Thursday, 25 February 2010

My Complaint to the BBC

The following is the text of my complaint to the BBC over their online piece, Could Khyra Ishaq have been saved? I will be making further complaints about other BBC reportage as I come across it. I urge everyone to do the same.

I am complaining about the way in which the death of Khyra Ishaq is reported on the BBC News website. The BBC has a responsibility to follow the Broadcasting Code on impartial and accurate information in its news reporting. There are some factual inaccuracies in the article, but the main thrust of my complaint is that the article's text and layout severely bias the reader to accept a negative view of home education, and to accept the government's current political agenda, strongly rejected by the other two main parties and many independents, that home education in England should be regulated.

There are two views on Khyra Ishaq's absence from school. The almost exclusive promotion of the government's view, especially at this time, is politically biased. There is also much to say about her time whilst in school and the extent to which she was failed by children's services in that period; a children's services which were found not fit for purpose. Surely that is the story which should have been reported here: that a schoolchild was failed, and that when she was taken away from school this failure continued.

The article repeats several times in highlighted text the government line that Khyra Ishaq was home educated, when in fact she was just taken out of school by her mother. Her home education is reported as fact, when it is actually an interpretation which the government and Birmingham City Council have promulgated. It is inaccurate to say that a child who has never been de-registered from school is home educated. The truth is that she was truant. Just because Birmingham City Council and Ed Balls say she was home educated doesn't make it so.

Social Services were aware of concerns for Khyra expressed by the school several times, well in advance of her being withdrawn in December 2007. That this is not mentioned in the article gives undue emphasis on her time out of school which is politically expedient for the government's proposed plan to regulate home education.

The BBC journalist researching this story was certainly aware of these facts but has chosen to ignore them. The effect is that the way the story is reported ties Khyra Ishaq to the current Children Schools and Families Bill going through Parliament in a way that is beneficial to the government, just at a crucial time when it is about to enter debate in the House of Lords.

The erroneous idea that Khyra was home educated gives the journalist an excuse to give copious space to the views of the ex-chairman of several government reviews, Graham Badman. The amount of text given to what Mr Badman says , including the pull quote on the top right hand side of the article, is disproportionate. Whilst the government maintain that Mr Badman's views are accurate, there has been enormous controversy over the issue which should not and must not be ignored in a balanced article. That these views have been given space without a similar space being given to those many home educators and Members of Parliament who have repeatedly contested them, gives the article a political bias.

As an example, take this quote:

"He said while the number of serious cases involving people who were home educated was "very very small" studies also showed you were twice as likely to be the subject of a child protection plan if you were electively home educated than if you were part of the general population."

"Studies" do not show this at all. Mr Badman conducted a survey of Local Authorities which produced a small, self selected set of replies, some of which showed a high proportion of home educated children on CPPs. The conclusion he drew from this, which is unquestioningly repeated in the article, has been discredited by many people including most recently by Graham Stuart MP in the CSF Select Committee enquiry into the Badman Review, and in debate over the CSF Bill in the House. Statisticians have trounced Mr Badman's misuse of figures, and the canvassing of a much larger set of Local Authorities through Freedom of Information Act requests has revealed that home educated children are actually far less likely to be at risk of abuse. Again, the BBC should be well aware of the volume of evidence against Mr Badman's figures, but has chosen to ignore it.

It could be argued that the BBC is merely reporting the controversial views of Mr Badman, however, the disproportionate amount of space given to these views without any counter argument lends a political bias to the piece in favour of the government's regulation agenda, and the very controversy over his views makes it essential that a balanced piece would either provide equal weight to opposing views, or omit Mr Badman's views altogether.

Oh a personal note, I find it sickeningly predictable that the government is once again using the death of a child to further its political agenda. However, I find it incredible that the BBC uncritically supports them in this political aim through articles like this one and the similar inaccurate and biased reportage I hear today through other media.

The Myth of Democracy

It is now nearly 14 months since Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, asked Graham Badman to conduct a review into Elective Home Education. I have obviously followed this story of democracy in action through the ensuing review process, the publication of it's report, the CSF Select Committee enquiry, the drafting of legislation as a result of the report, the Consultation on the proposed changes to statutory law, the introduction to the CSF Bill and its procession through the House of Commons. Next week we will see it move on to the House of Lords where it will be scrutinised and debated through three more readings until it passes back to our elected representatives either for final amendments and enaction, or dismissal in part or in full, or (as we hope) - to be lost in the pre-election bargaining process known as 'the wash up'.

The process by which the legislation we choose to live under is formed is something that, to my shame, I have hitherto known nothing much about. I believe I am in a very large majority in this. Some people may make it their business to keep an eye on the doings of ministers, but I think for most of us we never find out about how laws are made until we find ourselves or our families directly threatened by them. The progress of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, and in particular those sections of it pertaining to home education, from Review to Statute has been an education for many.

