Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 12
First, why is university seen by Simon Webb, Graham Badman, etc. as the be all and end all? My son chose instead to run his own business and the country certainly needs more entrepreneurs. He didn't go to university, but his autonomous home education was still a success.
Secondly, so Simon Webb and someone on the TES comments called 'mum who cares' don't want to home educate autonomously - why should that prevent those of us who do, from so doing? Perhaps they so enjoy removing choices from their children that they want to extend their mandate to other parents by removing their choices too. 'Mum who cares' must live on a different planet to me anyway - she says "..if you say that you home educate a different way they [unschoolers] treat you in a manner which is totally appalling." Our weekly home ed meetings consist of both homeschooling and unschooling families. The children get on fine; the parents get on fine. Nobody tries to inflict their views on anyone else. I've been to meetings elsewhere and found the same situation and I can't understand why it would be any different. Other people's home education choices are none of my business, and mine are none of theirs. What we have in common is that we're all presumably doing what we see as our best for our children. This freedom is what's being threatened and it should be uniting, not dividing us.
On then, to the summary of recommendations:
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.
And with registration comes regulation, as we're about to see:
■ This scheme should be common to all local authorities.
There will be no escaping it.
■ Registration should be renewed annually.
There is no reason for this if registration is all that's required, but of course it's not.
■ Those who are registering for the first time should be visited by the appropriate local authority officer within one month of registration.
I think we need to tackle this thinking that home visits are useful, either for safeguarding or educational monitoring. Inspections of the home environment might give some idea as to whether the parents are capable of caring properly for a child, but this should have no bearing on their freedom to home educate, because if they're fit to parent then they're equally capable both in and out of school hours, and if they're deemed not fit then the child would, one assumes, be removed.
Beyond this, inspecting the home tells the local authority very little. An absence of books might raise alarm, but the family might be in the public library every other day. An absence of space to play might be seen as problematic, but the family might visit a park every day for hours, or play gyms, or friends' houses, and so on. And there is, as usual, no talk about the possible negative effects on the child of being officially inspected. We need to ascertain and set out very clearly how damaging this can be I think.
■ Local authorities should ensure that all home educated children and young people already known to them are registered on the new scheme within one month of its inception and visited over the following twelve months, following the commencement of any new legislation.
I have no comment to make about this.
■ Provision should be made to allow registration at a local school, children’s centre or other public building as determined by the local authority.
It doesn't matter where we have to register, does it? Might as well make it the police station.
■ When parents are thinking of deregistering their child/children from school to home educate, schools should retain such pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days so that should there be a change in circumstances, the child could be readmitted to the school. This period would also allow for the resolution of such difficulties that may have prompted the decision to remove the child from school.
Delayed deregistration - something home educators have been arguing against for a long time, because pressure can be brought to bear on a family to change their decision against their better judgement.
■ National guidance should be issued on the requirements of registration and be made available online and at appropriate public buildings. Such guidance must include a clear statement of the statutory basis of elective home education and the rights and responsibilities of parents.
What about parental duties? I don't think parents have any rights any more, do we?
■ 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.
This is the part with which autonomous education is probably incompatible. If we cherish the child's unique natural intrinsic path to learning, we can't possibly predict any outcome for a year hence, and nor would most of us wish to. I couldn't even tell you any of my children's planned learning outcomes for the end of the day, although they may have their own plans - which are exactly that.
■ 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.
'The plan should be finalised' in this context makes it look like a joint undertaking with the officers, not the parents, deciding when it's finished to their satisfaction.
■ As well as written guidance, support should encompass advice from a range of advisers and organisations, including schools. Schools should regard this support as a part of their commitment to extended schooling.
This would mean that families could not avoid the school environment and ethos, even if they chose (and managed) to deregister from it. They will not be allowed to find their own way to learning.
■ Where a child is removed from a school roll to be home educated, the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child’s achievement to date and expected achievement, within 20 school days of the registration, together with any other school records.
"Expected achievement"? Another stick to beat us with. Our values might not be the same as the school's values. The child might be interested in learning about other things. He or she might need a deschooling phase. Schools and families have their own separate and distinct agenda which can't and shouldn't be forced to correlate.
■ Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually.
Someone defined this process as 'issuing licences' - a view with which I concur. If this can be made law, the logical next step is a licence to procreate.
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. Home educators should be engaged in this process.
Here is the Rose review [opens pdf], which I've read and which looks absolutely fine - for schools. Home education has never been required to be broad and balanced and nor should it be. Broad and balanced is for the masses, when you're taking 11 million children and putting them through a pre-designed system of learning to turn them into human resources for a global economy. Home education takes just one or more much loved offspring and simply assists them to live and learn.
That all local authorities analyse the reasons why parents or carers chose elective home education and report those findings to the Children’s Trust Board, ensuring that this analysis contributes to the debate that determines the Children and Young People’s Plan.
The possible reasons for this intrigue me. Is it an admittance that the powers-that-be would prefer to have our children in the school system? If so, this is not a level playing field and any freedom we may currently have is only reluctantly tolerated until such time as it can be successfully rescinded.
