was disingenuous of him not to also use the main point of their paper, that:

"We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education. Where there are particular concerns about the children in a home-educating this should be a matter for Children's Services."
This selective use of quotes was not missed by the CofE. They say:
"We regret... that the paragraphs [from the CofE submission] were used to support what appeared to be the predetermined outcome of the report, given the terms of reference."

"...officers in the Education Division were disappointed with the impression left by the selective use of our submission."
Another selective quotation used out of context for the sake of effect was that of a home educator. It was used to show the 'wacky' ideas of some home educators in their attitude to Local Authorities.
"... no one from the LA would in my opinion be on my child's intellectual level or they wouldn't be working for the LA."

Professor Bruce Stafford, Professor of Public Policy at Nottingham University, was Director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy for 11 years until 2006. He explains:
"Leaving aside the questionable motives for the inclusion of this quote, the Report fails to give the apparent context to the observation:

" 'It was in response to a question about whether a scientifically gifted child would benefit from having a science teacher from the LA come and give them tuition. It was to point out that scientists at the top of their profession are rarely working for the LA, so anyone sent out would not be on the same intellectual level as the scientifically gifted child.' "
Mr Badman not only made selective use of quotes in his report, but also seems to have based his report on inaccurate notes on interviews with expert witnesses. Alison Sauer is director of a company which trains Local Authority personal in dealing with home education.
"Meeting notes taken by the review team during my meetings with Mr Badman do not agree with my notes of the same meetings... Upon receipt of the inaccurate DCSF meeting notes I contacted a number of other people listed in the 'Annex B' of the report as having been giving evidence and found that my case was by no means unique."
Even the quote from Mr Badman's favourite philosopher, Isiah Berlin, which opens the Report was misused. The quote was:
"The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament." - Isiah Berlin, (1969) Four Essays on Liberty.
Jeremy Yallop says:
"This quotation comes from an essay by Isaiah Berlin in which he argues that personal liberty to determine one's own path through life is essential to happiness -- that it is the choosing, not simply the result of the choice that is so essential ('the need to choose'). Badman is apparently attempting to use the quotation to argue that he and the Government ought to make this choice instead. While this is, perhaps, a small point, it is indicative of Badman's use of others' words in general: he uses a passage from A.S. Neill in a similar way."
With all the above evidence of problems around selective use of quotes and even misquotation of evidence, one begins to wonder whether Mr Badman is as independent as he says...

The independence of Mr Badman

Mr Badman spoke to many experts in the course of evidence-gathering for his Review. Amongst these, as one would expect, were two of the main researchers into home education in England today, Paula Rothermel
and Dr Alan Thomas.

Paula Rothermel is one of the leading academics in the field in the UK and the only expert witness specialising in court cases where home education is an issue. In her submission she talks about her two interviews with Mr Badman.
"At our first interview, Mr Badman was interested in what I had to say. His opening question was to ask me if home educating mothers suffered from Munchhausen's by Proxy. I thought this to be a curious starting point - that of questioning whether home education is a symptom of mental illness. I am not medically qualified, but I was able to inform Mr Badman that there is no research evidence available that I am aware of, which makes this link."
Yes, Mr Badman's first question in his first interview with one of the leading authorities on home education was whether home educating mothers suffer Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP). For those not in the know, MSbP is a factitious disorder; a mental illness whereby a person (usually a mother) is said to pretend that someone in their care (usually their child) has a physical or mental illness, when that person is actually not sick. The disorder is controversial to say the least, and organisations have been set up to aid the many vicitms of misdiagnosis.

At her second meeting with Mr Badman, he went from being rude about home educating mothers, and dismissive of home educated children with special needs, to being rude about Paula herself.
"At our second interview Mr Badman was dismissive of my work. He insisted that my study covered just 30 children. He indicated that someone had told him this and insisted that my conclusions and findings, therefore, were of little significance. Nothing I could say would sway him from this view. He had clearly not informed himself about my work by reading it.
"I am one of the leading academics in the field in the UK and the only expert witness specialising in court cases where home education is an issue. My 2002 research involved 1099 children and remains the largest and most in-depth and authoritative, independent of home education, carried out in the UK. The research involved 419 survey questionnaires to families and 238 targeted assessments (with 196 different children) to evaluate the psychosocial and academic development of home-educated children aged eleven years and under."
Paula's experience was not unique. Dr Alan Thomas also found Mr Badman dismissive of his 15 years of experience in the area of home education and autonomous learning, as well as the informed opinions of one of the world's leading educational research institutions. Alan's research partner Harriet Pattison explains:

"Dr Alan Thomas spent an hour explaining our research on informal or autonomous learning to Mr Badman. While he had every right to appraise and criticise our work, it was completely ignored. It appears therefore that Mr Badman had already made up his mind on this issue.

"Mr. Badman also ignored the submission from the Institute of Education in which reference is made to autonomous/informal learning as a legitimate educational approach."
Alan continues:
"Mr Badman claims to make no judgement on autonomous education, at the same time insinuating that it is little more than "childminding" by quoting an unsubstantiated legal opinion.

"His dismissal of our work is at odds with what we have experienced in other jurisdictions. Our work has been used to inform home education policy in Australia (Victoria and Tasmania) and in the Republic of Ireland."
Overall it seems that Mr Badman has taken a somewhat partial view of home education from the outset. Are there reasons for this? Techla Wood, a home educating parent and owner of the FaceBook group Stop The UK Government Stigmatising Home Educators!, puts it thus:
"During the review process, Home Educators have obviously been very interested in finding out what professional interests Mr Badman holds, especially given that we have been told time and again that he, and therefore his review, are independent. Many home educators were surprised to find that an independent review into Home Education could be carried out by a former teacher, former head of children's services, and current chair of BECTA. Whilst looking into Mr Badman's professional interests, it was discovered that he was listed as the director of an Education Management company by the name of Nektus."
Freedom of Information Act requests to the DCSF requesting copies of correspondence between themselves and Nektus have been rejected on the rather thin grounds that to provide them may put Mr Badman in harm's way.
"It seems that, regardless of the truth of the allegation that 'attempts have been made to vilify and harass the author of the Review of Elective Home Education,' the best way to combat such 'attempts' would be to tell the truth. If the interactions between the DCSF and Nektus have been completely above board, then it would seem to be in the best interest of everyone to disclose all interactions between the two entities. Not to do so merely raises the question that there might be something the either the DCSF or Nektus does not wish to be disclosed for public scrutiny."

