Notes on the transcripts (7) - Entering the home and interviewing the child
Q33 Lynda Waltho (Lab, Stourbridge): One of the areas on which I and my colleagues have been lobbied by many people is the proposal to interview the child and to enter the home. Many home educators have pointed out that even police officers need a suspicion or a warrant so to do. In your report, you concede that some local authorities are not making effective use of current powers. Will you spell out why local authorities need new powers rather than just a better understanding of what they can do already?
One of my favourite questions.
Graham Badman: Let me quote a local authority, which said, "Given that Local Authorities do not have the power to see the child or enter the house, we have no direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children currently being educated at home.
If they entered the home every hour on the hour, every day of the week, they still wouldn't have any direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children currently being educated at home, because ensuring someone's safety and wellbeing - unless you confine them to a plastic bubble (an action which, while it might ensure their safety, would surely damage their wellbeing) - is impossible. Normal life is, and should be, full of thrills and spills as well as the boring bits.
By submitting a report in the post, we cannot guarantee that children ARE receiving the provision identified,
This is the bit where they assume that parents will tell lies unless there's some way of trying to prove otherwise. Charming! (And no wonder most of us choose not to engage with them.)
moreover, we cannot see if the child is meeting the every child matters outcomes.
This is the one, single issue that the review should have sought to address. It's Lord Adonis's "This anomaly is at odds with Every Child Matters reforms, supported by the Children Act 2004, which set out the Government's aim to improve educational outcomes for all children, regardless of where they are educated." The ECM agenda cannot be made to accommodate home educated children and nor should it. Home educating families need to be free to opt out of that system, school-based as it is. It's impossible for us to comply with the five outcomes without breaching our Article 7 right to respect for private and family life, home and communications. Giving us two weeks' notice of a home visit goes nowhere near to solving this problem! Maybe this is what Badman was alluding to when he was talking about parental rights - but that right to privacy encompasses the whole family including the children. There is no clash between parents' and children's rights. The clash is between that specific part of the ECM agenda, and the rest of the law pertaining to home education - as Lord Adonis was perceptive enough to articulate.
There is no way knowing that they are even in the country and we cannot be certain that they are living in the address provided. This has huge implications re: the 'Children Missing from Education' guidance and procedures.
I don't think it does, does it? Does the CME guidance insist that the precise location of every child is officially registered on a constant basis? No. There has to be some trust, if only from a pragmatic point of view.
We feel as a LA that we have a duty of care to the children educated in our area and that we cannot fulfil this duty of care if we have no access to the child or the family."
Yes, and the Badman report [opens pdf] has exacerbated - not ameliorated - this position for them.
That is an accurate view of the response from local authorities, almost universally, in terms of the feedback on the report.
But he did not have to go the way of increasing surveillance. It doesn't actually solve the problems - it actually just creates a whole lot more of them. Instead the review could have been used as an opportunity to investigate the rightful place of HE within the ECM agenda.
Yes, of course, I understand the sensitivities of interviewing the child and the child alone, but I hope that, given what we have said about training, it is, in a sense, the last resort - that proper relationships are established and that it would only be in extremis that a local authority would want to use the powers. We have those powers, but it does not mean that we need to exercise them.
You hope? You hope?? You're proposing to give local authority officers, who could be anyone as far as we know, so much power over us - and you hope they will use it wisely?? ! It seems that hope is all you've left us with too, having proposed that all our other safeguards are stripped away. Thanks.
Crucially, I have also argued in the report that there should be the presence of another trusted adult. The person does not necessarily need to be an unknown officer alone with the child.
But again, you haven't specified this so all we're left with is the hope that our respective LAs will treat our children decently. It's not enough.
I understand those sensitivities and, again, I make the point in the report, in a direct quote from Jane Lowe, from whom I think you are getting evidence. She wrote a very good book full of case studies on the good practice in home education, and said that, if you educate at home, it is still first and foremost a home. Whatever training is given, officers need to respect that, and they need to caveat their approach by asking, "Have I assessed the risk appropriately? Do I need to do this?" I am arguing for a greater flow of information that would enable anyone with a quite proper regard for the safety of children to exercise the power without being draconian.
So we're working on the basis of assumption that our relationships with local authorities are always going to be good. What of the Richard Iballs of this world, who will never recognise truly autonomous learning as a valid method, come what may? What of the paedophiles who look for legitimate opportunities to get power over children and to get them on their own, scared, and separated from their parents? Where, in the Badman report, is our families' defence against these people? Nowhere. We have none. Only the 'hope' that they will act with 'the proper regard'. It's not enough.
Q34 Lynda Waltho: That is helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?
This is the best question of all. I'll look at the answers to it - such as they were - in my next post.