Tag Archives: Home Education

HOME EDUCATION AND THE SAFEGUARDING BANDWAGON

The safeguarding bandwagon in relation to home education rolled on throughout the Christmas break. Wales announced  consultation on compulsory registration – the significance of which was missed by the national media. Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s National Director of Social Care, published an article on more effective safeguarding for home educated children – a thinly veiled attempt to coerce the government to agree to compulsory registration, which hung in the ether and appeared to have no purpose.

Hackney Council was next to jump on the bandwagon, publishing an article on unregistered educational settings (UES) in its borough. The report focuses exclusively on Jewish yeshivas and laments the lack of government urgency in introducing compulsory registration and in giving local authorities powers to inspect home education. The argument goes that because these settings are unregistered, they constitute home education and all home educators must therefore be controlled. Having no education expertise but never a lobby group to miss an opportunity, Humanists UK weighed in, contributing to the report and adding to calls to control Jewish education. They took much of the credit for the Hackney report, presenting themselves as leaders of the national campaign against religious schools and, in passing, accusing Jewish schools of child abuse.

Why is the bandwagon gathering such momentum? Probably because those who want complete control of every child in the country under the guise of safeguarding sense that they may be losing the argument. In a written answer, Lord Agnew (who recently replaced Lord Nash as Under-Secretary of State for Education) not only says that there will be no new legislative powers, he uses Amanda Spielman’s own comments on Ofsted’s success in dealing with UES to prove that existing legislation is effective. He even states that there are far fewer unregistered schools than at first estimated. That’s not what supporters of Lord Soley’s private members bill wanted to hear.

Lord Soley’s bill aims to tighten controls on home education; it received its second reading in November. Adopting a warm, avuncular tone, Lord Soley says he wants to help home educators, as they are a much neglected group, often unsupported and with unacknowledged needs. That’s the warm, cuddly bit.

The truth is a little more ominous. He wants to balance the rights of the child against the rights of the parents, even though home educating parents are discharging their duty and responsibility, not exercising their rights. In his speech, he thanks local authorities, two in particular, for their help in preparing the bill. And an FOI request to one of those authorities reveals, via transcribed emails, what that help actually looks like.

On the elective home education (EHE) lobby: ‘You are correct the EHE lobby is mobilising – already FOI requests…asking for copies of all emails between officers and yourself.’

 On what they want to achieve: ‘gov view is that LA’s need to stretch the guidance and they want case law to be tested’…’ Problem is that this needs to be communicated to EHE community’.‘That’s basically the trouble with all of this. Too much relies on parental permission’. ‘The core issues then are to establish clear statutory access to the children and having full details of all EHE’s’. ‘Hopefully our collective efforts will influence the DfE’s thinking’.

 On removing the words ‘emotional and physical development’ from the proposed wording in order to get legislation past the home ed lobby: ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’, ‘words “physical and emotional” could be left out not least because this will distract and allow the EHE lobby to be critical. The important issue is the duty to monitor the child’s “educational’ development”’ ‘Once EHE professionals are under duty to monitor the “educational’ development” of the child by a visit to the home and a discussion with the parent and child, they will be in a better position to detect any safeguarding issues’ ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’

 Lord Soley’s concern over the possible role of Lord Agnew: I understand the new Minister is S T A [Sir Theo Agnew] – is that correct? The other problem here is the position of the new minister on this issue. If he is still sympathetic to co-operating with me on getting the Bill into a form that satisfies the Government and myself then obviously I will try and involve the Department at all stages. If there is not a willingness to co-operate then I will have to reconsider how I handle the Bill. Any ideas about this?

On sanctions for non-compliant parents: Where a new statutory duty is created it is usual and good practice to create a sanction for non-compliance with the duty…[include] a provision that makes clear that where a parent fails to register a Local Authority may take this into account in determining whether to issue a notice under the Education Act 1996…case law has established that “if parents refuse to answer it could very easily conclude that prima facie the parents were in breach of their duty”.’

