[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]
CS01 National Childrens Bureau
CS02 Mr. Imran Shah
CS03 Family Planning Association
CS04 Mr. Imran Shah and Ms Betsy Anderson
CS05 Mrs. Roxanne Featherstone
CS06 Family Education Trust
CS07 Mr. Imran Shah and Ms Cintha Anderson
CS08 Mr. James Chilton
CS09 Edge Foundation
CS10 National Union of Teachers
CS11 Education Otherwise
CS12 National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
I beg to move,
That the programme order agreed by the Committee this morning be amended, to add the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy to the list of witnesses for the second evidence session on Thursday afternoon.
In light of what Mr. Gibb asked this morning, we have agreed to amend the programme motion to allow a change of witness on Thursday afternoon. It is my intention to run the Committee in as conciliatory and reasonable a way as possible. It is a reasonable request, so we have amended the programme motion accordingly.
Brian Lamb: I am Brian Lamb, chair of the Special Educational Consortium. I also chair the Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in special educational needs. Although the Committee will obviously want to go into some detail, both the SEC and I, in my role as chairman of the inquiry, welcome the Bill.
What is particularly heartening from the inquirys point of view is that the Bill legislates in two key areas in which we were keen to see the Government take action. The first is the right of appeal against a local authoritys determination of a statement. Currently, when the local authoritys statement is reviewed, if the parent is not happy with something in it or wants to make amendments to it, they cannot. The Bill will change that. Secondly, the Bill will ensure that Ofsted does inspections specifically for the content of special educational needs provision within schools, whereas that was not part of the 2005 Act. On those two points, we particularly welcome the Bill.
More broadly, we are interested in the concept of parent guarantees and how that might interface with the SEN framework. We have questions that we would like to discuss about how home agreements will work, especially in relation to behaviour. We also have some concerns about home education, but we broadly welcome the Bill.
John Friel: Good afternoon. I suppose that I am one of the two main people behind the idea of the 1993 reforms, which were presented by Lord Campbell of Alloway and me on behalf of a large group of education charities, producing the current system and reforming the 1981 Act. As you have probably read, I have a long association with the field. I myself have a learning difficulty, as do all my children to one degree or another. Some have statements, some do not. I can claim that my eldest daughter is one of the few dyslexic educational psychologists in the field. I practise in the field and am still a trustee or governor of a number of charities.
I, equally, think that the Bill is a good idea. It could be far more extensive, but reality must be considered. The proposals are good, but they have substantial defects. They could result in a fiat for litigation, so I would like to address some sensible suggestionsI hope that they are sensible; that is your decision, not mineas to how they could be improved and tightened. The proposals were long needed. A number of reforms are probably just as needed, but they are not capable of being put through in a Bill such as thisone must be sensible. However, the proposals ought to work sensibly and effectively, and I would like to talk about that.
The proposals in the Bill are quite modest and cover just two clauses. They have generally been met with a wide welcome, but given Brian Lambs very worthwhile study in your inquiry, and that we are limiting the proposals in the Bill to seeing how well schools take account of special educational needs and statements, are your comments about what is not here, Mr. Friel, rather way down the line? What may be required is better attention to how we provide statements of special educational needs, how appropriate they are and how well they are monitored by the parents and councils of the children involved. Will the proposals, in your view, stand alone in bringing reasonable improvement, or are they only scratching the surface? What specific things could be added, notwithstanding your comments about how that might take a Bill all on its own, Mr. Friel? What could enhance the proposals we are considering in the Bill?
John Friel: Well, I take the view that they are providing much needed, additional effective methodology in the current systemwithout looking at the issues you have just addressednamely: how local authorities monitor the effectiveness of statements, whether statements are themselves appropriately subject to a decision-making process that is fair and proper and whether the system itself needs a considerable review. That is something Mr. Lamb looked at in his inquiry. It has been looked at by the parliamentary Education Committee in much more detailtaking evidence from a much wider perspective, I have to sayand by Sir Robert Balchin. Both those conclusions were in favour of greater change, but Mr. Lamb not so, although he made a number of significant recommendations, many of which have not been adopted. For the purposes of the Bill, one needs to say that the fact that there are only two major statutory proposals does not mean that the statutory reforms proposed in the Bill should not be more extensive.
You have talked about statements. I remind the Committee about the majority of children with special needsthere is great debate over the percentage, but there are far more of them than the 2 per cent. identified in the code of practiceand I particularly agree with Mr. Lamb, who produced slight, written bullet points on the subject, that the home-school agreement provisions should include reference to special educational needs and provision, and that the omission of such a reference is a great defect in the system. However, if you are going to do that, you need to think in my viewpurely personalabout the small Bill proposed in Mr. Lambs inquiry. That is a separate Bill, which includes reconsideration of the exclusion of young persons with special educational needs if they are about to be excluded.
My concern is that section 317 of the current legislation, which is unamended, requires the identification by the local authority of the governing body of a school. After identification, there is a lets hope we do something provision and then a complete gap. If we are going to provide that we review the situation on exclusion, my view is that the additional special needs Bill creates one statutory provision that is out of step with the rest, and does not link with identification, assessment and provision. There is a large gap in the legislation dealing with those without a statement, which is precisely on the issue of identification, assessment and provision. While I welcome Mr. Lambs proposal, because far too many children with special needs are being excluded, we need to stop getting to that point. Therefore, I suggest that the home-school agreement provisions should require, under, I think, section 4, a parental home-school agreement. I forget what it is called under statute, but we want the provision to refer to the schools intention to identify and deliver provision for a child with special needs. In addition, after it has provided for the identification, section 317 would need an amendment to review the reasonable adjustments under the proposals based on Mr. Lambs inquiry and the making of provision for those with special needs. There is a lamentable gap in the legislation in that area for those who do not have a statement. There may be room for covering some of the defects by looking at those provisions.
Brian Lamb: Obviously, I could have recommended more legislation. I thought that the key thing we needed to address, whatever else happens to the system, was looking at the whole statementing process. We have a lot of consensus about that, but what I recommended. and what has been accepted, is that we look much more at how statements are actually written and produced, and much more at specifying what outcomes we are trying to intend in statements rather than, as at the moment, the inputs that go into them. In my view and that of the inquiry, there has been too much argument over the amount of learning support assistance time, for example, which has almost become the currency of statements, rather than looking at the outcomes we were trying to achieve for the child, and what provision therefore needed to be put in place to achieve those outcomes.
It seemed to me that if we could get much better focus on how statements were written and their specificity, it would go a long way to addressing some of peoples concerns about what parents do not get from statements. Having acknowledged that, I also recommended evaluation, which there will be, of local authorities that have put assessment at arms length from their provision of services. During the inquiry, we identified a number of authorities that to different extents have started to separate assessment from provision.
The other accusation has always been that some authorities actually skew or fetter the statement in some way to match it to the available provision. We found only anecdotal evidence of that, but it is very difficult to get at because who would admit it if they were doing it? We found what we called a settled culture of sometimes assessing against what they knew the local authority already provided. There was not enough evidence to legislate for some overturning of the framework at that point, but we were very interested and recommended evaluating whether splitting the two could actually lead to greater improvement. Again, there is activity on that and if the evidence actually supported it, there is certainly a lot of consensus that we should move more in that direction, but until we have the evidence, it needs to be tested.
Lastly, Mr. Friel alluded to the other legislation that is going through. The Government have accepted our recommendations that through the Equality Bill we will move the exemption on auxiliary aids. That is fundamentally significant in bringing together the SEN framework with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 framework, as was, and filling a very big gap in the area that Mr. Friel was talking about, which is auxiliary aids and early intervention in schools.
My other key point, which was drummed home to us again and again in the inquiry, is that parents do not want to avail themselves of the framework unless they have to. They want as much provision delivered as early on in the process as possible, so that less and less they have to go up the system looking for the support they need.
On the basis of the need to assess outcomes rather than just processes, do you think that as the clauses are framed, we could give Ofsted greater responsibilities and requirements, but that it could still be inspecting the wrong things effectively?
Brian Lamb: I hope not. We have been very involved with Ofsted all the way through the process and, indeed, earlier on in the inquiry we had a number of conversations about the new framework that it introduced during the summer. A lot of that was the result of conversations between Ofsted and the inquiry. A key point for us was to achieve consensus with Ofsted that although the achievement and outcomes of a whole number of groups of disadvantaged pupils are among the areas that it has to look at as part of the new framework, SEN is key within that. The way in which Ofsted now understands the framework means that it will be looking at outcomes in its overall assessment of achievement in schools. Until now, we have often not been able to have a good enough definition of what that looks like, because we have been looking far too much at inputs across the whole system, rather than at outcomesI am using that term more broadly here. Obviously we want outcomes to go up in terms of the standard measures for GCSEs and in terms of reaching level 4 by age 11. I would absolutely want to focus on that, but for children with SEN, as we well know, we often want to see a wider range of outcomes and we want Ofsted to focus on how the school is delivering. We know that children with SEN are now 20 per cent. of the school population, so every teacher in every school has to be good in relation to SEN.
As a result of Ofsted having that additional responsibility and focus, I hope that it will drive and change the culture in schools. The issue is not so much the measures themselves; to use the now trendy jargon of nudges and signals in the system, the inquiry saw the measures on Ofsted as being very much about providing a big nudge to the system in terms of what heads and school leaderships actually focus on. I have been very encouraged to see how much school heads are coming back to the voluntary sector and asking, What is good practice? What do we need to do to become a good school on this issue?
Over the past 30 years, many parents have come to me about all sorts of disagreements. They may not have got a statement or the statement may have been accurate; in one case, the parents felt that there was nothing wrong with their child and that she should not have been statemented. I have therefore worked a great deal on such cases. Will anything in the Bill change things so that it will be up to the MP to take such cases up, as I have in the past? Other MPs may not have the time or initiative to do what I have done, and that worries me. If it falls to the MP to deal with the problem, what will happen if the MP will not do that? Will anything in the Bill protect people from the problems that I have had to sort out for my constituents?
John Friel: No. I do not think that there will be a substantial change in the situation that you describe. People always have difficulty enforcing their rights. The point about the 1993 amendment is that it created the ability to get an independent view. Mr. Lambs inquiry is suggesting an increase in appeal rights, which has been long needed. It should have been introduced in 1993 and certainly by 1996, and the need for it has been pointed out since then. There should be an extension in appeal rights.