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.
This seems completely pointless, in the light of the other recommendations. Without our annual licence to home educate we must take our children to school every day, on time, etc. yada yada. Oh, but we can discuss this in a forum. What's the point engaging in debate with a tyrant?
That the DCSF should bring forward proposals requiring all local authorities to report to the Children’s Trust Board making clear how it intends to monitor and support children and young people being educated at home, in accord with Recommendation 1.
The government makes the local authority comply; the local authority makes the parents comply; the parents make the children comply.. has anyone written a nursery rhyme about this yet?
That local authorities should where appropriate commission the monitoring and support of home education through the local Children’s Trust Board, thereby securing a multidisciplinary approach and the likely use of expertise from other agencies and organisations including the voluntary sector.
We're not only to be inspected and conditionally licenced, but we're to be 'helped' and 'supported' by all comers as well, whether we like it or not. I wonder what will remain of private family life for home educators at the end of all of this.
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.
This flies in the face of the presumption of innocence, is likely to terrify some children and be deeply unsettling for others.
■ That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.
I can't really see a difference between this recommendation and the first one.
■ 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.
I've already said a lot about this, specifically that the educational provision is what is supposedly being judged, not the child's uptake of it, and that it will be immensely stressful for many children.
That reasonable warning of intended visit and invitation to exhibit should be given to home educators, parents and carers, not less than two weeks in advance. A written report of each visit must be filed within 21 days and copied to the home educating parent and child. A suitable process for factual correction and challenge to the content must be in place and made known to all parties.
Two weeks' notice is better than being doorstepped, and sight of the report by the family will be an improvement on, for example, my own local authority's previous practice. But the whole concept of an 'intended visit and invitation to exhibit' is unnecessarily damaging, invasive and abhorrent.
That all local authority officers and others engaged in the monitoring and support of elective home education must be suitably trained. This training must include awareness of safeguarding issues and a full understanding of the essential difference, variation and diversity in home education practice, as compared to schools. Wherever possible and appropriate, representatives of the home educating community should be involved in the development and/or provision of such training. It is recommended that all officers be trained in the use of the Common Assessment Framework.
Apart from the reference to the Common Assessment Framework [opens Word.doc], I have no objection to this recommendation, though I doubt it will be implemented.
That all local authorities should offer a menu of support to home educating families in accord with the requirements placed upon them by the power of wellbeing, extended schools and community engagement and other legislation. To that end local authorities must provide support for home educating children and young people to find appropriate examination centres and provide entries free to all home educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for all DCSF funded qualifications.
If this really is just an offer of support then I have no objections. If declining the offer is to be viewed with suspicion, then I do, because all support should be entirely optional with no strings attached in order to not prejudice a family's educational choices.
That in addition to Recommendation 10 above, local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges:
■ Extend and make available the opportunities of flexi-schooling.
■ Extend access to school libraries, sports facilities, school visits, specialist facilities and key stage assessment.
■ Provide access to specialist music tuition on the same cost basis.
■ Provide access to work experience.
■ Provide access to post 14 vocational opportunities.
■ Signpost to third sector support where they have specialist experience and knowledge, for example, provision for bullied children.
I'd say the same thing as I said about Recommendation 10 in respect of all of these points.
■ BECTA considers the needs of the home educating community in the national roll out of the home access initiative
■ That local authorities consider what support and access to ICT facilities could be given to home educating children and young people through the existing school networks and the use of school based materials
■ That the QCA should consider the use of ICT in the testing and exam process with regard to its impact on home educated children and young
First, what exactly is the home access initiative? We need to know, if it's to be foisted upon us. A quick search comes up with this page, which talks about:
- Improving learning and achievement
- Motivating and engaging children
- Encouraging independence and creativity
- Connecting learning at school and at home, and
- Helping parents and carers get more involved
- in which the school component has nothing to do with us, and we're already managing all of the others without any government 'help', thank you. I think we need to be looking for the catch here, and that it might have something to do with this [opens pdf].
That local authority provision in regard to elective home education is brought into the scope of Ofsted’s assessment of children’s services within the Comprehensive Area Assessment through information included in the National Indicator Set (Recommendation 25), the annual LSCB report (Recommendation 21) and any other relevant information available to inspectors.
The government has power over local authorities, the local authorities have power over the parents and they want the parents to use power over their children, as in Recommendation 5. This is part of the enforcing mechanism.
That the DCSF require all local authorities to make an annual return to the Children’s Trust Board regarding the number of electively home educated children and young people and the number of School Attendance Orders and Education Supervision Orders as defined in the 1996 Education Act, issued to home educated children and young people.
To gauge the success of the programme.
That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues.
A child might hate school and therefore behave badly. The parent might be quite willing and able to home educate, if only they knew about it. It's noticeable that this report says nothing about telling them, except this recommendation which says the opposite.
That the DCSF bring forward proposals to give local authorities power of direction with regard to school places for children and young people returning to school from home education above planned admission limits in circumstances where it is quite clear that the needs of the child or young person could not be met without this direction.
