Visiting our MP
We began by looking at the report. We said it was badly written and subjective and Chris said that reports were always subjective. We said that its recommendations had gone to consultation, but that key changes 'to improving the monitoring of home education' had already been detailed for inclusion in the recently announced Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children bill, which we thought might overlap with the consultation.
But Chris said that bills usually took about two years to become acts of parliament and that she strongly suspected this bill would not make the Queen's Speech in November. She explained that there was a General Election due in May 2010, which meant that Parliament would have to be dissolved in March 2010. This left a shortened parliamentary term of 5 months for this bill, if it was even mentioned in the Queen's Speech, to become law. She further explained that bills are increasingly subjected to ever more detailed pre-legislative scrutiny and that most give rise to a Green Paper, which itself needs to be debated at length.
She went on to comment that the consultation period for 'Home Education - registration and monitoring proposals' (11th June to 19th October 2009) was unusually short and that steps should be taken to have this period lengthened.
Going back to the report, Chris said that Recommendation 7, particularly about access to the home, struck her as being a significant change in the context of traditional practice. We commented that currently the Police, NSPCC etc needed to have specific reasons for concern to force an entry, and Chris said this was presumably why the next recommendation (8) detailed that 3 weeks' notice must be given. We said that 3 weeks' notice was nearly as bad as being doorstepped. Chris said that Recommendation 7 in particular was one that would need to be debated at length in parliament, probably by committee, and "fleshed out" until it became something more acceptable.
Chris then asked us whether there was anything we liked about the Badman report? When we didn't reply, she referred to Recommendation 4: "That the local authority should establish a Consultative Forum for home educating parents to secure their views and representative opinion. Such a body could be constituted as a sub-group of the Children’s Trust with a role in supporting the development of the Children’s Trust, and the intentions of the local authority with regard to elective home education," and asked whether we would be in favour of that. After some hesitation, we said that if it was an idea on its own then it might not be too bad, but in the context of the rest of the report, which also contained recommendations to come into our houses, dictate our curriculums and interview our children alone - radical reforms for which there was no evidential basis - the answer was definitely no.
She said that the ideal outcome of this whole process of change would be a solution that home educators were happy with, which also satisfied the need of government to be seen to be doing something about safeguarding. She repeatedly expressed the view that the government's motivation was just that, and nothing more sinister - in fact, she specifically stated that the government did not wish to curtail our educational choices and that flexibility was increasingly the focus in education nowadays, with "some of the really silly stuff" being currently phased out in schools.
We further expressed our dismay about the recommendation to interview our children alone, and Chris said that amendments definitely needed to be added to that point, with perhaps symptoms such as behavioural issues being apparent before such an interview could be requested by officials. She said that all of this would come up in the pre-legislative scrutiny.
We explained that we're also concerned about the effect of the report and future changes on the practice of autonomous learning, and that we would like to see this becoming an officially accepted learning method because there was a lot of research to support it. Chris agreed and asked how good our local authority's treatment of home educators had been. We said we thought it was OK, and she recommended meeting with them to establish a rapport for the purposes of working together to give input to the development of any new legislation.
We then asked about the procedure for getting a consultation period lengthened. Chris said this was a very common occurrence and that she would ask for an extension and that we should also, by asking via the consultation website. She made the point that the existing consultation period spanned the parliamentary summer recess and the traditional family holiday period and that these were good reasons to have it extended. She again expressed the view that the period of time allocated for this consultation was far too short and that it should be extended to December, which would be after the Queen's Speech and therefore might be enough to prevent any legislative changes before the General Election.
Towards the end of the meeting, Chris stated that she would be unwilling to sign Mark Field's Early Day Motion, because she didn't like the negative wording "..calls on the Government to focus on its own ability to fulfil the Every Child Matters objectives rather than undermine the independence and integrity of home educators by enforcing the Badman recommendations." The presence of Ann Winterton's name on the list of signatories was also off-putting to her. We asked whether she would be willing to draft her own motion then, and she said she would consider doing so.
Finally, we asked her who we should contact at the Local Authority and she named an official, who she said she would be meeting with about something else the next day and would let him know we'd be in touch.