However, there are some good organisations around, such as the one that I am a trustee ofSOS!SEN. There is also the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, as well as a number of other charities. The British Dyslexia Association has a parental advisory service. There is the National Autistic Society, the Vision Charity for those with visual impairment and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, which provides representation for those with hearing impairments. So there are a large number of organisations, some of which are very good. There are also people such as myself, who are in practice in law and who are there to help people. However, it is generally the local councillor, the local person who knows somebody or the MP who has to do something. In my experience, MPs play an important role for those who do not get access to the charities or to legal advice, and I cannot see that the Bill will change life for MPs or those involved in politics who represent people. It will slightly increase the potential amount of appeals, so you might say that it is slightly lawyer-favoured, but I should point out that the majority of appeals are not run by lawyers. Mr. Lamb has made one necessary proposal, but they are not proposals that will change.
I am a good example, but my dyslexia is not significant. I have children with very severe dyslexia indeed, but genetically you simply cant tell. Many parents we meet are very clever people. One of my closest friends is a judge in Australia and his wife is a consultant, but both their children are significantly autistic and are not going to be anywhere near as bright as their parents. But many parents have difficulties with literacy and with handling pressure and stress. We are there to help in whatever way we can those people that approach us. I cannot see that changing.
May I backtrack for a moment before coming to the main point? Like Tim, I picked up the point, Brian, when you said that we need a really adequate reform, yet the Bill makes only two proposals. Looking through the summary of your recommendations, we can see a lot about culture and a lot of things that one can do locally, but I focus on exclusions, noting the comments made previously. Is there not a case for including something on exclusions in the Bill? It is such a critical part of the problem.
John Friel: Legally, yes. Exclusions are dealt with by another Act. As I pointed out in my short note, SENDIST deals with everything to do with exclusions apart from the final exclusion.
The independent appeal panel deals with exclusions. Brians point about independent appeal panels or the school having to consider making reasonable adjustments for the provision they are making is overall far too late, as I have said. Also, it does not really belong as a separate issue in a different Bill. It should be in this Bill. If people are going to look at exclusions, they should be looking at preventing exclusions, but there should be a consideration for exclusions in the main Bill rather than in a satellite Bill, because it is a major issue.
Brian Lamb: Could I wrap your question up with a previous one? This is a debate about what you need to do in legislation and what you dont. In the inquiry, we clearly considered that in some detail. Sometimes it can be as radical trying to do things outside legislation as it can doing them from within. I say that as someone who has spent 25 years lobbying on getting more legislation. It is about where you strike that balance.
In one sense, it is not that we are short of legislation on SEN. We have the framework, we have the Disability Discrimination Act, and we also have the Every Child Matters framework. What we proposed in the inquiry in other areasagain, the Government have said that they will implement it, and I look forward to the implementation planis this. Taking first the issue of statements and needing to get a statement and appeal, I agree with you that there is some downward pressure on that in the Bill. Appeals should make that function better, and therefore make it more attractive to get one to some extent.
But we come back to the situation that, on the whole, it would be even better if parents could get what they needed without having to go through the whole statutory framework and process. There are a number of recommendations in my inquiry to help achieve that, in terms of putting a greater focus on SEN in schools.
Indeed, coming back to the Bill, I hope that the greater focus by Ofsted on what makes a good school and what makes good outcomes will mean that the support that parents need in school is much more routinely available in the first place. When they do have to go for a statement, I propose that there should be a national information service. That should also help give the kind of support that you are looking for. If there are problems with local authority provision on that, I would encourage the Secretary of State to use his or her powers to look at the information that the Government now have, holding local authorities better to account if they are failing in relation to those measures.
The Government have also agreed, as a result of measures in the Education and Skills Act that went through last year, that parents will now be able to take complaints to the local government ombudsman, as they have put more money into that. These are all measures that put more pressure on sorting things outeither getting the right provision in the first place; or, if a statement of need is required, that there is more support for parents. Mr. Friel referred to the organisations that do that.
There is also national support for parents provided by, but independent of, the Government. I have also made recommendations about an enhanced role for parent partnerships, which makes it clear that they should be more independent of local authorities that they have been until now, and something that looks at the whole concept of neutralitypreviously, neutrality seemed to be interpreted as the role of the herald in Henry V, and you kept the score for both sides. However, we need to be sure that neutrality is about operating within the law and the framework.
Coming to your point about exclusions, we looked at it and agonised in some depth. I partly take Johns point that by looking at the role of exclusion panels, we are only addressing part of the issue, which I think is absolutely right. That is why I also made a recommendation, which I believe was accepted, that when the statutory guidance comes out on behaviour partnerships, there should be new statutory guidance on local authorities and on schools about the measures that they need to take to reduce differential exclusions between SEN and other children. That will be a statutory measure that will also put a downward pressure on exclusion.
Also, changing the culture in schools, to make them more welcoming to and more focused on SEN and looking at the reasons why behavioural issues occur and how much they are related to SEN, should also help enormously. Again, it is a packagesome legislation, some good practice.
John Friel: I think that there is a need for more legislation and less attendance on practice. May I point out the leading cases on specificity of statements on my responsibility? They have been the law for many years, so a great deal of the system that is going to be downward pressure has been known about.
There are some good proposals, and I am not here to attack any of them and say that they are not goodthey are. However, one has to realise that the proposals that have existed for a great deal of time have not been effective and are not going to be any more effective because you repeat yourself.
Twice after winning those cases, guidance was re-issued by the Ministers when we went to themLord Adonis and Eric Forthand the effect has been, as Mr. Lamb describes in his inquiry, relatively innocuous or not at all. There is a much greater need for creating a greater supervisory system and greater rights. On that, I am afraid that we would respectfully disagree. In trying to make the Bill work better, I believe that we both agree largely on the major issues.
I think that the right of appeal by the parent is all important, but I am not clear on what grounds the parent might appeal. I am worried that it would just end up with the local authority essentially not providing something because it would be too expensivethat comes to the separation pointand the parent obviously wanting more resources. Should there be something clearly set out?
John Friel: That is right because the annual review is governed by regulation at the moment. There is a statutory provision in subsection 5 of section 328I have the legislation here with me if I make a mistake by memorythere is no time limit on a statement, nor is there one in the review. What the review regulations do is make everyone else behave within a certain timeframe, but the authority does not have to decide. That leaves an amendment by the parliamentary draftsmen or yourselves, because the proposed provision needs to have a time limit on it. I would suggest a maximum of eight weeks, which is the maximum period the regulations allow for a proposed statement. At the annual review, either the parents or the school must recommend or ask for an amendment to the statement, because a right of appeal being created when no one wants an appeal is otiose.
The drafting of that particular section needs to set a time limit and provide for either the parent or the school to request an amendment to the annual reviewif the local authority considers that there will an amendment, it will of course make it anyway. There needs to be some tighter drafting on that particular clause, because at the moment, as it is, there is a great deal of complaints to the Secretary of State or the High Court about refusal to amend statements. The local authorities answer, Well, theres no time limit. I quite regularly see cases where it takes over a year. No decision is made before lawyers threaten legal action, and then a decision is made. I have seen cases where it has taken two years.
Something needs to be in there. Mr. Lambs suggestionwhich, may I emphasise, is very much neededneeds to be firmed up in a sensible manner. It is obviously not the role of the Lamb inquiry to do the drafting, but the drafting as such is not good at the moment.
I very much agree that it is not always legislation, as both Mr. Lamb and Mr. Friel have said. I just wondered while working on clauses 7 and 8 whether both of you would like to comment on some of the points made about the pupil and parent guarantees. They lay out specifically some of the expectations that parents would have of a school in dealing with the special educational needs of their son or daughter.
Similarly, the pupil guarantee lays outwe were just discussing exclusionswhat the expectation of a school would be, for example, with respect to exclusions and special educational needs. What is your view, given that the guarantees lay out specifically, although not in legislation, what the expectation of a school is in terms of what should be provided for the child and what the parent can expect?
On redress from the local government ombudsman as a last resort if that is not provided in a state school I emphasise last resortdo you have a view whether that is a good thing and will be a good way forward in ensuring that schools special educational needs provision is not so variable?
Brian Lamb: Certainly in terms of the inquiry, one of the big themes was the level of variability that we found. Sometimes that can be good, because it reflects local circumstances and local populations. I do not think that we should necessarily expect all schools or local authorities to have the same rates for things such as the number of children statemented, because that will change depending on populations.
Nevertheless, some types of variability are bad. The lack of focus on SEN in the past has been bad when it has been about variability. In broad terms, we very much welcome the guarantees and the attempt to put down a framework in which parental expectations can work. What has been said in the consultation document is also helpful. One of our key questions was about the relationship between the guarantees around additional support, especially, and SEN. Having seen the consultation documents, I think that it is clear that nothing in the guarantee would in any way cut across or undercut the commitments made in terms of the level of provision that the SEN framework would prescribe.
I hope that we will go further in looking at the guarantees as they are worked up. One issue that we face as a nation is the growing identification of children with SEN. Some of that clearly has to do with trends in the population involving better identification of autism and similar factors; some of it, as Sir Alan Steer pointed out in his review, may be because when children fall behind there is an over-quick reaching for the SEN label. It may well be that those children should be identified with SEN; it may be that sometimes that label is reached for more quickly. In a way, I do not care, and I do not think that schools should care. The issue is whether a child is performing or falling behind, whether we can identify the reasons and whether we can address it. The school guarantee is a good way to begin to do so.
In terms of parental confidence and involvement, it is absolutely excellent. Although you do not give it this title, in the inquiry, I recommend something called a co-offer for parents of SEN children. It involves a number of principles of transparency, involvement and, wherever possible, face-to-face communication in the education of their child. Although the school guarantee is not called that, some of its requirements relating to the level of parental involvement very much exemplify what we were looking at when we talked about the co-offer. We might want to dig a bit deeper on how we can extend even further the richness of what is going to be offered around the guarantee, especially for when children fall behind and how that relates to parents involvement when they have a child with SEN. I think broadly the framework is a really good approach in delivering that.
The National Autistic Society and others have suggested that among home-educated children, there will probably be a higher number of autistic children, yet the impact assessment for the Bill makes no mention of any negative impact on autistic children of visits by local authority inspectors coming to see whether children need to be returned to school. How bad an error do you think that is?
John Friel: It is a case-by-case problem. It would be, arguably, disability discrimination to put somebody under that stress. It is a difficult situation. The criteria in the Bill for assessing provision at home omit specific reference to special educational needs and provision, and in relation to the test for harm, you could be harming a child without delivering provision to them, so that is not at all clear. The problem with the whole proposal is that it is a generic proposal, not a specific proposal. Section 19, which has to do with duties relating to home tuition imposed on local authorities, includes a duty to provide for the special educational needs, so the National Autistic Societys point would be perhaps cleared up to some degree if the inspectors and the inspectorate provisions have to have regard to that, but also the test in the Act itself in the scheduleit is quite curious to have a whole Act in a scheduleought to have some regard to whether the parents are, within the home education provision, making provision for the special educational needs of the child.
