This issue is not just of importance to home educators. It will affect all families with children. Home educators are just the guinea pigs, but this failing government will come for your children too. In the wake of the Baby P scandal, who would dare argue with the government's Every Child Matters rhetoric?
"The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation." - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
So that's where the government gets its ideas from. Ask yourself, what will you do when they come for the home educated children? What will you do when they come for the under-5s? What will you do when they come for the obese children? What will you do when they come for the children of single mothers? What will you do?
I should mention that, despite my choices, I don't hate schools or teachers. I just believe that all parents should have a choice when it comes to bringing up their own children. I am not seeking universal support or pats on the back, but I would like the decisions we've made, as a family, to be respected, just as you would wish yours to be. So then...
What's wrong with the Badman Report?
You can find the report here.
It might be more reasonable to ask what's right with it.
Erosion of Human Rights
The report recommends that local authorities be given right of access to private homes and right of access to children for private interviews without a parent (or other adult) present.
This is discriminatory to the point of indecency. Families should not be expected to put up with this level of interference unless there is a damn good reason, criminal activity, for instance.
The Badman Report polarises the rights of the parents and the rights of the child as though they are at opposite ends of some invisible spectrum. It is the duty of the parents to uphold the rights of the child. It is not the duty of government to ride roughshod over parental rights in order to offer children lip-service. Mr Badman uses the UNCRC to justify his recommendations and undermine parents, yet fails to include the parts which really empower the child to see that his rights are observed by the state. Children have the right to a private family life, free from arbitrary intervention by the state, as do adults. They have the right to freedom of association and, thereby, dissociation. They have, in effect, the right to refuse to speak to LA officials, to be performing monkeys, and to refuse entry to their homes. Mr Badman must realise that he cannot pick and choose the bits from the UNCRC that are most convenient to him, and best fit his agenda - these are the fundamental rights of children we're talking about here.
There are many children for whom being interviewed by a stranger would prove particularly upsetting, and I can't actually think of any who wouldn't mind having a stranger ask them potentially leading questions about their private lives and their education. It is damaging for children to be taught, through the monitoring of families, that strangers are better placed to make decisions on their behalf and that parents ought not to be trusted with such decisions.
The true polarisation of rights in evidence in Mr Badman's report is that of the state versus the family.
A Parenting Licence?
The report recommends that parents be required to register to home educate on an annual basis and that they draw up a yearly plan within 8 weeks of registration.
Since schools need to notify the local authority when children are de-registered, and since the Contact Point database includes a field for educational setting, there should be no need for registration. However, the purpose of registration is not what it seems. The main purpose of registration, aside from lining us all up like illegal immigrants, is so that some local authority clipboard monitor can pronounce judgement on our suitability as home educators. They will be able to deny our right to home-educate based on any biased criteria that occurs to them. It is my responsibility as a parent to educate my children; it's part of my duty and, as such, applying to home-educate my children amounts to the same thing as applying for a licence to parent.
Our right to home-educate may be refused on the grounds that we are unable to provide a plan (autonomous education allows the child to follow his own interests rather than a planned curriculum), or our children may be forced into school if our provision deviates from our plan (undermining the flexibility and individuality enjoyed by home educated children). In other words, if home education looks like anything other than "school at home", registration can be denied.
Conflating Welfare and Education
Welfare and education are separate issues. The Badman Report conflates the two issues. Social services already have the powers to intervene should there be safeguarding issues. Local authorities have the powers to intervene should there be educational ones. We do not need separate powers to be used against home educators - that would be discriminatory. It's deeply insulting and implies that home educators are prone to abusing their children and that they alone should not enjoy the presumption of innocence.
The number of known home-educated children in England is 20,000. Estimates of the actual number vary wildly from 40,000 to 80,000 depending on which newspaper you read. The DCSF failed to rectify inaccuracies reported in the media (which stem from the Badman Report) claiming that home educated children were twice as likely to be victims of abuse. The actual statement was that home-educated children are twice as likely to be known to the social services in some areas. There are several reasons for this;
* some LAs refer home-educated children to social services automatically, ultra vires.
* a high proportion of home-educated children are SEN, and are known because they are 'service users' (speech therapy, etc)
* some home educators have been the target of malicious campaigns from neighbours and even relatives,who assume that it is illegal to home educate or that all children should be in school because that's where they belong.
