Transcript of Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show section on Home Education, 20th January 2009
Transcript begins one hour and six minutes into the two-hour programme:
JEREMY VINE: Next we look at the controls on parents who teach their children at home. The answer is there are not many at all. And that seems to matter to one minister who has angered parents’ groups, suggesting that home teaching, in some cases, could be hiding abuse. If you school your children at home, we’d love your response to that.
JEREMY VINE: Parents who home educate their children and have never sent them to school don’t even have to tell the authorities that they’re doing so. I wonder if you knew that. As a result there are no official figures for home educated children, but government estimates it could be around 20,000 or more. Launching a review of home education in England, the children’s minister Baroness Morgan has spoken of her concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need. She added that in some extreme cases, home education could even be used as a cover for abuse. But parents who school their children at home aren’t at all happy about the review or indeed, the minister’s comments. Let’s speak to Vijay Patel, who’s the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor, and Annette Taberner from Education Otherwise, which is a home education charity. So, Vijay Patel, first of all, just tell us what controls are in place if Mum or Dad or both say we want to educate our child at home.
VIJAY PATEL: At the moment, as the law stands, if your child is under five, and you don’t send them to school, you don’t have to tell anybody. If you send your child to school, and then choose to withdraw them, then you have to tell the Local Authority. That’s confusing. And so, basically after that, a Local Authority can ask to see how is the child’s education but it’s up to the parents to decide if they’re going to engage with them. And most do, but it’s really up to the parents to decide how, what they do and when.
JEREMY VINE: So if you decide you’re going to home school your child from the age of four, you won’t appear on a list anywhere and you might not get a visit?
VIJAY PATEL: That’s quite possible.
JEREMY VINE: And… therefore the council and the state does not know what you are doing?
VIJAY PATEL: Yep. And that’s one of our concerns. We are not against home education at all and we would support parents’ rights to decide what’s in the interests of children, but we do want children to be safe and we know in a very small minority, children are abused by their parents in the home.
JEREMY VINE: Annette Taberner, can you give us your comment on that?
ANNETTE TABERNER: Yes, I’m delighted to have an opportunity to speak to Mr Patel and I’d really like the NSPCC to talk to barrister Ian Dowty, who we work with on a regular basis and who is a leading expert in his field. I think that I’d like to address a comment that the NSPCC made yesterday in the press release where they cited..
JEREMY VINE: Could you address what he’s just said? That what I asked you to do. Yes.
ANNETTE TABERNER: Yes, I’m just about to. They cited the London Safeguarding Board’s evidence and work and this is one of the difficulties we have, because we’ve actually asked for the evidence base upon which statements were made, which link home education to abuse, and insufficient support and so on, and the London Safeguarding Board have been unable to provide that. And the same has happened over forced marriages and the evidence given to the Select Committee. So I’m afraid, people who have never taken the trouble to talk to home educators, or home educating families, or the organisations that represent them, or the barristers that we work with, have a really very partial view of home education and I’d love to invite them to talk to us because we’ve been asking government for two years for meetings at ministerial level. I have personally asked Ed Balls three times in the last two years to meet with us to discuss the positives and the negatives. There are reasons why people might not engage with their local authority. I haven’t ever engaged with my local authority. I don’t…
JEREMY VINE: You haven’t? Can I ask you a question?
ANNETTE TABERNER: No, I haven’t. Well, let me.. I haven’t engaged with them on an individual basis, but I meet with them regularly as a representative of our local group.
JEREMY VINE: OK. Now, tell us then why, Annette, you’ve decided not to engage with them.
ANNETTE TABERNER: Because at the time that I began to home educate my children, the people who came to make inspections were unaware of the law, asked questions that were completely irrelevant, like: were we following the National Curriculum, which we are not obliged to follow..
JEREMY VINE: It’s not a bad question though, is it?
ANNETTE TABERNER: Well, if I – if somebody came to mend my gas boiler, I would expect them to know about gas. I would expect them to know about the law, I would expect them to know about regulation. The problem we have is that throughout the country home educating families suffer the injustice of having people interfere in their provision who bring no benefits and do considerable harm.
JEREMY VINE: OK. Hold it there, let’s go back to Vijay for a second. She’s making a fair point, Vijay, if you can’t back up anything you’re saying with figures.
VIJAY PATEL: Well, they’re hard to come by and I can’t talk about the London Safeguarding Board, but I will say there’s a.. there is one case which was in the media two years ago: the case of Eunice Spry, but more important..
JEREMY VINE: Well, one case is… I’m sorry, if I..
ANNETTE TABERNER: I’m happy to talk about Eunice Spry actually, because Eunice Spry did cooperate with her local authority..
JEREMY VINE: Can I.. sorry.. Annette, I just don’t want to go into an individual case, if that’s OK.
