Monday, January 25, 2016

"But what's wrong with compulsory registration for home educators? What difference would it make?"

I've even heard this question coming from home educators in the past few days - albeit relatively new ones: people who weren't home educating in 2009, the year of the Badman Review.

The review used Daniel Monk's extremely dubious conclusions to recommend a conditional, annual, compulsory registration scheme for which we would have to regularly reapply and the success of each family's application would depend on the results of their ongoing monitoring and assessment by local authority officials, who would have the legal right to enter our houses and interview our children alone. If you don't believe me, read the recommendations.

These recommendations were incorporated into the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which would have become law if the 2010 General Election hadn't prevented it just in time because the incoming Conservatives (and Lib Dems) rejected it. We were very lucky with the timing of this effort, but the Badman Report remains on file at the government website and some people who had pushed for it remain disappointed that its recommendations were not implemented.

The point is, compulsory registration for home education is NOT just a process of taking our names and adding them to a list. Yes, people who have deregistered their children from school are on local authority registers already and I can understand why some of them might wonder what real difference it would make if we all were, but the answer is above. The current situation, in which some of us can legitimately avoid being on register, protects everyone - including those who are currently registered - from the Badman Recommendations.

Right now, the local authority has to issue a School Attendance Order and then have this enforced by a court to compel a parent to register her child at a school. Under the Badman Recommendations, the parent's failure to comply with the registration criteria would be sufficient. It turns the entire premise of the parent's duty to secure educational provision on its head, as this becomes more of a local authority duty instead, but they were going to do it anyway - and obviously some influential people still want to.

Our children are all registered already, within six weeks of their birth according to the Registration of Births Act 1953. School attending children are then added to school registers, but all of our children remain on the birth register. If, as some campaigners suggest, "All they want to know is how many of us there are," the remaining names are there, all presumably being educated "or otherwise", unless it appears to the local authority that this might not be the case.

All of the information a compulsory home education register might provide is therefore currently stored and available. The only possible remaining reason for wanting to go to the trouble and expense of creating and maintaining such a new register, is therefore monitoring and compliance at the expense of our children's education.

29 Comments:

Blogger Maire said...

Excellent points, hope this gets widely read!

3:45 pm, January 25, 2016  
Blogger Squiggle said...

Children are registered at birth with an NHS number as well.

1:12 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

The author of this piece is confusing two rather different things; registration and monitoring. She does this by suggesting that local authorities already know which children in their area are not attending school; so hinting that they the real reason they want a register is so that they can start monitoring. This is quite untrue. She says;

'Our children are all registered already, within six weeks of their birth according to the Registration of Births Act 1953. School attending children are then added to school registers, but all of our children remain on the birth register. If, as some campaigners suggest, "All they want to know is how many of us there are," the remaining names are there, all presumably being educated "or otherwise", unless it appears to the local authority that this might not be the case.

All of the information a compulsory home education register might provide is therefore currently stored and available.'

This is not so. The aim is to have a register so that each local authority knows the wherabouts and identity of every child in its area who is not attending school; which is not the situation as it stands. It is true that children are registered at birth, but addresses are not permanent. Families move from one lcoal authority disctrict to another and sometimes do not register with doctors. There are many children who are not at school and nobody has the least idea where they are to be found. This may or may not matter, but to suggest that a compulsory register would not increase the information available to local authorities is absurd!

5:50 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Viv Maslen said...

Thanks for this. Just come across your blog, which is very informative. I had no idea what the proposals had been and that's pretty scarey stuff.

7:23 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'Had been' being the operative words here, Viv. This is all ancient history from seven years ago. Current proposals have nothing at all to do with monitoring, as I am sure everybody knows.

8:20 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

The third commenter here is confused about the meaning of the words 'register' and 'monitor' and thinks they are the same thing - or hopes that they might be. Unfortunately, so do several other people who are interested in creating home education regulations. This neatly illustrates the point of the original post.

As someone wisely noted elsewhere:

"No it absolutely will not stop at registration. Because what would even be the point of registration without inspection? And if you have inspection you have to have a framework for that inspection. Which necessitates regulations. And if you break those regulations... So NO to registration."

