1 Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.
The law already gives local authorities sufficient powers to deal with this problem. They have the power to enter homes and check for abuse where there are concerns.
On this point, it is worth noting that the charity Education Otherwise reports that they have HEors emailing, phoning and writing to them every single day to report that they are being unduly harassed, receiving unannounced visits from EWOS, receiving threatening letters from LAs and experiencing their teens being whipped off the streets by truancy sweeps. This already takes up a lot of time that could be used far more constructively by home educators. We don't need any more of it, thank you.
Local authorities may have answered that the guidelines were confusing because they frequently don't understand the limits of their responsibilities, imagine that they have more than they actually have, don't understand how home education works, and don't use the powers they already have with sufficient discrimination.
In every case of abuse of nominally home educated children that we have heard about through the press, the law would have already have been sufficient to the task of dealing with it had it been enacted correctly. The problem seems to be that the law is poorly understood and implemented by local authorities.
For example, in the case of the foster children of Eunice Spry, the family were visited on a regular basis by Gloucester Local Authority personnel. The police had returned the run-away children to the family even after the children had told them that they were being abused. The problem here was not the law but the fact that the authorities failed to use it. It is also the case that systems have been further tightened since Eunice Spry committed these crimes.
it seems that there must be questions as to how the GP acted. He/she had presumably seen Shazia Qayum and had had the opportunity to detect a problem since he/she had provided a sick note. This sick note would presumably have required some sort of renewal, and the EWOs who must have known of Shazia since she had been withdrawn from school, should have been alerted at the point at which it was not renewed. In other words, there were already procedures in place under current law, and proper enactment of this system would have prevented this scenario.
In the terrible case of Kyra Ishaq, the current law would have been sufficient had the authorities used it to pursue the family more vigorously. How would it help to introduce compulsory monthly visits of all home educators? Resources would have been stretched to breaking point in searching for the needle in the haystack, and a family in such a situation could still simply delay the visit by, for example, simply not being at home.
In the other reported case of "ST" where the body of a 16-year-old girl was found in her family home, we hear that the GP was criticised for discharging the family from his books without properly recording why and that a relative raised concerns about the family with a local authority, though it seems that the services did not follow up on these concerns. Yet again the law would have been sufficient to have intervened with this family, had the services used better judgement.
As it already stands, there are far more referrals of home educating families to social services than are in any way necessary. These families are faced with having to to deal with intrusion from the state and with having to try to clear their names- all this on top of their other responsibilities towards their children.It is essential that the law be proportionate for otherwise we really will be living in a brave new world. Home education is integral to family life, and to have this automatically inspected by someone who has complete power of judgement over it is in effect to completely remove privacy from home educating families and to remove all hope of autonomy even within the most private areas of their lives. Intervention that would have this effect MUST only be undertaken by the authorities where it is strictly necessary and must always be done in a proportionate fashion.
The law should exist to protect the private citizen. It is not just there to further the power of the state and to make life easy for police officers, EWOs et al. These personnel are paid to use skill and fine judgement. Their jobs will always be difficult and they will sadly always make mistakes, and this because of the obvious point that rarely seems to be raised in this sort of discussion which is that human behaviour is unpredictable. Social workers cannot be certain which family in their case load will do something truly terrible to their child, and yet they cannot slam all these children into care just in case. However many checks are instituted, it will be impossible to rule out this problem. The best thing that can be done would be to acknowledge this as a problem and to let social workers somewhat off the hook so that more of them stay around to build up proper experience of the job, so that they can get better and better at making those fine calls.
It must remain acceptable to the authorities to receive written communications which would lead a reasonable person to think that a suitable education is being provided. If they receive a satisfactory response, then that's the end of the matter, if they don't then it isn't, and they make further enquiries, possibly ending up by invoking the SAO procedure.
On another related point, question number 1 and others below could be deemed redundant at the present time. My answer above was written with consideration for the situation prior to the issuing of the new Guidance for LAs for Identifying Children Missing a Suitable Education which appeared only this month - January 2009. This guidance appears to have changed the interpretation of legislation somewhat and this means that the situation on the ground may change very rapidly in the next few months. It makes it very difficult to respond sensibly to a review when you are not sure if the situation is already changing and really it would have been more sensible to wait until we know what the effects of the new Guidance would be.
