Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letter to Mr Balls

Review of Elective Home Education

I am writing to express my concern about the reforms to current practice proposed by Graham Badman in his “Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England” and about your acceptance of the report.

The report is flawed on many levels. It is not evidence based or impartial. It in no way reflects the views of the home educators who responded to the review. It is not based on expert opinion – Mr Badman has no personal experience at all of home educating and has either failed to read, or has failed to understand, the academic literature on the subject. It lacks moral rigour also – appointing a previous head of Kent Childrens’ Services and current chair of the government-funded BECTA hardly inspires one with trust in its claimed independence. Since Badman publicly stated that the status quo could not remain long before the review was completed, the findings were partially pre-judged. The on-line questionnaire used to gather home educators and others’ views was badly designed involving leading and poorly constructed questions. The LA questionnaire had ten times as many questions as that for the general public.

The review was explicitly set up to find out whether Home Education can be used as a cover for child abuse. It is curious, then, that the report does not offer any analysis of the actual number of suspected and found child abuse cases involving home educators. The claim that ‘the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to their home educating population’ gives the impression of skeletons rattling in cupboards. Badman fails, however, to mention the common but ultra vires practice in some LAs of routinely referring HEing families to Social Services as soon as they come to the LA’s attention, the prevalence of referrals by neighbours concerned to see children not in school but not understanding that Home Education is legal, and the number of HE families where there are SN of one kind or another (and this certainly IS disproportionately high with relation to the total number of HEers, reflecting the woefully inadequate SEN provision offered within many schools), and therefore, automatically, a case worker within children’s services. There is no reason to suspect that any of these Home Educating families known to Social Services have given a single social worker a moment’s pause for concern about safeguarding, without Badman producing evidence. For Badman to produce no evidence, but to spin it this way is surely dangerously close to defamation?

The recommendations do not follow either from the clearly stated remit of the review or from the evidence (such as it is) presented within the review. The review says that many LAs are not performing adequately, but then recommends they have more powers. Without an analysis of why they are failing it would seem inappropriate to give them more powers; this would simply create problems and maladministration claims for the future. The review does not find evidence that Home Education is being used as a cover for child abuse, but proceeds to recommend the urgent provision of laws which intrude on the private lives of innocent families in order, supposedly, to protect against child abuse.

The review recognises the diversity of home educators, but fails to take this in to account in its ‘one size fits all’ recommendations. Those families who practice “autonomous home education”, following the interests of the child rather than a parentally-imposed curriculum or plan, are particularly vulnerable under the proposals, which demand that LAs should see plans for the year ahead. I cannot plan what my children will be interested in in 5 minutes, let alone in 6 months! But I can guarantee that, following their own interests and facilitated by their parents, they will be learning effectively and efficiently, in line with their ages, ability, aptitude and any SEN they may have, as per the existing Home Education legislation. The freedom to pursue such an effective child-led education will be a hostage to the prejudices of the LA employees under the proposed new legislation.

The most outrageous of the recommendations is that LA employees should have the power to insist on interviewing HEed children alone, with the caveat that they could be with a trusted adult (not the parent) if their SEN or communication difficulties deemed that appropriate. In a recent poll, 77% of Home Educated children said they did not want to meet with LA personnel. http://daretoknowblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/results-of-poll.html Are their preferences to be completely disregarded? Who deems the SEN or communication difficulties of a child to be sufficiently severe that a trusted adult be permitted to be present? Are we really expected to accept the proposal that LA staff should have unsupervised access to our children when there are no grounds for welfare concerns? Badman has advocated extending powers to LA staff which not even the police or social services have – the power to interview children alone when there are no grounds for suspicion.

This is the statement of opposition currently doing the rounds. I endorse every word of it:

It is NOT acceptable for the state to have ultimate control of the education of our children

It is NOT acceptable for the state to make ultra vires judgements about the welfare of our children and then act in loco parentis

It is NOT acceptable for the state to operate on a presumption of guilt

It is NOT acceptable for the state to demand access to our homes without reasonable suspicion that an actual offence has been or is about to be committed

It is NOT acceptable for the state to demand access to our children without reasonable suspicion that an actual offence has been or is about to be committed

It is NOT acceptable for the state to demand unsupervised access to our children

These are all contained within the recommendations of Badman's review document, which you have accepted in full as "proportionate and reasonable".

I have a vision for the future. It involves an immediate and unequivocal withdrawal of your support for the review and a cancellation of the consultation process which, presumably will lead to legislation (although it is hard to see why you are consulting us, yet again, given that Badman so signally failed to listen to us earlier this year, given that we have been consulted on EHE-related legislation repeatedly in the last 5 years and you know perfectly well that public opinion does not support your legislative agenda, and given that you have already given your public support to Badman’s heinous recommendations and will presumably do your level best to put them into action, however well argued and sensible the consultation responses are). It then involves you publicly stating that you will not tolerate LA staff acting in an ultra vires manner towards Home Educators, and that you will look urgently at the practices within Children’s Services which have led to children known to be at risk – Baby P, Kyra Ishaq, Eunice Spry’s foster children and Victoria Climbie, to name but a few – being so abjectly failed by those who had a duty of care for them.

The final part of my dream involves you treating the EHE community with the respect we deserve. Rather than saying that the only proposals in Badman’s report which are problematic are those which involve providing services, please remember how much money we save you every year by not taking up the school places to which our children are entitled. Just a fraction of that money would provide access to exam centres, free swimming lessons and the like, for those HEers who choose to avail themselves of those opportunities. Insist on the LA EHE staff being those with sympathy for and understanding of the area – retired Home Educators rather than ex-teachers, for goodness’ sake.

Statistically, EHE children out perform their schooled counterparts on every measure (and if you haven’t read any of Paula Rothermel’s research then it is about time you did). We are a beacon of excellence. Why are you alienating us (and losing Labour thousands of votes into the bargain) when you should be sending researchers to find out from us what it is that we are doing so successfully, so that you can do something to address the pitiful literacy figures and the pitiful GCSE results that your schools achieve every year?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely


Danae said...

What a sensational letter, sweetie. Excellent. I would've sworn a bit myself.


Anonymous said...

"Statistically, EHE children out perform their schooled counterparts on every measure"

They want to inspect to find the kids who are not out performing their schooled counterparts.