8:39 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Jenny Taylor said...

Here here Gill, it is a short slippery slope to "school at home" assessments and curricula, and it starts with what people perceive as "just a list of names". Look at what has happened in Ireland, where legislation started with mere "registration", and now the constitutional right to home educate is being chipped away, one freedom at a time.

9:02 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Jenny. Yes Ireland is an excellent, though tragic, example of what will happen if registration becomes compulsory for home educators here.

9:06 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

.'Because what would even be the point of registration without inspection?'

One point of having a register of all the children who were not at school would be so that children didn't go missing; as they do from time to time when withdrawn from school. In extreme cases, one thinks for example of Fred West's eight year-old daughter Charmaine, the removal of a child from school can enable a murder to take place and then remain undetected.

Another point would be to enable the local authority to plan effectively for the future. Many children are withdrawn from school only for a few months. There are typically twice as many children known to be home educated in a local authority area in the autumn term as there are in the summer. Knowing precisely how many children were not at school would let the authority calculate roughly how many extra school places to allow for, as the academic year progressed.

Whoever is quoted above as not knowing the point of having registration without inspection has evidently not given the matter much thought! I can think of another half dozen reasons without straining myself.

9:14 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

Such a shame those seven year old recommendations of Graham Badman play the spectre at the feast! I suspect home educators will now always hear the word "conditional" before "registration", despite your best efforts to the contrary.

9:21 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Jonathan Idle said...

I am glad to have a dissenting voice in this thread - home educators, including myself, can get complacent if 'we all agree' about something. But to raise the name of Fred West is alarmist and not a helpful example: it doesn't illustrate the need to register home educators any more than naming Baby P or any other child 'failed' by the authorities would show the need to abolish Social Services. Children are not guaranteed 100% safety by their family OR by local authorities, despite what is sometimes lazily claimed in news reports.

11:51 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

Gill, and a number of other home educators, evidently cannot see why any local authority would wish to have a register of children who had been removed from school and not then enrolled at another. I gave the case of Fred west, because Gloucestershire County Council did want such a compulsory register and asked the government to institute one. This was not because they wished to start monitoring though.

I quite agree that it seems, the face of it, odd that that I should tie Fred and Rosemary West's in with home education. After all, they were neither of them home educators, so why should their crimes have caused concern about this issue? Fred West, as readers are probably aware, murdered a number of young women throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties. His wife helped him to do this. In 1971, while her husband was in prison, Rosemary West found herself stuck with Charmaine, his eight year old daughter from a previous marriage. Nobody knows why, but Rosemary West took it into her head to murder the child and bury her in the coal cellar. When he came out of prison, Fred West then chopped up the body and re-buried it under the kitchen floor. For the next twenty three years, nobody was any the wiser. A little girl had been withdrawn from school and then vanished from the face of the earth and nobody took any notice at all!

When I gave evidence to the DCSF select committee in 2009, I made the point that when I moved from Haringey to Essex, nobody had any record of my daughter's existence. Had I murdered her before I moved, buried her on Tottenham marshes and moved to Loughton as a single man, nobody would have been any the wiser. She too, just like Fred West's daughter Charmaine, could have dropped out of sight completely with no questions being asked by anybody about her disappearance. This is because I was at that time 'below the radar'.

Shortly after Charmaine West's body was unearthed, Gloucestershire County Council decided that something really needed to be done about home education. Or more precisely, they decided that something needed to be done which would allow the LEA to see what was happening to children once they were being withdrawn from school. They approached central government and expressed their fears to anybody who would listen, but perhaps the time just wasn't ripe. Maybe there simply weren't enough home educating families fifteen years ago to make it a big enough problem. For whatever reason, nothing came of it.

The nature of Gloucestershire's concern should be obvious to everybody. It has nothing to do with home education as such, but the ease with which parents can withdraw their children from school and not give any forwarding address or details of what provision will be made for the child is a little worrying. Put bluntly, someone can de-register their child from school and in many cases nobody has the least idea what becomes of the child. That's why Rosemary West was able to dispose of her unwanted stepdaughter so easily. It cannot be doubted that if a system had then been in place to track children and their places of education, then Fred West's career as serial killer would never really have got off the ground. Enquiries would have been made about Charmaine's whereabouts and what educational setting she was currently in. The inability to produce the child would have led almost immediately to the discovery that she had vanished.