However, it is likely to be the case this new guidance will only confuse LAs all the more as in some places it makes a nonsense of itself. Take paragraph 87 by way of just one example. Here it states that the authorities should make enquiries of home educators to assess for suitability of education, apparently as a matter of course, and yet it also states that the authorities should refer to the EHE guidelines which state that there is no duty to monitor home educators for suitability of education. So which is it then, we wonder? This will obviously have some bearing on how one would answer the above question in a few months time.The review is also being conducted at a strange time in that ContactPoint which will act as a de facto register of home educated children is reportedly about to go live. This too will have a bearing on how one answers the questions here, and yet we are unable to do so until we have had a chance to assess it's impact.
On a further related point about timing, home educators have been shocked that they have to partake in yet another review. This is the third consultation pertaining to home education since 2005. The Department for Children, Schools and Families may have nothing better to do with their time, but home educators most certainly do.
The latest set of Guidelines on Elective Home Education were only issued after extensive consultation in 2007. See here:
We are left wondering why are compelled to go through this whole process yet again when procedures and the law surrounding home education were so extensively thrashed out less than two years ago and the law remains proportionate.
We now hear from MPs that this but a preliminary garnering of views, in order to inform the review. What do you think all the previous consultations were about? You garnered exactly the same set of views, on several occasions, such as in 2007 for the consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines. Why on earth are you doing it again?
Complaints about harassment and infringement of Better Regulations' Code of Practice, Criterion 5 http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf have been lodged with MPs, BRE and the Select Committee for the DCSF.
2 a) Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.
Why wouldn't they be? Home educated children are just as likely to eat healthily and get enough exercise as any other child, and many children are home educated precisely because their experience of school has damaged their mental and physical health.
There are children in our home education group who when in school had their arms or cheekbones broken by other children, were shut in a wheelie bin for hours at a time on a number of occasions, were pushed downstairs, were involved in terrible fights. Nothing like this ever happens in our home education groups.
It should be noted that this question and ones below imply an illegitimate concern, since it is not the duty of government to concern itself with whether children are meeting what should only be framed as ambitions. The government should be concerned to promote these ambitions, not to assess for them as targets to be achieved.
It is also galling to be asked these questions when you so have no moral or legal remit to do so and this whilst the state so clearly fails to protect children when parents do delegate responsibility to it, as they do when they send their child to school.
If anything they are likely to be safer because they are cared for by people who love them and since school attendance, with its currently terrible records of physical and mental bullying, is one of the places where children are most likely to be unsafe.
See Q1 above.
Enjoy and achieve
Home educated children are more likely to enjoy their education because it tends to be tailored to their individual abilities and areas of interest. They are able to take GCSEs etc if they so wish. They frequently excel at university (where they are often offered places with no formal qualifications because because they are so obviously well educated) and in their chosen careers. There is a considerable amount of research (notably Paula Rothermel's, Mike Fortune-Wood's and Alan Thomas's) which indicates that home educated children tend to be several years ahead of school children in academic achievement.
By way of a contrast, we read that 8 out of 10 teens say school is boring and irrelevant: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/4297452/School-is-boring-and-irrelevant-say-teenagers.html
I personally don't know any home educated teens who would use that epithet and many of them are now extremely high achievers in various ways.
Home educated children enjoy their lives. They mix with people they want to mix with. The numbers of home educated children are such that even in rural areas, HEks can easily have other close friends in the HE community and HE children make wide use of after school activities, mixing with school friends all the while. There are HE groups that offer a wide range of activities, from simply offering chances to see friends and meet new people, to lessons in sports, science, music, arts, crafts and languages practically all over the country now, and if there isn't one already available, HE parents have the nous to set one up.
For many HE families, running a group is a great lesson in personal and civic responsibility and initiative. They learn about how to manage large groups, about how to cater for differing needs, about how to do all this without deferring to a higher authority and they frequently learn to to this with great skill. The DCSF would be wise to thank their lucky stars that they have so many families who are prepared to put in the work and who tidy up the community halls for them, and are generally well invested in the community.
Not that any of the review panel know much about this of course. They announce their credentials in their various fields which apparently gives them the right to pronounce upon home education and all this without actually having any substantial first hand knowledge of what is actually going on on the ground.
Make a positive contribution.
See Q2c above. Home educated people clearly make a very positive contribution at university and in their chosen careers. Home educated children are frequently much more involved in their local communities than children who spend most of their time at school.
Achieve economic well-being
See 2c and 2d above.
3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?. If you answered no, why do you think that?