I think there is a difference, as there is a difference between being disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act and having special educational needs. Most children with a disability do have special needs, but not all. There is a need to look at those sections as well, or those parts of schedule 1, and tighten them up on those points.
The impact assessment says that it is reasonable to assume that a child with SEN will often warrant more in-year monitoring. Could you find any evidence in the impact assessment for any funding or particular efforts to ensure a training package suitable for local inspectors to be able to look after the interests of autistic children when visiting?
John Friel: The short answer to that is that at the moment, I think, the funding is there, but there is nothing specific offering it. This does require quite a considerable change in looking at home education, which is not my primary interest, as you can gather, but those provisions ought to take account of special needs in order to take account of those who require particular care and attention to be paid to them.
John Friel: Not in education they havent. The statutory provisions do not do so, and the court decisions at the moment roundly challenge that. The best you will get, I think, is section 13 of the 2002 Act, which is to reach the childs potential. I may be wrong on the section, but I think you will find I am right on the statutory provision. There is no legal consideration of what that means, but there is a difference between the Children Act requirement to act in the best interests of the child and the Education Act requirements, which are to provide education suitable to age, aptitude and ability and to deliver it with the efficient use of resources. Currently, it is section 9 of the Education Act 1996; previously, it was section 76 of the Education Act 1944, and that is a reservation
John Friel: Or whether there should be. Well, I have strongly favoured the same test in relation to the childs welfare as education. The limitation on this goes back to the original European convention on human rights, when the same limitation was put on. Regarding the current rider on section 9 of the Education Act 1996, about the efficient use of resources, the House of Lords has said that that means that budget is not relevant, but if you can do it cheaper and effectively you can do it that way, whereas if it costs a fortune the budget does not count. That is a case called T v. E Sussex, where Lord Wilberforce gave the judgment.
However, there are very cases where budget does not count in reality and it would help to look at the best interests or the welfare of a child as a uniform test. All Departments are supposed to be joined-up in decision-making processes now and that would be helpful.
There is not an overarching, individually enforceable right. There is a target duty under the Education Acts and that has been held by the House of Lords in GM v. Barnet quite recently to be a target duty under the Children Act, so there is no particular difference. It is only when you get child James with no school that it becomes a duty to do something about it. So the duty becomes individually enforceable and there are a large number of statutory provisions that can only be looked at when you get a crisis, if you like.
I apologise for interrupting. Do you find it odd that not only is there no statutory duty on local authorities, for instance in the home education provisions or in the application of school attendance orders, to consider the best interests of the child but there is a further problem specifically in relation to autistic children? We have already established that there will be a larger number than average of autistic children in the home-educated community. There may be an autistic child whose parents are providing exemplary, individualised home education who fail to register with the local authority. Then, under the terms of this Bill, the local authority is bound to impose a school attendance order and is specifically barred from considering the quality of the education provided. Do you find that odd?
John Friel: The answer to that is yes, but the monitoring provisions are also difficult. If a child with autistic spectrum disorder is normally being educated at home, they have not been able to cope with a mainstream environment or a school environment. There may have to be compromises made to educate and develop that child. That means that, for example, if a child with ASD requires a speech therapy intervention, because there is a language disorder and there is quite a lot of research that says many children with ASD have language disorders, new section 19E(2)(b) of the Education Act 1996 would prevent approval of the education.
So I think that the provisions are far too tightly framed for a home education situation. As you have already mentioned to us, there is also the fact that the officer must hold a meeting with the child. I have knowledge of many cases where that is simply not possible due to stress and anxiety.
Therefore the provisions need to be looked at, particularly in the light of the interests of the ASD child. However, there are many other children with mental health disorders that are not classifiable as ASD. Also, some children at the age of 16 may still have such severe needs that they may not be able to communicate in an effective manner for an assessment. So this really does not take into account the sophisticated investigation and methodology required to look at these issues.
Regarding the legislation that is already on the statute books and the proposals that we are discussing today, particularly the proposal for a right of appeal and the proposal that the Ofsted inspection should incorporate an assessment of special educational needs provision, how well does existing legislation and prospective legislation work? I ask that because I have often found that there is a mixed bag in terms of support for parents whose children have disabilities or SEN. That is partly because the capacity and understanding of the range of people that they deal with, whether in school or through the local authority, can vary enormously, given the wide range of different needs that often have to be addressed.
So my worry about more legislation is always whether there is the capacity to interpret that legislation and to look for specialist advice and support, before delivering on the ground. That goes back to your point about outcomes and statements. It seems that that issue is discussed less than all the rigid legislation and technical processes that we tend to like dreaming up.
Brian Lamb: This was absolutely fundamental to the inquiry. As I said earlier, we can keep loading legislation onto the system, but if we have not got the properly qualified teachers focusing on the right things with the right culture in schools to deal with that, it does not matter how much additional legislation we put in place on local authorities and schools, and therefore I think there has to be a balance. One of the things that was recommended in the inquiry was additional training of teachers, especially of what is called the second tiernot first-tier classroom teachers but specialist teachers who can come in and help with thatand also more focus on the more effective use of learning support assistants and teaching assistants so that they can support front-line teachers much better in being able to do that. That is precisely what I wanted to see, in going back to my previous answer, where the guarantees are particularly useful. Focusing on ensuring that the system has the capacity to deal with the children is absolutely crucial. That is not to say that legislation is not important. If we have not got the capacity, it will not happen, anyway.
Of course, Ofsted will have a larger role in terms of inspection. What about the capacity of the inspectors to be able to provide a thorough overview or seek support where they need additional support?
Brian Lamb: If you had asked that about a year ago, I would say they did not have that capacity, but I am delighted to say that over the summerI believe there will be moreOfsted has been training Her Majestys inspectorate and it is going to move out to the rest of the inspectors. That training is happening now. I believe that as a result of the actions it has taken, we may well have the level of expertise we need to do that.
One of the other provisions in the Bill is for a school report card. How helpful will that be to parents who have children with special educational needs? Do you think there should be a specific provision in the report card to deal with that issue?
Brian Lamb: To answer the second part of your question first, if there are specific provisions within the report card where we can get a much better measure of the success of schools around SENmoving away from what has been at times a quite crude interpretation of school league tables; it has often meant schools have not wanted to address the SEN issue because they then get too good a reputation for it and get too many children with SEN; we can get a very balanced score card, to use the jargon again, across a number of measuresthen the school report card is going to be incredibly helpful. One of the major things that parents kept telling us through the inquiry was the need to have better information about how their schools are performing against SEN. It is very difficult for parents to find out. If we get it right, it will be incredibly helpful.
Clause 8 deals with the rights of appeal to the tribunal. Do you think the tribunal system works well at the moment? Is it sufficiently well informed and independent enough? Do you think more could be done along the lines of some of the Balchin commission proposals, for example, to use a mediation process, which means that the tribunal would very much be a last resort rather than an instant referral, which many parents have to use?
John Friel: The tribunal works well when it works, putting it crudely. The current system where attempts are made at mediation is wholly inefficient and does not work at all. It is not independent and parental groups have no confidence in it. Although the mediator has tried their best in mediations that I have seen, they have not shown a degree of independence or clear thought, so I think there is a need for a pre-appeal structure, or a structure within the appeal to offer clear mediation, and this particular system calls out for it. Mediation can be effective if it is independent, informed and able to make firm decisions. As the current system stands, the tribunal is accessible to those who can get the assistance to access it, or who get legal help or are determined to access it. Those who act for themselves find it extremely confusing, and the current reforms are very anti-parents and anti-individual. I strongly disagree with the Lamb inquirys outcome on that. If you look at the evidential base on that, there is one area where Mr. Lamb, his colleagues and I and many others in the fieldvirtually everyone in the fieldwould strongly disagree. The current system has become far too complicated for a parent to operate and is not parent friendly. A mediation system that is effective is urgently needed.
Brian Lamb: Very briefly, if I could just come in on that, I certainly agree with Mr. Friels concerns about mediation as we saw it, which does not mean that mediation cannot work, but I did not see, on the whole, very good mediation schemes, although there are one or two monitoring areas.
In relation to the function of the tribunal, the evidence we sawfrom the tribunal and from talking to parentswas that the pre-tribunal, telephone inquiry system was helping and reducing the number of cases that had to go to tribunal. I agree with Mr. Friel that the tribunal system has now become immensely complex and it is not easy to go there, even for well-informed middle-class parents, unless they are legally supported, which is why I recommended that we look again at the exceptional cases scheme, which helps parents who qualify for legal aid to go there. At the moment that is not working well and I would like to see more support for parents before and at tribunal. Certainly the early feedback on the reforms to the tribunal system was that it was functioning better.
Do you think that the new Bill has anything that may help a situation that I found one of my constituents in quite a few years ago? The difficulty was physical: a young boy, 13 at the time I think, had a growth deficiency. Part of the treatment was to extend the length of his legs by about 3 inches a very radical procedurewhich meant that for six months he had to have his legs straight out in front of him and he could not bend them at all. He either had to move schools, to a school that was all on ground level, or stay at his present school, where a chair lift would not do, because other children would have been falling over his legs, and have a lift installed. Through pressure from myself, his family and the local presswith photographs and things, unfortunatelyeventually we got a very small lift installed in the school, so that he could carry on for the six months. Might anything in the Bill address such a situation, so that we would not have had to go public and go through all the fuss that we did?
John Friel: Mr. Lambs point about the change under the Equality Bill to the Disability Discrimination Act, on ancillary aids, would have an effect on that to some degree, if it was an ancillary aid. Even now, under the Disability Discrimination Act, a large structural alteration in a building would not be discriminatory but is exempted, so the amendments proposed as a result of the Lamb inquiry, under the changes to the DDA, in the circumstances you describe, probably would help in such a case, but not certainly. Do you want to comment further?
Could you comment on the provision within schedule 1 that allows parents to object to their home-educated child being seen alone or to inspectors from the local authority wanting to come into the home? Proposed new paragraph 19E(4) explicitly states that such arrangements may take place
unless the child or a parent of the child objects.
However, could you comment on what the Bill goes on to say? Proposed new paragraph 19F(1)(e) says that someone objecting can be cause for the revocation of licence to be allowed to home educate:
by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them under section 19E, or an objection to a meeting as mentioned in section 19E(4), the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to.
In other words, there is a right to object but, if you do, you lose your right to be home educated.
John Friel: Well, you could change the parents objection under that provision to say, save when the parents have given reasonable grounds for their objection. That would be a minor amendment but significant.