The independence of the Review

As well as Mr Badman's own independence as chair being called into question, the whole basis and terms of reference of the Review has been looked at in detail by many witnesses to the Select Committee.

The Church of England Education Division again:
"We felt that the terms of reference of the Review were too heavily weighted towards monitoring and the perception of barriers to monitoring. There was an insistence that the Government's five Every Child Matters outcomes are the most important for children. This seems to contradict the Children's Plan mantra that it is 'Parents not Government that bring up children.' For Home Educating families, these may not be the most important or valuable outcomes.
"The premise that things need to be improved, changed, monitored and that children who are home educated and their parents must conform to Government's agenda for school-educated children pervades the whole of this review. It appears that the Review has been written to concur with the view that there should be more regulation and legislation, despite having received many submissions sent in to the Review by home educators."
The idea that the Government is trying to impose their agenda for school children upon the home educated is shared by Dr Alan Thomas:
"The recommendation that the key terms 'suitable' and 'efficient' be redefined in the light of the Rose review of primary education shows a clear intent that school based criteria and benchmarks will be used to measure and judge home education.
"The recommendation that a curriculum at home should be 'sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum' (recommendation 2 of the Badman Review) reflects the desires and constraints of schooling where a curriculum must be devised to answer the needs of a large number of children simultaneously. This recommendation lies at odds with current mainstream policy in regard to the importance of individuality in education."

The rights and the wrongs

There can be little doubt that home education in England will never be the same after the Badman Review. Hundreds of years of constitutional law and tradition are being swept aside. Basic rights of privacy and non-interference in family life have been ignored by its recommendations.
"Giving local authority officials the right to access the home for the purpose of monitoring is a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK is bound by the ECHR under the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 which makes it unlawful for government to unduly interfere in the right to private and family life." - Group of Muslim Home Educators

The Report makes much of children's rights, even setting out a conflict between the rights of the child and the rights of the parent. This is of course nonsense as it is well established in English Law that the parent is the first guardian and promoter of their children's rights. The Muslim Home Educators say:

"To support his perspective Mr. Badman quotes from paragraph 1 of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is intended to ensure that children have a say in matters affecting them. However, his references are highly selective. He ignores paragraph 2 of the same article which says that children should be involved in such a process, rather than as in the case of this Review, have changes imposed on them.

"Mr. Badman omits to mention Article 5, which instructs signatory states to respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents to provide direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the Convention.

"He makes no mention of Article 16 which seeks to protect children from being subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, and home, and asserts their right to protection of the law against such interference.

"No mention is made of Article 18, paragraph 1, which requires government and its agencies to recognize that it is parents that have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child since the best interests of the child will be their basic concern."
They sum up by saying:
"There appears to be little understanding of child development, attachment, and child protection, resulting in a betrayal of the of the children's rights that Mr. Badman claims to support. Children will be subjected to a visit whether they want it or not; whether they are in need of it or not; whether they want to talk to an LA official or not. They have no rights at all."
"This is a bold claim as the Report makes much noise about upholding the child's right to education amongst others (European Convention on Human Rights Article 2 of Protocol 1). However, this is interpreted by the Review to mean that a child has an obligation to receive a state-approved education. This is by no means the same thing.

The Report's use of rights issues as an underpinning for its recommendations is important. However, its author seems confused as to what these rights are and how they apply under English law.
"Badman writes 'This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996', but that section does not confer rights at all; rather, it sets out the duties of parents. This apparently deliberate confusion between rights and duties has been used repeatedly in the report and the press by Badman and DCSF ministers. For example, in a press release of 11 June, Childrenʼs Minister Delyth Morgan said 'We have to balance the rights of parents with the pre-eminent rights of children' ( The truth is that the law sets out duties for parents which are clearly not in conflict with childrenʼs rights." - Action for Home Education.

We will come to the Law in a moment, but here is one more fundamental problem with the Report's view of rights:
"Legal rights are seen [in the Report] as granted by the State rather than recognized by it." - Dr Peter Kahn, university lecturer.
"The fundamental issue here is the relationship between the individual and the state. Ed Balls and Graham Badman see people as property of the state, who have rights given to them by the same." - Steve Keen, Senior Lecturer in Research within a university department of Social Work.

Laying down the Law
"Current law places the primary responsibility for a child's education very clearly with the parent. This is the first level of the fourfold foundation of which Lord Bingham (in Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14) said, 'This fourfold foundation has endured over a long period because it has, I think, certain inherent strengths. First, it recognises that the party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child. Depending on age, maturity and family background, the child may or not share that interest. But the parent has a statutory duty.' He also says, 'It is plainly intended that every child of compulsory school age should receive appropriate education in one way if not another, and that responsibility rests in the last resort with the LEA.' The primary statutory duty lies with the parent and responsibility rests in the last resort with the LEA." - Alexandra Barnes, Home Educating parent.
Lord Bingham's judgement is important as it goes on to set out this fourfold foundation of a child's education - the parent, the Secretary of State, the LEA (now LA), and the school - and then defines the relationships between the various parts. As Alexandra rightly points out, Lord Bingham says that the parent is the person most likely to have the keenest personal interest in the success of the child, and therefore must be granted the primary responsibility to oversee its provision. The intervention of the Local Authority should be a last resort.

The action of the LA as a 'safety net' is its primary function with relation to home education. Most submissions argue that the powers that Mr Badman proposes are redundant as local authorities already have sufficient powers under current legislation to protect children who are suffering, or at risk of suffering significant harm, or who are not receiving a suitable education.
"These powers are enshrined in the Children's Acts 1989 and 2004, and in the 1996 Education Act. The report makes no reference to Section 437 of the 1996 Education Act, which empowers local authorities to require parents to demonstrate that they are providing a suitable education, where they have a concern. If the parents fail to do so, then the local authority can issue an attendance order, compelling the child to attend school. Failure to comply by the parents can result in prosecution.