One commentator in The Times says, "Home educators have no faith in government after being treated so badly by Labour. How can this be rectified?"

My feeling is that it can't. Our initiation has been into a world of lies, half truths and new speak where an "independent reviewer" is one with a vested interest (but we hope nobody notices), and "vulnerable people" are those not under the state's direct control. The phrase "children's rights" is often laid solemnly before us as final proof that they have young people's best interests at heart. Meanwhile they are shushing and kicking away the very children whose rights they claim to be protecting. In New Labour's minds it seems that children's rights are whatever the government thinks is good for them, and have nothing to do with what the children themselves, or God forbid their parents, think.

It has been said that democracy is the rule of the mob, and the New Labour government has proved this in exemplary fashion. The presence of a comfortable majority in the House of Commons has meant that this mob, through use of the handy whip system, can get any piece of spurious ideology passed off as law without the inconvenience of having to persuade anyone it is necessary or even practicable. The ethos of the Blair/Brown administration is that all they need is a sheen of believability to fool the casual observer. Those who take the time to dig beneath to find the truth will be outnumbered and in some cases bullied and discredited. Whether it's 45 minutes to Mass Destruction, or home educated children being particularly vulnerable to abuse, New Labour will peddle lies as truths and twist facts to fit a different agenda, secure in the knowledge that not too many people will notice. And those that do? Well they're home educators aren't they? And we all know what they're like!

Monday, 15 February 2010

A Reply to Baroness Deech

This is a reply to the Baroness Deech's blog post on the House of Lords blog site.

"If home education is as good as is claimed, then there is nothing to fear from some inspection."

The inadequacy of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" position as an argument for anything is so self-evident as to be laughable. The Baroness obviously is rather lacking in her history education. There are a wealth of examples throughout history of people or groups who were doing nothing wrong, yet still fell foul of Ill-judged laws or malevolent bodies. Indeed, given her family history one would think she would be the last person to say this ("Deech is the daughter of the late historian and journalist, Josef Fraenkel, who fled Vienna and then Prague from the Nazis in 1939. Several other members of her family were murdered in German concentration camps in Poland during World War II." - Wikipedia).

The need for fear is entirely dependent upon the motives and the competence of those whose actions one fears. These are both in serious question in relation to the architects and executioners of the proposed legislation.

"If a child is frightened when a stranger comes into the home, the child needs help, not continued protection from seeing any strangers."

This shows an amazing lack of knowledge of, and an astounding lack of sympathy for children with special needs - autism has been mentioned by other people here, for example.

Apart from which, it is not necessarily the fact of a stranger in the home which would distress a child, but rather who that stranger is and what they represent. The Baroness seems ignorant of the inspectors already in place in some areas who will often lie, bully and cheat to try to get a child or parent to give them cause to serve a SAO. After such treatment, this is a healthy fear of a real threat. If the Baroness wanted to actually help home educated children, she could start by improving the regulation of such inspectors and suggesting a mechanism for some sort of professional standards of conduct and accountability.

"Other European countries seem to be running a lightly regulated system of home education and the UK is somewhat out of step."

Just because something is done in other EU countries it doesn't mean it is right. You still ignore the largest EHE community in the world, North America, which indeed is regulated in some places, but for which the trend (like New Zealand) has recently been to loosen their regulatory grip.

"There should be information on (a) the numbers and results of home schooled children taking science A-levels, and (b) their entry to the top universities."

More schools- and systems-based assumptions here. Science A Levels and Oxbridge places are not a useful measure of outcomes, especially for a community with a high proportion of special needs children. Nor are they the be-all and end-all of success any more than material wealth or salary. Some things in life are more important to some people, children included. Absence from the consumer culture and performance pressure that exists in school may lead children to find happy, fulfilled and useful lives outside these narrow parameters.

I also see your inference that science is superior to the arts or social sciences as another reason why the biases of the state school system
you reflect mean that it is an unrealistic and unhealthy social and academic model, both for children and the state.

"There should be some safeguard against home educated Muslim girls, or any others, not receiving the equality of opportunity that would be offered at school, or should be; and reassurance that children who are not English speakers are learning the language."

Sweeping and uninformed prejudice has no place in serious debate. I suggest you meet more Muslims as well as some home educators.

"The whole of society has an interest in how each child is educated."

And as I have pointed out before, just because society has an interest does not mean its interest should be fulfilled. Human beings (and that includes children) have a God-given right to privacy and the quiet enjoyment of their lives, and to maintain their own principles, beliefs and philosophies. State must prove that there is a necessity for it to interfere in the private lives of its citizens - again, children included - and that it is competent to do so. In casually throwing around insults, the Baroness has not demonstrated necessity, and gives a fairly damning case for her lack of competence.