Lord Soley ends one email by saying that he needs to work out ‘how best to enlist public support as the opposition is now growing’. Oddly, I thought that was what living in democracy meant – legislation can be both proposed and opposed. Clearly he has temporarily lost sight of how democracy works.

He also observes that opposition is ‘still far less than it was some years ago’. Watch this space, Lord Soley and make no assumptions about using your power to get ‘clear statutory access’ to other people’s children. Parents are the guardians of their children’s welfare, not the state.

 

WE ARE THE STATE: WE ARE THE PARENTS

‘Parents bring up children, not governments’. The 2007 national Children’s Plan made that clear. Parents are their children’s prime educators, with parental attitude, support and expectation proving to be key factors in a child’s success. How and where each child is educated is a matter of parental choice.

There is a history of nonconformist Christian education dating back to the 1662 Act of Uniformity – that is a parental right which has continued undisturbed for centuries, and one which is still clearly enshrined in Article 2, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It says that ‘the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’.

But in 2009, Graham Badman was commissioned to investigate home education, with particular concern for safeguarding. His concluding report, Review of Elective Home Education in England makes a passing acknowledgement of parental rights before turning the spotlight onto the rights of the child, arguing that the ECHR clarified that ‘respect is only due to convictions on the part of parents which do not conflict with the fundamental rights of the child to education … this right by its very nature calls for regulation by the State’. Badman reinforced this shift in focus using Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: ‘Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’.

Badman further added Article 28 to the mix, which defines it as the responsibility of parents to provide a ‘suitable’ education. According to the 1996 Education Act a ‘suitable education’ is one which ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so’. There can only be State intervention if there is evidence that provision is unsuitable under these terms – ie, non- conformity to the prevalent social orthodoxy is not a reason to intervene.

Nevertheless, Badman made a host of recommendations, including compulsory registration of home educators; Local Authority monitoring, supervision and annual reporting; bringing home education within the remit of Ofsted and the redefinition of ‘suitable’ education. Most controversially, he recommended that Local Authority officers should have the right of access to the home to talk to children alone, claiming that home educated children were twice as likely to be abused as those in school.

His report was quickly followed by one from Ofsted entitled ‘Children Missing from Education’. Note this is not missing from school, but missing from education. The subtext is ominous – school is the only setting in which education can take place, therefore home educated children are ‘missing’ children. It’s a definition that creates a State mandate to intervene.

Fortunately, the Badman Report was stopped in its tracks when an unprecedented 120 petitions were presented by MPs on the grounds that the proposals would ‘for the first time in our history, tear away from parents and give to the State the responsibility for a child’s education’.

And that, you might hope, was the end of the matter. Except that it wasn’t, because just a month ago, the Local Government Association (LGA) made a request almost identical in its wording to the Badman proposals. The LGA wants right of access to homes. Justification is offered by Colin Diamond, executive director of education for Birmingham: ‘We feel that any Elective Home Education (EHE) learning situation potentially puts a child in a very vulnerable position … because the child is isolated, they are not visible to their peer group and professionals don’t keep an eye on them’. He also added: ‘It is unacceptable for any child of compulsory school age not to be receiving a suitable education’. Once again, the assertion, based on flawed suppositions, is that home educated children are not safe and that only the State can define ‘suitable’. It chimes with David Cameron’s chilling statement last year, with regard to looked-after children, that ‘we, the State, are their parents’.

In ruling the Scottish Named Person scheme illegal, the Supreme Court judge commented ‘The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.’ Behind the safeguarding smokescreen, this is exactly what moves against the parental right to educate ‘in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’ is trying to do.

But in reality, a living child is a learning child, so all parents are home educators from the point of birth. Children are constantly learning and parents are constantly involved in the process of nurturing them. They raise their children in the unique contexts of home, family and community. And if it takes a village to raise a child, school is just one building of many in the village.

Childhood is not the State waiting room for adult life. It is the place where we learn to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to trust and to be trusted. It is the place where we discover who we are, why we are here and how, as we approach adulthood, we want to live. If parents choose to also provide the academic aspects of learning and growing at home, that is their right and their responsibility, and one which cannot be removed.