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.


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