Absolutely not, for the following reasons:
The fact that this idea is raised at all suggests that both the DCSF and local authorities are incapable of reading their own legislative framework correctly. The five ideas in The Every Child Matters agenda, which does not in itself carry legislative force, are framed as ambitions, something for which to strive. They are not outcomes which must be achieved or assessed for. The legislation that underpins the ECM, predominantly section 10 the Children Act 2004, is clear that the duties of the local authorities ACTUALLY consist of having to promote co-operation in order to promote the five ambitions. This is the only duty LAs have and is vastly different from any duty that is implied in the above question. We are appalled that the authorities so frequently seem incapable of making this distinction.
An example of this failure can be found in the questionnaire for local authorities which forms part of this review: http://www.myopinion.org.uk/dcsf/homeeducation/index.cfm"eg: Question 58. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system of monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes?"
This question and others like it are so misleading that this whole questionnaire and the answers to it to be scrapped. The information within it is not legally supportable. By way of another example of a question which also give the impression that LAs have duties that they do not legally have, take question 32:
"Following the initial assessment visit, are further monitoring visits made to a home educated child?"
There is in fact no legal duty upon LAs to insist upon a visit. Please review the EHE guidelines 2007.
There are good reasons for why the Children Act 2004 is framed the way it is and the DCSF and LAs would be wise to pay good heed to it. There is no way that the state can ensure that every child will achieve these outcomes, nor should it seek such an obligation, for to do so is to wrest responsibility for parenting from parents. Lets face it, what sort of a brave new world is it when the state controls, in detail, how children are brought up, what beliefs they are taught to believe and who they consort with?
It would also be extremely impractical. The social services system currently struggles to deal with children who are at high risk of severe abuse. The system will crash and die if it has to become responsible for intervening at a much lower level of concern
Were the state to assume the responsibility to ensure that HE children are meeting the five ambitions and insist upon home visits, we would expect to see a severe deterioration in relationships between many home educators and the authorities which would take many forms. For example, home educators have proposed that they would video home visits and put these videos up on YouTube for all to see, for they feel that it would be interesting to all and sundry to see how the English state, with it's previously proud tradition of respecting the freedom and privacy of innocent citizens, is now policing it's people in the minutest of detail and of course, they also feel that their privacy would have been so invaded that they effectively had nothing to lose by putting it up on YouTube.
And of course, should the state seek such an obligation, they will be held liable when they fail. Given the woeful outcomes for many children in the state schooling system, this move would surely rapidly bankrupt the government and local authorities. Compensation for a failed education has been difficult to come by so far, despite schools having a duty of care, but it has already been achieved in such cases as Phelps v. the Mayor of Hillingdon. It should be far easier to manage when it is absolutely clear that the state dictates the suitability of education.
It must remain the case that the state only intervenes where it is clear that a parent is significantly in breach of their responsibilities.
I would like suggest that Ian Dowty, the leading barrister in this field, be consulted during the review process in order to prevent the type of problems mentioned above.
4. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?
There is no current system as such for supporting home educating families, although some LAs may make some small amount of patchy provision. We have usually been told that there is no money available and certainly most LAs around our way are very short of money, particularly at the moment, so we cannot envisage that they will want to spend what little they have on us.
Home educators seek and receive by far the most appropriate and helpful support from each other, from home educating friends, from local home educating groups, from home education charities, from email lists and this because other home educators actually understand the issues involved and have experience of how to deal with problems. Home educating wisdoms are passed down through the home educating generations, from Iris Harrison who still visits HE groups nationally to the next home educating toddler. Home educators are good at using their initiative and seeking out the resources they need. We don't need government help in the form of either support or resources, however it comes, strings or no strings.
Mr Badman is on record as having said here:
"One of the things I most resented as a parent was being talked to as if I knew nothing about education. There's a thin line between engaging them and talking at them and we have to make sure we don't cross that line."
Let us hope that he recalls these words in the coming review. The huge majority of home educators know a great deal about the education of their children. After all, it is not just a job for them. It is their passion and they are highly motivated to become good at it and to access the support they need and all this without the help of LAs. High-handed, impersonal, centralised decisions and directives, whether in the form of support or monitoring, would ruin everything that is excellent about their educational provision.
If the government must do something, it should drop the raising of the school leaving age and stop forcing young people to stay in education against their will when they could be enjoying, achieving and making a positive contribution in the workplace. The five outcomes will not be achieved by forcing children to follow a particular educational path prescribed by government.
