Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lord Laming and Margaret Hodge, ContactPoint and Baby P.

Blogdial, who says it all, has spotted this story in the Evening Standard.

Home Education in Sheffield on the increase, apparently.

Home Education Review Poorly Timed

We always said that the Home Education Review, which was announced on 19th January had come at a strange time, what with ContactPoint yet to go live, and the new Guidance on Identifying Children Missing an Education only issued also in January, but with no time to come into effect or to assess for its effectiveness.

The timing looks even stranger when we add in the fact that the DCSF have commissioned a Research Initiative:

"designed to support the Government’s programme of reform to improve early recognition and cost effective intervention to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The broad aim is to strengthen the evidence base to underpin policy and practice in three key areas highlighted by the Laming Inquiry, namely:
· Recognition of abuse, particularly neglect and emotional abuse, which have received less research attention than physical and sexual abuse (See Ward et al, 2004).
· Impact of interventions on outcomes for children, including supportive and rehabilitative efforts
· Inter-agency working involving collaboration between statutory services in health, education and social services with particular attention to the impact of new structural arrangements designed to promote multi-agency/multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Child abuse and neglect are societal problems that cut across medical, educational, social service and legal disciplines. The initiative is designed to support both policy and practice, cross-cutting disciplinary and agency practice."

Potentially highly relevant results from this process appear, in many of the studies, to be as yet unavailable.

Whilst I can't reliably guess at the motivations of the DCSF for the timing of the review, (though concern about being seen to do something, however inefficiently does top the list), it is at least pretty clear that the DCSF have put the cart before horse.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Review Publication Date = Early June

We hear today from the DCSF:

"I am afraid I am unable to advise an exact date of publication as yet. The review team are finalising their report and aim to publish in early June."

To Sum Up?

OK, I think we've well and truly thrashed that one out. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed.

To be honest, I am still trying to process it all, as for one reason or another I haven't had those usual moments when I'm not either exhausted or frantically rushing about, but my best bet so far is that, as the large majority of commentators have said, we remain true to our previous arguments, ie: that the law as it stands represents a subtle and proportionate balance between respecting the rights of families to privacy and self-determination and protection of the child and it remains incumbent upon local authorities to get more proficient at using it.

Sadly, there is no conceivable way that the authorities are ever going to find the child who has never been registered at birth and whose parents don't claim Child Benefit unless they insist on looking under the floorboards of every single house in the land, which is clearly impossible.

ContactPoint will alert them to those children whose parents claim child benefit and use other services but who's place of education has not been identified. It does seem that the 2009 Guidance on Identifying Children Missing from Education means that local authorities must then follow these families up, but they must follow a proportionate process of evidence collection. They should start by writing to the family, asking for information and evidence of education and should only take further action should the responses prove unsatisfactory.

Alarmingly however, even without any recommendations from Mr. Badman's review team or any changes in current legislation, there is some evidence to suggest that local authorities are already taking the CME Guidance to mean that they must make more referrals to social services. This is reportedly happening to families at the point of deregistration from schools and/or if the family refuse a home visit. Already over-burdened social workers are likely to object to this use of their services, but this will come too late for the families who have to deal with the completely unwarranted stress of social services intrusion. Should reports of this trend prove to be true, we will need to consider what we should do about it. Casting around for new ideas (such as the one mentioned below) and critiquing them as sensibly as we can, should be part of this process and will probably continue to feature on this blog.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I STILL Think D's Idea is Possibly (POSSIBLY, please note) a Good One!

OK, folks, please bear with me. I haven't actually had a moment to properly process the thread below, but what few seconds I have had, the following thoughts have occurred to me:

I am thinking that right now - without any changes in the law and without any further recommendations from the Mr Badman's review team, many home educators who refuse a home visit are then automatically referred to social services for some fairly undetermined reason, but nominally because refusal of a visit is deemed a possible reason for supposing that abuse is taking place. This is already the reality for many home educators.

Wouldn't it be better, rather than having to deal with a social worker pitching up at your door with a nasty agenda, if we could all find a way that suits the child, to attend a meeting, public or private, where the child can be informed of their rights?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What About This Idea?

A suggestion has been raised in comments here by way of a response to the questions that ex-home educating lawyer Ian Dowty posed here.