"The Report fails to demonstrate that the powers enshrined in the Children's Acts of 1989 and 2004 are in any way deficient. Under the terms of those Acts, local authorities have duties and significant powers to investigate allegations of child abuse, and ensure that children who are at risk of significant harm, or suffering significant harm, are cared for and protected." - Group of Muslim Home Educators.
The lack of understanding exhibited by many LA officers of these statutes and the powers granted by them has long been a source of irritation to the home education community (to put it mildly). In the past, this has been due to LA officers attempting to act ultra vires, assuming powers which they do not actually have. Now we also have an ironic situation where, through not understanding and using their actual legal powers, LAs and the DCSF are begging for more! This does not extend to all LAs, resulting in a 'postcode lottery' where the amount of harrassment a home educating family experiences depends on which LA they fall under.

Claire Blades, organiser of the recent Mass Lobby of Parliament on 13th Oct. 2009, adds to the irony by citing Ofsted as her witness:
"Ofsted said the following: 'Our experience from inspections of childrenʼs services and evaluations of serious case reviews is that there is variation across the country in how proactively local safeguarding children boards ensure these (home educated) children are safeguarded. Some local child protection procedures address this robustly while others do not.'

"If some local safeguarding boards are able to ensure the safety of home educated children under current legislation, why is a change of law necessary at all? Surely all that is needed is that good practice and robust procedures for protecting children educated at home should be adopted in all areas. Social services already have extensive powers to investigate if there is reason to believe a child is at risk of harm."
It seems that LAs are not alone. Graham Badman shares their legal confusion. Alison Sauer

"The report, and indeed the questions sent out to Authorities at the beginning of the procedure, show a considerable misunderstanding and misinterpretation of current statute and case law.

"There is marked emphasis on procedures such as 'monitoring', tracking 'educational progress' and 'assessment' in the questionnaire sent to Authorities - such procedures are not legal requirements, indeed monitoring is expressly referred to as being not mandatory in section 2.7 of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities thus: 'Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.' "

Mr Badman's confusion even extends to the understanding of laws affecting home education in other countries:

"The summary of international law was severely inadequate. This summary begins 'International comparison suggests that of all countries with highly developed education systems, England is the most liberal in its approach to elective home education', which is false. In the United States, which has far more home educators than anywhere else in the world, education law is up to individual states; several of these have laws which are more liberal than England's (" - Jeremy Yallop
Perhaps Mr Badman did not think that the USA has a highly developed educational system, or that with over 2 million home educated children (2002-3 estimates, and almost certainly more than the rest of the world put together) the sample size was too small. Given his refusal to accept Paula Rothermel's research, seeing the 1099 children involved as just 30, perhaps this is understandable. Mr Badman seems to be rather micropsic when viewing figures that work against him. Conversely he sees tiny percentages of small minority groups as hugely significant if they seem to help prove his point. What a strange affliction!

Relationship problems: LA vs. EHE
"We explained to Graham Badman how home educating parents in North Yorkshire had worked with the local authority to build up working relationships. We told him how in essence we had come out from behind the barricades and met in the middle and how this process had taken nearly three years after we met with them because of the first consultation on home education. "We stressed to Mr Badman that any element of compulsion would destroy the things we had achieved in North Yorkshire and indeed a lot of home educators in North Yorkshire have withdrawn from engagement with the LA as a protest." - Denise McCallum
Graham Badman, in his Review methodology, asserted that the Review would:
"Map existing practice and consider the effectiveness of different practice – including identifying best practice – in England and elsewhere in monitoring home education from an Every Child Matters perspective."
Despite this, the terms of this Review, along with Graham Badman's Report, has done nothing to help and much to harm relationships between the two. Previous fruitful relationships have been suspended for the duration of this battle, and it is eminently possible that, should the recommendations pass into legislation, they will never be taken up again.
"I have already seen the negative effect this report and the recommendations contained within have had on the relationship between home educators and authorities. Indeed one Authority which was previously working very well has had virtually all communication cut from the EHE families in fear of the recommendations." - Alison Sauer
In her supplementary memorandum, Alison goes into detail, reflecting Denise McCallum's experience:
"North Yorkshire has had its exemplary good practice destroyed overnight by the distrust and fear the publication of this report has caused. EHE families, who for the last 3 years have had an extraordinarily good relationship with the Authority, are refusing to engage at all, have stopped all communication and where they were taking advantage of services and meetings offered by the authority they have gone to ground. North Yorkshire has a good, well trained advisor with the back up of an excellent admin team and, to my knowledge, the best Education Welfare department in the country."
Back to Alison's original submission:
"Authorities I have worked with generally do not feel they are without tools to carry out their duties. Neither is there evidence these authorities are missing cases of abuse because of the current system. In my experience many of the authorities who complain about a lack of powers to carry out their duties wrongly believe that they have additional duties that simply do not exist.
"The best outcomes for all are based on positive relationships. Such relationships are more likely where a light touch and a positive attitude prevail. For this authorities need clarity in legislation and guidance, funding, suitable training and contact with the home educating community - not more regulation and draconian procedures."
Perhaps the failure to find any 'best practice' is explained by the use of the phrase "from an Every Child Matters [ECM] perspective." The Home Educated Youth Council, a campaining group of home educated children and young people, explains:
"ECM shouldnʼt have been used as a basis for this report, as it is irrelevant to EHE families. The aim of ECM is to 'give all children the support they need to: be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; achieve economic well-being'. 'Support' is a word implying choice on the childʼs part, so the fact the reviewʼs terms of reference use the word 'ensure' therefore goes against the entire ECM ethos.

"The Children Act 2004 [c.31] forms the basis of ECM. It doesnʼt at all imply that children be forced to achieve these outcomes; itʼs clearly meant for childrenʼs services authorities, and those they work with. For this reason, ECM shouldnʼt have been mentioned in the terms of reference as something to be 'ensured'."

