Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ten reasons why home educated children should not be forcibly registered with their local authorities.

Home educated children must be registered says Stroud's MP Neil Carmichael (new Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education):

"I think it should be compulsory. It would enable the local authority to get a better grip on home education and also help with child protection. I am a great believer in freedom of choice, but it would be better if children who are home educated were known about," said Mr Carmichael.

Labour county councillor Barry Kirby gave a good response as to why it should not be compulsory for home educating parents to be registered:

"He said that many parents who home educated can see no advantage in registering and that the social services provision already exists to protect vulnerable children."

I'm guessing he supplied several more reasons which were subsequently edited out for brevity. Here are a few more. In fact, let's call this post "Ten reasons why home educated children should not be forcibly registered with their local authorities." (NB: I can come up with ten more, and ten more, and a further ten after that if needs be. I'm sure other home educators can as well!)

1. The statistics show there is no link between home education and child abuse. Assuming (without checking) that there is a link is therefore *prejudice*.

2. Parents know their children better than officials do. Officials might think they are experts in a child's education but in home ed, the parent is the expert and they should not have to answer to officials about their children's education other than to minimally allay any Section 437 specific concerns.

3. The statistics show there is no link between home education and child abuse. Assuming (without checking) that there is a link is therefore *prejudice*.

4. The involvement of local authorities and their agents in family home life is usually quite stressful for children and their parents. The normal flow of learning is interrupted to make time for the required presentations and explanations.

5. The statistics show there is no link between home education and child abuse. Assuming (without checking) that there is a link is therefore *prejudice*.

6. Compulsory registration is the top of a slippery slope that leads to the sort of Badmanesque hell that forces parents to apply for a licence every year and being made to jump through various hoops (and coerce their children to do the same) in order to be allowed to continue home educating.

7. The statistics show there is no link between home education and child abuse. Assuming (without checking) that there is a link is therefore *prejudice*.

8. Home education families do not have the same lobbying powers as children's charities - this does not mean the charities should be treated as experts on the issue or their biased and mistaken opinions trusted. Children's charities have an agenda with regard to home education and get things badly wrong in its persuance. I don't know whether to include Barnardos in that broad brush, but it does provide alternative education provision, a previous executive did sit on Badman's panel of so-called 'experts' on home education, and Neil Carmichael had a meeting with its current CEO around the same time as he was publicly voicing his opinions about our registration.

9. The statistics show there is no link between home education and child abuse. Assuming (without checking) that there is a link is therefore *prejudice*.

10. The oft-used argument for compulsory registration contains no less than *fifteen* inexplicable leaps of logic, cites irrelevant legislation and even draft versions of government guidance to make its desperate case. It would be a brave - some might say, foolhardy? - politician who opted to promote it, especially one from the side of the House we have been able to rely on (to date) in the preserving of our peaceful family lives.

Yes, the above list contains some repetition but this seems sadly necessary, as Mr Carmichael has been a member of the Commons Education Select Committee for some years now, including sitting through one inquiry into home education during which his input was at times perplexing, to say the least. But we can go there in much greater detail at a later date, if needs be. Anyway, despite these years of experience and presumably acquired knowledge, he still makes the rookie mistake of conflating home education with child abuse, even though the contradicting statistics could not be clearer. I hope he desists from pushing this damagingly incorrect and prejudiced notion in future.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A critique of Daniel Monk's 2009 article and the reasons why

In 2009, Daniel Monk wrote his article Regulating home education: negotiating standards, anomalies and rights. This then formed the basis of the Badman Review - presumably deliberately, as it makes several references throughout to 'the forthcoming review', though I do not know to what extent Mr Monk was involved in the instigation of the review, if any.

Since 2010, Mr Monk has used the content of his article to form a course of training for Local Authority officers on how they should approach home educating families and the legal standing of their position in that respect. This provision of his training is apparently to be further uptaken since the establishment of the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals, at least one of whose meetings Mr Monk has attended. The content of this 2009 article therefore will increasingly be determining the stance of Local Authorities so I have taken a detailed look at it, with my commentary below.

In summary, my main concern lies in the many sizeable leaps of logic (I counted fifteen) through which Mr Monk draws his conclusions. Citing irrelevant legislation on at least six occasions and even draft versions of government guidance to support his line of thinking, he seems quite desperate to demonstrate that we ought to be monitored on a regular basis by the state, in spite of the firm and clear statement to the contrary in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities.

He also seems quite suspicious of the motives of parents who choose to home educate, accusing us of being "politically strategic", with a "'fundamental' support for home education" and "unquestioned power" over our children, "denying them education that respects their individual rights to develop their own views and values". He references religious motivations quite frequently, sourcing research and cases on this from the EU and US where schooling is secular and so many parents do home educate to provide religious tuition. In the UK where many schools can and do offer such tuition, the situation is very different but Mr Monk chooses not to acknowledge this.

His personal view of home education seems to stem from a political disapproval, speaking of an "unease" of privatised education, and the view that "unregulated home education implicitly condones education that conflicts with attempts to foster national cohesion and democratic values". Mr Monk never considers the potential damage to a child's wellbeing or learning process that could be caused by official visits to the family home.

In total, I noticed one complete misquote and one quite confusing typographic error (unless I misunderstood the meaning of the sentence in question). In the excerpts from Mr Monk's work etc that I include below, any added emphasis will be mine.

Initially, I'm reminded in the opening paragraph by a reference to 'the forthcoming review' that this is the article which informed the notorious Badman Review, explaining why Badman approached us with such seemingly preconceived ideas that bewildered us so much when the review was underway and before his dreadful, concluding report of June 2009.

In the introduction, I'm first jarred by this:

"Its obscurity is reflected in law: very few cases and a legal framework that has remained unchanged since 1944 (and, indeed, arguably since 1870). This fact is all the more striking when one considers the radical and extensive transformation of the law of education over the last three decades."

When one considers the wording of Section 7 of the 1944 act:

"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable —

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

- it's clear that no change was ever required because both the wording and the spirit of the law are unequivocal: the responsibility for the child's education remains ultimately with the parent. Children fortunately still have parents even in the 21st century and it is in the parents' interests that the child is properly educated now, just as much as it was then.

Next, a mysterious misquote. Monk cites 'The Committee on the Rights of the Child, (2008) Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland CRC/C/GBR/CO/4, Centre for Human Rights, Geneva, para 84' as follows:

"In addition, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended in its latest report that the government 'make sure children who do not go to school get an excellent education'."

I checked through the document in question and found that it did not contain those words or anything that may have been misconstrued as those words in paragraph 84. Instead, in paragraph 67(c) it says:

67. The committee recommends that the State party: ......

(c) Ensure that all children out of school get alternative quality education

Different words entirely - perhaps Mr Monk had a varying copy of this particular UNCRC report. Furthermore, read in context with the previous paragraph of the report, it is also clear that this recommendation relates to children excluded from school: i.e., *not* Elective Home Education as provided by parents. I will give Mr Monk the benefit of the doubt and assume he was mistaken in his reading of this section rather than wilfully misconstruing it.

The piece goes on to list the various Department for Education and Skills initiatives (consultations, reviews and research) home educating families were subjected to in the late noughties which, from the receiving end, felt like an orchestrated sustained attack. Why does it feel like an attack? Because the education of our own children is - as set out in Section 7 - our own responsibility. Our territory. A field of endeavour in which many of us have become accustomed to operating without impediment from the state. Logically, if there are no problems then the state should not intervene. Presumably Mr Monk goes on to set out what he saw in 2009 as the problems necessitating intervention and these will be something more substantial than just "the law has changed in related areas, so it should also change in this one".

