Friday, June 26, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 8

Part 8 of the Badman report [opens pdf] is about safeguarding, according to its title. I will reserve my judgment as to whether that is really what it's about.

I've just read the whole section through again and my overall feeling, as a conscientious and (if Tom's business is anything to go by) successful home educator, is that I am under attack. I'll take it point by point, but there is throughout absolutely no sign of any intrinsic trust in parents' abilities to know or do or decide anything regarding their children. Everything must be checked and tested and measured. Nothing must be taken at face value. Everyone must be assumed to be a liar until what they say can be proved true beyond reasonable doubt. Parental judgment is ignored, or automatically treated as suspect.

The result of all of this lack of trust will be to undermine every parent's confidence in themselves and their relationships with their children. Of course children will subconsciously detect this lack of confidence and reflect it back to their parents. The damage to normal, previously healthy and contented family life will be immense. This unavoidable outcome is so blindingly obvious that we have to assume it's deliberate. It is a huge attack by the government on the family. If you want some ideas as to why it might be in our government's interest to do this, you need to look no further than this essay from Harding University, Arkansas: Strong Family,Weak Economy? Family Loyalty as an Impediment to Economic Development [opens pdf], which in its conclusion quotes in turn from Francis Fukuyama's Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (added to my reading list today!):

. . . the impact of family values on economic life poses a complex and contradictory picture: it is possible for families in some societies to be too strong to permit the formation of modern economic organizations, while on others they can be too weak to perform their basic task of socialization.

The trouble is that our present government shamelessly indulges its fear of strong families, to the extent that they are quite definitely rendered 'too weak to perform their basic task of socialization' and continues to do so, despite mounting evidence of dangerous counter indications against which it insulates itself and decrees that the rest of us must bear 'for the greater good'. (I also wrote about 'State vs Family' in this post back in 2007.)

So. To the report [opens pdf].

8.1 Of all the matters considered during the course of this inquiry the question of safeguarding electively home educated children has prompted the most vociferous response. Many parents have expressed anger and outrage that it was suggested that elective home education could be used as a cover for abuse. They have not been slow to point out that the most dangerous and damaging abuse of children is often before statutory school age or where children have been withdrawn from school or are already known to children’s social care.

Quite. And yet these points are not further addressed in the report. Instead, they're completely ignored.

Point 8.2

More, in my opinion, could and should have been said in the report about the first two sentences there. The 'two fundamental questions' posed would go nowhere near addressing the issues raised therein even if they were answered satisfactorily, which they are not.

Point 8.3:

8.3 It would be wrong to assume that home educators do not take the question of child safety, their own and others, very seriously. Some home educators who contributed to this review argued for periodic spot checks by authorities. The view was also expressed that attendance at school was no guarantee of a child’s safety, as other tragic cases have indicated.

gives rise to point 8.4:

8.4 I understand the argument but do not accept it in its entirety in that attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult. Furthermore the 2004 Children Act, with its emphasis upon five outcomes for children including their safety not just their achievement, places new responsibilities upon schools to work with other agencies in a preventative way.

- and there we have it:

"..attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult," - implying, of course, that home education does neither of those things. Parents, other relatives, neighbours, people who the children does not see in a professional context, are not 'trusted adults'. Home education does not 'bring other eyes to bear'. But this implication is a blatant lie because most children do trust their parents, having no reason not to. And most home education brings many other 'eyes to bear'. The policy that determines how we are dealt with by the state is to be changed, then, on the basis of completely false assumptions.

And the 2004 Children Act may well 'with its emphasis upon five outcomes for children including their safety not just their achievement, [place] new responsibilities upon schools to work with other agencies in a preventative way,' but this should have nothing to do with people who decline the option of school.

The next point is breathtakingly arrogant and stupendously illogical:

8.5 Some home educators have access to support and guidance from their organisations on recognising and dealing with child protection and many in conversation stressed to me the importance of their informal networks and knowledge of their own community. I am not persuaded that, although laudable, this is sufficient. Apart from which, on the basis of local authority responses to my questionnaire, there are many children likely to be unknown to the authorities or engaged in such networks. The process of registration recommended earlier should address this issue.