Conclusion: A rush and a push and the land is ours

Perhaps the most obvious thing to note with the Badman Review, its formulation, conduct, the formulation of its recommendations, the following consultation, and the DCSF's attempts to enact parts of it in law through other Bills even before the consultation on its recommendations had ended, is the haste with that this has all come to pass.
"The present Review was unduly rushed. As the terms of reference make clear, it was to be conducted in 4 months. It is not clear why such speed was required, particularly as the area is a complex one with a long history. There was no apparent need for immediate change, nor did the report discover one. Mr Badman was engaged, at the same time as this Review, in conducting the second Serious Case Review into the death of Baby P. It is impossible that this did not take a great deal of his time. It would have been inappropriate had it not. However, a four month period would have been too short even for a full time, experienced researcher to conduct work of this magnitude. We estimate that a proper survey of local authorities would, by itself, require two to three months. It was, during the course of the Review, clear that pressures of time prevented Mr Badman from fully engaging with stakeholders, and particularly from attending meetings. It is also, unfortunately, clear that the final Report was not the product of sufficient consideration." - Education Otherwise (home educating charity).
Professor James Conroy was a member of Mr Badman's Expert Reference Group. He says:
"The final report was somewhat rushed and there was little enough time to digest or reflect on either the report or the recommendations. Of course the unseemly haste with which the review was conducted will simply re-affirm a quite widespread view that the case was decided before the evidence was heard. "
He concludes:
"In all of this I would recommend that a series of serious studies be conducted on the effects and efficacy of home education. This might then preclude the rush to judgement on the basis of prejudice, single issue/moment claims."
This article has just been a small selection of the vast amount of evidence against changes to the law regarding elective home education. This is evidence that Graham Badman should have taken into account back at the beginning of 2009 when he started this affair, but which he ignored. His actions and those of Ed Balls and the DCSF have fundamentally and irrevocably changed the character of home education from one of generally happy, if sometimes embattled, family life to one of outright war against totalitarian forces which seek to make life very difficult for most of us, presumably in the hope that we will give in and send our children back to school, and to change the rest into something we are not; something less.

For my conclusion I will quote 14 year old Myrna Tennant, a home educated child in Carlisle but originally from the Netherlands. Her family moved to England to escape the persecution they had experienced there merely for their choice to home educate Myrna and her brother who has Asperger's Syndrome. England was a haven for them, and we really should be proud of that. However, now we are on the verge of recreating of the situation she came here to escape. Her fighting spirit is shared by many many other home educated children and their families. If by some profound injustice Mr Badman's recommendations pass into legislation, we will not go down quietly.

"It's going to take a lot more than petty assumptions to make us back down, we fight for our rights, like any other person would.

"We fight to keep things as they are now. There is no need for changes, there is a good law that protects people who need protecting. And we will protect the law that allows us to Home Educate and do Autonomous Education.

"Government, spend your money on things that make a difference for the better. Start making things, stop breaking things."

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rights and duties

It may seem strange, but human beings haven’t always had rights. Certain things we would look upon as rights, such as equality of treatment for all under a Common Law, were laid down as early as Magna Carta, but the idea that there should be some inalienable certainties as to what any human being can expect was formalised in the 17th and 18th centuries by such philosophers as John Locke and Adam Smith, and in such legal documents as the English Bill of Rights. Rights were deemed to provide protection for the individual from unwarranted harm or intrusion by the state and/or sovereign. Therefore one could have a right to the private enjoyment of one's home, or a right not to be tortured or killed for no reason, or a right to defend oneself from aggression. Such things are within the power of society to grant as absolute guarantees. Often they are to do with the inaction or non-interference by others in the freedom of an individual or group. The original spirit of the definition of ‘rights’ was very much concerned with protecting the freedom of the individual to live unmolested in the pursuit of happiness.

The Bill of Rights (1689) is a good example of actual rights - or at least the part of it that deals with the "rights and liberties of the subjects ... of the Crown." This provided such things as a legal right to freedom from royal interference with the law; the freedom to elect representatives without royal interference; or freedom from taxation by Royal Prerogative. Again, note the abounding use of the word 'freedom'!

However, some of the things which have been given the title of ‘rights’ in the last few decades, often in impressive sounding documents like the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, are not truly rights. No one can guarantee that a person stays healthy, nor that they become educated (you can provide an education, but you can’t force someone to receive it!). Thus it is meaningless to say that they have a right to a public health system or to a right to education. It is more correct and more helpful to look at these things in terms of duties – the duty of the state to provide a health care system, or of a parent to ensure a suitable education is provided for their children (in school or otherwise). Duties are things which a society together agrees are important and decides to create systems to ensure ther provision.

The idea of rights has been further diluted recently of course, with the increasing subversion of our language by commercial interests. We now have a 'right' to choice (whether it be a choice of which school to send our child to, or of which deodorant to use) and a 'right to know' (what Monsanto are up to, or where your teenage son goes on a Saturday night). Some people are even trying to say that everyone in the country has a right to broadband and a right to a TV signal. This is obviously nonsense.

My reason for bringing this up is that the government has gone out of its way in the home education debate, as well as in the inception of the home-school contract, to talk about "parents' rights and responsibilities" and "children's rights" as if they are mutually exclusive things. We see again and again members of the government and their representatives and allies talking about the conflict between a child's right to receive an education and the parent's right to choose the method of that education. This is at best unhelpful, and at worst utterly meaningless and intentionally misleading. The whole subject of education is mapped out in legislation in terms of duties: The duty of the parent to ensure a suitable and efficient full-time education for their child in school or otherwise (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996). The duty of the Local Authority to serve notice on the parent requiring satisfactory proof of suitable education if it appears to them that none such is taking place (Section 437 of the same Act).

In 2006 a duty was introduced for Local Authorities to establish which children in their area are not receiving a suitable education (Section 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which introduced a new Section 436a into the 1996 Education Act). This same revision says that it does not apply to children elected to be educated at home by their parents. Even so, it is this new responsibility, born from the assertion in the Every Child Matters agenda that every child has a 'right' to education, which has caused Local Authorities to grow ever more confused about what constitutes home education and their responsibilities towards children being home educated. It is then easy to see that the invention of a 'right' by politicians has led to a corresponding and confusing duty for civil servants, which has in turn led to the recent attempts to severely curtail people's freedom from state interference with their own and their children's lives.