The aim of this article is to examine the current law and to highlight the key issues that will be the subject of the forthcoming review; in particular, compulsory registration, rights of access to the child and the criteria used to evaluate the content of home education. If the government decides to intensify regulation it will probably face strenuous opposition from members of the home education movement. Conversely, no action will disappoint some LA and child protection bodies. The issue is an emotive one with accusations of bias often made against both researchers who celebrate and support home education and those who call for stricter forms of regulation. The aim here is to endeavour to present the issues in as balanced a way as possible in order to examine the inherent tensions and paradoxes between the competing interests and rights claims and to locate the issue within a broader political context.

I'll withhold my opinion until later on the success or otherwise of this endeavour to present the issues in as balanced a way as possible and note at this stage only that in the 6 years since this article was published, blessedly no such regulations have been introduced and we are still continuing to home educate in England in relative peace from the authorities. It seems that the only opposition to this happy state of affairs comes in periodically agitated spasms from a seemingly miniscule sector of 'some LA and child protection bodies' and this is whipped up into spurious 'concerns' which unfortunately look like nothing more than the last flails of a few fervently statist activists to regulate all of that which is not currently regulated, and to test and measure all of that which is not currently tested and measured.

There follows a section on the definitions of home education, including the then DfES version, followed by this commentary:

This definition makes important distinctions between home education and other non-school based forms of education. But it fails to capture the myriad of practices, motivations and locations for home education. Indeed, the diversity is such that the label 'home education' describes not so much a form of education but, rather, simply the legal status of a child's education. In other words, if a parent is a 'home educator' the only fact that we can be absolutely certain of is that he or she has exercised a legal right."

WRONG. The only fact that we can be absolutely certain of is that he or she is fulfilling a legal DUTY - nowhere in Section 7 of the Education Act is there any reference to parental rights, only parental duties - which are of course profoundly different things. The duty is to 'cause him to receive efficient full-time education, suitable to his age, ability, aptitude and special educational needs'. It's only by reading Monk in such close detail that the root cause of some of the manifest contradictions and misunderstandings inherent in the Badman Report start to become clear.

The child's right to education is set out in article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but it is plainly apparent even there that the provision of this education is a duty and not a right. There is no tension between conflicting rights of parents and children, because there are no rights for parents in terms of elective home education, only duties. To suggest otherwise is entirely and mystifyingly specious. Further, to quote lawyer and social worker Allan Norman, on non-consensual adoption and the law:

'...the atomisation of the interests of the child and the interests of the parents, setting the human rights of one in conflict with the human rights of the other is a peculiarly Western approach. Note in particular that whereas human rights may be conceived as privileging the rights of humans over the rights of States, this atomisation approach puts the State straight back in the picture as the arbiter of the dispute between the conflicted interests of parent and child.'

- it is a dubious political tactic, which also completely overlooks the parents' vested interest in the long term future health and prosperity of their offspring.

*EDIT: Fiona Nicholson points out that the UNCRC has not yet been incorporated into UK law, so legally there is no child's right to education in this country.

In speculating about the wide and varying possible formats for home education, Mr Monk concludes with the sentence:

"The need for caution against simplistic positions is clear when one considers the motivations of home educators."

But in law, our motivations are irrelevant. We are fulfilling our duty as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act. The law makes no distinction of our reasons for doing this in certain ways, thankfully, in much the same way as it refrains from examining Mr Monk's possible motivations for the various articles, lectures and training he has delivered on the subject. In a civilised society, pending the authoritisation of an actual thought police, the jurisdiction on the inside of people's heads remains their own.

He goes on to outline the possible motivations anyway, and then moves onto rights, citing that Knight/Adonis quote at the beginning of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities:

'Education is a fundamental right for every child and we recognise that parents have the right to choose to educate their children at home'.

This is the problem with language. The first 'right' in that sentence is a legal right, the second is not, in that it is not set out anywhere in law that relates to our country. Not daunted by this subtle but crucial detail, Mr Monk goes on to expound it and then:

The DCSF Guidance states that 'parents have a right to educate their child at home' and there are no indications that the government intends to alter this basic position. But the right to home educate is not an absolute legal right nor is it 'fundamental', which is to say that it is not above or beyond debate.

I think it is beyond debate, because it does not exist as a right - it exists as a duty! I will entertain for a minute the notion that in exercising our Section 7 duty we somehow have the 'right' to decide whether to do this 'at school or otherwise' and the problem is that, if it is read as a 'right' and not a duty, the meaning of that whole section of law is turned on its head. I must cause my child to receive an efficient full time education etc involves me having some means of evaluating its effectiveness and whether it is suitable to his age, aptitude, ability and special educational needs. If I decide the only way I can cause him to receive such an education is 'otherwise' than registration at a school, this cannot be seen as a right but as a crucial part of the carrying out of my legal duties as his parent.

Mr Monk confusingly goes on to explain:

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 imposes a duty on parents to provide their children with an education that is 'efficient' and 'suitable' for that child. The right to home educate is therefore conditional on parents complying with this duty.

- which I *think* is what I said......

In other words, parents have responsibilities for their children, not rights over them.

In meeting the child's right to education, I agree. So where are the conflicting rights? There follows a strange sort of analogy with Section 9 of the act:

'In exercising or performing all their respective powers and duties under the Education Acts, the Secretary of [State and local education authorities] shall have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, so far as that is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure.'

- but this relates to schools and expenditure, not elective home education. To suggest a relationship between Sections 7 and 9 is stretching a point, to say the least. I am reminded of one of Cinderella's stepsisters, effortfully and fruitlessly trying on her shoe.

Mr Monk then uses the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to further establish children's rights to education and goes on to cite case law relating to corporal punishment in schools to suggest that:

.. what is envisaged here is not unfettered autonomy for parents but a relationship between parents, children and the state.

- conveniently ignoring the unassailable fact that the children of the two Scottish mothers Campbell and Cosans in the case in question were actually registered at school, so that the quotation from the judgment:

the convictions of parents must not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education

is thrown into a whole different light when read in context with the rest of the case.

I am perplexed by this idea that it might be possible to strengthen an argument simply by lifting odd sentences even from precedent setting cases completely out of context and citing them as if they were somehow relevant to the matter in hand.

The next paragraph has me gasping. Suddenly Badman's prejudicial, already utterly negative attitude towards us from the very start of his review is explained.

For some advocates of home education, the parental right is a 'fundamental freedom' and 'an essential part of democracy'. These claims are politically strategic as they enable home educators to utilise arguments based both on the rights of individual parents and on the needs of society to defend themselves against what they perceive to be unjustified and potentially dangerous state intervention.

And there follows a rant about the Christian Right in the USA, which bears little resemblance to the UK home education movement. The thing is, when I say I do not want my children's education to be inspected by officials, it's because the few visits we allowed actually did damage the children's education. One in particular was conducted by a demanding inspector who was very impatient with my 8 year old's reading level. After he had reduced my son to tears of frustration and humiliation, he then confessed in answer to my questions that he had not read the extensive local authority file on my son's profound dyslexia before making his visit. If officers don't even read their own files in advance on the children whose educational provision they inspect, how can we safely invite them into our homes? It is nothing to do with political strategies. Our children are real people who we love, not mere political pawns for whatever world changing agendas we may have.

For others, it is a belief in the independent rights of the child that informs their 'fundamental' support for home education; an approach that is aligned with opposition to compulsory school attendance laws more generally. In challenging those who would argue that a child has a right to school life they point to research that highlights the complex and various ways in which schools fail children, and to statistics, such as those produced recently by UNICEF, that claimed that in the UK 20% of children are unhappy in school.

There follows more about school and the paragraph ends with:

Yet, for children's rights supporters of home education, the paradox is that their support leaves unquestioned the power parents have over their children.