The suggestion, which only exists in vague form at present, is that there be some sort of compulsory, perhaps annual lecture, delivered by local authorities or another designated body to home educating children and their families on the subject of children's rights, abuse and how to solve the problem of abuse. It would not involve assessment of children and families but merely ensure that children know about how the government conceives of children's rights.

Several commentators mention some problems with the idea of a summer school for example, but I wonder what they would think of the more limited proposal above?

I have to admit I am tempted, as I have this vision that the whole thing would rapidly proceed to a demonstration of how it is actually HE children who are routinely listened to and have their rights respected and that it is schooled children who are woefully abused by the system; (see Cosmic Seed's tale of woe in the comments below).

UPDATE: In response to some criticisms of the idea, one proposal is that the method of delivery of information be much more flexible than I delineated above. For example, a child could be given a book at a health centre that would be appropriate for their age and ability, a health visitor could help them read it and that a lecture would therefore not be the only compulsory option.

FURTHER UPDATE: From comments, we have a suggestion that discussion/information/training on children's rights and how to stay safe be offered by the state on an invitational basis, with the idea that it is more likely than a compulsory scheme (which abusive people would make an effort to dodge) to reach the people who might need help.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Questions from Ian Dowty

An article by ex-home educating lawyer Ian Dowty, due for publication in the Education Otherwise newsletter, may be found here. He summarises the current position very succinctly and then asks some searching questions.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Police State?

The response to the petition is out.

We wonder if it does indeed indicate that we are heading for the automatic policing of the intimate nooks and crannies of family life, all of which might be smuggled in in some sub-section the next White Paper on Education which has been a little delayed and is now due out in June.

From paragraph 1 of the petition response:

"One of the key principles underpinning The Children’s Plan published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families is that the government does not bring up children – parents do."

Yes, thanks for that, (very big of you), but who is actually responsible for children then? This is a different question. Are parents merely to do the government bidding with raising children, or are they autonomous agents, free to go about their own business unless there is some reason to think that they are not fulfilling their responsibilities towards their children?

"The review of home education does not threaten a parent’s right to educate their child at home."

Thanks, but we did know this much already and it does not resolve the problem of who is responsible for the education of children. If the state monitors the education all children to ensure that it is suitable without there being any reason for believing that it isn't, the state unequivocably becomes responsible for determining the nature of suitability of the education of all children in this country and parents merely become agents of the state in ensuring that this education is delivered.

Paragraph 2.

"However, there is always a balance to be struck between respecting the rights of parents, and ensuring that local authorities (LAs) and other agencies have the right systems in place to intervene where it is necessary for them to do so."

Hold on here - yes, strike a balance, by all means. This is what you had done with legislation that only permitted of intervention in family life when there was an appearance of parental failure. Sadly, recent developments have not shown such a respect for the importance of balance or an understanding of the importance of liberty. With the introduction of the universal database - ContactPoint, and with the recent Guidance on Identifying Children Missing a Suitable Education, it seems that this government believes that the whole population must be screened in order to determine if it guilty of something, whether or not there is any reason to suspect that this is so.

From the Devil's Kitchen: (HT: Louisa H).

"Your humble Devil has often been mocked for his assertion that we are, increasingly, living in a police state, but I think that the above idea is worth thinking about. The root of the problem is "preventative" laws—laws that penalise you because you might do something...

...In other words, the absolute right of the individual has been subsumed into the probability rights of society.

It is this attitude that it is right and proper to criminalise people on the basis of probabilities—coupled with the idea of the state as an entity that can be sinned against—that has led to the worst excesses of illiberal legislation over the last few decades or so.

...I have said before that I think that all criminal law could actually be distilled into one single law: "It is illegal to initiate force or fraud against another person's life, liberty or property."

Further on paragraph 2 of the petition response:

"LAs tell us that they have particular concerns about being able to fulfil their responsibilities in the case of home educated children. We must find out what is behind those concerns and make sure that the arrangements are fit for purpose."

