I was interested to read in the Independent today that Barry Sheerman "said it was important not to have a knee-jerk reaction following a case like Baby P. Mr Sheerman told MPs: "There is sometimes a danger that all the resources, after a tragic death, are rushed into child protection and can actually starve the resources for the support of families and good quality social work." "
Is the committee aware that just such a knee-jerk reaction appears to be under way with regard to Elective Home Education?
Graham Badman's report, welcomed by Ed Balls, has been greeted with shock and fury by the Home Educating community. The report itself is enormously problematic - selective and misleading quotation, failure to represent or reflect the views of Home Educators, acknowledgement that there is no evidence that Home Education is used as a cover for child abuse, and then putting forward a series of proposals which are already under consultation that not only call for the imposition of an intrusive monitoring regime, but also (unjustifiably) conflate the question of educational provision with the question of safeguarding.
The process of the report, consultation and proposed legislation falls short of the standards the electorate expects. How can a plan to "improve monitoring of Home Education" be in a white paper when the public consultation about whether such monitoring should be introduced - NB you can't 'improve' something before you've introduced it - is still under way? Does this not break the code of practice on consultations? e.g. criterion 1: "Consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome." If Government policy is that monitoring arrangements for children educated at home should be 'improved', then what scope do the stakeholders - home educating families - have to influence the policy outcome, please?
The proposed legislation stems from a concern that HEed children are more at risk of abuse than those who attend school. It is hardly surprising that Badman did not publish the relevant figures since they seem to show that the converse is the case...
Given the lack of figures supporting the central premise of the Badman review, the proposed legislation as outlined in the consultation here
and already predetermined outcome at least to some extent, as evidenced by the draft improving schools and safeguarding children bill here
I consider the government's policy and proposed legislation on this matter to be disproportionate - compulsory safe-and-well checks and vastly increased powers to LA staff to approve (or not) the educational provision of families where the responsibility for the education of a child has, until now, rested with the parents.
I am also concerned about the lack of an impact assessment of this area of proposed legislation: here
If LA staff are to be given powers of intrusion into private homes without probable cause, and the power to demand interviews alone with children without probable cause (neither of these are powers which either the police or Social Services have), then what will be the costs of the new regime? Staff training in different forms of elective home education (continuation of the current situation, where the LA staff are usually retired teachers or OFSTED inspectors would obviously not be acceptable - those assessing EHE provision would have to be expert practitioners themselves)? Staff training in recognising abuse on a single annual meeting with uncooperative and unwelcoming children (you might be interested in this extensive survey of Home Educated children's opinions - would that Mr Badman had listened to them so carefully - here )? Increased budgets for training, recruiting and retaining social workers to cope with the flood of false positives referred by anxious LA education workers? Proper training for the LA staff in communicating with children with complex special needs of many different kinds?
Can any price be put on the cost in anxiety for the Home Educating parents and children? Our families are frightened that our - perfectly valid - ways of living and educating our children are about to be the hostage of LA staff who, in a perfect world would be rational and reasonable and open minded. But we do not live in a perfect world, and LA staff already fail to follow the law as it stands - we do not trust them with more power. Our children are frightened that some person from the council will have the power to come and see what they have been doing and judge it wanting, send them back to the school which failed them and where they failed, where they were bullied, perhaps, and were certainly failing to achieve the five outcomes.
If it would be helpful for the committee to hear from home educating families, I would be delighted to help set that up, or travel to London myself to make a representation to the committee. The proposed legislation is wrong headed on so many counts, and the DCSF are showing themselves committed to a course which possibly breaks various codes of conduct (for consultation and for drafting legislation) and completely fails to listen to the concerns of stakeholders.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.