- thus painting us in such a negative light, I am left wondering what he thinks we might do with such power over our beloved offspring. Obviously nothing benign! And yet, were he to spend any significant amount of time with the average sort of home educating family, I suspect he might be surprised to discover rather that the children have an inordinate power over their parents. Would this be frowned upon by him as well? Perhaps Mr Monk prefers the nation's children to be obedient, but only to school teachers and/or elective home education inspectors for reasons best known to himself.

There follows an outlining of two EU cases relating to German home education which do nothing more than confirm my 'NO' vote in the forthcoming referendum, although the quotes about parallel societies and 'the public interest of securing the education of the child' (thereby reducing children to the status of future work units, one assumes) are intriguing. Also this is the second occasion in this article - the first being in reference to US home schoolers - that Mr Monk makes reference to religious parents seeking to protect their children from secular tuition in schools, for no imaginable reason other than to suggest an air of fundamental extremism. This is strangely at odds with his original plan to provide a balanced view of the situation, because he must be more aware than most people that UK schooling is not secular and so therefore UK home education does not contain this element of religious concern.

Regardless of the respective merits of monitoring or a full ban, both decisions challenge the claim that home education is a fundamental right.

This is obviously true for Germany, which must not have a Section 7 like ours on its national statute. Earlier in this post I challenged the claim that home education is a right, rather than a duty in England where we are commanded by Section 7 to cause our children to receive a kind of education for which school is often not the best environment. I have heard no official concerns in this country of parallel societies or 'the public interest in securing the education of the child', so Monk's comparisons with the German and American situations seem invalid, to say the least.

The following paragraph is perhaps the most illuminating so far. Some excerpts:

For while the libertarian left, together with some advocates of identity politics who celebrate the recognition of 'difference' and 'diversity', find much to sympathise with the claims of home educators, from a collectivist left standpoint, and in particular for those wanting to prioritise economic or class issues, the privatisation of education, implicit in support for home education, provokes considerable unease.

For while conservative and libertarian supporters of home education fully embrace the political implications of the issue, supporters of home education, who would strongly resist identifying themselves with either of these groups, are notably silent about the broader political dimensions and concerns about education.

My understanding of collectivism is that there are two varieties: horizontal, and vertical. "Vertical orientation emphasizes hierarchy," and "Horizontal orientation emphasizes equality." It seems to me that a family home educating using, perhaps, the autonomous method might in many cases be described as a horizontal collective, whereas a structure such as a university most definitely incorporates a hierarchy. Both care about others: neither is individualist.

There follows a section about monitoring home education, beginning with the sentence:

The critical question now is not whether home education should be permitted but how it should be monitored.

- with which I completely disagree, and cannot see how Mr Monk has demonstrated the need for monitoring in this article before this point. Perhaps he will do so in the next few paragraphs.

But determining whether LAs require more or less powers is complicated by the fact that the existing legal framework is open to different interpretations.

Fewer powers than are currently set out in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities would of course be ideal for us, but I am so far unaware of other interpretations of the existing legal framework.

On the issue of registration, Mr Monk suggests that framing home education as a duty and not a right makes it "easier to require parents to demonstrate competence". Again, I disagree. It is quite possible for us to have a duty to cause our children to receive an efficient full-time education suitable to their age, aptitude, ability and special educational needs without also bearing a positive burden of proof to society, indeed this has been the situation since 1944 and it has worked quite well in most cases. While parents themselves, knowing their own children best, decide the content and quality of the education provided there is no need for this to be monitored by the state, parents having more of a vested interest in the child's eventual outcomes than the state does.

There follows a description of registration for home educators, although Mr Monk is mistaken about changes to the deregistration regulations - these still stand as they did before 2006. He quotes EO and Roland Meighan on the issue and then appears to make another illogical leap from this to the conclusion:

Faced with these interpretations it is not surprising that some LAs believe that there is indeed a 'loophole' in the law, but that it should be dealt with by requiring all parents who wish to home educate to notify the relevant LA. The key argument made in support of introducing compulsory registration for all home educators is that without it LAs will be unable to comply with their statutory duties in relation to both the education and welfare needs of children.

If Mr Monk is referring to Section 10 of the Children Act for those 'statutory duties', it is clear that unregistered home educated children were never meant to be individually covered by it, home educating parents not being listed as 'partners' in section 4.

In his 'Local authority duties and responsibilities' section, Mr Monk first examines Section 437 of the Education Act, beginning with:

This makes clear that it is for LAs and not parents to determine what is 'suitable education'.

I do not think that is clear. The way this has worked historically is quite in keeping with the wording of the statute, which is that home educating families, knowing their own children better than a local authority could do, choose the method of education which most efficiently provides a full-time education suitable for their child's age, aptitude, ability and special educational needs. If there is a failure on the family's part to establish an efficient method that is suitable and the local authority is made aware of the appearance of such, the local authority should take action to remedy the situation. But it cannot determine the best method for individual children in the first instance because it does not know or live with the children and therefore cannot have sufficient information with which to make that decision.

But while the duty to serve a notice is absolute ('they shall serve a notice'), 'suitable education' is not defined. Consequently, this creates a wide discretionary power for LAs and interpretations vary hugely across the country.

The education must be efficient, and suitable for the child's age, aptitude, ability and any special educational needs he may have. It is unreasonable to expect local authorities to understand every home educated child's aptitude, ability and special educational needs and so the local authority cannot determine whether the education is suitable for them any more than statute can.

Another leap of logic occurs a few lines later:

The DCSF guidance states that 'local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis'. While the word 'routine' here could be interpreted as acknowledging that not all home educators will be monitored, the word 'quality' could be interpreted to suggest that LAs should, at minimum, have knowledge of the fact of home education.

- both interpretations being, in my view, the least likely ones most readers would reach. (The most likely being that 'routine' means 'regularly' and 'quality' means the effectiveness of the provision.)

Mr Monk is then reduced to extrapolating previous drafts of the guidelines until he finds the words he seems to prefer to read.

On Children Missing Education (CME), he says:

The Education and Inspection Act 2006 creates two new duties that one can argue require the introduction of compulsory registration.

- going on to begin with Section 436A:

(1) A local education authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but —

(a) are not registered pupils at a school, and

(b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.

(2) In exercising their functions under this section a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.

(3) In this Chapter, “suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have.”

And in commentary, Monk says this:

Subsection (b) makes clear that this provision does not relate to home educated children that are receiving suitable education. But in order to enable them to establish [emphasis his, not mine] this, the duty not only legitimises investigation by an LA but, in contrast to section 437(1), arguably imposes a more positive obligation to act.

I refute this reading of the text, which still works perfectly well when 'suitable' means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have according to his parents, in the absence of any S437 'appearance' that it is not.

He goes on to cite the 2009 version of the Children Missing Education guidance (since revised) where it required Local Authorities to "make enquiries with parents educating children at home about educational provision being made for them". This has now been replaced with a note in the new guidance on page 6, which refers to a S437 action in respect of home education, not a S436A one. The new statutory guidance on CME also links back to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, thereby strengthening their position in law.

On child welfare and protection duties, Monk cites Section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002:

175 Duties of LEAs and governing bodies in relation to welfare of children

(1) A local education authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that the functions conferred on them in their capacity as a local education authority are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

He has this to say about it:

The DCSF guidance makes clear these are 'general duties' and the emphasis throughout is on multi-agency cooperation. In other words, where education officers within an LA have child protection concerns they should inform social services departments. However, the new duty, from an LA perspective, strengthens the argument for legal reform in the same way as do the new duties introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

- though it smacks of desperation to suggest that every new piece of legislation - which came thick and fast through the Labour years - even vaguely related to home education somehow warrants complete regulation reform.

