Dear Tim Browne
We were interested to read your article in the Times Online on January 30th 2009. We are aware that Ann Newstead replied on behalf of Education Otherwise, but as local home educators who have been involved in liaising with Gloucestershire County Council over their policy on home education, we felt it was incumbent on us to reply also.
In your article you note that: “Current legislation makes it difficult to carry out this responsibility (to safeguard children) properly.” However we already have the 1989 Childrens Act (under which you have the right to look into any suspected cases of child abuse or neglect) and the 2004 Children Act. The 1996 Education Act allows Local Authorities who are concerned about a child’s education to make appropriate enquiries and issue a school attendance order if necessary. Are these not enough powers? If not perhaps this suggests that monitoring does not work.
In most high profile cases of child abuse Local Authorities (and often other agencies) were involved with the families, but this did not prevent the abuse. Eunice Spry was vetted for fostering and adoption – a long and involved procedure – how did Gloucestershire Local Authority not pick up the signs of abuse? The judge denounced the LA for the Spry case not home education. Are you scapegoating home educators to hide your department’s own failings?
You say abuse is not unheard of in home educating families – please let us have the statistics and evidence for this. In Gloucestershire Local Authority’s answers to the recent Independent Review of Home Education in England, it was stated that there is only 1 known case of child abuse related to home education – the Spry case. As we have already discounted this one because of the reasons cited above that would suggest there are none! Not only have you cited this information incorrectly for a newspaper article but it has been put forward as one of the Local Authority’s answers to the Review thereby skewing the evidence that might be quoted for the need to monitor Home Educators.
As you rightly say you are required to establish the identity of those children who are not receiving a suitable education – obviously you are not referring to home educators as their children are receiving a suitable education!
You state that the definition of a suitable education under the Education Act 1996 is ‘vague’. However, although an “efficient” and “suitable” education is not defined in the Education Act 1996, “efficient” has been broadly described in case law as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”, and a “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”. See the Government Guidelines on Home Education, www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/_documents/content/7373-DCSF-Elective%20Home%20Education.pdf This does not seem vague to us – what part of this do you not accept?
Perhaps you could elaborate on this sentiment where you say: “We also need sufficient powers to determine if the education is suitable and of high quality ….” Does this mean you want a ‘school at home’ approach only and that the young person must show ‘outcomes’ such as exam results? What then of ‘autonomous’ education where there may be no visible outcomes unless the child wishes it? How also does this tally with the evidence that indicates home educated children outstrip their school counterparts on every level? (See Paula Rothermel, Expert Witness on Home Education and Alan Thomas’s book ‘Educating Your Child at Home’ to name but two sources).
Home educated children from all classes and backgrounds are ‘succeeding’. Many have attained degrees from top universities; others have attained skills or qualifications in their chosen interests. Most appear to have excellent reading and mathematical skills. There is no research to say they fail on any level including the ‘happiness’ score. Yet Britain was chastised by a fairly recent UNICEF study which showed the UK low down on the scale of child poverty and happiness. As most children attend school what does this suggest? Does this suggest that the Local Authority is really concerned about the welfare of children or is it just attempting to tick boxes for the ContactPoint database? Perhaps it is schools that need more monitoring, or perhaps every child should be home educated!
(for Gloucestershire Home Education Group)