NSPCC part 1: anti HE?
When I was a child, the NSPCC had such a positive image. It was the guardian angel of abused children, propounder of such a laudible aim as saving them from injury and distress. There was no reason to question the existence or activities of such a body: it was accepted that they were the good guys. But in preparation for this three-part series of posts, Tech (my co-author on this project) and I have been doing a lot of reading about the NSPCC and have discovered completely changed situation. So, what went wrong? In the next three posts, we'll try to find out: starting here and now, with a close look at its recent involvement with home educators; we'll then pan out tomorrow to consider the wider picture; and culminate in the third post with an evaluation of its effects on children.
The first we knew of the NSPCC's opinions of Home Education appeared in the initial DCSF press release about the Home Education review on January 19th this year, in which:
Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, Diana Sutton, said:
“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”
This was followed the very next day by the appearance on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show of Vijay Patel, the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor who admitted, when asked about statistical evidence of child abuse in elective home education, that: "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no."
Home educators were stunned by the slur, especially given that there was no logical reason to associate elective home education with child abuse. We started to wonder about the motives behind it, which I think was the first time many of us had ever had cause to question the NSPCC's motives about anything.
Despite the outcry, Mr Patel then compounded the insult in an interview with the Independent by implying that Victoria Climbie had been home educated: "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child."
The home education movement's response now quickly moved from shock to anger. The pressure group AHEd wrote to the NSPCC, objecting "in the strongest terms possible to these comments. It is our view," the letter continued, "That the comments demonstrate a clear prejudice against home educators and a deliberate attempt to implicate home education with false evidence and scandal in order to prejudice the outcome of the government Review into Home Education."
Some bloggers, like Mum6kids, called for Mr Patel to be sacked. Others, like Pete Darby, wrote powerful letters to the Independent in complaint: "Vijay Patel is robbing the grave of a child that the NSPCC failed to save. He is doing this in order to make a grab for power for his organisation in an attack on a minority group, a group for which there is no evidence of a problem concerning child abuse or neglect."
The political party UKIP even joined in with the call for Mr Patel to be sacked, and other blogs such as Children Are People asked for a full retraction of the comments, at least. Working Dad at Panoptican said: "The NSPCC's message has to be 'children are at risk'. To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre," and Firebird said that the NSPCC "Should be ashamed of themselves." *Headdesk* found it "..fairly disgusting that the leadership of a charity that should be beyond reproach should be so ill-informed and in the position of being able to cause so much damage to home educating children and their families."
Jem Dowse, at Doing it our way wrote to his MP, including the sentiment: "For Mr. Patel to use this tragic case to further his agenda against the legal rights of parents to educate their children at home is abusive and extraordinarily disrespectful to the memory of that murdered child. This is emphatically not something that I would expect from a senior person in an organisation that exists to promote child welfare." Lotusbirther questioned the charity's independent status and Maire in Staffordshire commented that, "In order to extend its remit, possibly to get more money from the government or at least keep what it has, [the NSPCC's] policy adviser Mr Vijay Patel is shamelessly spreading false rumour in support of the government’s spurious review into the possibility of home education being a hot bed of child abuse." Even the Victoria Climbié Foundation became involved, as reported by Carlotta at Dare to Know, saying: "The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria Climbié and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden.".
But it was on Facebook that the reaction was perhaps most vehemently expressed. A viral campaign developed on the NSPCC's page there, with many home educators' messages now having been mysteriously removed. Eventually, the charity was forced to respond as follows:
The NSPCC would like to clarify its position regarding home education. The statement issued by the NSPCC when the review of home education was announced made iit clear that the NSPCC wishes the review to balance parents’ rights to home educate their children with the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding caused by the quote attributed to Vijay Patel in the Independent. The reference to Victoria Climbie was meant to illustrate the point that she was killed at home out of sight of the authorities. It was not intended to imply that Victoria was educated at home or that home education was in any way connected to what happened to her. We are writing to the Independent to clarify our position on this important point. Thank you.
- but many remained unsatisfied.
One home educating mother, Sarita, managed to secure an interview with Mr Patel, which - like the rest of the links in this post - really needs to be followed and read in full, to get the proper context. It's this interview that I satirised in my cartoon at the top of my post. Apologies to Sarita - I'm no Da Vinci and I probably didn't do the back of your head justice, but having never seen it, I can perhaps be forgiven. The following excerpts are taken from Sarita's immediate and detailed recollections of the meeting and may not, therefore, be definitive quotes of what was actually said.
During his meeting with Sarita, Vijay Patel stated again that "the NSPCC do not have any specific research or evidence linking home education to child abuse or neglect."
Sarita "asked him why he would - after all the complaints he received in January - do it again last week in the Independent. What was he thinking? He tried to say it was taken out of context but admits to the harm that it caused. I did say that it was unacceptable that a person used to talking to the press and knowing from experience how they work could not take sufficent care in ensuring it didn't happen again. I said he and the NSPCC have to rectify the image of home education that they have created. I asked him if when he met with Baroness Morgan, this was an intended campaign. I asked him how he could say these things without evidence. He couldn't really respond. I told him he needs to apologise publicly and make good the damage he has caused. He said that he couldn't do it publicly. He did say that there would not be any more cases quoted in the press with respect to home education."
- which was, in my opinion, a crucial point that he didn't really answer satisfatorily on that occasion, though I suspect his earlier half-question to her:
"So what about an independent agency that home educators could access..."
- spoke volumes, by way of a possible explanation. Has the NSPCC been promised the contract on elective home education, if they manage to publicly generate some kind of justification for one, on the back of the DCSF review? It certainly looks, from the orchestrated nature of the attacks, as if some collaboration has been going on behind the scenes.
Sarita said: "We then came back to the issue of public perception of home ed, the general feeling of measurement and monitoring needing to be compulsory, but mostly that home ed children could not be deemed safe in a way that school children are. By this stage, I felt he had grasped the major points of our arguments and I asked him again about the perception that he and the NSPCC were fuelling with regard to home education and child protection. I asked why he thought it appropriate that even without evidence he could talk about home education and give the impression that he knew what he was talking about? I asked him whether after listening to what I had to say, he felt that a public apology should be forthcoming. I said that the NSPCC now had an obligation to protect children who were home educated from being branded as being abused. He said he could not commit to me that he will make a public apology and put right what he has done, but he said that given that he understood more about the issues that he would talk to his managers about it."
- and the NSPCC appears to be using its lawyers to talk to the press now, instead of Mr Patel, which leaves us all wondering what his instructions were and to what extent - if any - he breached them in those two interviews. Shockingly, in his meeting with Sarita, he admitted that the NSPCC "had no real knowledge of home education other than information they had gained from LAs and LA responses to previous guidance," and, perhaps even more alarmingly, "He said he wasn't familiar with the ins and outs of ECM!"
Sarita's gut reaction was that Mr Patel was telling the truth in her meeting with him, but if so, it's astounding that the government can be working hand-in-glove with such a careless, ill-informed organisation. To give power to such people over children's lives is surely a highly dangerous strategy.
The spotlight is now on the NSPCC and many of us have been investigating the charity's other activities over the years - as well as its business connections - as a result of the events set out above to see whether home educators have been the only minority to group to be picked on by the organisation in this way. In part 2 of our NSPCC series, we'll look at what we found.