5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?
Firstly, how would the state determine the nature of the suitability of an education? After all, there is no overall agreement upon the right way to achieve suitability according to age, ability and aptitude and as it stands, we know that huge numbers of children fail miserably in the so-called suitable provision that the state seems to prefer in the form of the deliverance of the National Curriculum in schools.
Schooled teens are telling the government what they think:
"Eight out of 10 said they were fed up with school and almost half said there were not enough courses to choose from, which limited their options in later life."
Would the government really contend that the education they offer is indeed suitable when it limits the options of the learners and boredom is the near universal reaction? (Boredom, please note, is not an efficient or suitable way to learn).
The government does not have the answers to the problem of a suitable education and yet it frequently appears to disallow challenges to its educational meme. When a number of experts recently questioned the age at which literacy should be taught:
the DCSF reacted extremely dogmatically to these criticisms, with biased and partial reporting of literacy success which continues to conflict with the evidence of employees, (see link* above) and a statement of determination to plough on with failing strategies come what may.
There are plenty of examples of this sort of governmental dogmatism and lack of openness in the face of evidence that the educational provision by the state is unsuitable for many children.
Another example: two friends of mine, experienced home educators, have recently undertaken a PGCE. They found the epistemology conveyed in this course for secondary school teachers frankly risible in the degree to which it failed to acknowledge it's own contradictions. For example, they accurately perceived that the concept of personalised learning in the classroom was absurd and unmanageable and mainly pushed as window dressing. They sadly also found that if they dared to question the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the the standard schooling methodology, their lives were made very uncomfortable, and they felt that they would either have to shut up or leave. The system here appeared to be not open to criticism and for this reason alone, would appear to be suspect.
Autonomous educators go about things in a very different way. The provision they offer their children is indeed personalised. It is personalised to the interests of the child, it allows them the freedom to become experts in certain fields, it answers the questions they have, it allows the learner to direct their learning, to be responsible for it, to develop at their own pace, to manage all of their lives as they see fit. Autonomously educated children are far more empowered than schooled children and as such they grow up quickly, without the hostility between child and adult that is so frequently seen in schools, since they trust the adults around them to help them when they need it. They cope very well in the work and university environment, as Dr Meighan testifies here: http://edheretics.gn.apc.org/EHT018.htm .
Autonomous education has now come of age and there is now substantial evidence of it's almost outstanding success. We have seen way too many autonomously teens successfully graduate to adult life in one form or another for it to be a matter of chance or good genes. Every single autonomously educated person in all the areas we visit is now doing extremely well in further education. They are highly regarded by their tutors as they manage themselves so well. They are responsible individuals, who know themselves, know what they are interested in doing, know what they should specialise in, and know how to find things out for themselves.
And yet plenty of these children were not reading at all at the age of 7, even up to the age of 12.
One completely autonomously educated girl we know who had never been to school, was not reading a word at 11. By the time she was 12 and a half, she was almost never to be found without an adult-level book in her hands. And yet what would have happened to this kind of child had an EWO pitched up at her door, ignorant of the success of an alternative model? He might well have issued a SAO, or pressurised the family to return the child to school where evidence suggests that it is extremely difficult for such a child to catch up. The school child is labelled or else labels themselves as a non-achiever and it is extremely difficult to overcome these hurdles and not fulfill these labels.
Another autonomously educated boy, whose mother only ever gave him one very miserable formal lesson in maths when he was about 8, (she admits she is still not sure that he knows his times tables), has just been awarded a first, along with three prizes, at Imperial College for Maths and IT and has been offered a PhD off the back of it. He is a wonderful, thoughtful, articulate individual with a wide range of interests and yet had he been subjected to a monitoring regime from an LA official, it is highly likely that he would have been returned to school when he wasn't ready, he almost certainly would not have done nearly so well.
Autonomously educated children think it is normal to learn to read when you feel like it and they know that when it is done like this, you don't fall behind. In the real world outside of school, there are numerous ways of acquiring information other than by reading for yourself. You can talk to people, they can read to you, you can watch the Discovery channel, you can experiment with making a universal indicator out of a red cabbage, or you can find out how to make a scarf, create animations, keep a herb garden or care for a pet. Then you learn to read.
The DCSF must understand that plenty of home educated children are home educated precisely because the current state-determined model has failed them so appallingly, and we worry that should the state decide that it has the right and the duty to determine suitability, it will fall back on it's preferred models, and these children will be failed all over again.
