Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 8
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.
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.
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:
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:
- 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
The next one hammers the nail in:
- 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?