My concern about the whole of the schedule is that the matter goes to an uneducated, independent panel set up by regulation. There is no rush in such a case, as in exclusion, so we could consider sending it to the SENDIST, which has the expertise. Both Mr. Lamb and myself would consider that the majority of home-educated childrennot the vast majority, but a lot of themwould have a special need, and the tribunal with expertise would be the SENDIST. If we set up a panel locally, like an exclusion panel, we may have a chair without legal experience in a complicated matter. The provisions are highly complex and very litigious, and we may not have members with more than general educational experience or, indeed, with no educational experience. I urge you to think a bit about the regulatory power to set up an appeal. It is questionable whether it ought to be as it stands.
On behalf of the Committee, I thank our two witnesses for giving up their time this afternoon to give evidence. It has proved to be enormously valuable to the Committee in its deliberations. Will the next set of witnesses join us?
The purpose of the Committee is just to gather evidence from you, so please relax and enjoy the session. Starting with Graham Badman, will everyone kindly introduce themselves and comment on the Bill?
Graham Badman: I am Graham Badman, the former director of childrens services for Kent. I was invited by the Secretary of State to prepare the report that led to the legislation. My comments on the Bill so far and the notes of guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families seem to fulfil, with some amendments that I welcome, my key recommendations.
Fiona Nicholson: I am Fiona Nicholson. I am a trustee of Education Otherwise and chair of the Education Otherwise policy group. I am a home-educating parent. I have a 16-year-old who has never been to school. He has not taken exams. He is a fairly up and free-wheeling autonomous, headstrong sort of person. I dont know where he gets it from. Education Otherwise is opposed to schedule 1 and clause 26. We will not be co-operating with any aspects of their implementation.
Sir Paul Ennals: I am Paul Ennals. I am chief executive of the National Childrens Bureau. NCB has been involved in developing a policy on a wide range of the Bill, most notably the PSHE provision, and I was involved in the advisory group for home education. I also had involvement in developing the White Paper and some discussions about the content and style of the pupil and parent guarantees.
Beth Reid: I am Beth Reid. I am policy manager with the National Autistic Society. We have four key areas of interest in the Bill. The first is to make sure that the home-school agreements reflect the need of children with SEN. Secondly, we want to make sure that, under clause 9, children with special educational needs cannot be put into part-time education when it is not appropriate for their needs. We strongly support clauses 7 and 8, which were discussed in the previous sitting, and we want to ensure that the home education parts of the Bill reflect the needs of children with special educational needs and their specific case for support.
My questions at this point are mainly to Graham Badman. What was the principal problem that you were concerned about? Was it the issue of safeguarding, with home education being a potential cover for abuse, or were you more worried about the quality of education being received by home-educated children?
Graham Badman: On the basis of the quantum of evidence submitted by local authorities, I think my first concern would be the sufficiency and quality of the education received by a number of students. I can give you some statistics if you wish. Alongside that was a secondary concern that in a tiny minority of cases, there could be significant abuse of a child or children within a family. Some notable cases are running currently. I would not want to prioritise one over the other, but I have concerns on both fronts.
I think that you must, really. We on the Committee all need to know your main concern. Was it the quality of education, or was it abuse? You seem to be telling us that your principal driving force was concern about the quality of education.
Can I ask you about a recommendation in your report? You say, At the time of registration parents...must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months. That contrasts with page 2 of the policy statement just issued by the Government, which says that parents will be able to follow the wide range of educational philosophies that they currently adhere to, including autonomous learning, and will not have to follow the national curriculum and so on. What do you think of the Governments policy in terms of implementing your recommendation?
Graham Badman: I thought that the existing definition does not offer a very clear definition of efficient or suitable, and I made that point in my report. I talked about the need for an education that was broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated, to quote from a report of many years ago, but I argued fundamentally that children should have an education that equips them to make choices. Even within the current legislation, although the definitions are within their own community, it also makes it clear that within their own community must not preclude other choices.
Much has been said about autonomous education in the wake of the reports publication. It needs to be clear that by no means all home educators are autonomous educators. Some are highly structured. Some offer a high-quality, quite formalised system of education. I was maintaining that even within the loosest definition of autonomous, it should be possible for any parent to say, Over the next 12 months, this is what I wish my child to achieve, and this is what I wish to see them do.
I can cite, if you wish, an example of an 18-month-old grandchild who I guess psychologists would argue is at the key autonomous stage. I can tell you that in the next 12 months, although she is completely autonomous in her education because she chooses, her vocabulary will grow from about 10 words to about 1,000. She will go from monosyllabic babbling to sentences. I know that there are things that she will be able to do, because I have some form of prediction and a duty of care, albeit as a grandparent. I expect no less of her parents.
Graham Badman: I think that on two sides of A4, for a young child, you could set out what you expect of them in linguistic terms, which is particularly important, and maybe in terms of mathematics. When the child is much older, as a teenager, would it not be remiss of any parent, for example, not to ensure that they have access to information enabling them to judge environmental issues such as climate change? There should be something within the structure of an education allowing a parent to say, These are the things that are important to us, which is why we are home educators, and these are the things that we therefore want for our child.
One final question. You recommended that local authorities should have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate, or if a child is particularly vulnerable. The legislation states that the parent or child can object to such a meeting. Why are you so insistent in your report that the local authority meets the child alone without the parent being there?
Graham Badman: I made it clear in my report and in my evidence to the Select Committee that I viewed the exercising of the right to see the child alone as a last resort, and I would hope that there would be very few cases where that would arise. However, there are occasions when it is important to ascertain the views of the child and to do so in a quite direct way. The UN convention on the rights of the child, which was much of the background to my report, does not confer those rights on the parent. It does not say that you can have the right to the child preferred to the parentit confers those rights on a child, one of which is to express themselves when they are able to do so. There are some instances where the views of the child have been subjugated to the views of the parent, and so, in extremis, I would expect the local authority, if it had significant cause on a range of other fronts, to be able to ask that question of the child themselves.
When you were undertaking your review, did you meet any groups of people who supported the recommendations that you were making?
Graham Badman: Yes, many, and subsequently by e-mail as well. There was one who gave evidence to the Select Committee, who said he welcomed registration, and that he already had good relationships with the local authority. There are many others who welcomed the fact that were this to become law, home educators would have access to significant resources, particularly applying to youngsters with special educational needs. They would also have opportunities to re-enter schools, sometimes on a flexible basis, and, if they did soand many home educators do, at some point in their careerto go back to a school where their previous career had not been blighted; the powers of local authorities to offer a new school was very much welcome. There are a range of reasons.
A number also welcomed the opportunity to be engaged, particularly in the training of local authority officers, which was one of their major criticisms, and to have a voice. I made a recommendation that home educators should have a voice.
The report is not critical of home educationif anything, it is critical of local authoritiesbut it gives home educators a voice and an opportunity to disinter some of the good things that I saw about personalised education that we might learn from.
Mr. Badman, I want to start with you as well, for obvious reasons, if you do not mind. I assume that you have seen the paper that the Department issued today, setting out some notes about these particular clauses.
Great. I think we know what you are trying to achievecertainly, my party recognises some of the concerns that you have. However, in the section that deals with registration, there is six pages worth of details of what will be involved in registration, when it can be rejected and so on. There is a paragraph that seems to sum up the approach to me, which is paragraph 28 on page 7. It states that regulations will require local authorities to acknowledge applications for registration to make a decision on registration within a reasonable period of time. Is one of the reasons why many home educators object to your report and the Governments proposals is that they appear to turn something that at the moment is a right for people in the countryhome educationinto something that they appear to have to not just notify, but apply to the state for permission to do and to prove their worthiness to do it? Is that not quite a big tilt in the way in which the freedom to home educators are set out in this country?
Graham Badman: I do not think it is. Two pieces of the legal advice contained within my report makes it clear that under European law, there is no absolute right to home-educatethe chapter and verse are given in my report. The process of regulation simply enables local authorities to determine first of all, how many of these young people we are dealing with. I more fearful about the numbers that we do not know about than anything else. One in my reference groups tells me that the numbers could be way in excess of 80,000. We do not know about these young people. We do not know if they are safe. We do not know if they are having a suitable education. The registration process is the first step in making an inroad into dialogue with the local authority, which has responsibilities that it cannot necessarily discharge because the current laws do not give it the power.
You accept that in practice it is a lot more than that. We as a party have no objections with notifying, but on page 8 we see what the statement will involve. Admittedly, it is fairly brief but it is nevertheless a substantive statement setting out the educational needs of the individual child, talking about educational philosophy and outlining plans for the current year. I am not saying that those issues are not relevant to the local authority, but the provision is turning what at present is a right into something for which individuals will have to apply to the state; they will have to apply for permission to do something that does not require permission at present. Do you understand why there should have been strong feelings about it, and why people should feel that the state is intruding not only by requiring notification but by requiring registration?
Graham Badman: I think I understand their feelings. I simply dont share them. I see them as someone who has looked in from the outside. The sort of information that the note issued today offers is not that complicated.
I would almost turn your question on its head. Proper and responsible parents make that decision, often for very good reason. I acknowledge that there are many good reasons why people should decide on home education. Equally, they must have some view of what they are going to achieve, and what are the needs of their child. If they had no idea of the needs of the child, they might just as well have left them in a school. It could have been a good school, it could have been an awful school, but they must have had some insight of what their child needed and how they could fulfil those needs more effectively through home education. I am saying only that if a local authority is to exercise its proper duties, it needs to know that.
Yes, we accept that the local authorities have to know who those individuals are, not necessarily that they have to prove at the beginning of the process.
May I take you briefly to the question of monitoring, which links with the previous issue? Page 10 sets out the monitoring requirements. Earlier, you said that the primary concern was that the education should be suitable. On page 12, it says the samethat the primary purpose of monitoring is that it should be suitable. In paragraph 40, on monitoring, it states:
This section requires local authorities to make arrangements with a view to ascertaining as far as reasonably practical...whether education is suitable.
It then tacks on three other things:
whether education accords with the application for registration; what the childs wishes and feelings about the education are; and whether it is harmful for the welfare of the child to continue with home education.
Do you accept that it is not asking only about the suitability of education, but about a load of linkedbut arguably not linkedissues that would require a different level of monitoring?
Graham Badman: To use your words, I would argue that they are linked, in that children do not learn well in chaotic schools. They do not learn well in chaotic homes either.
Determining whether a child is benefiting from the sort of environment that you would get in certain homes might be quite appropriate in relation to the suitability of the education. Equally, to ascertain the childs feelings about what education they are receiving is also important, and determining whether it accords with what the parents set out to do is crucial. There would be little point in parents submitting a registration saying, By the age of 14, my child will have a full understanding of calculus, if they had no intention of doing anything about it. Checking that what the parents say in their registration is the truth and that they are achieving milestones on their way to their major objectives seems appropriate and important.
