Written by Bruce with a little bit of help from me.
12 June 2009
Dear Mr Reed
Review of Elective Home Education
We wish 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. The Review fails to make a case for its recommendations. The Secretary of State says it contains strong arguments, but there is, in fact, little argument supported by evidence in the review. We would have welcomed a well argued, evidence based review, as this would have enabled an engagement. Instead there is assertion, but little analysis and evidence – for instance, the review simply says ‘I believe …’ 16 times.
2. The review lacks intellectual rigour, independence or impartiality. Where evidence is presented there is an absence of critical analysis, together with highly selective use of quotations from respondents. Thus it includes without comment a lengthy, and somewhat naïve, quotation from the Education Division of the Church of England, but does include a quote from a home educator which is less than complimentary about local authority staff. The use of quotations is not ‘neutral’, they serve to highlight certain views merely by their inclusion.
3. Evidence on abuse by home educators – a key argument used to justify action (see below) - is absent from the review report. Somewhat surprisingly given the review’s terms of reference there is no analysis of the actual number of suspected and found child abuse cases involving home educators. Indeed, there are no robust figures or trends presented (even at an aggregated level), instead there is a vague reference to ‘local authority evidence and case studies’. Thus it is impossible to tell whether the concerns about possible child abuse are based in fact or merely imagined.
The review rightly points out that the number of parents opting for elective home education is unknown. Yet it also claims that ‘the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to their home educating population’. But 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.
4. This lack of evidence and analysis is compounded by the absence of expertise amongst the review panel. In the absence of evidence, 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.
Combined with our first point, this undermines the legitimacy of the review – why should what appears to be no more that the prejudices of this group of people be imposed upon the home education community?
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
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 and even the Secretary of State is wary of the cost implications.
Indeed, it logically follows from this 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 review was poorly conducted – 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.
In addition, the review process has angered and alienated many home educators. The review report and the Secretary of State highlight the importance of there being good relationships with home educators. However, the review has undermined this objective; it has even been counterproductive. Many home educators are now opting out of any involvement with their local authorities after many years of effort to improve relationships with them.
We realise that policy on home education is probably seen as part of the ‘backwater’ of political debate in Parliament, and that at present other issues have higher media and public profile. However, the home education community is a vocal and organised, if disparate, group, and you might like to advise your colleagues to take an interest in this issue as it has the potential to generate some very adverse publicity for the party.
The review report can be found at:
If you or a member of your staff require more information or details of sources, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Prof. Bruce Stafford
Mrs Maire Stafford.