"I am not persuaded that, although laudable, this is sufficient," is the kind of phrase that brings out the John Cleese in me. Not sufficient?? To what lengths, then, are we supposed to go to demonstrate that we're not abusing our children? A daily parade before the Local Safeguarding Children Board? Come on, children, have you finished your breakfast? Hurry up, we're 56th in line for today's parade. Stand by your beds! Shine your shoes! Quick... march!

It's ridiculous. Surely, the reasonable measure of any blanket safeguarding procedure should be: to what extent does it impact on normal family life? - which should then be balanced against the statistical basis of abuse - which, as the NSPCC itself admitted, does not exist.

And yet here they are again, the NSPCC, in the very next point (8.6):

..there is nothing in the current guidance or framework that would prevent children from being abused by people who may claim to be home educators.

Well, duh. There is nothing in any future guidance or framework, no matter how draconian, that would prevent children from being abused by people who may claim to be home educators, short of banning home education. But for that to work, you'd have to ban schooling too. And parenting. And children, which would put the NSPCC out of business once and for all, at least.

And I just want to highlight, from point 8.8 that NASWE says:

EHE is not in itself a safeguarding issue.. ()

If it's not (and they're right, it's not) then any changes to government policy can't be made on the assumption that it is!

And why, in 8.9, was it necessary to use the words:

irrespective of the number of cases [?]

Answer: because there are hardly any cases!

From the same point, in the words of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector:

In a small number of cases, our evaluation of serious case reviews has identified that a lack of oversight of children receiving home education contributed to a serious incident or the death of a child.

How many cases? Two? Three? And how exactly did the "lack of oversight" contribute to the incidents? And is it fair that because of them our children, our homes, our whole lives are to come under regular official inspection? I don't think so. I think the safeguarding issue is an excuse to clamp down on us and force us to comply with their agenda [opens ECM pdf].

She goes further:

Schools have an important responsibility to monitor children’s safety and welfare but this safety net is missing for children educated at home. In addition, children who are educated at home may have less access to trusted adults who they can turn to if they are concerned about their home circumstances.

But... parents have an important responsibility to monitor children’s safety and welfare, so this safety net is not missing for children educated at home, is it? I can't understand why the responsibility of parents is ignored in favour of that of schools. It makes no sense.

Point 8.10 reports Ofsted as saying:

Some authorities expressed the view that securing adequate safeguarding would be easier if they had a clear right of access to family homes in the course of monitoring the suitability of home education.

Yes, and no doubt it would be even easier to 'secure adequate safeguarding' (whatever that really means) if we all lived under 24hr CCTV surveillance in our homes, but would that be reasonable? There's no attempt to balance the supposed need for home inspections and 1:1 interviews with children with the effect these will have on the children themselves, their education, their wellbeing, their feeling of safety and on their family life.

Here's another nonsensical sentence from Ofsted:

Children who are educated at home but are not known to the local authority may be more likely to be at risk.

At risk of what, and why? There's no justification given and no further explanation.

Next, those two questions are finally revisited:

8.12 To return to the two questions posed earlier. First, on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population. Secondly, despite the small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature, the consideration of these reviews and the data outlined above, suggests that those engaged in the support and monitoring of home education should be alert to the potential additional risk to children. So saying is not to suggest that there is a causal or determining relationship, but simply an indication of the need for appropriately trained and knowledgeable personnel.

"..the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." [My emphasis, this time.] So what about the other local authorities? Is it disproportionately low in those? And if so, wouldn't the two cancel one another out, statistically? And there's another explanation for this which isn't mentioned in the report: some local authorities refer all home educating children known to them to children’s social care as a matter of course, or even just the ones whose parents utilise their right to decline the 'offer' of a home visit. There doesn't necessarily have to be a child protection issue for a child to be known to a children’s social care department.