Given the time that we have for these initial exchanges, may I ask one further question? One reason why Home Education is probably concerned about the proposals is about what is meant by suitability. At the moment, we have a fairly light-touch regime. We do not always test it, but if we are to set up a more rigorous regime, suitability will become much more important.
Paragraph 43 makes it clear that you have raised concerns about what suitability should mean and about how children should be prepared in the 21st century. It also confirms in paragraph 48 that the Government will now establish a review to look into the whole issue of suitability and to report, presumably in a year or two. Is not that really putting the cart before the horse? Should not we know what suitability is, how we shall define it and bottom out that debate before putting the apparatus into place? Surely the concern of home educators is that your vision of suitability, my vision and theirs might be completely different and the burdens coming through the provision could therefore be far more onerous than many of them would wish to see.
Graham Badman: I understand your point, but we all operate within the legislative framework of the time. One would have thought that, in defining throughout the review a more embracing definition of suitable, it would have all sorts of effects on the curriculum that is offered in schools. Wearing a different hat with different interests, I might well argue, for example, that we pay insufficient attention to social networking sites as a means of communication between young people, and the vital role that they play within learning. Having access to a social networking site, for example, could be a key element of the provision of education.
So we do not know what we are signing up to until we have an idea of what suitability will mean over the next two, five or 10 years.
Graham Badman: What you have at the moment, though, is a legislative background for education in this country that is perhaps greater in definition than in most other developed countries. There are ample definitions out there. I tried in the paragraph to which you referred to say that, within that broad sweep of legislation, we should reasonably expect home-educating parents to define what curriculum they would put in place in front of their child in such a way that the childs choices were not limited in terms of career, interest and aptitude.
It would be of little point to have a totally monolinear education. I do not mind if a child is going to be a chess grand masterthat would be terrificbut I would also expect them to know other things about the world. It is that broad spectrum that I am concerned about. People have chosen to opt out of the education system, and my report makes it very clear that I found countless good reasons why many of them have done so. I was not critical of many of their motivations, but in terms of the rights of the child as enshrined in the UN convention, there is a right to a quality of education that does not limit a childs choices. Part of the statistics that I presented to the Select Committee, and which are contained in the note of that report, is that there is certainly clear evidence from a substantial number of authorities that there is a much higher likelihood of young people who are home educated to be NEETs.
We have received a number of submissions about this matter and, on safeguards, it has been brought to our attentionother people have read itthat a number of home educators feel that some of the impositions that would be placed on them would mean that people who abused their children would have greater legal safeguards than those who home educate their children.
Graham Badman: Yes, I understand that view. Let me tackle this in a slightly different way. Local authorities are often criticised for their failure to intervene when children are at riska number of fairly high-profile cases would evidence that. Equally, local authority intervention in the lives of children we do not know about has brought about significant improvements in their welfare. All I am saying is that if there is any risk of a child being the subject of abuseprobably leading from the five key morbidities and certainly if they are already subject to a child protection plan as a result of a section 47 inquirythe local authority has a responsibility to consider the welfare of that child as paramount and, if necessary, either not agree to registration or revoke it. I am not arguing that there is a greater likelihood. I am saying that on the basis of the evidence that we have, twice as many young people within the home-educating community as in the general population are subject to the highest protection this country can afford: a child protection plan[Interruption.] I am sorry. Mr. Stuart and I have had this argument before. I promise you that that is the case. You cannot ignore those figures.
What do you say to that, Fiona? It is a fair point, is it not? If we do not know where children of school age are, there is the potentialmaybe it is a reality for a number of childrenthat home education could be used as a smokescreen, dare I say, for abusive or isolating behaviour by parents. I am sure that that is not the case across the piece, but unfortunately we know that it could be happening. Why not notify about the arrangements, just so it is up front and there?
Fiona Nicholson: I am sitting next to somebody who just said that that was a fact about the child protection plans and then you said to me, Fiona, what are you going to say about that?, but actually your question was something different. As I understand it, you are making the same point that was made by the Liberal Democrats, which is, Why would there not be a requirement to notify that a parent either is home educating or intends to home educate?
That is one question; the child protection plan is another question. The statements in the Bill are another issue. The policy statement that was thrown at us when we came in says something completely different, and the Badman review says a fifth thing. I think it is the case that we do not know what we do not know. The facts about child protection plans are not facts. You can speculate however much you want about what you do not know. There are children that you do not know about; that is undoubtedly the case.
Yes, but constituents have written to me about this in particular. I have some sympathy for not ending up with something that is basically a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but as I said in our earlier sitting, I am sure that I heard David, and either Nick or Michael Gove, say on Second Reading that some changes to the system needed to be made. I am trying to think of a way forward.
One issue is knowing at least where children are, if not going into huge detail about how they are educatedthere is a point about suitability and what it meansand allowing a level of engagement that can clarify in a light-touch way whether the parents really want to educate at home, for a number of very good reasons, or whether there is something else going on that is not about education. As I said, I do not have the answers as to how to do that, but I think that it is a valid question. How do we know where children are when they are of school age?
Mr. Badman, what is the rush? I must say that I am rather disappointed that, following our exchange at the Select Committee sitting, you have not reflected in any way on the child protection plan figures, but we will not necessarily play that out again.
The truth is that we do not have sound data on the educational outcomes for home-educated children in this country. There is a lot of research around the world, but it would be fair to say that your report airily dismissed pretty much all of it. Would it not be right to go slowly and with humility, to establish the facts in a way that could be commonly accepted, and then to take forwardperhaps immediately, while doing the researchthe recommendations in your report that I certainly welcome, as I know many home-educating parents do, that additional support should be made voluntarily available to families if they wish to have it? Is it not true that most of the children who are beneath the radar at the moment are there because there is absolutely no benefit whatever in registering or notifying the local authority? If there is no support and no access, why would anyone bother? Should we not move forward on a voluntary basis, put in place the extra support that you talked about and get a better understanding of the facts before we move to what is by any stretch of the imagination a fairly draconian set of proposals, as we have been discussing?
Graham Badman: I reflected a great deal on our exchange of views, I promise you. I did go back and look at the figures and I came up with exactly the same conclusion. In fact, if you want me to qualify it, when surveying the number of child protection plans in the authorities that we covered in the last survey, we came up with a figure of 0.4 per cent., which is double that within the normal population. In fact, that figure could be fractionally higher, because we discounted any child protection plan that was there as a consequence of disability. I know you argued that because I did not know about the other half, that therefore negated it and made it even again. My argument in return, as you will recall, was that because we did not know about the other half, that did not mean to say that they were all safe either. It could be exactly the same figure or more.
May I interrupt you there? The question was not about the letter to the Select Committee in which you suggested that I had said that any child who was not known about was automatically safe. I said no such thing, so you have your facts wrong thereagain. What we were establishing was the rate of child protection plans in the home-educating community. We went through it slowly, and you want to rehearse it, so I will rehearse it.
If you have a child protection plan, automatically you are known to the local authority, so children previously not known to the local authority who become subject to a child protection plan are then known to the local authority. It does not by any means guarantee that children who are not known to the local authority and do not have a child protection plan are necessarily safe. But what you do know is that every child with a child protection plan is known to the local authority, and you claimed, completely erroneouslyand although you have been corrected, here you are months later still getting it wrong, which is pretty frighteningthat the percentage of children who are home educated who have a child protection plan is double the national average, when your own report suggests that the numbers are at least double the 20,000, which is the number registered with the local authority, and the Secretary of State said on Second Reading that the Government estimated the number was 70,000. They do not know for sure, but they think it is 70,000.
If you take the number of home-educated children with a child protection plan and you see that as a percentage of 70,000, it comes out at a great deal less than the average for the population, and that I believe is the definitive statement of what we know. It does not tell us everything we need to know, which is why I would not overstate my reliance on it. Could you please comment on whether you believe that we can truly say, as you have repeatedly said, that there is double the rate of the most serious level of child protection plan among children who are home educated?
Graham Badman: Well, fine; we might want to debate that laterperhaps you went to a better school than me. The fact remains that I do not agree with your assumptions. On the basis of the data collected from the local authorities and from two surveys that have been validated by DCSF statisticians, I believe that we are quite safe in saying that on the basis of the child protection plan analysis that they carried out, there are twice as many young people on a child protection plan known to local authorities within that population as are within the general population. That is a fact. I am sorry that you do not agree with me, but we could go on for ever disagreeing.
The wider point to focus on is that there is a lot that we do not know. I think that you called for greater research and for greater support. Why not do the research and the support before coming forward with a procedure? If the Secretary of State is right, and if the impact assessments numbers are rightthat is a whole different ball game, I knowit is going to cost £500 million-plus over the next 10 years at a time when we are seeing numbers in child welfare and in education being slashed. That is the situation. We are going to spend £500 million chasing a problem of which we have not established the existence. Can we not go more slowly? Why do this now?
Graham Badman: You assume that the analysis was carried out over the period of my report. That would be wrong. The report, fundamentally, had childrens rights at its heartyesbut equally it drew evidence from local authorities with years and years of pent-up frustration at not being able to do the job that they thought they should do. It drew particularly upon the work of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Ofsted and so onall those agenciesand Barnardos. This is not a view that has just emerged and therefore can be left to the caprice of a few years timeit is not that at all. Over the past five or six years, there has been a growing body of concern that a number of home-educated youngsters are not receiving a suitable education and a tiny percentage of them are at risk. You ask me why the urgency. My urgency would be very simple: if, by going forward with a registration scheme, we safeguard the life of just one child, it is worth it.
May I suggest to the panel that there are important issues not specifically to do with home education? We must know where children are. In certain local authority areas such as Bradfordmy ownchildren are taken out of school and sent back to Pakistan or Bangladesh for very long periods. In the case of one boy, that period was 18 months, but no one came to school to tell the head teacher that he was going anywhere, and no one came to school at the end of that period to say that he was coming back. The school could have helped by preparing work for him to do. This is just an extreme case, but every year many children are taken back to their familys country of origin without telling anyonethey just disappear. In the worst case scenario, girls are taken back for marriage and no one knows, so this is very important.
I am not suggesting for one minute that that has an impact on home educators, but I am simply saying that we must bear in mind that in certain parts of this country we must be very careful about where children are at any given time. They must be given the support of the child protection that we would extend to other sectors of the community. Does anyone want to comment on that?
