21st February 2010
Dear Mr Reed, MP
We are writing to ask you to oppose Sections 26 and 27 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill at its Third Reading. We appreciate that this would involve you voting against the Bill and that this would not be an easy decision for you to take. However, the inclusion of Clauses 26 and 27 seriously undermine the benefits of the Bill. The case for opposing these clauses of the Bill is as follows:
1. The review on which these Sections are based was poorly conducted and as a consequence the (Badman) Report is, in our opinion, the most flawed evidential review of recent times. Fair and reasonable legislation cannot emerge from such poor quality work.
There are numerous examples of the shortcomings of the Report, for example, the Church of England complained of their evidence being selectively quoted and home educators using the Freedom of Information Act revealed such fundamental flaws in the statistics used in the Report that the author had to conduct a survey of Local Authorities AFTER the Report had been published when called to appear before the CSF Select Committee. This further data has also been debunked by home educators.
2. The policy delivers very poor value for money as there is no problem to be solved and its recommendations will divert scarce resources from child protection services.
Research by home educators using the Freedom of Information Act has found that abuse in home educating families is very low compared to the rest of the population. Most abuse happens before the child is of compulsory education age, therefore, this intrusion into the lives of home educators is neither warranted by the degree of abuse nor will it address the real problem. Social Services are overstretched and in many areas cannot recruit enough staff. This will divert money away from such services and will harm more children than it could ever help by removing their sense of security in their own home. There are already measures and laws in place to protect and investigate where there is a suspicion that children are at risk of harm or that insufficient education is taking place. The Department of Children Schools and Families estimate that this will cost between £10 to £21 million, however, this is likely to be a serious underestimate as the number of home educating families is not known.
3. If enacted the policy will seriously damage the education of home educated children.
In order to learn effectively some children need the security and confidence boost that only home education can provide. It is inevitable that to some extent monitoring will change the emphasis from the child’s educational needs to satisfying the local authority officer and this cannot be in the child’s best interests. Our own child was very averse to anything that looked like school work on being de-registered, yet by choosing her own learning and aided and resourced by us she is reading at exactly the same age as her schooled siblings with none of the trauma or feeling of being inadequate that they suffered. Many children who are on the autistic spectrum will be very disturbed by a stranger forcing (and that is what it will happen as the majority of people who responded to the consultation were extremely opposed to the recommendations for registration and monitoring) their way into their home and possibly demanding to see them without a parent present. Many children on and off the spectrum do not like being forced to talk to strangers (especially if they have the power to issue a School Attendance Order) and to insist that they do so without the reassurance and sometimes memory aid that parents can provide will, paradoxically, be abusive. As already mentioned, if actual abuse is suspected then legal measures already exist to investigate.
4. The concept of education contained in the Bill is archaic and unworkable.
It is the experience of parents who home educate that local authority officers often do not really understand the philosophies and approaches used by home educators. Schedule 1 of the Bill itself shows a remarkable lack of understanding, for instance, autonomous educators cannot by definition provide the yearly plan which it demands. When you follow the child’s interests as autonomous educators you do not know what your child will be learning from one day to another, so to plan a year in advance is meaningless. Although it may be difficult to believe, such informal learning has been shown to be astonishingly effective by the work of Alan Thomas of the Institute of Education.
5. The Bill is a disproportionate response to a perceived problem, which the best available evidence suggests does not exist.
Graham Badman, who conducted the Review, was not able to produce any convincing evidence that the home educating population is any more at risk of abuse than any other section of the population. In fact, his Review provoked home educators to collate the data for themselves which demonstrated conclusively that home educated children are at significantly LESS risk of abuse. The measures in the Bill are draconian and have a ‘tilting at windmills’ quality rather addressing a real problem.
6. It damages the relationship between the local authority and home educating parents and makes the relationship one of distrust and hostility.
Whilst many home educators may be polite towards local authority officers entering their home, they will be outraged and incensed at what is effectively forced entry and a gross invasion of privacy. This is no basis on which to build the good relationship the government so often stresses that it wants with home educators.
Indeed, the Review process has already harmed home educator’s relationships with local authorities. Launching the Review with the claim – absolutely without evidence – that home education could be used as a cover for abuse, domestic servitude and forced marriage set the tone of this exercise and relationships between home educators and local authorities have been damaged and undermined with many home educators withdrawing from any discourse with their local authority. Only if the clauses are not enacted is there any realistic chance that relationships between local authorities and home educating parents can be re-built.
7. The Bill purports to implement a registration scheme, but is not as Schedule 1 means that non-registration is not a viable option.
Although registration is not formally compulsory under the Bill, non-registration is not a feasible course of action as local authorities are required by Schedule 1 to issue a School Attendance Order to any unregistered home educated child without any consideration of the quality of education being provided. This in no way shows any concern for the well-being of the child, and shows that for home educated children ‘every child matters’ is empty rhetoric.
8. The Bill’s proposals are opposed by the majority of home educators.
4497 out of 4833 (93%) respondents to the consultation thought that the proposals did not strike the right balance. 3281 respondents out of 3776 (87%) disagreed to the proposals for registration and monitoring.
9. Home educated children’s confidence and trust in the state and its institutions will be seriously undermined.
Children’s understanding of the State are shaped not by what it claims to be the case, but by its actions. If the child experiences the power of the State as unreasonable and disproportionate in intruding into its life with no good reason and with no good arguments to support its actions, then the child will see the State as failing to protect its citizens. Many home educated children are following the progress of the Review and its recommendations very closely, and it has provided an invaluable learning opportunity, for example, on the work of Parliament and how legislation is enacted, however, it is doing nothing to advance their belief in the fairness of the policymaking process.
If you have any queries about the Review or the Clauses 26 and 27 then please do not hesitate to contact us. We are looking forward to hearing your views and hopefully confirmation that you will oppose these Clauses of the Bill.
Professor Bruce Stafford