They are obviously expecting this to be the case in significant numbers of cases.
That the Ofsted review of SEN provision give due consideration to home educated children with special educational needs and make specific reference to the support of those children.
Again, if the support is optional, with no strings attached, then it might be useful for some.
That the DCSF should reinforce in guidance to local authorities the requirement to exercise their statutory duty to assure themselves that education is suitable and meets the child’s special educational needs. They should regard the move to home education as a trigger to conduct a review and satisfy themselves that the potentially changed complexity of education provided at home, still constitutes a suitable education. The statement should then be revised accordingly to set out that the parent has made their own arrangements under section 7 of the Education Act 1996. In the wake of the Ofsted review, changes to the SEN framework and legislation may be required.
I see from my first look at it that this recommendation came from the report's section on SEN. But my son Tom's dyslexia was best helped in the end by leaving it alone, and luckily we were given the space by the local authority in which to do so. I think the very worst thing for a family just after deregistration from school would be an immediate deluge of input from officials. I'm aware of the argument that often new home educators come to the mailing lists for advice, having "withdrawn their children from school and then had no idea how to go about things", but my experience and that of many families I've observed, is that working out for ourselves how to get through the apparent chaos and confusion is an important part of the deschooling process - something else that doesn't seem to warrant a mention in this report.
That the statutory review of statements of SEN in accord with Recommendation 18 above be considered as fulfilling the function of mandatory annual review of elective home education recommended previously.
It's a pity that this needs saying.
When a child or young person without a statement of special educational needs has been in receipt of School Action Plus support, local authorities and other agencies should give due consideration to whether that support should continue once the child is educated at home – irrespective of whether or not such consideration requires a new commissioning of service.
This involves regular reviews and monitoring as well as learning assistance. No scope or chance, therefore, for a family to work out their own unique way of educating their unique child.
That the Children’s Trust Board ensures that the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) reports to them on an annual basis with regard to the safeguarding provision and actions taken in relation to home educated children. This report shall also be sent to the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit. Such information should be categorised thereby avoiding current speculation with regard to the prevalence of child protection concerns amongst home educated children which may well be exaggerated. This information should contribute to and be contained within the National Annual Report.
This is ok, but I hope it will be confined to serious cases of abuse and neglect rather than some of the negligible, lifestyle police definitions contained in the NICE guidance. Otherwise we might as well just all give up our children for adoption at birth and have done with it.
That those responsible for monitoring and supporting home education, or commissioned so to do, are suitably qualified and experienced to discharge their duties and responsibilities set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children to refer to social care services children who they believe to be in need of services or where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
I'd say the same thing about this as I've just said about the previous recommendation. I think we need to watch this so-called Child Protection programme very carefully for signs of social engineering because, while I'm happy for children who really need it to be protected by the state if there is absolutely nobody else to do the job, wearing last year's dress or crying in the presence of strangers etc does not constitute severe neglect or abuse and shouldn't be treated as if it might do.
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.
Another recommendation that looks reasonable on the face of it, but could so easily be misused by prejudiced local authority officers. It seems to me like too much power over families to give to strangers who don't know them properly.
That the DCSF make such change as is necessary to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds. In addition local authorities should have the right to revoke registration should safeguarding concerns become apparent.
The big question here is: Why should a family be deemed safe enough to have overnight care of a child, but not to home educate? Problems can happen in the evening just as easily as they can throughout the day. This recommendation, along with a few other documents recently published, makes explicit the envisaged role of school as safeguarder. This system won't be effective, because families have hidden abuse from schools for decades. The people who should be checking for abuse are the people whose professional training has taught them to do so: social workers.
That the DCSF, in its revision of the National Indicator Set indicated in its response to the recent Laming Review, should incorporate an appropriate target relating to the safeguarding of children in elective home education.
Targets = a tick box mentality = an automated, robot society. Home education has been blissfully free of targets up until now: it's one of the reasons why many of us do it. Was Mr Badman's aim to persuade as many of us as possible to just give up and use the schools instead? It seems so.
If we're mounting a defence against this, we could use some of the excellent anti-target culture arguments.
DCSF should explore the potential for Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO) and other organisations, to identify and disseminate good practice regarding support for home education.
Until reading this report, I'd never heard of C4EO, so they can't be offering all that much support, unless they've recently been rebranded. I've just had a quick look at the website and it is a new quango by the looks of things, talking mostly about 'improving outcomes'. Would my son Tom's outcome (no qualifications; no debts; thriving business; healthy income) be acceptable to them, I wonder? I think terms like 'safeguarding', 'outcomes' and 'targets' are bandied around a bit too glibly sometimes, perhaps without people thinking about what exactly they mean. We need to reclaim our whole language, not just our freedom to home educate in peace.
It is recommended that the Children’s Workforce Development Council and the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit include the needs of this group of officers in their consideration of national training needs.
It's an intricate, locked-in mesh of bureaucracy, isn't it?
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.
I think we've already had Ed Balls' answer to this [opens pdf], at which I plan to take a detailed look in a future post.