The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Dear Ms Abraham,
Conduct of the Review of Elective Home Education
On the 11th June 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families published its Review of Elective Home Education in England, which was conducted by Graham Badman. The Secretary of State and the Children’s Minister announced on the same day that the Government accepted all of the Review’s recommendations, ‘subject to identifying funding and workable delivery arrangements’. Currently, the Government is consulting on some of the Review’s recommendations and has stated that the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill will include clauses on ‘monitoring arrangements for children educated at home’. The Review’s recommendations if enacted will have profound implications for parents and children who educate at home. We wish to raise with you a number of concerns we have about the quality of the Review. There are a number of shortcomings that arguably amount to a breach of both the Nolan Committee's ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’ and the Civil Service Code. Clearly, these are serious allegations and, if correct, undermine the legitimacy of, and public trust in, the Review and its conclusions. In effect the policy making process has been let down by a poorly conducted Review.
The concerns we wish to draw to your are as follows:
1. The Review fails to make a strong case for its recommendations. There is little argument supported by analysis and evidence in the Review. Where evidence is presented there is an absence of critical analysis. Instead there is assertion – for instance, the Review simply says ‘I believe …’ 16 times.
2. Where ‘evidence’ is quoted in the report the extracts are highly selective and this undermines the impartiality of the Review. We are aware of two instances where selective quoting has been used in ways that do not provide fair representation of the evidence submitted to the Review. Firstly, the report contains a quote from a home educator that is less than complimentary about local authority staff:
“… no one from the LA [local authority] would in my opinion be on my child’s intellectual level or they wouldn’t be working for the LA.” (para 4.3)
Leaving aside the questionable motives for the inclusion of this quote, the Report fails to give the context to the observation:
“It was in response to a question about whether a scientifically gifted child would benefit from having a science teacher from the LA come and give them tuition. It was to point out that scientists at the top of their profession are rarely working for the LA, so anyone sent out would not be on the same intellectual level as the scientifically gifted child.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/11/home-education-parents-face-tighter-regulation, downloaded 1st July, 2009)
Secondly, the report includes a lengthy quotation from the Education Division of the Church of England that that expresses their concerns about home education. Worryingly, whilst quoting the Church’s concerns, the Review fails to mention their overall conclusion:
‘10 We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education. Where there are particular concerns about the children in a (sic) home-educating this should be a matter for Children’s Services.’
In addition, the selective quoting even extends to partial – and hence misleading - extracts from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Report quotes paragraph 1 of Article 12 which requires Governments to “… assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” This is then used to help justify giving local authorities a right of access to determine the child’s views without the parent(s) being present.
However, the Report does not quote paragraph 2 which would imply that the child’s views could be presented by someone other than a local authority representative:
“For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”
Yet the Review makes no mention of this possibility. (The Report also fails to address the situation of where the child refuses to see the local authority’s representative, a right the child should have under Articles 15 and 16.)
Whilst the use of quotations is never ‘neutral’ - they serve to highlight certain views merely by their inclusion – the biased way in which they are used in the Review’s report transgresses what a ‘reasonable’ person might expect in terms of providing impartial and objective advice.
3. Central to the Review’s argument for increased monitoring and control of home education is evidence for child abuse in home education settings. Three references are made to the existence of such evidence. Firstly, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector submission is quoted including:
“In a small number of cases, our evaluation of serious case reviews has identified that a lack of oversight of children receiving home education contributed to a serious incident or the death of a child.”
However, if the ‘evaluation’ in this quote refers to Learning lessons, taking action: Ofsted’s evaluations of serious case reviews 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008, then it only found:
“An issue in one serious case review was the lack of oversight of children receiving home education.” (p. 30)
It is not clear how one case became translated into ‘some’.
Secondly, the Review claims that:
“… on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population.”
However, the Review rightly points out that the number of parents opting for elective home education is unknown. Given that the size of the home education population is unknown, it is impossible to calculate the proportion, unless these councils have made up a base for the calculation; in effect the statement is meaningless.
Thirdly, the Review points out that with respect to specific groups there was:
“… no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities. Based on the limited evidence available, this view is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is not to say that there are not isolated cases of trafficking that have been brought to my .”
It would appear, therefore, that the evidence of home education being used as a cover for child abuse only identifies a very small number of cases in absolute numerical terms. This raises a serious issue of whether the Reviews proposals are proportionate given this limited evidence of abuse. Clearly, this matter is debatable, but the Review fails to make the argument that its recommendations constitute a proportionate response.
4. In the absence of substantial evidence of abuse, some degree of confidence in the Review’s judgements might rest on the expertise of those involved. They could perhaps be forgiven for simply making assertions if they had expertise or relevant professional knowledge of the subject matter. Unfortunately this is not the case. No home educating parent was on the Review team. This does not accord with a Government that wishes to listen to the public and empower them.
5. Furthermore the recommendations are not logically consistent with Review’s limited evidence.
a. 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.
b. The Review recognises the diversity of home educators, but fails to take this in to account in its ‘one size fits all’ recommendations.
c. The Review is inconsistent in how it treats research. It claims that the sample sizes for some studies were too small for findings to be generalisable to the whole population. Yet it quotes from a qualitative study on reasons why parents home educate (Hopwood,V.,O’Neill, L., Castro G. and Hodgson, B. (2007) The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study, DfES, Research Report 827) that is based on an opportunistic sample of 18 parents in nine areas; and references another small scale study (Kendall S. & Atkinson, M (2006) Some perspectives on home educated children, NFER) based on 21 interviews with local authority staff in 16 areas.
6. A key statement from the Review, informing its recommendations is:
“The question is simply a matter of balance and securing the right regulatory regime within a framework of legislation that protects the rights of all children, even if in transaction such regulation is only necessary to protect a minority.”
This guiding ‘principle’ is presented with no provisos or limits. It is highly risk adverse position, and assumes that all parents are capable of abuse. This leads to recommendations that are disproportionate. Indeed, it logically follows from this ‘principle’ that parents of all pre-school children must be registered and inspected annually; even that visits are required of children attending school during vacations.
You also need to know that the conduct of the Review was not as professional as you would undoubtedly have hoped – for example:
• It was announced as a consultation on the consultation website then 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.
We are writing because we believe that the Review does not reach the standard required for such a radical change in the law relating to home education, and that its shortcomings are inevitably reflected in its recommendations. We look forward to hearing from you.
Prof. Bruce Stafford
Mrs Maire Stafford.
(sent by email)