There follows a reference to the Every Child Matters agenda, which span from Section 10 of the 2004 Children Act, although Mr Monk acknowledges that the whole thing makes reference to pupils and school attendance, thereby excluding the home educated. He makes reference to the 2007 letter from Lord Adonis to a home educator's MP, containing the words:

The state does not currently prescribe what form of education parents should provide, whilst all maintained and independent school provision is prescribed in legislation and subject to inspection. This anomaly is at odds with Every Child Matters reforms, supported by the Children Act 2004, which set out the Government's aim to improve educational outcomes for all children, regardless of where they are educated, and to narrow the gap between those who are doing well and those who are not.

( - which then triggered AHEd's 'Anomaly' campaign.)

Since Labour lost power in 2010, Every Child Matters has moved off the political agenda thankfully, since it was of concern to those of us who wanted to protect our parental rôle.

Mr Monk then makes his seventh logical leap of the article by suggesting that the wording of Section 176 of the Education Act 2002, referring as it does to the consultation of pupils in connection with the taking of decisions affecting them, also

arguably supports the case for compulsory registration of home education.

In conclusion, there is an acknowledgment of the legislative protection for children from abuse in Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, which of course applies to home educated children as much as any other.

In his section on 'voluntary registration and support' Mr Monk makes the case that the support provided to registered home educating families, including as it sometimes does the contact details for support groups, and so this too "supports the introduction of compulsory registration", overlooking entirely the existence of search engines to enable home educating families to find the support which could not be more clearly signposted.

What Mr Monk says next is interesting:

However, there are two problems with this argument. The first is that this information could be made available to all parents, in part by increasing awareness of the legality of home education; an approach that would comply with LAs' duties to 'increase opportunities for parental choice'.

- an argument I could not have made better myself. And:

Secondly, it overlooks the fact that making the relationship between LAs and parents compulsory risks losing the advantages of keeping the relationship one based on voluntary co-operation. The benefits of this are, of course, hard to quantify; moreover, the experience of service provision under Part III of the Children Act 1989 provides an important lesson. In that context the much heralded advantages of a 'stigma-free' partnership between families and social services has, in the past, proved to be more rhetorical than real, as the 'voluntary' nature of the relationship masked an inherently unequal balance of power where the ever present threat of legal action resulted in both a real and perceived 'co-operate or else' scenario.

I have experienced this problem when my (now adult) children were registered with the local authority as home educated due to deregistration from school. The relationship is of little benefit to the family (except perhaps to be of support in Family Court processes when a non resident parent is against home education), indeed the interventions can be so damaging as to threaten the parent's ability to fulfil her Section 7 duty, yet one is constantly aware of the fine balance between the logical and necessary assertiveness to resist them, and the possible consequences of doing so.

Another point with which I agree:

It is likely that some parents will avoid registration even if compulsory registration is introduced. A policy of coercion from the outside is, however, unlikely to develop a relationship based on trust and openness and would effectively criminalise parents who may be providing suitable education.

He then expounds the nothing to hide argument in this context from which he unsurprisingly concludes:

Such an argument, however, overlooks the legitimate interest of the state in playing an active [his emphasis] role in protecting the right of every child to education.

And then goes on to counter with the point I would have made next, which is:

But in order to understand the extent to which the fears about registration are justified, it is important to appreciate the implications of being known to LAs.

- those implications being often quite damaging.

In his section on surveillance and monitoring powers, Mr Monk begins:

While there is uncertainty about the circumstances in which LAs are obliged [his emphasis] to investigate, their statutory powers are relatively straightforward where they have concerns about the nature of the education provided.

I do not think there is uncertainty about the circumstances in which LAs are obliged to act. Mr Monk has not, so far, successfully shown that there is and the law is clear on the point.

Within LAs, however, those responsible for monitoring home education are very rarely the same individuals as those responsible for enforcing school attendance and very much depends upon the existence of effective communication between the two. The former may consider proceedings appropriate but the notice requires naming of a school and finding a school place is not always straightforward - particularly in situations where schools have 'encouraged parents to home educate as a way of resolving dealing with a difficult pupil.

Families often resort to home education when the school system in their local area fails to meet with their child's needs or is unable to supply a consistently efficient full-time education suitable to their child's age, ability and aptitude. If such an education is not then provided at home, what is the resolution? The only logical answer - if the family still really wants school provision - can be that the school system must be made to supply the provision, otherwise the parents have no legal choice but to continue home educating as best they can. If the local authority cannot find a suitable place for the child, then the local authority cannot justifiably - or even practically - issue a school attendance order.

Confusion also exists in determining what LAs can and should do prior [his emphasis] to commencing school attendance proceedings.

I think the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities as follows:

2.8 Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

- explain perfectly well what LAs can and should do prior to commencing school attendance proceedings. The above derives from the summing up by Lord Justice Donaldson in the 1980 case of Phillips -v- Brown and Monk goes on to quote the relevant excerpt which surrounds the 'it would be sensible for them to do so' phrase therein.

Monk's next sentence is difficult to understand unless perhaps it contains a typo:

The case has given rise to confusion; the reason for this, arguably, it that it is authority both for parents being entitled to refuse to comply with informal requests for information and, at the same time, for LAs to adopt a pro-active approach to monitoring home education.

My best guess is that 'authority' in that sentence was meant to be 'authorised'. So Monk thinks there is confusion when parents *can* refuse to comply with requests:

and at the same time, for LAs to adopt a pro-active approach to monitoring home education.

And yet there need be no confusion, for there is no need for LAs to adopt such a pro-active approach to monitoring. The process is simple to understand, should be simple to carry out and is set out in section 2.8 of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, as set out above. This complies with all of the relevant statute and case law and leaves the necessary way open for either party to seek resolution in court if needs be.

On LA officials being allowed inside home educating families' homes, Monk cites Lord Justice Slade in the 1985 R (Perry) v Gwent County Council case, in which Slade praises the Local Authority for making home visits, although I think this hardly amounts to useful legal precedent for either side of the argument. Then he quotes the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities:

3.6 Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made. [Monk's emphasis] Where local authorities are not able to visit homes, they should, in the vast majority of cases, be able to discuss and evaluate the parents' educational provision by alternative means.

To find his 'confusion once again abounding' in this instance, Mr Monk again seeks out a draft version of the guidelines for some slightly different wording, but this is irrelevant because the draft versions were just that, and never even enacted. The draft guidance mentioned lack of home visits possibly leading to the conclusion that there was insufficient information to satisfy them - and Monk likens this to Donaldson's:

If the parents refuse to answer it could very easily conclude that prima facie the parents were in breach of their duty.

But refusing to answer a request for information, as Mr Phillips did in that case, is very different to refusing a home visit, so I cannot see how the obsolete draft version is closer to Donaldson, as Monk alleges. The two situations are unrelated in detail and not worth comparing.

The third case law Mr Monk quotes from on the issue of home visits is from R (Tweedie) v Surrey Quarter Sessions Appeals Committee (1963):

Although as a general rule, an education authority should not insist on inspection as the only method of satisfying themselves that children are receiving an efficient full-time education, there are exceptions where the authority is entitled to insist on such inspection.

The Tweedie case is 52 years old now, 46 at the time of Mr Monk writing this article. He concedes that its interpretation is questionable, but still suggests it would influence the outcome in court, if a family there challenged an LA's insistence on inspection.

Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights (ECHR) is mentioned as a "legitimate argument" for declining home visits, although this is immediately countered by the approach to home education of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Mr Monk quotes from the summing up of a case there relating to Article 2, not Article 8 as follows:

'It is clear that Art 2 of Protocol No 1 implies a right for the state to establish compulsory schooling, be it in State schools or private tuition of a satisfactory standard, and that verification and enforcement of educational standards is an integral part of that right.... requiring the applicant to cooperate in the assessment of children's educational standards ... cannot be said to constitute a lack of respect for the applicants rights.'[Monk's emphasis]

And the commentary:

While those opposed to the introduction of a right of access for LAs will no doubt disagree with the approach adopted by the ECtHR, it should reassure the government that the right is a policy option that is compatible with the Convention. Moreover, it is one that arguably is required in order to comply with obligations under the UNCRC.