This is likely to be very problematic to us:

Recommendation 23

- particularly the part that says:

anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education.

Because if it's not clearly defined then it really could be anything, subject to the opinion of the official in question, however prejudiced he or she may be. Here's a list of possibilities, by no means exhaustive:

  • Single parent family
  • Special Educational Needs
  • No working wage coming into house
  • One or both parents working, therefore not sufficiently available to home educate
  • Something deemed inappropriate about the house
  • Use of alternative medicine
  • Lack of vaccinations
  • A disagreement about educational philosophy between the LA and the parent
... and so on.

The next one hammers the nail in:

Recommendation 24

- And have you seen the NICE draft guidance for 'When to suspect child maltreatment'? "Inappropriate, or too small clothing." "Parents or carers fail to administer essential prescribed medication for their child." "Excessive clinginess." "Child fails to seek or accept appropriate comfort or affection from an appropriate person when significantly distressed." "Anger or frustration expressed as, for example, temper tantrum in a school-aged child or frequently flying into a rage at the least provocation." "Inconsolable crying." "Child adopting a care-taking role for parents or siblings." "A very young child showing excessive comforting behaviours when witnessing parental distress." "Extreme passivity, resistance or refusal." And so on.

What this will mean in practice is that if an official feels like revoking registration and thereby ordering a child into school for whatever reason, he can. The home education community will be decimated, arbitrarily.

Yes, it's an attack. So how can we defend ourselves against it?


Anonymous ivan said...

Speaking as an ex teacher (Cert ED late 50s)it appears that all of the Badman report can be levelled at LEAs and schools as much, if not more that HEs.

8:49 pm, June 27, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, look: more of Badman's atrocious writing. He seems especially confused by negation.

"there are many children likely to be unknown to the authorities or engaged in such networks."

Perhaps this is supposed to mean "it is likely that there are many children who are neither known to the authorities nor engaged in such networks", which is rather different to what it says.

"I am not persuaded that, although laudable, this is sufficient."

Perhaps this is supposed to mean "I am not persuaded that this is sufficient, although it is laudable."

The whole report is like this. It's excruciating.

10:15 pm, June 27, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So true Anon. It's complete dog do-do. It's so bent it's almost meeting the ground. It's written, really badly, by a man bound and hogtied to the local authorities, and the DCSF, and no doubt receiving a huge amount of tax-payer's money for the betrayal. Did he give a fleeting second of thought to the agony and anguish being experienced by loving and caring home educating families now? Several friends have told me that their children are terrified, yes, terrified of being forced back to school. They are petrified that they will have to endure being grilled by local authority 'inspectors' who we already know haven't the beginnings of a clue about the nature of true education.

It is bad enough for many families now, before they bring in draconian methods to break up home educators' families. God knows how home education will survive if the regulations go through.

We must fight on the beaches, the roads, the sand-castles... Everywhere. Never surrender. Never give in.

It's for our children's civil rights. It's for right itself.


12:02 am, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Raquel said...

His report is a nail in the coffin for the Labour party. Never will my family vote for them again. I'm not talking about just this generation, but generations to come. My children and their children will never forget this. A shoddy report, accepted by a shoddy minister of a shoddy party. May they all rot in the shoddy back benches for eternity.

12:23 am, June 28, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

it seems to me that this report is the equivalent to the US state agents forcing children into schools at gun point way back in the 1800's. There is a mass haemorrhaging from the state school system, which if it continues at the current rate, will see the end of the experiment in social control and engineering. Of course if they come out with guns to get all these children into school the world would have something to say about this, so they are using the alternative which of course is really just as effective as a gun to you head - the threat of having your children removed into *care*. They are evil bastards the lot of them.

10:48 am, June 28, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

10:52 am, June 28, 2009  
Anonymous suzyg said...