Several girls we know left school at 9 through to 11, completely unable to read and write. When left entirely to their own devices, (none of them were pressurised to read), they learned to read on their own, and once they started, they learnt extremely quickly and then went on to take exams and pursue higher education. Three of these girls were severely depressed when they were taken out of school, and two of them had threatened suicide. If the state is determined to put such children back in school, or even just to label them so that they don't have to back to school, you are highly likely to see a further rise in teenage depression and suicides.
Autonomous education does work. Families thrive on it. If the government tries to impose a set exam routine for home educators, most autonomous families will not comply. If this results in School Attendance Orders, families will go underground, or will emigrate, or have talked of going to jail rather than having their children subjected to a coercive education. The government will then be responsible for destroying the lives of previously law-abiding and perfectly successful families. Do they really want that on their conscience?
So far we have concentrated upon the problems of efficacy as it relates to the determination of suitability in education, but there are also legal and constitutional problems in the situation that the state decides that it should determine the nature of suitability of education in all cases and on a routine basis. The government MUST consider that this will have huge implications for the relationship between person and state. Parents, in effect, will no longer be responsible for determining whether the education they are providing is suitable for their children. It will now be up to the state to make this ultimate determination and the status of section 7 of the Education Act 1996 would in effect change to mean that parents are now only responsible for provision of what is in fact a state-determined education.
This, of course, would override parental human rights as enshrined in Protocol 2 Article 1 of the ECHRs.
"In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions."
and in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26:
It would also mean that should that state-determined education fail a child, (as it surely will), parents can no longer be held responsible. It is now the state which must be held liable and, given the currently enormously high failure rate of what is still parentally chosen state-determined education, it is not hard to envisage that a change to an entirely state-determined education would result in bankruptcy for the government and local authorities.
All this aside from the fact that we must also consider the practical implications to families of intrusion and loss of privacy, as explained above.
Another almost inevitable result of forcibly absolving parents of the duty to consider for themselves whether they are providing a suitable education is that they will stop asking themselves "am I meeting my duty to provide a suitable education" and instead ask themselves "do we appear to be meeting this duty?" which is not a good question as it is highly likely to result in a less suitable education for the child.The problem of the state having to take on responsibility for determining suitability of education and therefore upon the limits of the form and content of an education would be avoided if LAs only investigated where there is reason to think that a suitable education is not being provided. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is one. The state then only gets to determine a few cases of suitability, where there is some reason for concern and a good argument could be made for intervention. It does not dictate to the entire population.
Another cost that the DCSF should consider: if the law is changed so that home educators everywhere must do the government bidding and be automatically assessed for suitability of education according to government criteria, we can expect to see more School Attendance Orders being issued to families who were in fact providing a perfectly suitable but not government-approved education. We can expect to see more of these SAOs being ignored by home educators who know that school is not the best place for the education of their children and we can therefore expect to see such parents to included amongst the number of those prosecuted, fined and imprisoned. All uselessly, expensively and damagingly.
Another cost the the DCSF should consider: that if all these HE children are to be returned to school, it would be a massive drain on school resources, as the schools would have to put in the funds to offer a suitable education to these children, many of whom have diagnosable learning differences or who are simply learning at an idiosyncratic pace.
The DCSF and schools have much to learn from the personalised learning of autonomous home educators if only they knew it. It is such a shame that more people don't understand how well it works, and how inspections of such children may well ruin this process as families struggle to provide the support the autonomous child needs but also to please the more formal demands of the home education inspector.
6. Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?
See answer to question 1. The legislation is already sufficient to deal with the problem.
Introducing compulsory checks for all will be a waste of valuable and limited resources, is highly unlikely to turn up the needle in the haystack and would be an abuse of civil rights and human rights, in contravention of Article 8 of the ECHR.
Home education doesn't take place in isolation from family life. It is integral to it. Having a complete stranger who has considerable power over you pitch up at your door to pronounce on the most private aspects of your life, when they know next to nothing about you and you have done absolutely nothing wrong, is not a prospect to relish. I don't normally want to have to explain to someone I have not freely invited to my home that my daughter's education this morning has consisted of talking to my daughter about why she has just been sick. (Probable norovirus, how contagious diseases are transmitted from person to person, differences between viruses and bacteria, how best to treat the problem, etc) and yet this is precisely the sort of thing that would be expected of us. As a general rule, I want my private life to remain private. I see no hope of this with a routine inspection system.