Chloe Watson: There is an issue with the fact that since the children are, in effect, under their parents jurisdiction, surely if they are home educated it has nothing to do with the local authority where they are. They are with their parents, which is good enough. If their parents decide to take them around the world for three years, visiting wherever and doing whatever, that is the parents decision. Sure, it would be nice if they consulted their child and the child agreed, but that is not illegal or something that we should have to worry about.
No, it is not illegal. If the child is of school age and the parents say, We want to go around the world, I do not necessarily have an objectionat least we know what the state of play is. In other circumstances it might not be about an educational experience but possibly forcing or compelling a young woman or girl into a marriage of which she does not want to be part. Just knowing where children are, at least there was a conversation. Would you not agree with that?
Chloe Watson: When you ask parents where they are taking their child, they can say one thing and do another. You cannot force people to tell the truth about where the children are, so asking is not productive, it is just an unnecessary burden on authorities and parents. And it shows mistrust in parents.
Fiona Nicholson: Current registration regulations in England from 2006 mean that, if a child is taken out of school in order to be home educated, the school has a duty to notify the local authority. The local authority then knows. If the child simply does not return to school, there is no duty in the Governments pupil registration regulations for the school to notify anyone; it only has to make reasonable inquiries, which are defined as calling on the home a couple of times within a 20-day periodyou could have two 10-day holidays or 20 days if they do not appearand they are struck off the register. When anyone queries that, they are told that it would affect the attendance targets set by Ofsted.
I was at a National Association of Social Workers conference last year because Graham was speaking, and there was an interesting workshop in the afternoon with somebody who gives tips to schools on how to improve their attendance targets. He was very clear that what schools should do was to knock pupils off the register immediately. You would not hold a place open for them for any time at all because it would affect your PApersistent absencetargets and we tried to speak about this to Ofsted. There is a huge problem with children who just disappear out of school. For the ones who are taken out of school to be home educated, the parent has a duty to notify the school. The school has a duty to notify the local authority. It is in the pupil registration regulations. If those regulations are not being implementedI believe they are not, in many casesthat is problematic. Whether those regulations should be revised is, again, a separate issue for legislators, but the regulations are in place and there is a loophole over children who just do not come back.
Graham Badman: Forced marriage. I am sorry; that was my mistake. My report does make it clear that we found no evidence of home education being used in that context. The second point I would like to make, though, is about children who are missing. Certainly, schools facing Ofsted section 5s will be under a much greater duty of responsibility to report on the perceived welfare of youngsters, including those whom they might have some cause for concern for if they were absent from school for a long time. That seems to me to be another element of safeguarding in relation to going to school.
On the point that was made, too, about the way in which attendance figures were manipulated, yes, of course we are well aware of that. There is a reference in the report that just to suggest that people go home and become home educators to avoid exclusions is, we think, absolutely wrong. Equally, there is a recommendation that the school place be kept open for 20 days so that home-educating parents can have that opportunity to reconsider if they wish. There is nothing about dragooning them back at all; it is just about keeping their options open. Some of the points that were made about the flexibility of schooling are within the report, specifically in relation to home-educating parents.
Sir Paul Ennals: It seems to me there is an underlying issue, which has been troubling us throughout the debate, not only through the review but for longer than that. The underlying issue is that the population of home educators is far from homogenous. There are several separate sub-categorieswe had some discussion with the Select Committee on this issueand trying to develop some commonalities of approach that cover all four of the sub-headings, which I shall come to shortly, is where I think a lot of the misunderstandings come. In my viewthe evidence is hard to quantify seriouslythe significant majority of home educators are likely to be highly effective in the education they provide and the education that the children are receiving is likely to be of good quality, despite their not having as much support as we should be able to hope. That is group 1.
Group 2 is children with special educational needs. I do not agree with a previous witnesss suggestion that the figure may be over 50 per cent. I have not seen the evidence that would back up that, but it is a significant population of children who have been removed from school because the school or certainly the parents have believed, often rightly, that the school has been unable effectively to meet their special educational needs.
The two other groups are much, much smaller. One groupI cannot quantify it, but I know and we all know it existsis of children who are withdrawn for malevolent purpose or through a lack of capability of the parent, as a cover for abuse. Unquestionably it exists, but it is a very small number of children. There is a fourth category, which Graham has rightly drawn our attention to. It is where some local authorities actively discourage a child from remaining in the school education system, to help the school to meet some of the performance targets that schools are facing.
They are four separate groups, and in many ways the measures and support that are needed for each of the four are different, so the challenge that the Government and you as legislators are facing is trying to work out how to enable the system to move forward, on the one hand improving the quality of support for the large majority who, in my view, justify that, and on the other, making it at least more likely that we can spot and do something about the small vulnerable groups. I am not saying that the solution that has been put forward is perfect, but in my view, it is a proportionate response in seeking to meet both those separate needs.
The requirement for setting forward a statement of roughly two sides, which was the outline that I suggested to the Select Committee, should enable us to, at least early on, identify the small group of parents who are unable to provide an effective education for their child, and it would be right for the local authority not to simply agree to registration, but to investigate further. For many of those parents, the demand of writing a two-page statement will be a sufficiently high hurdle for them to fall. So they would be unlikely to submit a statement, and some of the existing provision would enable us to, hopefully, one way or another, identify the needs of that child.
However, I also believe that a two-pageit says missionstatement, as part of a simple registration process, is not an onerous burden on the hands of those parents, the great majority of whom are more than able to identify in simple terms the needs of their child, set out their approach to educationI prefer the word approach to philosophy, which I personally, and I suspect, many other parents, get a bit scared ofand to set out simply the building blocks of what they would be seeking to offer and make available to their child. I do not think that that is an undue burden.
However, the debate has been somewhat poisoned by the feeling, which I can understand, that that kind of structurethe statement and the registrationis a cover for trying to find out whether the vast majority of parents are child abusers. I do not believe they are, but I believe that the proposed system will enable us to make that even more likely, and hopefully, it would enable us to start to focus the support on to the needs of home educators that they have long needed. It is an investment, and it will be costly, but I believe that it would be an appropriate and valid use of Government money, which in turn would produce improve outcomes for children and make savings for our community in the future.
It is an interesting analysis. I agree with a lot of it, but as Paul just said, the trouble is that you are subjecting all those four groups to an awful lot of paraphernalia that may be applicable to the tiny majority, as you described it.
I would like go back to something Graham Badman commented on earlier, and I would like everyone, or as many as would like to, to answer this question. We have stepped around the safeguarding issue, and you have now gone on to childrens rights as well. I thought that the initial analysis was that the criteria behind the proposals were to secure a good education and safeguarding; you did not want to give a preference to either one. Now you are saying that it was fashioned in terms of childrens rights.
You said that there were several high-profile cases. There seems to be some contention over the child protection plans. I asked this question earlier: what research did you do on how many children who have been the subject of serious abuse or have been fatalities, and have therefore been the subject of serious case reviewsmaking it quantifiable evidencewere undergoing home education? What are the statistics on that?
Coming on to the childrens rights aspectperhaps Chloe and Fiona might like to answer this questionwhat would the position be if we were to interview an eight-year-old child, who is being home educated, and that child says, I do not want to be home educated. I want to go to school. What would happen then?
The trouble is that those statistics are not published, so we do not know that. However, surely Ofsted should take into account how that child was being educatedit is the inspectorate of serious case reviews.
Graham Badman: Dozens and dozens were looked at, but I will write to you. I will not give you figures of which I am not certain.
A serious case review is about the learning experience. It stems from part 8. Those inquiries resulting in a serious case review are for local safeguarding boards and local authorities, to determine the lessons to be learned. What they do not necessarily expose is whether the local authority has been successful in intervening with children who were home educated and were the subject of child protection plans before something happened that was so awful there had to be a serious case review.
You would have to fall back on the figures that I discussed earlier. Does a child protection plan exist, and is there a disproportionately high number of them? The serious case reviews are, sadly, for when everything has gone absolutely wrong. Therefore, I have no means of knowing necessarily where interventions were taken and things did not go wrong.
To go back to the other point about the statistics on education, 81 per cent. of local authorities estimated that 15 per cent. of the total higher education population were not receiving any education; 48 local authoritiesthat is, 65 per cent.that responded said that 482 children were receiving some education, but not full-time education; 58 local authorities, or 78 per cent., said that 173 were receiving full-time but not suitable education. I agree with Paul. There are gradations in how communities operate. At the tipor, if you want, the baseare those poor benighted souls who are the subject of abuse. They are, mercifully, a tiny number.
Graham Badman:Let me talk about the timing. This is an absolutely truthful and honest answer: I was unaware of that case at the time of agreeing to do the review. I agreed to do the review just before I left my last permanent job. During the course of the review, of course I became aware of the case, as indeed I am aware of other serious case reviews that are running and some that have taken place since the review was written. Of course I have taken an interest in those.
However, it would be wrong to say that I was commissioned to do the review in short order because of that. I was commissioned to do it, as I said previously, because of a mounting body of evidence and concern from local authorities about a huge number of children, some of whom were not receiving any suitable form of education, as the figures that I just read out illustrate, and many of whom they simply did not know about and were concerned for.
Chloe Watson: In the case of an eight-year-old, it would be very hard to know what exactly they meant by that. I know eight-year-olds who will get in a strop and say that they hate their parents and want to kill them. You do not take that seriously. Equally, it could be something serious, but I do not believe that the child should have the final say in their education, because they do not necessarily know what is best for them. It is the parents duty to know what is best for the child and do it at all times.
Sir Paul Ennals: In an earlier question, Mr. Stuart rightly queried whether the rights of the child were embedded in this legislation. In fact, in almost all education legislation, it is not. Education legislation tends to be steered around the rights of the child more than social care legislation, which is driven much more by them. The exception is SEN legislation. My understanding of what is proposed is that the wishes and feeling of the child would be sought, but that that would not be the deciding factor as to whether registration would be revoked. Nor should it be. It should be a factor to be taken into account and, if I was the officer undertaking ithopefully, having received the appropriate trainingI would doubtless raise it with the parent by asking them how they wanted to address the issue that had been raised by their child. But, unless it triggered any other concerns that, in turn, would trigger existing social care legislation opportunities, I do not see that the opportunity for an eight-year-old child to say, No, I dont want to be educated at home could be seen as a reason to revoke registration.
Is Fiona worried at all about those families who say that they are home educating their children, yet the children are not receiving any education at all? Does that concern you in any way?
I just wonder whether you were concerned at all about a child who is not receiving an education.
I want to ask Beth a question, and to look at the support package side for a moment. Has the National Autistic Society received representations over the years from parents who thought that their only option was to withdraw their child from mainstream school because they were not getting an adequate education? Obviously, you have expertise on autism. Has that been a common occurrence to the society?