The same 'right' rising from the same agenda has led to the criminalisation of parents who fail to stop their children repeatedly truanting. The test of a right, in my opinion, is that it enables freedom. Something that results in parents being jailed cannot truly be called a right.

The reliance in law on duties is entirely correct and intentional. The recent inclusion in the national conversation about education of newly minted 'rights' only serves to muddy the waters and to set up impossible tasks for parents or Local Authorities to fulfil. Only by returning to the original definition of what constitutes a right can we free ourselves from much of the very emotive and extremely divisive baggage that surrounds such issues as educational choice, discipline, philosophical and religious freedom, and much else. Then we can return to the premise that has held sway for hundreds of years: that the parent is best placed to know the needs of their child and to have the task of providing for those needs, and therefore is best placed to be the primary guardian of and advocate for their child. The state's role would then more obviously be as it should be: to provide structures through which the parent may, if they choose, fulfil their responsibilities, and to provide assurance for the child that they will be protected and aided should their parents, through malice or misfortune, fail in their duties.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Beware of the Third Sector - your children are money to them!

Third sector charities are making lot of money out of injustice and misery. ln 2008 Barnardos made £119.25m in fees from public authorities, including £51m for 'family support and placement' and £41.5m for 'other services'. They aimed to increase income from such statutory resources by 4.5% in the following year.

It should be no surprise then that Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos, has called for more children to be taken into care. Or that, Wes Cuell, director of children's services at the NSPCC, broadly agrees with Mr Narey's assessment, saying,"We should not be keeping children out of care just because we don't like what care represents."

John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of Justice for Families, said Narey was ignorant of the huge numbers of cases where massive injustice has clearly been done. He pointed to data from the DCSF which showed that among 7,800 children taken into care in 2006, only 1,800 had been returned to their families by March 2007.

"I'm not sure Mr Narey really understands what is going on. Nor am I sure that he has the practical experience," said Mr Hemming. "His basic assertion that more children need to be taken into care and fewer need to be returned to their families ignores the statistics."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, a union for family court and probation staff, also disagreed with Mr Narey's suggestion that more children should be taken into residential care. "Barnardo's have a vested interest in residential homes because they run some of them," he said. "All the evidence suggests residential care should be used as little as possible because the experience is damaging."

Recently, a father and mother lost a case in the Court of Appeal to prevent their daughter being 'freed' for adoption. Their daughter was taken into care after police and animal welfare officers raided their home. The girl was described as 'thriving and happy', and there was never any suggestion that she was at any risk of abuse at all. Yet because the father refused to co-operate with Essex Social Services, the Court refused the parents' appeal.

The identification of the girl or her parents is not allowed by law, and Social Services used this fact to instruct the police to ban a protest march by 200 neighbours, family and church members.

The family's MP said this is the worst incident he's dealt with in all his years as an MP, and he brought the matter up in the Commons. The family GP expressed his horror, and fully supports the devoted parents.

This is just one case, but Ian Josephs catalogues an incredible amount of horrifying stories and information on his website on forced adoption and offers valuable help and advice to parents. He also catalogues the money to be made, and says that adoption fees can be £18,000 per child, while specialist children's homes like Barnardo's can charge £7,000 per week per child.

Martin Narey's article exposes the way that Third Sector organisations like Barnardo's and the NSPCC are encouraging Social Services to take children into care. Although Barnardo's closed its conventional residential homes in 1989, it still has homes amongst its 394 specialist projects. Social Services meanwhile are happy to hit on the easy targets as they too have quotas to meet.

The process of taking children into care needs a complete overhaul, and the vested interests of the care and adoption industries, of which Barnardos and the NSPCC are part, must be exposed.

A number of websites provide advice to parents whose children are in danger of being taken into care. I heartily recommend looking at the Family Wrongs site, run by parents who have had their children taken away from them. They know what they are talking about! Also, Ian Josephs' site has a lot of very practical advice.

Here's a round up of some main points:
  1. Never seek the help of Social Services. Independent charities are a better and less judgemental source of help. Social Services should be an absolute last resort and you should be aware of the powers they have, the further powers they wish to have, and that they see every parent as a potential threat to their child. Act accordingly.
  2. Never say to a public officer (doctor, teacher, social worker, etc) that you are depressed or can't cope.
  3. If you take an injured child to the doctor or to casualty, always give an explanation for the injury.
  4. Never publicly criticise your partner. Keep your family's 'dirty linen' at home.
  5. Keep your children clean, tidy and washed. Don't draw attention to yourself.
  6. If you do come to the attention of Social Services: Be polite and co-operative, but never believe anything they say. Above all, do not argue or get emotionally involved.
  7. Insist they put all promises in writing.
  8. Never sign anything they put in front of you (they have no power without a court order).
  9. Say as little as possible whilst continuing to appear polite and co-operative. The slightest comment can be taken out of context and twisted.
  10. Never agree to your child going into care, even temporarily - it is seen as an admission of guilt.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

They Are Coming For Your Children: Why the changes in legislation concerning home education should worry every thoughtful parent. Part 1.

I thought I should write a little on why the current proposals on changes to legislation regarding elective home education should be of immediate concern to all parents, regardless of their educational choices.

The most common attitude I find amongst my non-home educating friends and acquaintances is one of support. The huge majority can see that this is a battle over freedom, and an important freedom in that it relates to the relationship between the state and the family, specifically the troika of the state, the child and the parent. Even these people though, with some notable exceptions, see this current fight as being the home educators' problem. Support is vocal and sometimes passionate, but usually not passionate enough to actually do anything to help. Theoretically they can see that what is happening to home educators links in with recent scandals over vetting and barring proposals, or mutually beneficial child care arrangements between friends. They know that the government is drastically wrong in its rejection of the recent Cambridge Review of primary education and that the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum for 3 to 5 year olds is hopelessly wrong-headed and potentially damaging. They can see there is somehow a link to the failure of Social Services and others to protect Baby P, Victoria Climbié, Khyra Ishaq, or the Eunice Spry foster children. In short, they know that the government is massively wrong in its attitude to children, education, families, and child protection, and that potential home education regulation is a part of that. All I can say to these people is, please put two and two together and act now on our behalf, because this is just part of the culture of suspicion that eminates from our government, and the creeping legislation to remove children from parental control and into malfunctioning state control.