And whilst you collect this evidence, be sure that you realise that plenty of LA personnel don't understand the limits of their responsibilities. For example, they often believe that they are responsible for ensuring that HE children achieve the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda, when this is not stated in primary legislation and is ultra vires. LA staff may may exaggerate their difficulties not because they do not actually have sufficient legislation to deal with problem cases, but because they want to make their lives as easy as possible. They want the legislative back-up to enable them batter down our doors and make us do their bidding. But this is not the way to strike any sort of balance. It is not to respect the importance of freedom. And their jobs are not necessarily meant to be easy. That is why are paid for what they do.

"The welfare and protection of all children, both those who attend school and those who are educated at home, are of paramount concern. The independent review of home education is part of our ongoing commitment to strengthen the safeguarding arrangements for all children, whatever their background or circumstances."

Yes, welfare and protection of children is a concern of paramount importance, but it is, so to speak, of the most paramount importance to themselves and their families. This is how it should be, both for the reasons of principle, (since coercion acts as a limit upon rational and creative thought, and children must therefore determine for themselves how they would like to be looked after) and for the practical reason that the state couldn't possibly genuinely hold the welfare and protection of all children as of paramount importance. The government really must realise that the state must concentrate on the few whose parents fail most woefully.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

BECTA Update

Graham Badman, who is heading up the Review of Home Education, has been confirmed as the Chair of Becta, "the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning" and which, amongst other things, has been piloting the scheme to provide home access to computing and the internet to low-income families (to date of schooled children only...home educated children explicitly excluded).

However, we wonder if this sort of scheme will be suggested by the review team for home educators and whether HEors be required to log in, do this and that, be monitored over some distance.

All other objections aside, we can't help wondering how the Plymouth Brethren or the Steiner-type home educators round our way will take to this?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Staffordshire's Response to the HE Review

Many congratulations are due to Matt Hupfield who persisted with a FOI requesting Staffordshire's response to the HE review in the face of obscure objections by Staffs LA.

I was just about to post an anxious/furious rant about Staff's response but Gill has stayed calm(ish) and done a much better job of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


There's more on the story of Rotherham's treatment of a family who are home educating a disabled child.

A Child Protection Conference, on the surface of it, seems very heavy-handed. We are talking here about the invocation and use of Section 47 of the Children Act 1989:

"47) 1. Where a local authority....

(b) have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm,

the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare."

What have this family done to earn such suspicion, one wonders? According to HEors who specialise in supporting HEing families with disabilities, this sort of situation is not unusual and appears to result from the fact that statistically children with disabilities are much more likely to suffer abuse. The Social Services get worried, and prefer to cover their backs.

SS also apparently get worried because specialists such as paediatricians, educational psychologists, speech or occupational therapists may have stated that the child needs to be in school to learn from their peers, or needs specialist teaching or therapy. Any suggestion that the parent is withdrawing from therapy services can be construed as neglect of medical needs, despite the fact that they may well be withdrawing the child from school precisely because these services were not meeting the child's needs.

However Social Services don't need to prove their reasons for their concerns at the Child Protection Conference. All they need to do is raise enough doubt so that other professionals at the conference don't feel they can confidently say "I know this child will be OK and there is no need for the family to be monitored." The SS often come up with the accusation of emotional abuse or neglect of educational and social needs which given the subjective and often prejudiced nature of such judgements, particularly with regard to LAs ignorant view of home education, could be very hard to disprove.

For parents of disabled children who have experienced both the schooling system and home education, the double standards are very hard to tolerate. Home educators seem to be held to far, far higher account. One parent commented:

"From the fuss they kick up you'd think schools, both special needs and mainstream, were providing what disabled children needed. This is so far from the truth.

Where are the SS when the school forget to feed a child, don't provide a communication aid, don't provide escorts on the bus who can administer medication, don't fulfil the child's social needs cos they are strapped into a chair, have a wheelchair that is too small and is hurting them, are bullied because of their special needs????

Grrr with nobs on."

The Rotherham family are now in touch with the local HE group but it rather looks as if they will be needing yet more by the way of specialist HE support in order to be allowed to do the best for their child.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

ContactPoint Update

According to a recent missive to the Worcestershire Home Education yahoo list, the dreadful ContactPoint database is due to go live in July. Given the shorter time-scale, it is slightly less easy to hope that this is mere bluster. Presumably the LA could predict with some accuracy whether or not the whole thing will be ready to go in just two months time.