I am not suggesting for a moment that this kind of thing is common, but it is without doubt one reason why many local authorities would like to see a register of home edcuated children and has nothing at all to do with any desire to monitor the educational provision.

7:23 am, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Holly said...

When a child is deregistered from school they go onto a list of EHE children. It's true that if the family moves they are under no obligation to inform their new LA of their education provision. If such a register did exist, how would it be enforced? How would people who wish to hide their children for nefarious purposes be prevented from doing so?

9:10 am, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Kezia said...

I'm sorry but I find your introduction of the West's case to this discussion very alarmist and unhelpful. Already there is a system in place that children are on a register when withdrawn from school. And with our new joined up services children admitted to A&E and known to other services such as social services are linked up to the EHE department straight away, so it is becoming harder to stay "under the radar" anyway. And what about all those under school age what register are they on? But what is the point of a register - list of names and addresses - it is nothing on its own. If we want to ensure that parents cannot hide, abuse, murder their children then constant monitoring of all children surely must occur from birth. Do we really have so little faith in families to look after their children that we feel the state must monitor them? I'm sorry but I feel that the move to compulsory registration is an infringement of our civil liberty.

12:36 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Uba David said...

As at the time a child is deregistered from school they go onto a list of EHE children. It's true that if the family decide to move they are under no obligation to inform their new LA of their education provision. If such a register did exist, how would it be enforced? How would people who wish to hide their children for nefarious purposes be prevented from doing so? http://www.fuoye.edu.ng

1:21 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

I'm sorry, Kezia, that you don't like to be reminded of what can happen to children who are removed from school and then vanish from sight. You may well find this sort of thing alarming; I do myself. Fred West was not the only case of this kind of thing. I am guessing that we are all familiar with what happened in Scotland in 2002 and provided at least part of the impetus for the development of the 'Named Person' scheme?

Five year old Danielle Reid was the daughter of a drug addict. This child was being abused by her mother's boyfriend and there was a fear that staff at the school were becoming suspicious about the bruises. The mother was worried that the child might tell somebody about what was happening. So in October 2002, her mother simply took her out of school, telling the school that they were moving to Manchester. Nobody bothered to check up and a month later the little girl was beaten to death and her body dumped in a canal.

This is the sort of case which make many people working for local authorities think that a register woudl be a good idea.

2:11 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Holly said...

Simon, would you like to answer my question?

2:27 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

I thought that I had already answered your question, Holly! When Rosemary West and Danielle Reed's mother withdrew children from schools, they knew that they only had to say that the children were going to another school somewhere. Nobody pursued the matter and the two women knew that officially; the childrne were now lost to sight. They therefore felt that nobody would miss the little girls were they to be murdered. If, within a day or two of the children being taken from school, official letters arrived, asking for further details of what provision was being made for the education of the children; then this would have told them that the children were still under official scrutiny. Imagine now that if they did not respond, other letters came to the house, threaeneing them with legal action if they did not give information about the children and their educational provision. Under those circumstances, both Rosemary West and the mother of Danielle Reed would have known that it would be madness to kill the children; that authority was not going to lose interest in their ultimate fate.

This is how a compulsory register would have saved the lives of Charmaine West and Danielle Reed. This why when children are deregistered from school, some local authorities now act very swiftly to ask what is going on.

3:58 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

Purely adding their names and addresses to a register would probably not have saved those children: taking some other [already existing] official action in the event of concerns still might not have saved them. In the case of Eunice Spry the abused, home educated foster children were regularly visited by education officials who raised no concerns whatsoever.

4:20 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

As things stand, one may remove a child from school and then vanish with the kid. There is no way of knowing if the child has been regsitered at another school, left the country, being educated at home or indeed is even alive. Parents know this and it affects how they behave. If they received a series of letters after removing a child from school and were aware that they would be breaking the law if they ignored the letters, parents would probably be a little more cautious about what they were doing with their children. No system is perfect; as the Spry case demonstrates. because any propsoed system would have flaws is no reason to do nothing; all systems have flaws.

