Sunday, October 18, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (4) - statistical spaghetti and the appeals culture

Step up Mr Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness. Here is the part, in the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf] in which he nailed Graham Badman well and truly to the flagpole on child abuse statistics:

[Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.]

Q10 Mr. Stuart: You have slightly lost me there. Having gone to all the local authorities, I thought that what you were basing the doubled risk assessment on was the very hard measure of child protection plans. In other words, it wasn't anything to do with the expression that has previously been used about contact with social services. This is now very much at the hardest end-although it happened to align with your original position.

Graham Badman: Absolutely.

Q11 Mr. Stuart: Just now, you said something about other issues.

Graham Badman: What I was saying is that they were among the data set that was given to the Chairman of the Committee as well as being published. We went out to local authorities and asked other questions as well. Just to be clear, the data sample was from 74 authorities. The percentage of the population of elective home educators from those 74 authorities who are on child protection plans is 0.4%. From the same group of all children, it is 0.2%. So, it is double. It is double proportionally and not double in terms of the actual number.

Q12 Mr. Stuart: Sure. As you mentioned in those figures, it is also very important not to give the impression that there is a very high number of children in child protection plans among the home-educated community. Obviously, it did feel as if the initial publicity suggested that home educators should be viewed with suspicion.

Graham Badman: I am not arguing that at all. I am saying that proportionally there is a higher percentage. I do not regard any home educators in that way with suspicion. Indeed I met a number of home educators whose children were so accomplished I thought that they should be justly proud of them. All I am saying is that you cannot say-certainly from the view of those whom I met-that all children are safe, particularly as there is no security about the number of children who are known to us. The best estimates that have been put forward are around 20,000 or so. Most local authorities believe that it is at least double that in terms of those who are unknown and not registered. Certainly members of my reference group put that figure much higher again. All I am saying is, no, you should not treat home education in that way. You should not view it with suspicion, but you should know that the risk factor is proportionally double.

Q13 Mr. Stuart: In any case in which a child is known to be on a child protection plan, will it, by necessity, mean that that child is known to the local authorities?

Graham Badman: Yes.

Q14 Mr. Stuart: So, if the numbers that were formally known about were approximately double your best estimate, it would take us back to almost precisely where we started, at the average of the population as a whole.

Graham Badman: I'm sorry, I don't understand the question.

Q15 Mr. Stuart: Well, if there are twice as many children in home education than are formally known about, which by definition includes all those for whom there is a child protection plan, it would suggest that, roughly speaking, you were back to 0.2% of the home-educated population having a child protection plan, which would put them in line with the national average.

Graham Badman: I think that it propels the figures the other way. It would actually make the proportion higher, because they are already included in the overall population and in the subset of the population, which would mean that the percentage will be fractionally higher. It works the other way.

Q16 Mr. Stuart: I am probably being rather slow here. Take me through that again. I am obviously not understanding this.

Graham Badman: Well, if 0.2% is all population and that includes elective home educators, then that figure actually depresses the overall figure. If you have them separated out, it would make it proportionally worse. If you take out home educators from the first figure, it makes that figure 0.2% lower.

Q17 Mr. Stuart: Ignoring that, because the number of children who are home educated is statistically insignificant in the overall population, so the 0.2 per cent. can be left roughly where it is, the point is how many home-educated children have child protection plans? If those who are formally known about are only half of the number of children who are estimated by you, the leading expert on the subject, to be home educated-local authorities likewise think that they know about only half-that suggests that, roughly speaking, they are about the national average.

Graham Badman: Forgive me. It is me who is being obtuse. I understand your point absolutely now, but who is to say that they are safe? If you don't know anything about them, a high proportion of those who are unknown may be unsafe.

Q18 Mr. Stuart: Absolutely right, and people rightly worry about safety, but first one must deal with data as they are. From what you said, the data seem to be that there are no more children with child protection plans among home-educated children, if it is in fact twice as many as those that are formally known about, than in the wider population. To put in context the previous Minister's remarks about the risks, which caused a lot of offence among the home education community, unless there were very good data to back them up, they were wrongly stigmatised as having a higher incidence of child abuse, or the threat of it within their families. I am putting to you a fairly important point, not least to them, that perhaps on your own numbers a home-educated child is no more likely to be abused than anyone else in the population.

Graham Badman: You are asking me to determine a causal effect that I cannot. All I can say to you is to repeat the evidence that I have, which is that on the basis of the information provided by 74 authorities, twice the percentage of young people have child protection plans among the elective home-educated population than in the general population. What you would consider in terms of an assessment of risk about a family before you decide that you are going to bar them on safeguarding grounds, is a range of other reasons and data drawn from a strategy group, if you had gone to a section 47 inquiry, or whatever you had gained in terms of intelligence from your officers visiting. If you want me to clarify the statistical interpretation of those, I will gladly write to you afterwards.