Not that it will help much with real child protection problems, as far as we can tell. Too many social workers are already snowed under for them to be burdened with hundreds of other cases involving families who may well not need their services at all.

Blogdial summerises all this and other related matters very neatly here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Site of the Day

The Wild Classroom. It does require a degree of nous though, eg: don't go eating digitalis, whatever you do!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

EO's Prospectus for Improving Support for Home Educating Families

I have now had a chance to read the Prospectus from EO here, though I doubt whether I have fully processed the likely consequences of all their proposals. This might take some doing, I suspect, and in recognising this, one can only also hope that these proposals have been well-considered by the authors.

Advice has been taken from lawyer Ian Dowty who has extensive experience in the field of home education law and there is plenty to be thankful for in the preliminary paragraphs with regard to the constitutional significance of any changes to the legislation surrounding home education.

"A thorough investigation (into HE and HE related law) will raise fundamental issues and principles, including:

*the relationship of the state and local government to the family and the child;

*the role of the family in determining a child's education - this currently lies with the parents. Any change will impact on all families;

*whether the state only financially supports, through taxation, education for children and young people when families choose to use the state education system, or whether funding follows the child irrespective of the place of education;

*where the burden of proof should lie - does innocent until proven guilty apply to all or are authorities proposing to reverse the burden of proof in the case of home educating families?

*What are the liabilities of local authorities and if they take to themselves more responsibility for home educating families, will they expose themselves to greater liability?"

...all of which is very sound.

It is likely that EO were motivated to produce this prospectus because they realised that the HE Review Team will have to suggest something, and have therefore come up with some 43 recommendations in order to preempt the possibility of the Review team proposing something worse. Indeed plenty of the suggestions in the Prospectus, such as this one:

"14. that "home education" is removed from the prejudicial areas of vulnerability and dysfunction and becomes a subset of "education" within Children's Trusts."

are very sensible.

However, many in the home education community are far from happy. It seems that hardly anyone beyond the named authors was consulted in the writing of this prospectus. Even other trustees of EO knew next to nothing about it, so the idea that this prospectus has achieved anything like a consensus in the HE community would be hugely misleading and there are many who would resist some of its implications whole-heartedly.

And then there is the matter of recommendation 4, (on page 6)

"4. that the DCSF Elective Home Education Team should work with home education support organisations to set up a national Committee for Home Education, [HEC], remit to include contributing to Government policy initiatives related to home education, contributing to Impact Assessments, and making recommendations related to home education policy. "

Whoa - this came from left field. No-one, even other people formally on the Government Policy Group of EO, appears to have known about this major proposal, and yet the Committee would need the confidence of HEors in order for it to function smoothly. This is going to be very hard to achieve, particularly given the nature of its initial presentation.

Whilst it is easy to appreciate that it would have been immensely hard to sell the idea of a Committee to the HE community before presenting it as a fait accompli to Mr Badman's Review Team, simply thrusting such a big idea upon HEors without any prior consultation is not going to inspire the necessary confidence in that community. If those who propose the idea are prepared to act in such a high-handed, undemocratic way, and seem to be highly likely to end up being the ones on the Committee, HEors cannot feel confident that their voices will be heard and represented by such a Committee and will worry that the it will act without consulting them.

Many home educators have also been very unnerved by the vague nature of the proposals in the prospectus about how the Committee would come about. We hear that:

"A total of 8 or 10 Committee members would be sought to represent the perspective of home educators, local authorities, DCSF and the Children's Workforce.

Spokespeople and policy leads from other Government Departments such as DIUS, DWP, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department of Health and Communities and Local Government could be invited to share policy information and new ideas. Academics and researchers in the field of innovative education and learning would be invited to liaise with the
Committee. It is likely that the Committee would also want to talk to representatives from NESTA, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts."

From the above, it rather looks as if the perspective of home educators could easily be swamped by the perspective of other committee members.

It is also not clear from the prospectus whether there would be an election or an employment process or even whether the Committee members would be volunteers or paid employees. We hear via the lists that the authors intended the Committee to be a voluntary body, but we are not sure that Mr Badman would necessarily know this.