Beth Reid: Yes. We regularly get calls on our helpline from parents about whether home education could be an option for them. Usually, it is because the school or the local authority has not been able to meet their childs needs. I do not know whether that is because they are not equipped to deal with them or they are failing to recognise the childs needs in the first place. We hear quite regularly from families when the school is disputing a childs diagnosis. Recently, we had a case of a child who received a diagnosis from Great Ormond Street hospital. The school refused to recognise that that child had autism and to put any support in place.
In other cases, the problem may be because of severe bullying. We had a call this morning from a parent whose child was being severely bullied. The school was providing no support. In that case, the school had actually advised the parent that they would not be eligible for home education because the child did not have a physical disability, which was obviously completely inaccurate. It is a major problem for a lot of our parents. It is often because of a failure in the statutory services to meet the childs needs. That presents a strong case to have adequate support for those children and for those families who have to meet educational needs when there are no statutory services that can do so.
Thank you. That is one of Pauls four categories. It is one that we should be concentrating on in the legislation in many ways because, in the past, parents have been turned down and told that there is nothing for them. Yet suddenly it is a bit like the spider saying to the fly, I am going to be really nice if you come closer.
Beth Reid: Those parents also fall into one of Pauls other categories. We sometimes find that parents are told that they should home educate their child because the school cannot cope with their childs needs. That is particularly the case for autism, but it probably applies to other special educational needs. It means that the parent is left without any support at all, and that the statutory services have effectively given up on the child.
You will obviously agree that it is a high priority to make sure that there is a package of support for home education for children with and without statements, with special educational needs. Do you agree that that should be one of the first things that is attended to?
Beth Reid: Absolutely. There could be benefits in registration and monitoring, but it very much depends on how that is framed. The monitoring must be in the form of support for parents of children with special educational needs. Currently, it looks like a very one-sided system. Without that support, the proposals will not make a difference to children with special educational needs.
May I ask Paul a different question, and then you could add anything before we move on?
Fiona correctly said that, at the moment, there is obviously a notification system if a child is withdrawn from school. As I understand it, however, the gaps exist if the child moves authority or if the child has never been to school. I agree that we need to get some idea of the numbers and I understand that, for Fionas group, registration now has this connotation of all these hoops that you have to jump throughI understand that entirely. So we will just come back to pure notification, Paul. Would a pure requirement for notification actually act as the first filter that you require?
Sir Paul Ennals: Okay. I take the point. Well, it might provide some use, but it is a matter of what comes behind it. If what you are saying is compulsory notification as opposed to compulsory registration, there would still need to be something that would follow from that, unless part of the notification was completing something that set out your understanding as a parent of the needs of the child and something about your approach. Unless that was the case, I cannot see how compulsory notification would act as that first hurdle that would be required.
I think that we are still battling with the fact that we have got ourselves in the position within this debate where an approach that still seems to me to be a proportionate one is seen as something that is much more draconian than it needs to be.
Let me put it another way. If I was on the Committee, I would want to see the regulations and guidance in draft form during the Committee stage, to gain reassurance about what is intended in relation to some of these processes. I am not sure if those draft regulations and guidance are yet in place. Forgive meI understand that a document was handed out today that I have not had the chance to look at yet. Nevertheless, I think that some satisfaction should be sought in relation to the legitimate concerns that are raised.
Can I take up the invitation that Annette gave me, just to add a word on special educational needs? I strongly support the idea that an important part of this process should be to enable us to identify more effectively the way that we can support children with SEN. However, I am not yet convinced that that will require any changes in legislation. I think that that would be another issue that could and should be appropriately covered in the guidance, including the draft guidance. As I have said, I would encourage you to ask for that draft guidance, if it can be made available. I am not convinced that a further legislative change would be required during the passage of the Bill to enable that objective in relation to SEN to be met.
The question was about prioritisation of actions, which does not necessarily mean legislation at this stage.
Beth Reid: On that point, we need to be very clear about the support that people are entitled to. When these parents and families have been through the statutory SEN system and have still not been able to get the support that they need through the statement or, in many cases, even through the tribunalthey may have been to the tribunal three or four timeswe need to ensure that those parents, families and children are able to get the support that they need for their SEN in the home education environment. Given that the statutory system may have failed them already and they have had to seek legal recourse, we should make it as strong as we possibly can.
One thing that has also come across in the evidence that we have received is how there are these very different ways in which local authorities go about dealing with both the voluntary arrangements and the support that is offered to families. Judging from some of the information that we have received, it seems that in some places the situation is very good and in some places it is not so good.
Is there no way in which this debate can be moved on to a ground where we say, Is this an opportunity to try to improve things, both in terms of notification and support? It seems to me that doing that would respond to some of what seem to me to be the justifiable criticisms that have been made, both today and in the submissions that we have received.
Fiona Nicholson: Yes, there is no core of support for home educators. There is a postcode lottery. I think that the local authorities make it up as they go along. Judging from the research that we have done, there is a difference in staffing costs between various local authorities. It varies. One local authority spends £60 a year, whereas the average is about £200 a year on staffing costs and nothing at all on support.
It is exceptional to spend as much as £500 on staffing costs, largely taken up by a person driving to someones house, spending time there, driving back again and doing the same 365 days later. The support is not there. There is no common agreement about what support should be offered. We as an organisationEducation Otherwiseput forward suggestions about what could be done. There is absolutely no funding; home education has no clout with local authorities; and it is not embedded in the Department, so there is a part-time retired head teacher, who is just doing contract work and gets paid a few hundred pounds to make a visit and write a report. The bribes and carrots are not therenothing is there. There are a few local authorities, which we have drawn the Departments attention to, that are making valiant efforts to offer something, but they do not have any money to do that and it is extremely patchy or not there.
On a further issue of support, Graham Badman was saying that some home educators welcomed his report. There was more in the Badman review and report about support than there is in the Bill that we have in front of usthere is nothing in the Bill about flexi-schooling, any core offer or entitlement to support. Support is seen as spending eight hours informing home educators that they may be able to access some services. There is not actually anything helpful.
Graham Badman: It is not a first. There are certain things that we agree upon. Performance is extremely variable, I accept that. We put some case studies of good practice in the report. From what I think was announced by the Minister at the Select Committee, local authorities will be able to draw down funds, which they can spend upon the provision of services to home educators. Although not necessarily within the legislation, there is money following the report. That is totally justified.
I remind Fiona that there was also an attempt in my report to give home educators a voice about local authority services in an authority-by-authority grouping. She has in the past shared with me the difficulty of getting a consensus voice even within her own organisation, but it is worth trying, because there is among home educators something that should be disinterred, to inform how local authorities carry out their business. There are many references to the engagement of home educators in, for example, the training of local authority officers, so they genuinely understand what it is that they are trying to review, for good reason.
Turning briefly back to special educational needs, if I may, the report clearly sets out the opportunity for local authorities not simply to provide the support to sometimes quite specialist needs, but to commission the voluntary sector to do that. I do not think that they do that sufficiently and I have said so. I have also raised the spectrefor example, if a child has been the subject of school action plus and has therefore had money following the child into the schoolabout when the home becomes the place of education. I asked the question about why the money and services do not follow. There is much within the report about that continuum of support on leaving school to be home educated, and I feel strongly that the voluntary sectorthe third sectorshould be engaged in commissioning the support for some of those families, who I acknowledge are fighting against the odds.
Beth Reid: I agree with Graham. I think that children at school action plus, who have not got the protection of the statement, very much need to be recognised in the system. Real importance needs to be placed on specialist training for the different needs we are looking at. We come across parents who have been accused of being a bad parent, because their childs behaviour is not as it should be at school. In some cases, they have been investigated by social services for child protection issues, because of a failure to recognise autism and how it presents within a family, as a child behaves around them. We need to ensure that those who monitor home education, especially if there is a child with special educational needs, have training not only in SEN, but in the childs specific disability.
Thinking through the practical implications of the Bill and knowing from the evidence about the attitudes of many home educators, will the Bill help improve relations, understanding and co-operation between home educators and local authorities, or is it more likely to drive an even greater wedge between them, preventing more support and co-operation? If, when the Bill is enacted, a high proportion of home educators refuse to comply, which we heard today might happen, and given that the sanctions for non-compliance seem to be weak, we may end up spending a lot of money to achieve very little. May I ask Chloe to comment first? I shall then ask other members of the panel if they would like to add anything.
Chloe Watson: Ever since the proposal came out, it has caused great friction in my area between families and the local authority. I have had reports from home-education kids across the country about children and parents refusing to talk to the local authority. Indeed, in my area, three families within a mile radius refuse to have any contact with the local authority, because they believe that it will not follow good practice.
For instance, an inspector might change; for years, you have had nice inspections with someone you know, who has behaved decently, but then someone else comes in who just ticks boxes and tells you what to do. I have experienced that personally, as have many home educators. We do not want to be put in that position, with the risk that someone assessing you who was not necessarily malicious but who you would not want in your home could revoke your right to home-educate based on their own prejudices.
Graham Badman: It goes back again to the question of the unknown. I say it with Fiona sitting next to me, but I believe that her membership is about 4,000, so the voice of home educators may not yet have been heard. I believe that there are substantially more than 20,000 families out there; a huge number of them have not responded in any way to the report or the discussion of the legislation.
In answer to your question, I would say that whenever there is a new regulation, it causes some adverse reaction, even if it is only a speed limit. If Parliament brings in a process of registration and review, and accompanies it with the model of training and support that I outlined in my report, we would still have one of the most liberal regimes in the whole of western Europe. If you look at the systems that run in other countries, there is no adverse reaction in France, Scandinavia or Australia. The Tasmanian system, which I researched, is offered as a model for home educators; home educators there are involved in monitoring, and you do not get that reaction at all.
I understand why you asked the question, but I sincerely hope that you are wrong. It would be in the best interests of children and their families to try to embrace the support of local authorities and to encourage them to monitor and survey what is going on in a more responsible manner.
Chloe Watson: May I comment briefly on that? You said that we are the most liberal in western Europe, but that takes no account of America, the most affluent country in the world, which has a much more liberal take on home education than any other country. It has the largest home-educating population. Refugees from places in Europe are bringing their children to England specifically to avoid that. I am sure that they cannot make a huge outcry in their own area, but that is because there are not many home educators there. I know two families in Germany who have literally fled to England to avoid having their children taken from them or having huge fines imposed, because it is not liberal enough. They are coming here because it is a haven and a place in which, at present, we can home educate in peace without judgment from authorities that really do not have any right or reason to do so.
Graham Badman: We agree. That is absolutely the case.