The other attitude that I come across, albeit only occasionally, is that of course home education should be regulated. Such people sincerely cannot see why registration is an issue, and believe that monitoring is necessary to ensure that a child is receiving an education and is not being abused. "If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear." So it is to these people I am addressing this post, and the ones that I hop will follow.

1. Registration

First, a quick lesson. You may be surprised to hear that, in legal terms, registration means granting to some other party the power of 'regis' (literally 'kingship') over something which is yours. This means you are signing over temporary ownership of the 'thing' to someone else for them to care for in your stead. This comes from maritime law, as does much of our legal system of Acts and Statutes, whereby a captain would grant regis over (i.e. would register) his ship to a harbour master while he was on shore for a while, so that they could care for it in his absence, or sell it to recoup their costs should he not return. When you register something - whether it is your car or your child - you are actually transferring legal ownership to the body you register with.

This is not, however, the only reason a large proportion of home educators are against registration.

The Badman Review recommendations, which have been wholeheartedly approved by the DCSF, suggest that home educating families must register with their Local Authority. The LA's acceptance of their registration would be conditional on them:
  • submitting to statutory annual checks from LA officers in their own homes as to the safety of their children and the adequacy of their educational provision;
  • possible interviews with their children without parents present;
  • providing a statement of planned curricula, targets and projected outcomes for the following year;
  • proving satisfactory (by the LA's standards) progress in their child's development with regard to the statement they made the previous year;
  • several other criteria.
Failure to comply or to perform satisfactorally in any of these areas would lead to the refusal of registration and therefore the removal of the right to home educate. Effectively this is not a registration scheme, but a licensing operation.

Incidentally, it is proposed that failure to register or to provide 'adequate information' should be a criminal offence. This leads to an astounding situation where something that has always been a protected and lawful right, and an accepted part of natural law, will suddenly become a criminal offence through passivity - that is, if someone has been quietly, successfully, lawfully home educating for years and there is no hint of suspicion that they have ever done anything wrong, and carries on doing so without change, suddenly they are a criminal purely by the passing of a new law to make them so.

But again, this is not the only reason many home educators will not accept registration.

Registration, we can tell you from bitter experience, would only be the first step. The entry of our children on yet another database would inevitably lead to the harassment of many law-abiding people. LA staff may think they have the child's best interests at heart, but they do not include the parents' beliefs, philosophies, religion, parenting methods, or love for and hopes for their children in the formulation of their plans. With some exceptions, home educators' experience of voluntarily registration has been hugely negative. At the very least it is a "post code lottery" as to whether registration will bring helpful suggestions for useful local resources from a respectful LA education officer, or an immediate home visit by a hostile ex-head teacher whose only experience of education involves the blackboards, workbooks and lesson plans necessary in a group-learning situation.

But this too is not the only reason to disagree with mandatory registration of home educators.

How my child is educated is simply nobody's business but my own. Legally this is so; it is my responsibility under section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. We are actually being asked to register so that the LA, and thence the government, will know where all the children are. The only possible reason for them wanting to know where my child is is that they don't trust me to carry out my legal responsibilities and to do what is best for my child. Make no mistake: I am responsible for my child's education, and the Common Law principle of "innocent until proven guilty" applies to this as it does to how a child is raised between birth and 5 years old, or during the school summer holidays. Should children on their summer break register for the three months they are out of school? With criminal charges if they take the child elsewhere without first notifying the authorities?

It is often said that the state has a stake in the child, as that child will grow to become a boon to, or a drain on the country. I say that my children are unique human beings who should not be evaluated as mere raw material for the country's economic future. They are individuals who belong to no one but themselves, over whom their parents have natural guardianship by dint of having brought them into the world, and through their standing as the people who know and love them better than anyone else. Registration, in law as well as in practise, would sign my children over to the guardianship of the state. I will not disown or dishonour my children in this way.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Home Education Consultation - my answers

Note: This is an ever evolving document, right to the point where I submit the thing at some point before the consultation closes at 23:45 on Monday 19th October 2009.

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?


I strongly disagree with the use of rights issues in these proposals, and the idea that such a balance needs to be struck. It does not. Such an idea is divisive and anti-family.

Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says:

“State Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents … to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.”

In other words, the state is required to respect the role of parents as the ultimate protector of their child’s rights. This includes Article 28, the child’s right to education – something that Mr Badman refers to without mentioning that such a right does not exist in British Law.

This entire set of recommendations set out by Mr Badman directly contravenes Article 5, and this particular question shows an utter ignorance of or contempt for this Article and its implications.

All aspects of a child's life are under direct control of their parents from birth. Parents control or at least have a veto over, whom the child associates with, what money they own and what they spend it on, what they eat, when they sleep and wake, what they read or watch on TV and countless other matters. Therefore a child's rights are actually inextricably tied up with their parent's rights. These proposals are to my knowledge the only case where the State has decided that it needs powers to monitor, modify and if necessary veto parental decisions - decisions that are most often made by parents in order to actually uphold their children's right to a suitable education. To talk about children's rights to suitable education, and to ignore their rights to optimum health through diet and exercise (for instance) is to place an arbitrary relativity on the values of those rights. Are we going to investigate all families, searching for parents who give their children too many sweets? Or who let them watch too much TV? Or who don't make them take strenuous exercise several times a week? If not, then the use of rights issues in this report is disingenuous.

Making the issues surrounding home education a matter of opposing rights is divisive. It creates a perceived opposition, child against parent, where none previously existed. Again, children's rights and parental rights are complimentary, not adversary. To give the idea that a child's right to receive an education and a parent's right to choose the venue of that education are separate and opposed is to obfuscate matters.

Similarly, to suggest in this question, and in the proposals generally, that 'home education' and 'suitable education' are opposites to be balanced is insulting, as the inference is that home education is inferior to other kinds of education, i.e. school.