But before dismissing the idea out of hand, it would be worth trying to establish exactly what the Committee might achieve. At the very least, it looks as if it might provide the benefit of creating a stable set of people who are well-informed about home education. One of the on-going problems we now experience is that we have to deal with a constant stream of changing faces in the DCSF, many of whom know next to nothing about HE and who have to be re-educated all over again. A Committee might solve this sort of problem.

The Committee might also function in that HEors might be prepared to raise problems with and through it that they wouldn't raise with their LAs or with the DCSF.

It would also be worth looking at the stated purposes of the HEC as listed in subsequent recommendations in the prospectus, eg:

"7: that the Home Education Committee undertakes to review all such initiatives in the light of Every Child Matters including home educated children."

The above example represents a problem with the proposed Committee in that it is sufficiently vague to give rise to anxieties about its functions. Even if one assumes that the initiatives referred to here are the ones mentioned in the previous recommendations, ie: 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6, (including things like requiring the DCSF to raise awareness of HE as a legal option and to look at models of good practice and for LAs to move from the role of monitoring and inspection to one of offering advice and support), point 7 of course only requires that the HEC review "such" initiatives. Thus other, at present, unspecified initiatives may well fall within their remit. This could therefore give rise to the Committee being pushed by the DCSF to mutate from its apparent initial functions to one of, for example providing a monitoring service, along the lines of the Tasmanian model that is much favoured by Mr Badman.

Education Otherwise have stated that they would not be responsible for setting up a body that would monitor home educators, but the Committee is not EO and it is therefore conceivable, given that we don't even know who would be on the proposed Committee or how answerable they would be to the HE community, that a mutation of functions of this sort could come about.

There are many other proposed functions for the HEC, which could offer great benefit, eg:

"15. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee establish protocols for national and local Government to seek the view (sic) of home educated children and young people with respect to government initiatives such as new play areas, myplace, Youth Opportunities Funding."

"17. Recommendation: Education Otherwise and the Home Education Committee to liaise with the Children's Workforce Development Council and the DCSF to make available a budget for training. DCSF to stipulate that anyone dealing with home educating families either has had prior training in home education themselves or will be required to seek further information on home education at the point of first contact."

"22. Recommendation: DCSF and the Home Education Committee should raise awareness of home education with the Ministry of Justice."

"23. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate the issue of off-rolling."

"34. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate barriers to home educated young people accessing college at 14"

though there are some where intervention may give rise to more problems than it solves, eg:

"28. Recommendation: to ask the Home Education Committee to investigate the impact of raising participation age on home educated young people. What will be the role of the local authority in relation to home educated young people 16-18?"

Uh, oh...couldn't they just forget about us?

"33. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee investigates ways in which home educated young people could have greater access to Key Skills provision and accreditation."

Eeek...suppose, just suppose this goes wrong? If we have greater access, couldn't this mean that we all have to end up doing it?

All in all, it seems a shame that the Prospectus couldn't have been more widely consulted upon before it was presented to the Review team. We suspect Mr Badman will seize upon the proposal to set up an HEC and we suspect that this will cause monumental problems with consent in the HE community.


Other blogs on the same topic:

Sometimes it's Peaceful
Travelling to Scotland
Home Education Forums
Renegade Parent
Making it Up

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Home Educating Parents Accused of Neglect

Initially I was going to forward this link from the Telegraph with the tag-line "we don't know enough. Perhaps the family is being neglectful, but we will be keeping an eye on things", but after reading the concluding paragraphs:

"Mrs Robertson, from Whiston near Rotherham, said: "I would lay down my life for my children and I deeply resent the suggestion that I am not doing my best of Elysha. And to use this law, which seems to accuse us of causing harm and neglect to our daughter, is both insulting and offensive. I want to teach my child at home because I believe she has made better progress than she did at Newman School where she was taught before."

A Rotherham Council spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on individual cases but said : "In general the authority would always recommend that children receive a better all round learning experience from attending school.""'s very, very hard not to infer that Rotherham Council are just ignorant, prejudiced bullies.

UPDATE: We hear via an HE email list, that the mother is in touch with the local HE group.

UPDATE: EO have produced a Prospectus for Improving Support to Home Educating Families which on first glance, looks to address many of the issues raised by the above case.