5:03 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

I don't think parents do that Simon. As I said in my post about the serious case reviews, "All of the children in the Serious Case Reviews listed were known to their Local Authorities."

Also, have you read the proposals in the new CME consultation? These would have caught both of the children you mention above.

5:50 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

The proposed new CME stuff would have no effect. This is because it concenrs only the duties of schools and local authorities. We see on various Facebook groups for home educators, advice being given to parents; urging them to pretend that they are going abroad in order to avoid having contact with their local authority. This would continue. There would be nothing to prevent a parent from taking a child from school and then telling the school that they were moving and not leaving a forwarding address. This happens now and would remain the same; even if the new regulations were introduced. If parents knew that they would be committing a criminal offence by such conduct and, in effect, be going on the run; they would be less likely to engage in such games. The knowledge that local authorities and possibly the police were hunting for them would make anybody minded to harm a child think twice. It would also make parents mor elikely to provide an education for their children.

6:37 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

The assumption that a compulsory register of home educators could actually save those children who were not covered by the new CME guidance or existing regulations is a wild one and it is quite unfounded in my view. Even the NSPCC admits, "Home-educating parents or carers are not more likely than others to abuse or neglect their children." The vast majority of us are good parents whose children would not benefit from state intervention, which can negatively affect our child's education.

6:52 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'I don't think parents do that Simon.'

What, remove their child from school and then vanish? We both know perfectly well that it happens all the time among home educating parents in this country! Here is Dave Hough, a militant home educator who lives in the USA, advising a British parent how to vanish, so that her local authority will not be able to track her down once she has taken her kid out of school;

'post a letter with a second-class stamp on your last day there informing them that as of that date you're no longer in their area but that you will still be home educating. Don't give them your new address or area, and make sure the new occupants of the house and any neighbours also know not to tell them where you've gone if they know.'

This advice was given on a Facebook group for home educating parents in this country; one with thousands of members. Do you want to see some more information about the organised way in which the children of home educating parents are routinely and quite deliberately hidden from local authorities? You don't think parents do it, indeed!

6:58 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

I meant, I don't think home educators remove their children from school in order to abuse them and if they did, a mere home education register would not prevent this from happening.

It's pure speculation on your part that it might.

7:04 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'I don't think home educators remove their children from school in order to abuse them'

Some do; others don't. I'm sure that we all remember cases where this has been done. Sarah Richardson was four in 1993 and living with her mother and young brother in the north of England, when her mother’s boyfriend moved in. From the beginning, he was unkind to the two children. Two years later, when she was six, the family moved to a caravan in a remote location with no neighbours. Sarah was withdrawn from school at the same time, supposedly in order to be home educated. Shortly afterwards, her mother’s boyfriend began to sexually abuse and then rape her. The family kept on the move, always to out of the way places. This continued until Sarah was sixteen, when she left. What is interesting about this case is that the mother, who was also allegedly working part-time as a prostitute, was heavily involved with Education Otherwise. Her name was of course Lianne Smith. She went on to murder two of her children. We also recall Joanne Berry, the EO officer in charge of Child Protection.

I think it fair to say that most home educating parents do not remove their children from school in order to abuse them, but it is ridiculous to say that it doesn't happen. I have a list of cases where it has.


7:19 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

These are very isolated incidents and I do not think a compulsory register would prevent such incidents from occurring. It's a matter of opinion only that it might.

7:23 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Ali W said...

Children leave and arrive in this country all the time. As yet, we don't have the equivalent of the pre-1989 Berlin Wall to scale, although I think the Scottish Government may have started working on reconstructing Hadrian's.

Whilst it would be impossible to prevent every tragedy, the banning of motor vehicles would certainly cut down on child fatalities.

1:50 pm, January 28, 2016  
Blogger Jane W said...

Simon. How would Charmaine West's name being on a register have prevented her death? How would her name appearing on a list have triggered any change in the behaviour of anyone in authority either before or after her death? What process do you see happening as a result of her name appearing on such a list?

4:00 pm, February 08, 2016  

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