* some GPs, and other healthcare staff, have been known to refer children to social services on hearing that the children are home- educated, again an ultra vires practice.
Independent research, including information from FOI requests to the DCSF, shows that home educated children are, in fact, less than half as likely to be victims of abuse than their schooled counterparts and that's only if the number of 20,000 is correct. If there are 40,000 home educated kids, that's less than a quarter as likely, and so on. FOI requests have now been blocked by the DCSF, presumably for fear of the home education community using their own evidence to build a case against them. The official reason for the block is to prevent the harassment and vilification of Mr Badman; surely if his evidence is reliable he should have nothing to fear from FOI requests. Isn't that what they're always telling us? If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. (I do not subscribe to this view. It is totalitarian in principle and I use it only to illustrate the duplicity of the government and its complicit agencies).
Despite more than 75% of respondents being home-educated children and their parents, the report makes space for just two quotes from home educators, one taken out of context to portray the home educator in a bad light. Why ask for our views if they were to be dismissed out of hand? Why were local authorities permitted to respond to the same questionnaire as the general public as well as their own specialised questionnaire? And why, given that only 60% of the LAs bothered to respond, are they considered to be worthier stakeholders than the parents who have shouldered a lot of responsibility and hostility to do what's best for their own children?
So, why were the NSPCC and the Church of England consulted?
The NSPCC has been outspoken in the media against home education, insinuating links between home education and Victoria Climbie. She was not home educated. But she was failed by the NSPCC. And the local authority.
I think the reason for the inclusion of a lengthy statement from the Church of England comes from a misapprehension that most home educators are religious. Mr Badman affords the CofE a lengthy statement which appears to agree with his findings, but leaves out the final paragraph of the full statement which contradicts Mr Badman's proposals. Hmmm, I wonder why.
Hard cases make bad law. As horrific as cases like Baby P and Victoria Climbie are, they should not be used to justify an intrusive and disproportionate response in the form of legislation which will ultimately do nothing to prevent those hard cases. Both these cases have been used to justify the recommendations in the Badman Report despite the fact that neither Baby P nor Victoria Climbie were home-educated. Both children were monitored, extensively, yet were still failed by the authorities. So, why do we need more monitoring when it seems that it was not the monitoring but the follow-up that was lacking. Diverting the attention of the already over-stretched social services towards a community where no problem has been proven to exist is a rather perverse way of safeguarding those children who really need it. Baroness Morgan has already publicly admitted that there is no extra money for these extra measures, just extra work for the local authorities and social services.
In a nutshell...
The report is inflammatory, insulting, discriminatory, biased, highly-selective and misleading, and its recommendations are disproportionate and intrusive.
The questions below have been asked by various friends and family members and some anonymous, hostile trolls.
Don't you think you should be inspected (by Ofsted)?
No. Schools are inspected for one reason; they are accountable to others. Firstly, schools are accountable to the government for their expenditure. Since I am not funded by the government, I should not be accountable to them. If the government did offer financial support, it would undoubtedly come with strings attached, and I wouldn't touch it for that reason. (That would make me a service refuser, i.e. a bad parent!) Secondly, schools are accountable to parents. Since I don't need to be accountable to myself, this is irrelevant to home educators. What seems to be forgotten here is that it is the parent's duty to educate the child, not the state's. The state cannot adopt the role of parent, no matter how little it trusts parents to do their job. I think this government isn't fit for purpose but there's sod all I can do about it until election time.
What exactly would be the purpose of an inspection? LAs already have the means to satisfy themselves that education is taking place, and guidance for what to do if they believe it isn't . It would be perverse to give LAs more powers when they don't use the ones that they already have effectively. And no, I still haven't heard from my local authority - not since the first disastrous communication last November (11 months ago). UPDATE: As of May 2012, it has been three and a half years since the council contacted me. Every child matters, my a***!
Isn't it the government's responsibility to educate children?
No. It is the parent's responsibility. If the government was responsible, it would be inundated with law suits from failed children and their irate parents. As it stands, when a school fails a child, the parent is to blame. This is how the government is able to get away with an education system which leaves one sixth of all school leavers functionally illiterate (according to its own statistics). Ironically, you don't see the government punishing parents who fail their children by keeping them in dreadful state schools!