I wish we'd had chance to talk with her about Satutory Instruments, which of course are subjected to a lot less parliamentary scrutiny, though I hear other home educators in the area are planning to meet with her so the question will hopefully be asked.
I also gave her a letter, as follows:
Dear Ms McCafferty,
Re: Elective Home Education: The Badman Report
Thanks for agreeing to meet with us today about Elective Home Education and the Badman report today. I last wrote to you about Elective Home Education (EHE) in February of this year and, prior to that, we exchanged correspondence in 2008 about the implications for lone parent EHErs of the Government’s welfare reforms. You were kind enough to sign an Early Day Motion for us then: I wonder if you would do so again regarding the current issue of the Badman Report?
When the report was published last month, it exceeded all of our worst fears. Here are some of the recommendations about which we’re the most anxious, and the reasons why:
That the DCSF establishes a compulsory national registration scheme, locally administered, for all children of statutory school age, who are, or become, electively home educated.
[Selected bullet points of this recommendation:]
■ Registration should be renewed annually.
■ At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.
■ Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.
We feel that this change will be disproportionate, costly and will end our current freedom to provide our children with the education that we, as parents, feel they need.
That the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education in the light of the Rose review of the primary curriculum, and other changes to curriculum assessment and definition throughout statutory school age. Such a review should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act, should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum that would allow children and young people educated at home to have sufficient information to enable them to expand their talents and make choices about likely careers. The outcome of this review should further inform guidance on registration.
This is the first official suggestion that home education should be ‘broad and balanced’, as in schools. Many of us have found that our children learn best when they’re free to focus on subjects of particular interest to them. This enables them to develop specialist skills, as in the case of my older son Tom, who is now running his own successful business as a result of this freedom. Forcing a ‘broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated’ curriculum on EHErs for no good reason (the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act do not require it) will effectively homogenise EHE provision and prevent such beneficial differences in approach.
The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:
■ That designated local authority officers should:
– have the right of access to the home;
– have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is
particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a
trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.
In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.
Many of us see this as unwarranted intrusion, unacceptably damaging to our children and to family life. The safeguarding element is disproportionate: statistics show that EHErs are less than half as likely to abuse their children as are other parents.
■ That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.
Many of us home educate primarily to avoid putting such pressure on our children, due to the well known damaging effects of such policies and are dismayed that our carefully considered parental decisions are to be overridden in this way. We also feel the above point represents an unfounded mistrust in our honesty and integrity and will, frankly, be an unnecessarily distressing experience for many of our children.
That local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents’ or carers’ ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children’s social care, on such grounds as
■ alcohol or drug abuse
■ incidents of domestic violence
■ previous offences against children
And in addition:
■ anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education
This requirement should be considered in the Government’s revision of Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance.
Many parents with long past histories of mental health issues, for example, are extremely worried about this recommendation. The “anything else” point is of concern to us all, because it suggests that we can be forced to place our children to school for the most arbitrary reasons.
That the DCSF and the Local Government Association determine within three months how to provide to local authorities sufficient resources to secure the recommendations in this report.
EHErs have been reluctant, in the past, to demand our rightful share of the Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) funding, because we thought the money would come with too many strings attached and that its sacrifice was therefore worthwhile in order to retain our freedom in education. However the above recommendations, if implemented, would completely transform this position to one in which we would have nothing to lose by pursuing the funding. If Graham Badman is right in his report to say that there might be 80,000 EHEing children, and AWPU levels stand at up to £5000 per child per year, this would therefore have a cost implication of up to £250 million per year.
In a letter to Graham Badman responding to the report Ed Balls said:
so we are unable to take comfort in the hope that the most damaging of Mr Badman’s recommendations might not be enacted. The consultation questions ask for our agreement to the changes, but over 2000 responses were made from EHErs to the review questions and summarily ignored, so we have little faith in the process of consultation now to help us retain our freedoms.
In the light of this, I would much appreciate your signing of Mark Field’s EDM 1785 and your conveyance of our concerns to DCSF, as well as any advice you are able to offer us during our meeting today.
I also wish I had more information about the damage done to children by official monitoring. A friend lent me this book, which we thought might contain something, but other than that we're stumped. Any ideas, anyone?