My commentary on that is to again fervently hope for a 'no' vote in the forthcoming referendum, so that we could only have UK and English law to contend with in protecting our families from unwanted government interventions. Monk then goes on to claim the above means "it is a matter of discretion for individual LAs to decide how to respond to a refusal to allow access".

Moreover, the legitimacy and necessity of LA power to have access to the home to see the child, to review the child's work and to meet with the parents, will vary considerably depending on what precisely they are required to evaluate.

I do not see any acknowledgment from Monk so far about the risks to the child's education of such evaluation. What of the child who is excruciatingly shy, and only feels safe in his own home, uninvaded by strangers? What of the child who is on the cusp of learning to read, who is deterred from this considerably by pressure from visiting inspectors? What of the child whose love of learning in general is so deterred, as my now adult children's love of learning always was, whenever it happened? Their education was set back by several weeks at least with every visit. Would these too be deemed failures? Such is his evident lack of sympathy for the private practice of home education, one can only conclude that they most definitely would.

On the definition of suitable education, Monk cites the Paramountcy Principle (New Zealand article, but the only free-to-read explanation of the same thing), likening the 'best interests' requirement set out in Section 1 of the 1989 Children Act:

When a court determines any question with respect to —

(a) the upbringing of a child; or

(b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it,

the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.

- to the consideration of what constitutes 'suitable' in education, thereby suggesting that a possibly conflicting parental interest in the matter might need to be discounted. The following irony is almost amusing, unless you happened to be the family in either situation:

The task for LAs is complicated by the fact that in disputes about home education they may wish to raise the threshold to be reached before an education can be deemed efficient but, in a different context, where parents [his emphasis] are challenging the education being provided in maintained schools, the reverse is often the case.

This one sentence surely encompasses the whole argument. 'Suitable education', being a subjective definition, is dependent on the position and interests of whoever is seeking to define it. LAs will probably tend to undermine that provided in a home setting, whereas parents who have their family's long term future to think of will judge it according to the progress made by the child.

It is also important to remember that it is parental perceptions of the failure of schools to provide 'efficient' education that is increasingly one of the explanations for the increase in home education.

- but presumably not Local Authority perceptions of the failure of parents to provide it that is increasingly one of the explanations for the increase in undue interventions for home educating families?

Mr Monk does then concede that under child welfare regulations:

the law implicitly recognises the fact that while the home environment may be far from ideal, the alternatives may be worse. There is, however, no equivalent formal acknowledgment of this in education law.

And so in some cases...

... a range of support measures to assist home education may be more appropriate.

But 'support' is often not actually useful or helpful, being a complex word which is often misappropriated to mean something other than its dictionary definition. One would imagine, for example, that a lack of any kind of coercion would be involved in its genuine provision.

Reverting discussion back to the Section 7 wording, Monk goes on to also concede that a local authority cannot gauge an individual child's ability and aptitude - but he uses this point to then suggest it as a further reason why they should be given access to the home, the work and the child. On privacy, he has already said back on page 6:

.. the extent to which the 'private' sphere is every truly private is questionable.

Monk cites the Harrison case, defining 'education' as:

'the development of mental powers and character and the acquisition of knowledge through the imparting of skills and learning by systematic instruction'

And 'systematic' as something that:

'achieves that which it sets out to achieve'

- suggesting that this also:

legitimises the necessity of access to a child's work and evidence of progress.

But unless we have completely given up on the presumption of innocence in this country, it of course does nothing of the sort.

The next paragraph is interesting, in light of the absence of official definitions for the terms:

In practice some LAs adopt this interpretation when evaluating home education; but this positive requirement is rarely publicised. One possible reason for this, and the fact that the guidance makes no reference to basic skills in its definition of 'efficient' is that it might open the gates to negligence actions from children leaving mainstream school without these skills. As levels of illiteracy attest, this is not an insignificant number.

If Monk is right about this, it should offer some protection from interventions for home educating families and it is arguable that it adds strength to the argument therefore that families should be the arbiters of those definitions in the absence of reported problems to suggest otherwise.

On socialisation, Monk cites American research, which states that:

Home educated children participate in more activities of their wider communities than schooled children and grow up to be functional and happy in their chosen lives.

Monk adds the following comment:

There is no clear evidence to refute this research.

There follows an extensive and illuminating section on civic education, containing as it does the words:

In this context, home education raises two concerns. First, it is arguable that unregulated home education implicitly condones education that conflicts with attempts to foster national cohesion and democratic values. Secondly, there is the view that home educated children, 'cut off' or 'withdrawn' from mainstream society, will in effect be denied an education that respects their individual rights to develop their own views and values. The two concerns are linked in that failure to counter the latter, in the long term, arguably undermines the former.

- which raise profound questions about the purpose of education itself. Is it, as the article just linked asserts:

  • To give all learners the basic skills to access and drive their own education.
  • To develop the softer, non-subject life skills needed to succeed.
  • To impart powerful subject knowledge (and by this we mean the facts, concepts and procedural knowledge needed to continue to take that subject further and progress in it)?

Or is it to change the world and its opinions, as Monk seems to assume, presumably to bring it more into line with his own? As the parent of five home educated children who are individuals, each with their own distinct and very contrasting opinions, my instinct is to protect them from this kind of dogmatism as much as any other, so that they might retain the freedom to genuinely think for themselves.

He cites an American case regarding the Amish people, in which their right to not send their children to school beyond the age of 15 was upheld, with the commentary:

An important factor for the Supreme Court .... was that the Amish community was a 'highly successful unit' and its members were 'productive and law-abiding'. This highly pragmatic response to a large extent coheres with and explains why, to date, ... successive governments have chosen to largely condone home education. Put simply, these individuals, neither the parents nor the children, have posed, or been perceived to pose, any economic or political problem for society as a whole. That the government appears now to be reconsidering this status quo [by means of the Badman Review] can similarly be explained by concerns about Islamic fundamentalism, parallel communities and social exclusion more generally and the possibility that groups perceived as being potentially not 'law abiding' could take advantage of the legal 'anomaly' of home education.

I don't know to what extent home education plays a part in Islamic fundamentalism in the UK, but I think if any Islamic fundamentalist had been home educated instead of educated in a Muslim religious school and a mosque, we would be extremely aware of it by now because the fact would have been heavily publicised by people like Barry Sheerman .

In his conclusion Mr Monk again cites Donaldson:

that where LAs have a duty to act they should not behave like an ostrich - putting its head in the sand 'in order that it should not learn of anything which might place upon it the burden of discharging its duty.'

and further comments:

Domestic and international law, in particular the UNCRC, all emphasise that the child's right to education is fundamental and make clear that taking the ostrich approach would represent the state's failure to comply with its own obligations to fulfil such a right.

- even when Section 7 of our Education Act states this as a parental obligation, not a governmental one.

Moreover, while the law recognises the importance of respecting parents' views, parents must also recognise that their children have rights independent of their own. It follows that parents who choose to home educate must acknowledge the legitimate interest of LAs, acting as the agents of the state, to monitor their provision.

On the contrary, parents who choose to home educate must only acknowledge the current legal position, which specifically precludes regular monitoring by the state.

Parents who home educate are not simply performing a private duty but also a public function.

I disagree. They are mainly obeying their natural instincts to educate their young, which also happens to comply with their Section 7 legal duty. They cannot be expected to be responsible for the mores of the state or the entire world and it would be unreasonable to expect this of them.

For all these reasons the case for compulsory regulation is logical, legitimate and compelling.

No. It is expensive, invasive and damaging to children.