Much is made in the report of children's rights, but only those rights that follow Mr Badman's line of thought are brought out. No mention is given of a child's right to choose to be home educated. Less is mentioned of the child's right to privacy, to self-determination, or to live free of harassment, threat or vilification. All of these rights are threatened by these proposals. To devalue these rights by invoking the phrase 'child protection,' as in the phrase, "Of course a child's right to privacy is guaranteed, but we must ensure the child is protected," is insulting to children and parents alike. It is also hypocritical to claim to guarantee a child's privacy whilst legislating methods to invade it in the name of protection.

I need hardly add that the parent does not merely have a right to ensure a suitable education is provided, but is required to do so by existing law. Traditionally in this country, to charge someone with an offence under the law one must have reason for suspicion against them which then must be backed up by evidence. To assume that a parent may not be providing a suitable education (and therefore is breaking the law) until it is proven that they are is a complete reversal of this tradition.

2 Do you agree that a register should be kept?


This question does not make clear what sort of registration is being asked about. Registration may be voluntary (which may be reasonable) or compulsory (which is emphatically not). However, I am assuming that the intention is to draw response to the idea of a register of the type proposed by Graham Badman, though such a scheme is not actually registration but a haphazard licensing scheme.

Whilst the use of a simple register for the sake of calculating the numbers of home educated children in the UK for the purposes of 'bean counting' (statistical reasons) is not entirely unreasonable, the existence of a field in the ContactPoint database for educational setting, which includes home education, makes it redundant for this purpose. This however is beside the point. Registration of anything is rarely if ever done just for statistical reasons. It is always a precursor to regulation and the regulation of home education is something I oppose completely for reasons laid out in the rest of this response.

The Badman Report and these proposals are also extremely destructive to any existing good relationships between Local Authorities and home educators. I know of home educators who have broken off previously fruitful relations with their LA because they feel they cannot seek advice or support from a body that may soon have the power to remove their lawful right to home educate. They feel that they are under suspicion as a parent and as a family.

It is difficult to see how registration would help with safeguarding children. If any parents are so evil or deranged that they wish to abduct and abuse a child, they are not going to take any notice of the minor offence of not registering themselves with the Local Authority as home educators. Children in this country do indeed disappear, but there is no evidence that this is any more likely to happen to those in home educating families. The majority of such children are abducted by their estranged fathers, in families where the parents have separated. Again, it is difficult to see how registering and regulating the home educating mother will protect against this.

There is also the point that simple registration is far from simple to implement. It effectively means children or families being put on (another) database, with all the security and data protection implications this carries. Maintenance of such a database would be an almost impossible task given the mobile nature of many home educators – travellers, those in the armed forces, etc. For such people, home education is the only option that provides necessary stability and consistency for their children, but keeping accurate track of them would be nearly impossible.

The method of registration recommended by Mr Badman is not a simple record of educational setting, but effectively a system of licensing, providing a temporary (annual) permit to home educate which can be refused upon application, or removed at any subsequent time at the discretion of the Local Authority, with few guidelines as to what would necessitate such action. The standards by which acceptance onto the register is judged admissible are mainly those imposed by the Local Authority. Effectively this will limit the freedom of parents to pursue their own educational philosophy if it does not fall within parameters defined by the LA, or if the LA does not understand it. Given that training of LA staff is not prioritized, it is difficult to see how those with power of veto over registration will be in a position to properly judge the suitability or effectiveness of the educational methods either planned or in progress.

As well as the above points, the LA already has the power to serve a School Attendance Order if they are satisfied that parents are not fulfilling their obligation to cause their child to be educated. Having a system whereby a license (permission to home educate) may be withdrawn is a duplication of effort. The difference is that to serve an SAO the LA must have evidence that it I required. There is no such assurance or protection with the registration/licensing method.

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

(Likely to be child's name, date of birth, address, the same information for adults with parental responsibility; a statement of approach to education, and the location where education is conducted if not the home)


The child and parents' names, address and date of birth are recorded on ContactPoint, as well as other places (GP's records, etc) so this information does not need to be duplicated.

A family's approach to education can and does change and evolve over time. Some start with a 'school at home' (lesson plans and timetabled learning) model and later abandon it for a more autonomous approach. Others start with a completely autonomous philosophy but find the addition of more structure is helpful to their children. The setting down of an educational approach as a matter of official record limits the freedom of parents to adapt and change their approach to suit the changing needs of their child. This is especially so if they feel that, six months or a year hence, they will be judged against an approach they have abandoned, and may have their right to home educate removed because of the perceived inconsistency of their approach. In fact it is this flexibility and ability to adapt almost instantly to changing needs which is a major strength of home education. Whether such a veto would actually be exercised is irrelevant. The perception that it might is enough to adversely affect the freedom of the parents to educate their children as they see fit, or of children to take part in the direction of their education.

The idea that education occurs in a particular location misunderstands one of the fundamental points of home education: that learning happens anywhere. The home is usually just one of many settings for education of a child, others include extensive use of libraries, galleries and museums, sports facilities, home education groups, privately funded tutors and clubs or groups, allotments, nature reserves, and many other locations, as well as informal learning in the community and through day-to-day life, conversation and experience. The record of 'the location where education is conducted' should therefore not be included.

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


I disagree with the need for such a register. If a register existed, it should be the responsibility of Local Authorities to maintain its accuracy under Data Protection legislation as much as anything else.

Whether a parent should be required provide data depends on the nature of the data held, and how it infringes a person's (parent's or child's) right to privacy.

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


Recourse to criminal proceedings should always be a last resort, invoked only in extremis. In order for there to be a crime, there has to be a victim. In the case of non-registration on this database, it is hard to see who the victim might be. No person is harmed; no goods, monies or services are fraudulently obtained. As such, criminalising non-registration could be seen as draconian and heavy-handed.

Charging someone with a criminal offence is a seen as a punishment for wrong-doing against an individual, a group or society in general, and as a deterrent to others who might follow their lead. Such punishment is not an ethical way of treating a person who may have a profound philosophical, political or other personal objection to registration, or who may have fears about the security of their information in the hands of strangers, as many do. There are many quite reasonable objections to the maintenance of personal data on the huge number of public databases that already exist. To criminalise these objectors is to limit freedom of belief.

