The following letter was addressed to various people in every English LA with responsibilities to HEors, including those who actually do the monitoring and was sent out in the first week of July 2009.
If anyone comes across any relevant LA official, it might be worth asking them whether they have seen it and given it due thought.
Re: Proposed new duties in regard to Elective Home Education
As you will be aware, The Report on the Review of Elective Home Education by Graham Badman was released on 11 June 2009. On the same day, some of the Recommendations within this report were accepted in full by the Rt Hon Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, School and Families. A consultation is now in progress on the subject of implementing these changes.
If implemented, Mr Badman's recommendations would place a significantly higher level of responsibility on Local Authorities for the registration, monitoring and assessment of all children educated otherwise than at school. In brief there are two basic changes that these recommendations would bring:
* compulsory annual registration for all home educating families, and
* compulsory visits to the homes of all home educating families by Local Authority officers who would have the right to interview children without their parents present.
We are writing to draw your attention to some implications of these proposed new duties.
Current legislation states that it is every parent's responsibility to ensure their child receives a suitable education. If this legal responsibility were to shift onto the Local Authority, it would lay the Local Authority open to legal action for failing to ensure that any child (whether in school or not) received a suitable education. Mr Badman's recommendations, should they become law, would be a significant step in this direction.
2. Staffing and systems
At present it is unclear how Mr Balls imagines your new duties would be carried out in practice. There are an estimated 50,000 - 80,000 home educated children to monitor, though this may be an under-estimate. The registration process in itself would more or less double the current workload of Local Authority staff who deal with home education.
A particular concern would be the sourcing of more personnel trained in the highly sensitive and specialist area of interviewing children about their safety as well as their educational progress. As you are probably aware, social work vacancies already stand at 14% nationally. If the recommendation from the Badman report is introduced Local Authorities could be required to speak with every child who is home educated and ascertain both their educational progress and their safety. It is likely that Local Authority protocol would need to be established for best practice, thus each visit to each child could require two workers. As these visits must take place at least yearly and given the estimated number of home educated children, the pressure on Local Authority workers and Local Authority budgets could be immense.
While Mr Balls has not set a specific date for any changes to be introduced, the consultation regarding these recommendations ends on October 19th. Despite the enormity of the changes that are proposed, he has only allowed the minimum time for the consultation process and it may be the case that he wishes to rush these changes through as soon as possible.
A further worry is that the government appears to believe that the proposals would not increase the workload of Local Authority personnel. They have not carried out an impact assessment to accompany the consultation. Baroness Morgan of Drefelin who is a Labour Peer and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary with the DCSF has explained the reason for the lack of impact assessment, stating;
"We do not expect them [the proposals] to place any significant additional burdens on local authorities as most already monitor home education."
Mr. Badman's report confirms that only 20,000 home educating families are known to Local Authorities .There is an estimated further 30,000-60,000 home educating families in existence, so it is difficult to see how proposals to register and monitor all these families on at least a yearly basis would not place significant additional burdens on local authorities.
It is highly likely that such changes would require a rigorous and ongoing training programme for all members of staff involved with children. At present, Mr Balls has not committed any funding for the implementation of these additional duties nor for the training that would be required for workers. We would encourage you to seek clarification on this matter at an early stage.
Ethically, the rights to privacy and free association can be overridden when there is good cause. However, as Mr. Badman himself reported (paragraph 8.14 of the Review report):
"I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities."
Mr. Badman also states that (para 8.12 of the Review report):
"the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population."
However he does not give details of how many Local Authorities this applies to, only stating that it is 'some'. He also does not detail how many of these 'known' children are known due to their special educational needs. He does not state which, if any, of these children are known to the Local Authorities because they are at risk of harm.
It is therefore unclear on what basis he is suggesting that compulsory visits to all home educating families would be a proportionate response to the supposed risk.
A recent nationwide poll of home educated children and young people found that 77% did not wish to speak to Local Authority officers about their education. There is a further danger, therefore, that the new duties imposed following the Badman review will directly conflict with your duty under section 53 of the Children Act 2004, to, where reasonably practicable, take into account the child's wishes and feelings with regard to the provision of services.
Consideration should also be given to the moral or ethical justification for potentially allowing children genuinely in need to go unprotected or unnoticed, due to the increased workload imposed on local authorities by the duty to annually monitor and interview reportedly 50,000 - 80,000 home educated children in the UK. Home educators are perplexed and worried by this very real possibility.
5. Relations with the community
Some Local Authorities have worked hard in recent years to build good relationships with their local community of home-educating families. There is a danger that the implementation of these recommendations would undermine that work.
Analysis of data provided by 70% of local authorities indicates that the proportion of children known to be electively home educated and actually considered to be at risk is less than half the proportion considered at risk in the general population. (http://tiny.cc/gdk8u)"
Many home-educating parents feel strongly protective of their children's autonomy. This is a common motivation for turning to child-led learning in the first place. There is a wealth of information on the positive aspects of autonomous or personalised learning and much evidence to suggest this community of learners and their families are functioning as a positive part of the general population.
In Graham Badman's Report on Home Education he wrote:
"I have sought to strike a balance between the rights of parents and the rights of the child, and offer, through registration and other recommendations, some assurance on the greater safety of a number of children." (para 11.2)
A survey carried out by Ann Newstead following the release of the Report sought to give home educated children (aged between 5 and 25 years) the opportunity to respond to this. An overwhelming 90% of the children who responded were against the idea of being interviewed without their parent or educator present.
Given the widespread anger aroused by this report within the home education community, and the commitment of home educating parents to respecting their children's wishes about their education and privacy, we expect that implementing the recommendations will not be straightforward for Local Authority officers on the ground.
We believe that all these issues are worthy of consideration, and are relevant to any response which your Local Authority may make to the current consultation.
We enclose a collection of relevant Web links for your information.
DCSF Consultation on Home education - registration and monitoring:
Response to the review from Ed Balls:
2002 Research by Paula Rothermel of Durham University, on outcomes for home
educated children: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00002197.htm
Results of poll of home educated children's wishes:
If you are not already in a dialogue with home educators in your local area, and you would like to discuss these issues with directly affected families in person, please contact us at the email address below and we will endeavour to put you in touch with local parents who can give you any further information you need.
(Representative of) an alliance of over 600 concerned individuals."