He later sets out a good argument for us to continue to refuse state funding:

One can argue that the corollary of requiring parents to acknowledge the public function of education is that the state accepts its own financial responsibilities. Indeed, in a context of increased support for diversity in education, increasing numbers of faith schools and state regulation of independent education more generally, one of the anomalies of home education is its current lack of publicly funded support.

The article ends with a prophetic vision of the unfolding situation, in the wake of the 2010 election which put paid to Badman's recommendations:

The recent consultation process and forthcoming review may reflect the Government's desire to resolve some of these issues. Alternatively it may, as is sometimes the case, simply be a way of forestalling making difficult decisions. If so, it may result in a continuation of the present situation, whereby the drawing of difficult lines is left to LAs and home educators - to negotiate in a localised, diverse and ad hoc fashion.

This is the present situation, which is problematic to some extent, but still vastly preferable to what would have happened if the 2010 election result had been different. The Conservatives favour the ethos of localism, as set out in their 2011 Localism Act and it is therein that I suspect we might find our remedy for Monk, who is now using the content of his 2009 article to deliver a series of training programmes to Local Authorities, advising them to ignore elements of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities and reassuring them that the success of cases in the EU and America would support their actions in so doing.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Educational freedom under threat again

I was talking to Al, my younger son, about this blog post today. 24 year old Al was unschooled as a child, during which time he chose to teach himself the Russian language, which he now earns his living translating into English. Al tried school for a while but hated having to put his personal studies to one side in order to engage with the school programme and there were times throughout his home education when we were inspected by the local authority because of Family Court proceedings brought by his dad. As a result of these experiences Al knows for sure that he learned best - most effectively and efficiently - when he was left in peace to follow his own academic interests and with no external goals, targets or judgments being imposed. Whenever we were inspected, his self motivation to learn shrank to almost nothing, for weeks and sometimes months afterwards. When he was in school he learned very little, and nothing he actually wanted to learn or therefore wanted to retain.

Al is now undeniably a useful member of society, contributing in his own small way to the GDP as well as to the cultural and business links between Russia and the West - an educational outcome of which even Barry Sheerman would approve. (The missing tweet in that linked conversation was one of Mr Sheerman's and it said: "Why should this be a sensitive area we should know where every child is & the quality of their education!" But if he had his way, my son's educational outcomes would not have been so favourable. Whenever the quality of his education was checked, it declined markedly as a result of being monitored. So under the Sheerman regime, Al would probably have had some educational success, but not quite as much as he actually enjoyed.)

It took me a few minutes to bring Al up to speed on our current concerns about the latest news on the Association of EHE Professionals (of which, surely, the only true professionals are people who have had direct experience of it!) Further to my November post which asked: "A national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities. What could possibly go wrong?", they are as follows:

List of speakers for the launch of the National Body for Home Education Professionals, 26 February 2015:

Graham Stuart

Lord Lucas

Nick Gibb (to be confirmed)

Barry Sheerman (to be confirmed)

Daniel Monk, Reader in Law, Birkbeck College, University College of London

Stephen Bishop, Department for Education, Lead in EHE policy

Members of the AEHEP committee, including Jenny Dodd (Chair), Dave Harvey (Vice Chair)

When he saw this list of names and I reminded him of Mr Sheerman's position with regard to monitoring and some of the difficulties home educators in Staffordshire have had with Jenny Dodd, as well as Daniel Monk's bizarre juxtapositioning of parental rights set against children's rights in education law (see also this paper) which seemed to underpin the much maligned Badman Review of 2009 - when we cause our children to receive efficient full-time education because of our parental instincts which are enforced by a very specific legal duty, not a parental right! - he understood the alarm home educators in England are feeling now and the need for this post.

His first point was to ask, then: Is this National Body for Home Education Professionals going to be impartial about the supposed need for the state to regularly monitor home educating families? As mentioned earlier in various places, there are no grounds for the NSPCC view that children who don't go to school are somehow at a greater risk of abuse than the ones who do AND there is sufficient legislation in place to protect home educated children if local authorities choose to follow it properly, so the call for routine state monitoring becomes more a matter of political opinion than anything else.

Graham Stuart and Lord Lucas have both spoken out against increased regulation (interestingly the latter then perhaps gave us a hint of things to come) but they are only speakers at the launch of this professional body, not members although we are at a loss to understand why Graham Stuart, if he is in favour of freedom in education, has pushed this professional body into existence. Barry Sheerman we know to be pro-regulation, ditto Daniel Monk. Of the AEHEP committee we think its chair will push for increased regulation and calling themselves 'home education professionals' and thereby needing to carve out that role, we assume the body of its membership will be of the same mind. So no, not impartial in the least. We fully expect this organisation to lobby for our children's educational freedom to be restricted, thereby jeopardising parents' ability to carry out their Section 7 legal duty in the same way as schools do because many of us contend that the most efficient form of education is 100% autonomous. There are already calls from some local authorities to change government guidance in ways that will deliver this outcome.

Obviously, we have to work to defend against this threat so I asked Al if he had any ideas as to what we could do about it. Point out its impartiality, he said. Public money should not be used to instigate and support projects like this. Explain, all over again, the negative effects on educational outcomes. And I guess we can only keep ourselves and our MPs informed and be ready to take action when the time is right. Any other good ideas for this would be appreciated.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Children Missing Education - ours aren't, and you should not be checking them

At short notice I was recently asked to attend a meeting locally, to support a home educating parent whose child was recently deregistered from school. The meeting was between a Children Missing Education officer and the parent, even though the parent had clearly conveyed her plans to home educate. The Children Missing Education officer said that, while she knew the child was home educated, she still "had to check", but asserted within five minutes of the meeting's start when I challenged her that although the parent in question was "genuine", "some families will use it as an excuse to take them out of.... so it's just for us to build an understanding of why she wants to educate him at home really, that's all."

The meeting was in a local children's centre because the parent had resisted this officer's concerted efforts to arrange a home visit. The parent really wanted to keep her dealings with the authorities in writing as is her right according to the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities, but the CME officer would not be satisfied by this and had insisted on a meeting, so they compromised by choosing a neutral venue. At the last minute the parent felt uncomfortable and put a call out to the local home education community for support and I just happened to be shopping around the corner, so I was able to attend.

It turned out this parent's instincts had not let her down and if I had not been present to challenge the CME officer, she may well have felt so bullied as to agree to reregistering him at school. In the course of the meeting, the parent was asked:

  • Her language and ethnic origin;
  • Her reasons for choosing home education;
  • Whether she has always wanted to home educate;
  • Why, then, she chose to enrol her child in school?
  • Whether she had any family pressure to enrol her child in school;
  • How her son felt about being home educated - the child was also asked directly even though both the parent and I objected to this;
  • Who specifically she had contacted at the local authority for advice about home education, if anyone;
  • How she home educates: "What happens on a daily basis?";
  • Whether the child had sufficient recreation time and space "to go out and play";
  • Whether the child had contact with other children. Did he have friends?;
  • How long they spent working together on each subject every day. How long on reading? How long on writing? How long on maths?;
  • Whether I - since I had introduced myself as a home educator - also home educated this parent's child;
  • What resources she planned to use and whether she could access them all; and
  • The precise date of his deregistration.

When I asked this CME officer whether if she was operating under section 436A of the Education Act (the part of the law that essentially creates her role and which is a few lines long) she asked me: "What's that?" She also seemed unfamiliar with the content of the statutory CME guidance, which historically contained an instruction to officers to follow EHEGLA for children who were being home educated, although that link is currently missing, an omission which effectively legitimised her treatment of this parent in the meeting.