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 is detrimental to schools' persistent absence targets as it will effectively add 20 child-days of absence per student who is withdrawn. Such targets form part of the school's OFSTED report, and so schools may pressure parents to make a child continue to attend for those 20 days despite them having valid reasons for deregistration. In cases where a child is being withdrawn due to bullying, harassment (psychological, physical or sexual), or the failure of a school to meet their Special Educational (or other) Needs, this is worrying.

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


School projections of achievement and future attainment are only relevant to that school setting and its methods, targets and preferred pace for such attainment. Once a child has been withdrawn from a school, such projections are irrelevant to the child's education in their new setting. Such data may conflict with the parents' own vision for their child's education. The family may wish to change the focus of education away from what they see as unproductive areas, or to change the whole direction of educational approach away from that of the former school. The fear is that measurement of the parents' plan against data from schools would lead to an artificial sense that the home education is inadequate or otherwise defective when in fact it is merely different. Given the weight that Local Authorities almost universally give the opinions of schools over those of parents, it would undoubtedly predispose their judgement against the home educators' views.

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


I disagree with registration and monitoring of Home Education. Education is the parent’s responsibility. The attitude from State should be one of advice and support, not of control and direction. In a democracy it is vitally important that there exist avenues of education that are completely free of influence from State. Without freedom of education there cannot be true freedom of thought. Without independent thought there cannot be democracy. The DCSF issued guidance in relation to home education (2007) and this should suffice. In my opinion it would be far more helpful if these guidelines were to be made statutory.

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


This is not an education issue and should not be linked to education. If there are substantial safeguarding concerns then the authorities already have a duty to investigate and act in the best interest of the child. If home education really truly presents a risk then the LA can apply for an Educational Supervision Order, which would remove the parents' responsibility under section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

The present powers, whilst sufficient, are poorly understood and the Department has not taken a lead in promoting the 2007 Guidelines to LAs on Elective Home Education. If these guidelines were properly promoted so that all LAs were aware of them, and were made statutory,

No change is required.

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


There is no need for these powers. Such powers are already available to Local Authorities when they have evidence or reason to suspect that there is a need to employ them. The mere fact that a family home educates is not in itself such a reason.

Giving a Local Authority the power to insist upon entering a home on pain of criminal proceedings, and to conduct private interviews with family members, especially children, without evidence or reasonable suspicion goes far beyond the powers of any other public body, including the police. The sanctity of the homes of law-abiding people is a fundamental freedom that should not be given away for any reason. By the logic of these proposals, the police should be allowed to make random searches of residences in case criminal activity is occurring within. This would rightly be deemed unacceptable. To allow such powers to be held over home educators is tantamount to regarding home education as an indicator of possible abuse, itself a cause for reasonable suspicion, something that it is emphatically not. Such an attitude of mistrust degrades the status of the family as a social unit within society, and therefore is harmful to its members, including its children, and to the social health of the nation. The inference is that everybody is considered guilty until they show that they are innocent, and they must continue to prove their innocence annually.

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?


If there are substantial safeguarding concerns then child welfare services already have this power. There is no need for it to be extended on a 'just in case' basis, and certainly not in any matter related to education. The deleterious effect of removing a child, especially one with special needs, from a parent against their will should not be underestimated.

To insist that every child must be seen alone in order to ascertain whether they are safe and well is not only a despicable abuse of the child's right to privacy, but is also a certain way to harm a large number of children who have no existing welfare or protection problems. It is also known to social workers as a wholly ineffective way to detect abuse. The belief that an abused child, given a brief time away from parents with a stranger, will ask for help is completely unfounded in reality. The detection of abuse by private interview is notoriously unreliable and the ability of the interviewer not to ask leading questions is paramount. The idea that abuse could be detected by such methods in brief annual inspections, by persons who have not been intensively trained for the purpose, would be laughable if it wasn't so worrying.

The skills needed to detect abuse are very different to those needed to offer support, and again are very different to those needed to inspect and understand educational provision. This shows up the fundamental problem with the foundations of the Review: that it conflates the child’s education with child protection and with child welfare. These are separate issues and require three completely different sets of skills to deal with appropriately and effectively.

The Badman Report does not address the issue of recommended procedure and the rights of the child if the child refuses to be interviewed. It should be self-evident that in the vast majority of cases, if not all of them, the child will not have been abused. To take such a child against their will away from parents for interview is in itself abusive. Local Authorities are in danger of becoming the monster that Mr Badman wants them to protect children from.

This recommendation also promotes the false idea that a home educated child is especially at risk of being ‘hidden’ from the state and the public in general – something which is a theme throughout the Review. School is just one avenue an abused child has available in order to disclose the abuse to a third party, and given the experience of the Eunice Spry foster children, not even a particularly reliable one. Children are not raised in a vacuum. Home educated children, like any others, have many opportunities in their everyday lives to disclose abuse to people who are not their parents. It would be better to focus on providing paths to advice for concerned parties on how they might deal with their concerns. For example, Education Otherwise has a designated person in charge of safeguarding, whom anyone can call if they have concerns and don't know whether or not it warrants calling Social Services or the NSPCC. Given the mistrust of Local Authorities that this Review has engendered, it seems wise to employ some third party (not necessarily Education Otherwise) as an advisor as home educators are less likely than ever since this Review to accept the advice of Local Authority agents, and will be even less likely should these proposals pass into legislation.

Local Authorities, by taking on the power to do such 'safe and well checks' should also be aware that they are taking actual direct responsibility for the children they check. This means that any child harmed as a result of the process of interrogation, or through incorrect diagnosis of abuse, or through actual abuse being missed, should have a legal right to compensation as a victim of abuse by Local Authority personnel.

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 disagree with the principle of monitoring, including visiting the premises and interviewing the child. The repeated use of the word ‘premises’ is insulting and obscures an important point: that these are people's homes; the place where people go for privacy and comfort and to get away from the outside world. The aphorism that an Englishman's home is his castle should not be so easily dismissed. People will defend their homes and families and this intended invasion may well bring about civil disobedience and legal challenge from previously peaceful law abiding folk. In this way the recommendations as a whole threaten to criminalise many many more people than they could ever benefit.