ANNETTE TABERNER: That’s fine.
JEREMY VINE: Vijay, have you got any statistical base at all?
VIJAY PATEL: We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no.
JEREMY VINE: So why are you, why is anyone else worried about child abuse in homes where children are home educated?
VIJAY PATEL: We are not against home education. Now we need to be clear about that. We have.. it’s really that... Parents should decide what’s in the interests of children. What we do want is that… It’s important children are safe. And we know in some cases, some people are very skilled at hiding behind law and guidance and saying: I shall just keep my children at home so nobody knows what is happening.
JEREMY VINE: And Annette, I guess when you sent off the Local Authority with a flea in their ear, they go back and they say: well, she won’t let us in!
ANNETTE TABERNER: Well actually I talk to them, as I say, on a collective basis, which I think is a much better way of making progress. If they speak to us as organisations, if they respect the law, if they respect our rights in law, they might actually find that we can work together. We’ve done that with some Local Authorities and we’ve had some very productive talks with them.
JEREMY VINE: But isn’t it ok, Annette, if you’re home educating your child, or somebody else is, for someone from the council, or Ofsted to pop in and have a look? And even if they don’t know as much about the law as you do, they just need to make sure that everything’s alright?
ANNETTE TABERNER: Well the law says that I’m responsible for the education of my children and in actual fact, that same law applies to people who send their children to school. I get absolutely no assistance and help whatsoever with the task that I’m undertaking and I – can I just challenge another assumption behind all of this, which is that, you know, people seem to think that children in schools are safe and that our children are at risk. Well, I have to tell you, we have considerable numbers of children in home education who had horrendous times in school. School isn’t a safe place for all children, and we do have evidence of that.
JEREMY VINE: OK, thank you both…
VIJAY PATEL: I’d accept that. We do know just that it’s hard for some kids.
ANNETTE TABERNER: It’d be nice for you to know also that the NSPCC have worked with Education Otherwise on our safeguarding policy and that we have an independent person who members of our community can liaise with, and I don’t know if Mr Patel is aware of that.
JEREMY VINE: Thank you both Annette Taberner from the charity Education Otherwise and Vijay Patel from the NSPCC. We’re asking whether ministers are right to worry about what goes on behind that closed front door when a parent educates their child.
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JEREMY VINE: And it’s home education, twenty past one, we’re talking about home education.. ministers worrying there’s no enough inspection.. there’s not enough insight into what’s going on and that even in some rare cases there could be child abuse going on when a parent decides to educate their children or child at home. David and his mother Helen are in Leamington Spa. Who’s on the phone, both of you, or just one of you?
HELEN: We’re sharing the phone.
JEREMY VINE: Very good! And Helen, are you educating David?
HELEN: Yes, I am.
JEREMY VINE: And David, how old are you?
DAVID: I’m thirteen.
JEREMY VINE: And have you always been schooled at home?
DAVID: Yes I’ve always been at home.
JEREMY VINE: Have you done exams and whatnot?
DAVID: I’ve taken four GCSEs: two iGCSEs which are the international ones, and two ordinary GCSEs, but apart from that I haven’t taken any other exams.
JEREMY VINE. Is he.. is that quite early to be doing them Helen?
HELEN: Er, yes. Somebody told David that because he was at home, he would never get GCSEs, so at aged twelve he turned round and said to me: I’m taking them next summer, Mum. “But you can’t! You’re twelve,” and I’d never contemplated taking exams with him at home, but because the desire was there last year, he set to and passed four GCSEs last month.
JEREMY VINE: Terrific. Now, what made you decide to do all this at home?
HELEN: Partly, we went to.. he was going to go to school like other children and I went to the new parents’ evening and a lot of what I was being told frightened me and I went to the class teacher, seeking some reassurance before he started. And I said: Look, he can read. What are you going to do with him in a class of forty other young people, some who have perhaps come from backgrounds without many books? And her answer was: We have plenty of school library books, he can sit and read those until the rest catch up. And that set off alarm bells in my head. Education is not about waiting for others to catch up. It’s about your own learning. So we were going to keep him out until he was five, and then we found out that home education was a legal option and we stayed at home.
JEREMY VINE: Which is.. a lot of work for you, Helen?
HELEN: It is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding and.. I have three children at home, all learning at home.. because they’re interested learners and they take responsibility for their learning right from very very young. It’s not a lot of work: I’m more of a facilitator of finding out answers than a teacher.
JEREMY VINE: David, do you enjoy it?
DAVID: Yeah, I love home education.
JEREMY VINE: What about.. the thing that people always say, David, is that you miss out on the playground, that you miss out on all the argy bargy of having friends and falling out with them and making up with them again.