This inquiry is proving to be nothing if not a home educating vote-winner for the Conservative Party.

Ms Diana Johnson (Minister for Schools) after more of this, a break for the members to vote and an interjection from the chairman, said:

..what the Government are interested in, in this review, is making sure that children and young people who are home educated are getting a good education at home. That is what we want to make sure. We want to know who those children and young people are, and we want to be able to say, "Yes, we are satisfied they are getting the standard of education that they need".

But - how dare they, when Treasury statistics show more than 1 in 6 children leaves school each year unable to read, write or add up?

But a lot of the recommendations that Graham has brought forward are very much about creating a positive relationship between local authorities and home educators to support home education.

They keep talking about this 'improved' relationship between HErs and LAs. It's an absolute joke to suggest that giving LAs all the power is going to improve anything at all.

And ditto, about this:

Ms Diana R. Johnson: The worrying thing for me as a Minister is that we do not have full data sets; we do not know about who is educating their children at home. The figures that we are looking at-perhaps 20,000 or 25,000-are estimates. There was work done by York Consulting a few years ago, trying to give figures, and even that body found it difficult. So, I think it would be very helpful to know who is home educating and what numbers we are actually talking about, and then as a Government we can feel confident that we know who these children are and be satisfied that they are getting a good education.

Annette Brooke is the Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset & North Poole, who had this to say about registration:

I want to probe on registration and I will perhaps put my cards on the table: I am actually in favour of a simple registration scheme because I don't want children disappearing below the radar. I think that point is important. However, I wonder if we could just look a bit at the applications for registration. Surely it is going to be fairly clear-cut that a local authority will have a right to refuse registration on the grounds of child protection, and presumably there will be a right of appeal because that would be a British justice situation. Can I ask you about the appeals process that might have been thought of?

And Ms Johnson replied:

I think you are absolutely right in that any process that is set up needs to be fair. We all know that having a right to appeal would be part of the fairness of any procedure. These matters are out for consultation, which does not end until 19 October. Therefore, I am not at this stage able to give you any definitive view about how an appeals procedure would work. All I can say is that being fair would obviously be a key part of any procedure created.

But I've had experience of the effect on a system of the introduction of appeals: the DWP, or DSS as it was then. Here's how it suddenly started working: you asked for something to which you were probably entitled (but the sheer and increasing complexity of the various rules and regulations meant that nobody could be quite sure whether you were) and the automatic answer was 'no'. You were then tacitly expected to appeal this decision, upon which the revised answer would usually be 'yes'. This struck me as being so bizarre that for many years I refused to believe it could actually work this way, despite the evidence of my eyes and ears and I never actually launched any appeals myself. Then one day I was reading Hansard ( you do..) and I was amazed to see that this incredible principle was actually enshrined in the department's working practice! The Parliamentary debate was to do with the rescinding of a rule about confiscating a percentage of the living allowance of single mothers who refused to divulge the names of their children's fathers. The minister in question said something to the effect of: "We confiscate the money and then wait for the mothers to appeal. If they don't appeal, we assume they're receiving money from elsewhere (presumably the absent fathers) and therefore don't need to get it from us. If they do appeal, they're probably innocent and will have had their payments restated." ! No suggestion that they might have, like myself, reluctantly and with great financial difficulty, accepted the judgement made against them as being final unless there was fresh evidence to bring to an appeal.

Home educators need to be aware of the phenomena of the appeals culture. If we are forced to request permission to home educate on an annual basis and there is an appeals process in place, will the answer automatically be 'no', pending the 'inevitable' and expected appeal by parents? If parents don't appeal, will this be assumed by everyone in power up to ministerial level to be an admittance of their unsuitability, or supposed inability or whatever, to educate their children? Probably, if the DWP is anything to go by. This is how it works.


Anonymous Jax said...

I hadn't read that bit of the transcript in detail, it's very lovely isn't it? Now I know why Graham Stuart is rapidly becoming a home ed hero :)

9:10 pm, October 18, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

It's fabulous. He just kept at it, didn't he? :)

6:20 am, October 19, 2009  
Blogger Ben Anderson said...

Need to be slightly careful here (since this is about the numbers). If the numbers of EHE children known to the LAs (e.g. registered) were to double to perhaps the correct figure, there is no evidence that the rate of CPPs will change for the EHE children. That would require the likelihood of assignment (correct word?) of a CPP to be higher or lower for the EHE children not currently known as EHE. Most of us think it will be lower (Badman obviously feels the opposite) but none of us have any numerical evidence for the only valid thing to do is to assume it will be the same as the current known EHE population rate. And given the non-random self-selecting sample of 74 LAs who responded it is correct to say that this rate (0.4%) cannot be considered meaningfully different from the 0.2%.

Also taking the numbers of EHE children in or out of the 'all children' totals makes little difference to the rate as they are so relatively small.

But yes, I admire Stuart's tenacity :-)

9:25 am, October 21, 2009  

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