I think the way to defend ourselves is to highlight the 'unintended and unwanted consequences' of the recommendations. What is very clear, through all the sloppy English and quote mining, is that Badman has focussed on getting HE children seen by 'the authorities' to the exclusion of all else. He has overlooked the unwanted and unintended consequences for any family in which abuse is *not* taking place, for relationships within families, within communities, between families and LAs and so it goes on.

It's clear he's totally out of his depth when it comes to constitutional and legal principles, has failed to make distinction between safeguarding, welfare and educational issues, and is passing the buck to the DCSF in the hope that they can somehow contort his recommendations into some kind of legislation. This is going to be an interesting challenge for them. For example, when recommending access to the home and child, he is giving untrained (according to the consultation) local authority officers undertaking routine 'safe and well' checks, more powers than Revenue and Customs and the police have in investigating criminal activity.

2:15 pm, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Tom said...

Badman could learn a lesson from the US Bill of Rights. The Ninth Amendment provides that all rights not previously listed are retained by the people.

In other words, our rights are inherently ours; they aren't granted by the government. If this is true in America, it is true everywhere.

The Badman and Balls' report is trying to introduce a de facto licencing scheme for home education in England. So he is denying a fundamental truth about our right to educate according to our own beliefs.

4:25 pm, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ivan, that thought crossed my mind too! Badman seems to think that HE must be better than school provision, to be allowed to happen at all.

Anonymous - wow yes, you're quite right. I've been overlooking a lot of them (I would obviously make a very poor HE inspector!) but now that you point them out I quite agree.

Well-said Danae, thanks for that.

Raquel, good point. If there really are 80,000 home educating children and each child averages 4 or 5 caring relatives, that's a lot of votes just lost, isn't it? Still, maybe they feel like they've got nothing to lose now, hence the rush to shove all of the unpopular stuff through.

Cosmic Seed, yes I think you've just hit the nail on the head there and thanks very much for the link.

"Left free, education thrived and literacy grew to the point that foreign visitors were amazed at how much Americans read and discussed issues and politics."

Suzy, some very good and encouraging points there. It will be interesting to see what the legal advisors at DCSF make of it. Do you think the necessary legislative changes were preplanned though?

Tom, agreed. (Again!)

9:31 am, June 29, 2009  
Blogger Raquel said...

Hi Gill,
If they have nothing to lose then why rush it through at all? Who are they really rushing it through for?

2:14 pm, June 29, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

The right to raise and educate our children isn't something kindly granted to us by the government for which we should be thankful. It's a natural right, it's part of being human and it's only massive social conditioning and an underlying threat that has made us forget that.

3:38 pm, June 29, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Raquel, I'm not sure. I've been thinking about that question all week! There could be one of two explanations, I think:

1. If you still believe in party politics, which I'm not sure I do, then this is part of the conclusion of the preplanned legislative, socialist agenda of this government. True socialists think children belong to the state, don't they? So home ed is anathema to them, school is everything and parents are just biological necessities in the first instance, and wage-earners like everyone else after that. I think if you look at the legislative programme in this context and our place in it, this theory definitely fits, and Labour probably knew years ago that this would be their last term in office, so made plans accordingly - i.e. the unpopular stuff last, and with nothing to lose.

When you look at the sequence of legislation, you can see that it's been planned long in advance to fit together, e.g. the Truancy Act is in place to deal with those people who refuse to apply for registration to home educate, etc. Not that I think it's all been done with just us in mind, but that we were part of the interlocking pattern that had to happen in the right order.

2. If party politics are just the pantomime they seem to be and the legislative programme comes from a wider, more hidden agenda then most of the above - the interlocking patterns bit - still applies, but the reason for the timing is even more devious - i.e. this period is for the imposition of things the tories can't be seen to be doing, but which need doing anyway.

I hope the first one is the true situation, because if so there's a hope that something in the scheduling will go wrong, an election will be called before everything relating to us is cut and dried and we will still stand a chance of maintaining some freedom.

Thanks for that Firebird. Words to remember!

6:51 am, July 07, 2009  

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