DAVID: No, there are over 300 children we know of in Warwickshire alone who I socialise with once a month.
JEREMY VINE: How do you get together with them?
DAVID: There are home education groups which are organised by Education Otherwise or individuals.
JEREMY VINE: So you have a once a month get together?
DAVID: Once a month plus meeting with friends.
JEREMY VINE: OK. Is that.. Helen, is that working well?
HELEN: Sorry, I didn’t hear that. What was going on? I didn’t hear that question.
JEREMY VINE: Only the one phone! Does that work well? Does that give David some.. a bit of the social exposure that a child of thirteen needs?
HELEN: Oh yes and because there are lots of Education Otherwise groups but also he’s a member of the local St John’s Ambulance, he helps out at the National Trust, we belong to a church, he belongs to a youth club, when he was younger he was in Cubs.. He’s been to kayaking classes, he’s been to karate.. There are all sorts of different activities and events that help him socialise. And also, because he’s at home, he can have friends over all day and all night if he wants and socialise in a more in-depth way than sitting in a classroom with forty people the same age.
JEREMY VINE: Thank you very much Helen and thanks David. Good luck to you both. Impressive! GCSEs at thirteen years old. Is there a loophole here? Let’s talk to John, who’s an education welfare officer in Newcastle. Good afternoon.
JOHN: Good afternoon.
JEREMY VINE: Now, do you worry there is a loophole in this system?
JOHN: Yes, I do worry there is a loophole. It does work very well for some people who school is not appropriate for, but in actual fact, according to the law, someone can home-tutor a number of children which don’t necessarily have to be their own children. People that do that are CRB checked and they are vetted at the beginning, but once the whole thing gets going, there is very little external supervision, so in the light of that we have to say that it is potentially open to abuse.
JEREMY VINE: Now, when you say someone can tutor a bunch of people, do you mean that if you’ve got four or five houses in a street where the parents don’t like the local school, they can get together and almost create their own school and one of them can do geography, once can do maths, and you can do it like that?
JOHN: Yes, or even.. or even, one person do the whole thing.
JEREMY VINE: And is the limit on the number of pupils before Ofsted can…?
JOHN: I believe the limit is five people, but that does depend on the number of hours that the children are being taught for.
JEREMY VINE: How interesting, so you could conceivably say: All the kids in my street, come round to my house and I’ll do the schooling.
JOHN: Yep, yep. Or a certain number of children that aren’t getting on well at any particular school, or schools. Yes, the same. Come round to my house and I’ll tutor you.
JEREMY VINE: And you’re er.. for obvious reasons, a little bit worried if there’s no inspection regime there.
JOHN: Well, there is, as I said, there is an inspection regime at the beginning, but it’s very little once the whole thing is moving on. So, you know, in a worst case scenario, you could imagine someone actually grooming children in that sort of set-up. And God forbid, but in these days in which we live, it’s a possibility.
JEREMY VINE: John thank you very much. Fascinating subject, this. Lucinda Morris in Saltash in Cornwall says: I’m a single parent and Lucinda teaches her fourteen year-old daughter at home. She says the regulations in Cornwall are great. “I’ve had support, get checked up on once or twice a year, my daughter wasn’t happy at primary school. She’s dyslexic. She’s perfectly happy now. I’ve had so much prejudice being a single parent and home schooling my daughter, but it works for me.” So if you’re listening in class, Lucinda and your daughter.. Playing this record for you in Cornwall… Break from lessons now! Dance around the kitchen!
JEREMY VINE: We are hearing from lots of home schoolers on Radio 2 this afternoon. Joan in Sale near Manchester says: “My grandson went to school for a year, was very unhappy at school. He’s a very bright boy. He was being held back because reading books were not being changed when he’d finished them. My daughter took him out of the school. He’s thriving now, he’s reading and writing beautifully, he’s got vast general knowledge, there are regular LEA checks.. It’s not the same for mixing with other kids, but he does go swimming and he goes to gym club and church and youth club. I know of home schooled children who have gone on to get university degrees so, although I don’t know what’s ahead, I’m not too worried.” Well, someone who wants to comment is Michelle, who’s on the line now and you think there’s a bit of arrogance here, Michelle?
MICHELLE: Yes hi Jeremy, I do actually. I think the point that I made in my email was that you have to train, in affect, to drive a car, you’ve got to pass a test. You wouldn’t be allowed to just set up your own operating theatre and operate on someone without having qualified, and I just think.. I think there’s a sort of arrogance in these people that they think that they’re qualified to actually do the job that a teacher has trained for for seven years, with their own children.
JEREMY VINE: Isn’t a parent a teacher anyway?
