Monday, June 15, 2009

A long letter to my MP...

Review of Elective Home Education

I am writing to seek your support in opposing 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” for the following reasons:

1. Although the Secretary of State says it contains strong arguments, the review is not evidence based, instead consisting largely of unfounded assertions (the phrase ‘I believe …’ appears 16 times…). It lacks impartiality (hardly surprising, given that it was carried out by a previous head of Kent Childrens’ Services and current chair of the government-funded BECTA) and is in no way a fair reflection of the views and information presented to the review panel by the home educating community.

2. 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 the 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?

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Indeed, the recommendations call for LA staff to have the power to approve or deny a family’s HE provision, with no right of appeal. Where presently an LA, if they believe a family is not providing a suitable education, can take the family to court, the onus is on the LA to make their case. Those who educate in unconventional but valid ways – a traditional Christian education, maybe, or Steiner-, Summerhill- or Montessori-inspired methods – will no longer have the protection of the courts but will be subject to the whim of the employee prejudices within a particular LA. Those whose family demographic does not seem to the LA to be suitable for HEing can also be prevented from doing so, and who knows what grounds a particular LA employee might have for refusing permission – but again, we become subject to the whim of an LA employee.

6. 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. 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? If there ARE grounds for welfare concerns, then they should be referring the family to Social Services, who already have the legal powers (and appropriate training) to interview children. Here, 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.

7. You should be aware that this review and the consultation, which went live on the internet the same day the review was published, has turned many Home Educators and their families into single issue voters. If the Liberal Democrats were able to publicly pledge to oppose any ensuing legislation and to revoke it in the next parliament, then you would guarantee many Lib Dem votes in marginal constituencies. (Estimates of the number of HEed children vary wildly; 80,000 is fairly conservative. That is a lot of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and we are politically active in this defence of our civil liberties.)

The review was poorly conducted – for example:

• It was announced as a consultation on the consultation website but, when it was pointed out that it was not compliant with the Consultation Code of Practice, it suddenly became a review;
• The review outcome was partially pre-judged in advance, Graham Badman, author of the review, publicly said as much when he asserted the status quo could not remain long before the review was completed; and
• 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 report can be found at:

Now I have to ask for your help, not only in putting pressure on the party leaders to publically reject this flawed review and any legislation ensuing from it, but also to ask whether you think there might be grounds here for some sort of legal challenge to the review and subsequent consultation through the courts?

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

This morally corrupt government has already caused too much damage with its ever-expanding, power-seeking, controlling agenda. For the government to target our children in this way is the beginning of the end unless we just say NO:

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. The government has accepted them in full as "proportionate and reasonable".

If you require more information or details of sources, or if it would be helpful for you to meet me at one of the regular HE meet ups in the city or (perhaps with other Home Educators) at your constituency surgery, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

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