I visited the Isle of Man last year and was struck by both its beauty and its strong sense of identity as a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. Its culture and laws are drawn from the mainland but separate and slightly different in a unique way.
There are only forty-nine children being home educated on the island, some of whom I met on my visit last year. Only four families are actively campaigning against the proposed changes there, which is a similar ratio of political engagement as we have in home education here on the mainland. Except here, that means over five thousand active campaigners which makes life somewhat easier. Being one of such a tiny number of campaigners must feel extremely daunting and overwhelming, hence this plea from them for our help in responding to a government consultation which will take five minutes for each of us to complete. Responses from off the island will be accepted and the Manx home educators would like as many responses from home educators in the UK as possible.
So the part of the consultation that refers to home education reads as follows:
It is a duty of parents of children of compulsory school age to ensure that they receive a suitable education.
A suitable education is defined in the current Act as 'efficient full time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude taking into account any special educational needs.'
This parental duty applied whether the education is provided in schools or at home. The Department has a duty to enforce this requirement so that a suitable education is given.
At present the Department has no way of ensuring that parents who choose to home education meet the suitable provision in Section 24 of the Education Act 2001.
Home education is not, in itself, a risk factor for abuse or neglect. However, there is potential that these children can become 'invisible' and in these cases there is a safeguarding risk of isolation from professionals. The aim is to establish an appropriate scope of duties for the Department to ensure that children do not go unseen.
The Department is seeking to add another subsection to the existing clause 24 to allow the Department to introduce regulations which may require parents to provide evidence to the Department of the Education of the educational provision their children are receiving.
9. Should the Department seek evidence from home educators on the education they are giving to their children?
Please state your reasons:
So far, so familiarly Badman-esque.
As long term readers here will know, there are several problems with governments demanding evidence from parents about their parenting duties on a blanket, screening basis:
- Specific problems tend to be missed as perpetrators of abuse learn to game the system as exampled by infamous foster mother Eunice Spry, who received regular visits from the local authority about her home education provision in which the children were present, but no abuse was ever suspected. Professional 'visibility' is therefore no guarantee of safety whatsoever.
- Monitoring of home education provision is often counter-productive and results in parents being unable to comply with their legal duty to provide suitable education.
- As the NSPCC demonstrated in its report into the Serious Case Reviews, in every reported case professionals were aware of the children and already had the legal duty, in Children Act sections 17 and 47, to take action but failed to do so. They then chose to ask for more duties instead of focusing their attention on the training and application regarding the sufficient duties they already had. As officials are already struggling and often failing to implement their current safeguarding duties, adding more duties to the list can only exacerbate the problem.
Isle of Man Freedom of Information requests indicate that officials there have not been busy in the matter of home education and that neither problems nor research have taken place, so it's difficult to see why they suddenly want more powers. A read through the Isle of Man Children and Young Persons Act 2001 indicates that they have similar powers in respect of safeguarding as officials have here, which are sufficient and the 'invisibility' phenomenon appears to be imagined rather than real.
Most home educators would contend that this therefore is not worth the risk of their provision being damaged by excessive governmental oversight. My answer to the consultation question 9 will therefore be:
The Department should NOT seek such evidence from parents because blanket screening for safeguarding has been shown to be ineffective, sufficient safeguarding powers already exist in law for officials to take action when concerns arise and it is important for the state to have trust in parents to carry out their parental duty in the absence of evidence that they are failing to do so. Where there are no concerns about a family, home education provision can be negatively affected by oversight from officials and the Freedom of Information responses I have seen indicate that there is no good reason to risk this outcome. The proposed change in respect of home education will be expensive and counter-productive and should therefore be avoided. The 'invisible children' phenomenon has been shown to be a myth.