Sunday, October 25, 2009

Maggie Atkinson is Making Things Up

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.


Fiona T said...

Arrrrggghhhhhhhh!! Have these people been brainwashed? Are they really drones that have been replicated to follow all government desires no matter the cost !!!Its like saying that waitrose has the right to come into the home and check all the cupboards, receipts and bank accounts of all its customers, because last week someone took a basket full of goods without paying !!How would people feel then? Maybe like they had been branded as a criminal just for shopping a waitrose?Hmmmm.

Lisa G said...

Barry Sheerman and the committee objected to her on the grounds that she would not be able to stand up to that 'bit of a bully' Ed Balls and she would just toe the party line, sounds like they are right!

Anonymous said...

A relatively minor point, but if she thinks LAs should check that the materials used by home educated children are "age appropriate", as she said she used to check in Birmingham, then she is also out of touch with government education strategy, which emphasises 'stage not age'. (See 'children should be taught according to their “stage not age”' at ).

How do the LAs propose to determine what stage each home educated child is at? Even if they determine it once, it is recognised by experts in child development that children do not develop in a nice even fashion, and intellectual growth spurts and lags occur at different ages in different children, as well as being different for different academic skills. They'll have to determine it every time they see a child, for each aspect of academic study, before they even start to think about whether the materials the child has are 'suitable'.

On a side point, how are they going to find out whether a child who is studying A level and undergraduate material (online, for free :-)) has learnt what they 'should' have done over the last 12 months? Are they going to bring in Uni staff? Are all LA inspectors competent to assess attainment at A level in all subjects? Perhaps they are assuming that every home educated child is either over 16 years old or goes to college to study at this level, but if so they are wrong, yet again.

I wait with bated breath for the next installment of this nonsense ....

Carlotta said...

Fiona T...I share every ounce of your frustration and think your analogy a great one. Wondering if you could explain this to the Select Com!

Lisa...seems as if her line on the Badman report confirms the opinion of the Select Comm.

Anon...Could I raise your comment to post level, please? and would you also send a copy of this to the select comm.