Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Examination of the Premises of the Badman Proposals

From comments on Mark Field's transcription of his Westminster Hall debate on Home Education at They Work For You:

Mark Field: "Given that home-educated children are not proven to be at any greater risk, it is inappropriate to throw away the liberty of parents,"

Mark Field is right to raise the issue of the evidence that underpins this Mr. Badman's policy proposals. Further work on the matter of rates of abuse in the HE community is being done at the moment and results of Freedom of Information requests to LAs and the DCSF on the subject of the rate of abuse in the home education community are being aggregated as they come in.

The figures so far strongly suggest that contrary to the impression that is created by assertions in the Badman report and in the current DCSF consultation that the rate of abuse in the HE community is disporportiately high, that it is, on the evidence so far, actually disproportinately low when compared to the rates for overall population.

Current figures from analysis of Freedom of Information requests asking for numbers of abused home educated children as revealed by local authorities:

LAs with calculated abuse rate 109 (from a total of 152)
LAs with zero abuse 83 (76.15%)
LAs with abuse less than national average 13 (11.93%)
LAs with abuse more than national average 13 (11.93%)

Abuse rate in HE community 0.72%
National abuse rate (all children) 1.76% (Children in Need figures, excluding disabled, from the National Statistics Office).

The statement in the Badman review and in the current consultation documents that creates the false impression that home educators are at high risk of abuse also needs to be picked apart:

From the consultation docs:

"However, the reviewer was provided with evidence showing that the number of home educated children known to Children's Social Services in some LAs was disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population."

Of course, being known to social services is not synonymous with child abuse, although the policies that spring from this statement would suggest that this is how Mr. Badman intended the statement to be read.

As the statement actually stands, it doesn't surprise any experienced home educators in the least to hear that the above assertion may be true of some LAs, for it is the case that many home educating families suffer the experience of completely unnecessary referral to social services as a result, for example, of other people not realising that home education is a legal option. These families unfortunately stay on SS records for the rest of time and would appear to have been included in the numbers which led to the statement in the Badman review. There are also a high number of children with special needs of one sort or another in the HE community and these families are often "known" to social services because they receive some sort of support from them, not because these children are abused.

Home educating families are already highly susceptible to unnecessary SS referral. They are highly visible. Every time we go into a shop during school hours, people ask us why we're there. HEors are seen by friends, neighbours, club leaders and teachers, other HEors, relatives, the community as a whole. These people already refer HEing families (often unnecessarily). Badman's proposals will only make the problem of unnecessary referral to SS teams far worse as inexperienced LA staff try to cover their backs and refer families on to the SS.

It therefore appears on the basis of a closer examination of the evidence, that Mr Badman's proposals are not proportionate. They will waste resources on inspecting thousands of perfectly well functioning families, they will cause completely unnecessary stress to these families who risk an over-cautious referral to SS, and it is not at all clear that his proposed system of monitoring will pick up on any more cases of child abuse than are already picked up on by extended family members, neighbours, class tutors, the HE community, etc.

Instead, the scarce resources that LAs have should be directed towards helping families who are known to have problems.

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