26th July 2009
Head of Assessment
UK Statistics Authority
Dear Mr Alldritt,
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. In at least two instances associated media coverage alleged that twice as many home education children were known to social care compared to the rest of the population, a claim that was attributed to the report’s author, although it is not made in the published report:
‘The reforms are necessary because twice as many home educated children are known to social services as the normal school-aged population under current arrangements, the report revealed.’
(Woolcock, N. (2009) ‘Home education parents to face council inspections’, Times Online, 11th June, Retrieved from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6480288.ece on 26th July 2009.)
‘Children educated at home are twice as likely to be on social services registers for being at risk of abuse as the rest of the population, the head of a government inquiry into home education said yesterday. … Graham Badman, the former director of Kent County Council's children's services, headed the review. He said the ratio of home-educated children who were known to social services was "approximately double" that of the population at large.’
(Anon. (2009) Children educated at home more at risk of abuse’, The Independent on Sunday, 12th June, Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/children-educated-at-home-more-at-risk-of-abuse-1703220.html on 26th July 2009.)
That the ‘twice as many’ is an official statistic is confirmed by a Department for Children, Schools and Families Freedom of Information response that provides an insight into how the estimate was calculated. The Freedom of Information request was made by Mr. S. Mckie and the response made by Ms S. Thomson on the 24th July (a copy is at http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/local_authority_evidence). The response is headed Annex, although it is currently unclear to which document it was originally appended. Our concern is that both the press statement and the ‘Annex’ breach the Code of Practice for Official Statistics, in particular Principles 4 (sound methods and assured quality) and 8 (frankness and accessibility), and the Civil Service Code for the following reasons:
1. Quoting to the media the ratio of the two proportions, without stating the actual estimated figures, arguably conveys the impression that the difference is more severe than the actual percentage estimates suggest: 6.75 per cent for home educated children and 3 per cent for the population. A more honest and impartial statement would have involved giving the actual figures and/or mentioning that the difference is only nearly 4 percentage points.
2. The interpretation and presentation of the variables used is misleading. As the above quote from The Independent shows at least one organisation completely misunderstand the nature of the data – ‘known to social care’ is a different administrative category from being registered ‘at risk’. The Department for Children, Schools and Families does not appear to have insisted that The Independent issue a correction to the misleading impression that their attribution to Badman will have created amongst the public.
The Freedom of Information response refers to children known to social care including Section 17 and 47 enquiries under the Children Act 1989. Given the focus of the Review on child safeguarding the inclusion of Section 17 cases in the calculation of the estimate is inappropriate. Section 17 covers the provision of services to children in need and is not an indicator of the risk of child abuse, it includes, for instance, parents requesting a service such as respite care for a disabled child.
Section 47 cases include child protection inquiries but also referrals to social care irrespective of whether or not child abuse is subsequently established. It is likely that home educators are, wrongly, over-represented amongst Section 47 referrals because (concerned) third parties, unaware of the legal right to educate at home, mistakenly contact social services. In some cases the parents will be ‘known to social care’ but there is no suggestion of their children being at risk of abuse. The Section 47 figures, therefore, over-estimate the number of at risk cases amongst the home educating community.
These difficulties with interpreting ‘known to social care’ statistics that arise from Sections 17 and 47 are not mentioned in the Annex, and it is unknown if Badman tried to convey them to the press.
3. A related point that the data may not be comparable. The 3 per cent population estimate relates to individuals aged 5 to 16 years. It is unclear whether the sampled ‘known to social care’ data counted individual children or enquires. It is known that the Section 47 data refers to enquires not children. Each enquiry in any one year for a particular child is separately recorded. Moreover, it is unknown whether the ‘known to social care’ was similarly restricted to children aged 5 to 16 years, or whether, for instance, it included younger children.
4. There are a number of issues arising from the calculation of the ‘known to social care’ estimate that should have been highlighted, at least, in the Annex.
a. The denominator for the estimate assumes a median of 139 registered home educated children per local authority; giving 20,850 (139*150) nationally. The Freedom of Information response rounds this up to 21,000 whilst Badman rounds it down to 20,000 in the report of the Review. The median value of 139 comes from the survey of 90 local authorities. How representative these 90 councils are of all local authorities is unknown. No attempt appears to have been made to correct for response bias.
b. The estimated number of registered home educated children known to social care appears to be obtained by applying a percentage (6.75 per cent) to the estimated total number of registered home educated children (see a above). There are three issues here.
First, according to the Freedom of Information response the percentage applied (6.75 per cent) is the median value taken from a small sub-sample of 25 local authorities (17 per cent of all English local authorities). Again, the representativeness these 25 local authorities is unknown; although our estimate of the mean number of ‘know to social care’ for these authorities (19 compared to 9 for the country has a whole) suggests that they are atypical and have an above average number of cases. For such an unrepresentative sample, even the use of the median percentage is likely to be an over-estimate of the proportion that should be used in national estimates. Thus grossing-up using 6.75 per cent is likely to produce an invalid over-estimate of the number of home educated children ‘known to social care’. Yet no qualifications to the estimate are mentioned in the Annex, and whether Badman tried to convey them to the press is unknown.
Secondly, the Freedom of Information response states that the estimated number of home educated children know to social care is 1,350. However, if the 6.75 per cent was used to derive this estimate then the base used was 20,000 (a figure given in the Review) and not the Annexes’ own population estimate of 20,850 (which would give a higher estimate of 1,407). It’s not clear why a base of 20,000 has been used rather than 20,850 (or a rounded up 21,000).
Thirdly, and as the Freedom of Information response acknowledges, the estimated size of the population is an under-estimate. Many home educators are unknown to local councils. The Review says that the estimated number is 20,000 but ‘
You should be aware that we have many other concerns about the conduct of the Review, that the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee has instigated a brief enquiry into the conduct and recommendations of the Review, and that this letter and your response are likely to be blogged at http://maire-staffordshire.blogspot.com/.
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)
 The source for the estimate appears to be: DCSF (2006) Children in Need in England: Results of a survey of activity and expenditure as reported by Local Authority Social Services’ Children and Families Teams for a survey week in February 2005: Local Authority tables and further national analysis (Internet only),Statistical Volume, National Statistics, Retrieved from http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/VOL/v000647/vweb02-2006.pdf on 26th July2009.
 Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) Guidance Notes for the Completion of Statistical Return CPR3 Referrals & Assessments of Children and Young People who are the subjects of Child Protection Plans (on the Child Protection Register) 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009, Retrieved from http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/datastats1/guidelines/children/docs/CPR3GuidanceNotes0809.doc. on 26th July 2009, p.9.