The CME guidance is currently under review and we NEED to have the link to the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities reinstating to the glaringly obvious gap in the footnotes where they belong in order to protect families like the one I was supporting in this meeting. Here is the gap in the CME guidance where EHEGLA belongs:

I needed to be able to show the guidance to this CME officer which - if repaired in this month's review, would clearly state an instruction to follow EHEGLA in dealing with home educating families and thereby save families like the one in the meeting from such routine interrogations. I wonder if we should all email the Department for Education and ask for this mistake to be corrected in the review, as a matter of urgency? My fear is that Local Authority monitoring of home education is creeping in by the back door in this way, which is damaging to children's education and unfair to those families who are undergoing such treatment.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

NSPCC: determined to learn the *wrong* lessons from case reviews

The NSPCC has quite a long history of slurring home educators as child abusers. This year's effort at least begins with the concession that:

"Home-educating parents or carers are not more likely than others to abuse or neglect their children."

In fact I think they are far less likely than others to do so, but this statistic is conveniently excluded from its report into the seven Serious Case Reviews that have involved children not attending school. It predictably continues:

"There is, however, a risk that home-educated children can become invisible to the authorities."

Do all children have to be visible to the authorities? All the time, 24/7? If they were, would this actually help to ensure their safety or might it have the damaging effect of unsettling their peace of mind which relies on their family's enjoyment of autonomy, privacy and trust? Are 'the authorities' to be relied on to keep our children safer than parents are, in general? Certainly not, according to this map of convicted cases of professional child abuse.

Is being known to authorities any protection for children at risk? Absolutely not, according to every single one of the seven serious case reviews cited in this report.

"Under current legislation and guidance, there is no formal registration process for elective home education which means that some home-educated children may be completely unknown to the local authority."

Yes, but only those children about whom no concerns have been expressed to the local authority. Anyone else would be known to them. All of the children in the Serious Case Reviews listed were known to their Local Authorities!

From the Case of Child ST, Enfield 2007:

"3.2 In January 2005 ST and her younger brother were withdrawn from school and educated at home by their mother, Mrs A. She complied with all statutory requirements in relation to children in elective home education. She co-operated with visits from the London Borough of Enfield Education Department in April and May 2005 and June 2006. The visiting officer had no concerns about the family or their circumstances, and was satisfied with the programme of education proposed."

From the case of Siôn D, Flintshire 2012:

"2.3 Health and education professionals had become very concerned that this lack of engagement with services would have a detrimental effect on Siôn’s development, but they were unsure how to proceed. They began to meet together to discuss what they could do to make a difference. Staff from children’s social services were also involved in discussions about Siôn and they attended one formal meeting when it became known that Siôn had attended an eye appointment with what appeared to be a small bruise on his forehead, concealed with make‐up. However, despite their concerns, no professional talked to Mr and Mrs D about them and there was no investigation of the reported concealed bruise."

From the case of Family W:

"In a week-long hearing, held in private, the judge heard there were four occasions when the local authority, which cannot be named, was alerted to the mother's inappropriate behaviour towards her children but did not find cause for concern."

From the case of Child A, Caerphilly:

"Despite the interventions of professionals, Child A, who was involved in low-level crime, stopped going to school and his mother said he would be home-schooled. There was also concern when the mother’s partner came out of prison to live with the family because of his past drug use."

From the case of Child case number 14, Birmingham 2010 (Khyra Ishaq):

"Following changes to the mother’s behaviour, deteriorating relationships with schools, increased aggression to and reduced co-operation with all professionals, the child and some siblings, were removed from state education during December 2007 and a clear statement issued by the mother, of her intention to educate them at home."

From the case of Mrs Spry, Gloucestershire (2008):

"Mrs Spry’s contact with Gloucestershire Social Services began in 1979 when she applied to become a childminder. This application was initially declined because of unspecified concerns from the health authority but these concerns were subsequently lifted and approval was granted. Mrs Spry’s first application to become a foster parent in 1983/4 was declined because she was a Jehovah’s Witness and it was felt that this lifestyle would not accommodate being a foster parent. These objections were removed and she was approved as a local authority foster carer from 1985 until 1994."

And from the case of Child S, South Tees (2008):

"Child S. had many health problems from a very early age. He had many visits to his G.P. and to hospital including admissions to hospital. By the time he reached seven years of age this had escalated to an alarming degree. Between the ages of eight and nine he had 28 G.P. appointments, 10 hospital attendances, plus hospital admissions, 6 appointments with psychological services and regular telephone contact with the paediatrician."

"There was no evidence that any liaison had taken place between the hospital and the Children Families and Learning team although the child had been in hospital on three occasions. No second meeting took place as agreed in the action plan of the multi agency meeting and other than the child being admitted for observations and monitoring of his fitting, there was nothing to demonstrate that any other part of the action plan had been accomplished."

The fact that no 'invisible to the authorities' children feature in the serious case reviews repeatedly demonstrates two facts beyond any reasonable doubt:

  1. Being known to the authorities offers no protection whatsoever, even for those children who badly need it; and
  2. The reliance that the current regulatory system for home education in England places on the raising of background concerns for children in need or at risk is quite correct and does not need to be changed.

I am quite perplexed that the NSPCC has chosen to call for the complete opposite of its own findings! This makes no sense and needs explaining, especially in the context of its supposed reputation and the level of public funding involved. Surely we can expect better than this?

Aside from this glaring disparity, the rest of the report is littered with misunderstandings, incorrect assumptions and legal inaccuracies.

"The isolation and invisibility of home educated children was flagged as a serious issue in most of the SCRs."

As all seven cases were known to local authorities, this should always have been known and addressed as a welfare issue. The fact that it was not is not due to any lack in the current regulations, but squarely the fault of those professionals who did not properly apply the correct welfare protocols. The vast majority of home educated children are less isolated and invisible than even their school counterparts and should not be made to lose their essential freedom or privacy because of this shameless buck-passing exercise.

"One case review criticised current legislation which denies children the right to express their views formally or participate in the assessment or decision-making process of home education."

This right is NOT denied to home educating children! Every home educated child I know and have ever known has participated in a major way in the decision-making process about his or her education, to a far greater extent than school children do. How many school children would be home educated if they chose? How many are asked if they would like to be? Home educated children are regularly asked if they would like to go to school, and if not then how they would like to be home educated. To suggest otherwise is a blatant lie.

"In addition, they are isolated by having no right to independent access to friends, family or professional agencies."

I fail to see how this utterly bizarre assumption has been drawn. Our children all have computers, internet devices, phones, their own money, friends and so on. They are not isolated. They have full-time, independent access to family, friends and professional agencies. How could this not be the case?

"There are no mechanisms to ensure that they continue to receive a ‘suitable’ education or adequate care without the express consent of their parents / carers."

There ARE mechanisms to ensure this. They work perfectly well, as demonstrated above. They are set out in the Elective Home Education Guidance for Local Authorities.

"This highlights a ‘major safeguarding flaw within home education legislation which focuses on parental choice and rights at the expense of children’s rights, wishes, welfare or protection.’ (Birmingham LSCB, 2010)"

There is no safeguarding flaw. Khyra Ishaq's death was not the result of any flaw in the current regulatory system for home education in England. It was the result of her mother's actions and lack of support from the wider community - and safeguarding from the authorities which knew full well that there were serious concerns and utterly failed to act on them properly. The same is true for every single serious case review listed in this report. Different regulations would not have helped the children in any of those cases.

"Specific recommendations made in the serious case reviews include:


• Formal review at 6 weekly intervals in respect of those families who do not engage in the services offered by Education Other Than At School services (EOTAS)."

And there is more serious confusion here from the author of this report. EOTAS services are provided by Local Authorities to children who are *not* Electively Home Educated. These children tend to be too sick to attend school, or too pregnant or geographically isolated, or have been suspended or expelled. They have not being deregistered, so the Local Authority does have responsibility for their educational provision, unlike Electively Home Educated children.

