Just before the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee met for the Badman Inquiry on 12th October 09, they interviewed Dr. Maggie Atkinson about her proposed appointment as Children's Commissioner. Below is the transcript of a part of that interview where they touch on the subject of monitoring Elective Home Educators:
"Q36. Paul Holmes: In a few minutes we are going to move on to start looking at the Badman report and suggestions about the regulation of home education. As the person who is 99% of the way to being the Children's Commissioner for England at the moment, what do you think we should be saying as a Committee regarding the legislative process and the Badman report, and whether it is protecting children's interests or trampling all over the interests of home-educated children?
Maggie Atkinson: I will take you back, if I may, to when I was an adviser in Birmingham city council, where there were quite large numbers of home-educated children - it is getting on for 20 years now since I worked in Birmingham. At that time, as an adviser I had a right and a duty not only to knock on the doors of people who were choosing electively to educate their children at home, but simply to go into their premises and, on the most headline of bases, to look at whether the environment was right, whether there were age-appropriate materials in use, and whether the children seemed okay. They were never interviewed on their own, they were never taken on one side, they were never taken away from their parents and there was never any really intrusive work that I did as an adviser from Birmingham city council. I felt it was entirely appropriate, and it was within the bounds of reason.
In the last two to three years, the regulations are such that I can go no further than the doorstep. I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of families who choose electively to educate their children at home are doing so for entirely right reasons, for entirely honourable, fair, just, creative and admirable reasons. But I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who died - Khyra Ishaq. I do not think that it is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut simply to be able to go across the doorstep of the home where a child is being electively home educated. Not to interfere, not to insist, not to direct, but simply to check that they are as safe as you need them to be. Khyra Ishaq was electively home educated and withdrawn from the roll of her school in Birmingham, and within 10 weeks she had starved to death. That may be an extreme case, and horrible and dreadful, and it happens very, very, very rarely indeed. None the less, it's happened.
Q37 Paul Holmes: Who rewrote the rules to stop you going across the doorstep in the way that you did 20 years ago?
Maggie Atkinson: My understanding is that it was statutory guidance that was rewritten within the Department."
A home educator asks: "What chance for EHE children to get justice, with her in the Children's Commissioner's seat?"
Quite. Dr. Atkinson demonstrates by the above evidence that she is either ignorant of the known facts of the matters at hand, or she is quite prepared to fudge the facts in order to further her objectives. Either way, it doesn't bode well.
Where to start? Well first, the EHE guidelines that appeared in 2007 didn't alter the law in any way whatsover. It didn't reduce the powers of the services to intervene in cases such as Khyra's. It merely explained the powers that Local Authorities have for the numerous LAs who were overstepping the mark, so Dr Atkinson's understanding is way off on this point.
Secondly, Dr Atkinson might use the two words Khyra Ishaq in apparent support of her argument that all HEors should suffer a massive level of unwarranted intrusion, but actually the facts of Khyra's case do not support her argument. Khyra was already well-known to the authorities. Both her father and the deputy head had contacted social services numerous times about her situation and there were numerous attempts to visit the family, from police as well as social services. The fact is that Khyra was not hidden and the Badman registration and monitoring process would not have solved this problem, as presumably the family would still have refused to open the door. The law that exists already would provide the only answer. SS and or the police would have the right to gain entry, forcibly if necessary.
Thirdly, there is good reason to believe that Dr. Atkinson, in her role as an advisor to Birmingham LA some twenty years ago, was acting in an ultra vires fashion, since it has, in fact, never been the case that an inspector had the right to doorstep parents, gain entry to the home or have sight of the child without good cause, any more than the authorities have a right of access to the home for children between the ages of 0-5 years.
Hmm. We rather sympathise when the Select Committee deemed Dr. Atkinson inappropriate for the role of Children's Commissioner.