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 ClimbiƩ, 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.