MICHELLE: Well of course, but not in terms of getting exam results and stuff like that and I also think there’s a lot of things that children learn at school that you can’t just teach on a one-to-one or even a one-to-two basis. Things like forming relationships with other children, getting along with people that you don’t necessarily like. There’s all the sort of, you know, classroom banter, there’s playground interaction.. and also I think interpersonal skills that you can’t get, you know, if you’re just teaching your own child.
JEREMY VINE: Sure. Let me just bring Merry Raymond in Peterborough because you feel strongly about this, Merry. You are home schooling?
MERRY: I absolutely am. I have four daughters, yes.
JEREMY VINE: And Michelle was just saying that there was a bit of arrogance there.
MERRY: Perhaps, if you think there’s some arrogance involved in taking home a baby in the first place, but I know my daughters very well. I’ve brought up my children and the oldest is now ten or eleven.. nearly eleven.. she is, in fact, choosing to go to school in September. But she has always chosen everything. She’s out seven days a week, she has a fantastic and varied life. She has so many friends and has overcome some amazing things that I do not believe she would have been able to have overcome in school. We are not..
JEREMY VINE: But parents aren’t trained teachers, that was Michelle’s point.
MERRY: We’re not trained teachers, no, but we do know these children and at best – at worst – we usually have four, five or six of varying abilities in our house, whereas a teacher has perhaps thirty, and maybe just one teaching assistant. I know exactly what my children need and are doing all the time. I can adapt on a daily basis to what they need and I can be there for them, they don’t have to wait to be helped. And we work incredibly hard. It is such a big deal. It’s not sending your child to school at nine o’clock in the morning and not worrying too much until they come home at four. It’s 24/7 and it’s absolutely about being with our child.
JEREMY VINE: OK. Thanks you very much, Michelle and Merry. Let’s go to Theo Skinner who’s fifteen, who has his mum on board, Vicky. Hi Theo.
THEO: Hi Jeremy, how are you?
JEREMY VINE: Yeah, good thank you. And you were bullied at school, I know. So you then went home to be taught.
THEO: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
JEREMY VINE: And has it been better since then?
THEO: It has, I mean, I was.. I left school in November 2005 and the reason I left school was because I was attending a school in Bournemouth and I was.. I mean, I’ve got red hair and I’ve been bullied my entire life, to be honest.
JEREMY VINE: [Groans]
THEO: And I was going to school, and I went, after I’d been bullied severely, I went to the head and asked her to stop this because it was getting very much out of hand. And she did absolutely nothing about it and it continued, and it continued, and it’s been going on for ages, so I just quit school and I decided to become home educated.
JEREMY VINE: So you..
THEO: And I’ve been home educated since then.
JEREMY VINE: So, Vicky, did he come to you and say: OK Mum, take over?
VICKY: Yes, he did.
JEREMY VINE: And you were willing to?
VICKY: Yes, yeah well we’d been to the school and nothing was happening and they denied that he was even being bullied so obviously they weren’t going to deal with it. And it got to the point where he went from being a really confident, happy child to being a complete nervous wreck and so I didn’t really have a choice in the end.
JEREMY VINE: And one of the things we haven’t really covered here is that you have to then get across all of these syllabuses and get up to quite a high standard yourself?
VICKY: Well, not really, I mean… When I took him out of school I had to – we went and got some workbooks and things – and I actually had to take him back a key stage because I discovered that there were big gaps in his education and he wasn’t actually able to do certain things with maths, in particular. So while the school had been saying “Oh yes, he’s doing really well, he’s at this level,” he actually wasn’t. So not only was he really unhappy, but he wasn’t learning at the level that they said that he was learning at.
JEREMY VINE: Right. We’ve had an email from Fiona Cottington in Kings Lynn, who says: “I think home schooling borders on abuse anyway. It deprives children of valuable social skills which they develop in a school environment and I don’t believe that they can receive that at home as thorough an education as they would in a school.
VICKY: Well that’s absolutely ridiculous. I have another son who has just turned eleven, and he’s also home educated and when he left school, he was nearly eight and unable to read. He was behind in all areas of the curriculum and he’d also developed almost like obsessive-compulsive disorder as a result of the stress of being in the classroom environment. He’s now well and happy. He’s also able to read, he’s quite a bookworm. My children are very social. Every day of the week I am taking them to this club and that club. They do Scouts, they’re both very musical, they go to church, they go to clubs, they go swimming. We also regularly meet up with other local home educators and we go on trips and…
JEREMY VINE: So it’s going well.
VICKY: .. have social things.. The problem we have is not lack of social opportunities. It’s actually finding the time to fit it all in because they have so many things that they do, you know, their life is very very busy.
JEREMY VINE: OK, thank you very much Vicky and Theo. Theo is fifteen. We’re talking about home schooling on Radio 2.
Transcript ends at one hour and thirty five minutes.