"Four of the case reviews identified parents/carers who were extremely well-informed, articulate, hostile, aggressive and/or resistant to professional intervention. Their attitudes and approach intimidated professionals and diverted the process away from the children's welfare. The SCR reports found that they had used home education to avoid scrutiny of their child case and were able to monitor, limit and/or deny access to the children. According to one serious case review such actions 'reinforced a power imbalance that undermined the rights, welfare and protection of home educated children' (Birmingham LSCB, 2010)."

There ARE existing procedures, protocols, regulations and recommendations currently, sufficiently to enable professionals to surmount this problem. A change in home education regulations would not help. A more professional adherence to the current systems would. Do the professionals need better training and support in their roles? The NSPCC report goes on to say this very thing although it appears surreal in this context:

"Specific recommendation made in a serious case review:

• The Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) should ensure that programmes for the training and development of staff address the issue of working with challenging parents who are combative and articulate."

Probably true, but what does this have to do with Elective Home Education? Absolutely nothing. It is a general, in-house issue and does not relate to us or our regulations.

"Education Other Than At School services (EOTAS) are offered to parents who choose to educate their children at home."

This is factually incorrect and a grave misunderstanding of the legal position. (See above.)

"One of the reviews found that these professionals did not have the necessary knowledge or skills to address safeguarding concerns. This was compounded by children’s social care staff’s lack of awareness of the limitations of home education legislation. They also made assumptions about the depth and adequacy of the safeguarding and welfare component of the EOTAS assessment process that impeded their professional judgement and decision making."

This is obviously not the fault of the regulations, but of the professionals failing to understand them. Changing the regulations will not help, and extra monitoring will often damage our children's learning, which is why we resist it so much. Interventions need to be carefully balanced and only enacted when necessary - and then done *properly* in light of the full range of recommended protocols. We cannot have unnecessary, blanket welfare checks at the cost of our children's optimum learning methods and emotional wellbeing, the two of which are invariably intertwined. Yes, the legal position of elective home education is now something of an anomaly, but there are some very good reasons for this, into which anyone wishing to express a professional opinion would do well to first inquire. It is also not so easy to change this as might be supposed.

"Specific recommendations made in the serious case reviews:

• Update guidance for professionals on home education which specifically covers the issue of the local authority’s responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need.

• Ensure learning advisers undertake induction and basic child protection training.

• Where safeguarding concerns are identified and professionals do not possess the necessary skills to undertake these tasks, then a joint assessment with a suitably qualified and experienced worker should be conducted as a minimum standard.

• Local Safeguarding Children Board should assess children’s social care staff’s understanding of the role and responsibility of the Education Other Than At School services (EOTAS).

• Head of safeguarding and manager of EOTAS should review current practice guidance and draft new guidance to improve joint working between social care and EOTAS when there are concerns about the care of home educated children.

• Ensure EOTAS team develop further understanding of safeguarding and are able to consult with CSS to do this. • To review and amend the draft Elected Home Education Policy to ensure more robust information sharing between EOTAS and social care."

Again, the conflation of EOTAS with EHE here, but some of the above would be useful especially the child protection training and the assessing of people's understanding of the issues. But again I reiterate the need to retain the current delicate and correct balance between the freedom that facilitates maximum learning and the mechanisms in place to deal effectively with any welfare issues. This is the subtle but crucial issue on which any would-be regulators must focus.

"The health care of home educated children

Children educated at home do not have access to school nursing services. School nursing services may be the first to detect children with health problems and identify those whose immunisations and routine health checks are not being followed up."

Immunisations are not legally compulsory and it is for parents to decide whether or not they are administered. Many of us have very good reasons for bypassing them in our children's health plans.

"Specific recommendations made in the serious case reviews:

• The Primary Care Trust (PCT) should consider whether any extra action is required to meet the health needs of children in elective home education.

• The PCT should ensure that health surveillance arrangements are offered to children who do not attend school.

• For all GPs / Health Visitors to be informed that a child on their case load is being home educated.

• Education service to consider the development of closer working links with school age nursing team to monitor procedures and share information about children who are elective home educated.

• Where it is clear that a medical condition is preventing a child from attending school then clarification should be sought without further delay from medical professionals."

These recommendations - especially the third - assume no knowledge or active participation on the part of the parent in respect of the child's health. Our role is not just to sign forms and attend appointments: a good parent will have near expert knowledge of her child's constitutional health patterns and requirements and will navigate the healthcare system accordingly, by careful selection. There is no need to try to tag the healthcare of particularly home educated children as a potential problem, because it is not. The last recommendation seems to imply that school is a superior choice of learning style and place, but statistics about home education outcomes beg to differ.

"Limitations of current legislation and guidance

Current legislation and guidance inadvertently helps the small minority of home educators who use elective home education as a cover to conceal child neglect and abuse."

Wrong. This is an absolute fallacy, as I set out above.

"Local authorities do not have the power to monitor or inspect home education provision, which means a missed opportunity to ensure that the children are safe and well."

Wrong. They have the power to inspect *where there are concerns* - as there were in all the cases listed in the serious case reviews. They don't have the power to monitor educational provision because "if parents are to retain the duty to cause receipt by their children of suitable education then parents must be given the leeway to decide what form this education should take." The seven serious case reviews involving children who did not attend school all show that missing opportunities do not come from lack of legal powers, but from the incorrect application of the powers that are currently available.

"Specific recommendations made in the serious case reviews:

• Central government to review its guidance and consider further statutory procedures in terms of the role of the local authority and requirements placed on parents in monitoring and evaluating the educational progress and welfare of a child who is home educated."

There is no need for this. The serious case reviews prove it would not help any of the children who were at risk of serious injury or death.

• "Central government review guidelines and consider statutory intervention procedures for LAs in situations of non-compliance in the statutory assessment of child’s special educational needs."

There is statutory assessment of a child's special educational needs? I am woefully ignorant of the situation with regard to special needs children in home education. Statutory intervention and assessment sounds most alarming to me.

• "Ask Department for Education (DfE) to re-evaluate evidence of safeguarding concerns for children who are electively home educated including any SCRs where this is a feature, to satisfy themselves the national guidance in relation to safeguarding of these children is sufficiently robust."

Yes, do re-evaluate it if you want to. Find a child in the SCRs who was not known to the authorities and thereby insist all children must be known to the authorities as a safeguarding measure. Except: there are no children in the SCRs who were unknown to the authorities, so there is no logical basis for the insistence. The system works. It ain't broke, so please don't try to fix it.


The SCRs examined identified that, in a small number of cases, elective home education can lead to isolation and obscuring of children from normal services that could act as a monitor of their welfare."

I disagree, and this is entirely the point. Where children at risk are unknown, concerns are invariably raised about them. Any changes should centre around the management of these reported concerns and the formulation of correct responses. The 'isolation and obscuring of children from normal services that could act as a monitor of their welfare' has never been a problem that has led to a Serious Case Review. Not a single one. To attempt to link 'invisible and unknown to the authorities' home educated children with these Serious Case Reviews is therefore fallacious. It risks damage to children's learning *and* is a missed opportunity to focus on the real problem, that of poorly trained and monitored officials.

"The recommendations address the need for government to review powers for authorities to see home educated children."

A child being seen by authorities does *nothing* to help safeguard it, as most of the Serious Case Reviews, where families were regularly visited and children seen and spoken to, demonstrate completely.

"There are further recommendations to ensure that all staff who deal with home educated children, directly or indirectly, are aware of the signs of child abuse and the current limitations on powers to see these children."

They should understand that in order to bring a Section 47 action under the Children Act which would enable them to see the child, they must 'have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm'. This is the only ethical reason to disturb our vital Article 8 'right to respect for our private and family life, home and correspondence.'

"These SCRs highlight that it is important that consideration is given to these issues so that the very small number of children who are abused in a home education setting can be protected more effectively."

No. These SCRs highlight that the current regulations are sufficient to protect children at risk and that these need to be implemented more carefully and thoroughly by professionals.