As for the USA, there is no countrywide system. It is done on a state systemsome are very liberal, and some have powers of intervention. There is no national system. I can tell you that this report has been picked up by Stanford, which is very interested in it not least, of course, because of the very high-profile case that is currently running in America. My claim about other nations is simply to make the point that, where there is a registration process, there is not the sort of civil disobedience that you fear.
Fiona Nicholson: I cannot overstate the fear and apprehension that home educators are experiencing over the Bill. If it were to pass into legislation, it would be two years before we will see any of it. But there are people right now who are hardly sleeping and hardly able to eat. That has been the case for a whole year, because they are in dread of what will happen. Whether that would lead to mass civil disobedience, I have absolutely no idea.
I really believe that you will not find home-education support organisations that will deliver training on how to implement the Bill, so in respect of all those plans for softening the edges and making it palatable and home-education friendly, I cannot see where you will find such people. There are two home-education support charities: Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service. They are both registered charities. They are membership subscription organisations. They get their funding entirely from member subscriptions. Our members are not paying ours to help the Government to implement the Bill, so unless you set up your own home-education support organisation, I do not really see how you will find home educators to train local authorities to deliver the Bill, even with substantial amendments. It will be very difficult.
Sir Paul Ennals: I recognise the validity of much of what Fiona says. I am not sure whether it is normal practice for the Committee to take such factors into account when deciding the best legislation for meeting the needs of the population that it is concerned about. I do not think that it should be either. I said earlier that I really regret the way in which the debate over the past few months has ended up polarised. It is a real cause of regret that it is now much more difficult for many people to feel that they can put forward a public statement about this, because of the abusive e-mails that they, I and others would receive in those circumstances. Like members of the Committee, I recognise that that goes with the job, but not all my colleagues who work in the sector do. That is why it is much harder to find people working in the field of children who feel confident enough to come to such sittings to put propositions that might not be popular with some sections of the home-education lobby. Over many years, I have worked very closely with many of them, which is why I particularly regret this and why I continue to say that we need to find ways of improving the outcome and support for them. But we should not be using anxiety from some individuals as an argument in itself for resiling from measures, if the measures can themselves pass muster in meeting needs. That is a question for the Committee.
Sir Paul, I think that this indicates how badly the whole measure has been handled from start to finish. You cannot blame members of the public who are unhappy with the things that emanate from the House of Commons. We have to blame the Government and, I am afraid to say, Graham Badman, for how the whole matter has been handled. Peoples views about our legislation and proposals are very valid, and need to be taken very seriously when we legislate.
May I give Chloe Watson and Fiona Nicholson an opportunity nowbecause I do not think they have really had oneto set out their case why they are so opposed to these proposals? In particular, would you mind, when answering the question, trying to incorporate in the answers the issue about safeguarding, which I am concerned about, and the issue that Graham Badman mentioned, which is that the home-educated population has twice the rate of NEETs compared with the population as a whole? Could you broadly set out your case now as to why you are so opposed to this legislation?
Chloe Watson: First, I want to make a quick point to Sir Paul. You are saying that it is the anxieties of a few. I think the consultation results will come out, and the view was markedly against the proposals. It is not that home educators are not responding. They are responding. Sure, not everyone is. That does not mean they oppose the ones who are responding. Everyone has been able to respond; nobody has been silenced. So why not listen to the people who know what they are talking aboutthe people who are doing the home educating, who live it, who live with the consequences of what they do? As parents, you care that your child gets a good education. You cannot help that as a parent. It is a biological imperative. Why not listen to the people who are saying, This will wreck my childs life? Why not take notice of that, over and above the people who think, Oh well, maybe in a few cases something might go wrong? Until we as home educators are presented with evidence that there are serious problems with home education that cannot be fixed within the current system, we are not open to letting people into our houses to judge us and subject us to all sorts of ridiculous regulation.
On the regulations, first, the Bill does not actually take account of the needs of the child, and HEYC is very firmly in favour of the childs needs being met, not left in the dust for the sake of administration. Secondly, the Bill completely changes the balance of rights between parent and child, and local authority. The rights of parents and children remain the same to each other, but now local authorities have powers. It has not given parents or children more power to get what they want or need. It has not given rights to children. It has given rights to Government, and it is not what we want. We have withdrawn from the system because, for whatever reason, the system is not what we want. You cannot then turn round and say, Im afraid thats not good enough. Were going to come and inspect you anyway. That is not reasonable and we really will not stand for it. I cannot put it any better.
Fiona Nicholson: To take the issue of safeguarding, my organisationEducation Otherwisehas consistently said that far more non-judgmental support should be available, so that there is more information about what you are walking into and a lot more information about what you might be landing somebody else in if you asked for support, help or any form of intervention for them. That needs to be in place; it is not there at the moment. The idea that you could rescue individuals by going to every family and trying to ascertain which families needed to be brought out or changed is an incredibly inefficient way to go about it.
If you had a system whereby people would come to youif you had a system whereby home educators trusted that some good would come of reporting somebody to social services, for instanceyou would be in a very different position from where we are now. The idea that you can police people, that you can go to them, that you can inspect their educational provision, that you can take the child to one side, with or without a trusted adult, for 10 minutes or half an hour and say, Do you have any bruises? or Is there anything youd like to tell me? and then go away and think you have sorted it is just not correct; that is box-ticking. You are not going to get that from anything that you are doing. You would have to just put down what is being proposed at present and put in far more partnership working between home educators, home education support organisations, local authorities and national Government representatives, which you just do not have at the moment.
This entire Bill has never been tried. All the measures in it are designed so that people eliminate themselves from inquiries and so that you can still zero in on individual cases, thinking that you will be able to spot them and then thinking that you will be able to make a difference when you have spotted them. Experience shows us that very often a difference is not made; you identify that a child has needs, you simply record that a child has needs and then you move on to identify somebody else. You bury the fact that something needs to be done under a mass of data about that family and that child. All the serious cases were not undocumentedthere was not a lack of information, but nothing is done with it. Services are not joined up and people are not given the help that they say they want. So you would have to start doing it in a completely different way, but I believe that it would start with non-judgmental support.
Chloe Watson: So far, there is no evidence from any unbiased body that home education is any worse than school education. It is considered equal or better by all authorities that are not local authorities. Local authorities have cited the 50 per cent. that Graham quoted. I strongly believe that it is nothing like that, given that I know thousands of home educators and not one of them has an unsuitable education in my eyes or their eyes.
Obviously, a local authority is judging by its standards. You cannot necessarily do that, because that is sometimes just one individual going around the houses, and what do they know about a childs individual circumstances and education? The people who actually know if a child is progressing and learning things, whether it is reading, writing and maths, social interaction or tree-climbingyou cannot say as a local authority that that is education. For a parent, however, that might be more important and really the final judge cannot be a local authority that has to tick certain boxes, because we do not actually have a definitive This is a good education. You cannot say, This child is having a good education. We do not know what a good education is. No one has a monopoly on the means by which any education may be achieved.
You cannot go in saying, Oh, well, this person hasnt learned to read at this age or that age. You have to look at the persons long-term outcomes. If, by the age of 30, they are happy and earning, you cannot necessarily say before then. Sure, they might not have learned to read or write until they were 14. I know a child who was like that and they are now earning a perfectly good wage, they are a chef and they are happy. What can you say about that? Sure, if you are going to inspect them, you can say, Oh, thats not good enough. 14 and cant read? Back to school with you.
Chloe Watson: I personally have been able to get access to a school to take some exams. I have not taken the full five GCSEs at A to C that you are supposed to get. I took double science and maths. I took them two years early and in half a year, and I got A*top end of the range. Then I proceeded to do A-level maths and physics, again two years ahead but at normal speed this time, and I got As in both of those. I also did GCSE Latin, at the same time as my peers, and I got an A in that.
That has done me fine, according to my judgment, but I have no English qualification, no history or geography or art or anything. Yet I am employed. I am an educational researcher, as I have said. I also tutor in maths, English and Latin, and I am doing fine for myself, I think.
I do not think that my education has been let down in any way, yet technically I am not able to receive child benefits because currently I am doing further maths AS-level. I am only doing that one A-level, because I took the others early. They now say, Oh, youre not having full-time education, which I suppose is true.
I also think that I am a registered NEET, because I have not responded to Connexions; I have not taken any notice of what Connexions is telling me. I saw Connexions once about possibly going to university. I have decided against that; I will do Open university. So I do not know where I stand on that; I do not know if I am a NEET statistic, or not.
Chloe, what you just said is very interesting. Everyone would be delighted by what you have achieved. You point out some of the anomalies in the system: you are regarded as NEET, when that clearly seems nonsensical to you and to everybody in the Committee. However, it is interesting that we could all have the Government we absolutely dreamed of and there would always be a tension between the pursuit of what anyone would regard as the public good and where that butts up against individual rights and individuals right to go on in an unfettered way, irrespective of the state and completely free from state interference.
A debate goes on all the time about where that interface should be. At its extreme, it is easy, but as it closes up, it gets more difficult to draw the line and the balance. We in Government felt that issues were coming to our attention, so we asked Graham to conduct a review. We were not trying to outlaw people or say that things were draconian or terrible; we were simply conducting a review to find out what was going on and analyse the numbers and some of the issues.
As a consequence of that and some of the things that have been said, none of us here would question the desire to ensure that we understand who is missing. There may be people outside the system whom we know nothing about and who may be suffering in some way that we do not understand or know. Alongside that are quality issues and, for a very small number, issues of safeguarding. If the Government step back from that, my question is whether it would not be an abrogation of Governments responsibility to say, Isnt this something that we should try to understand and do something about?
While accepting peoples right to educate their childrenwe respect that and do not want to undermine itdo not we as a state also have a right to ask whether we are doing all that we should to protect young people, understand who is missing and look at the quality of what is going on? We recognise the right of people such as you to be home educated and of the people whom Fiona represents to be home educators.
Chloe Watson: I am not denying you the right to ask the question; I am saying that people will not accept you coming into their homes before you have collected any real evidence. All the evidence that has been used to justify the measures either is in dispute or has been overturned in the eyes of home educators.
On the abuse statistics, although I am not personally involved with the project, freedom of information requests about abuse have been made to all the local authorities in Britain, and the percentages show that it is approximately one quarter the rate of national abuse. That is 48 children so far who have been abused in the home educated community, against 142,000 who are in school.
I am aware that it is not good that there are 48I was shocked by that, actuallybut I do not believe that the difference between saying, There are 48; thats not very good, and saying that we are at higher risk can be just ignored. We were told that we were at higher risk of abuse than every other child, but actually it turns out that we are not, according to all the evidence that we can find. I am afraid that is the only evidence I am willing to rely on. Evidence for educational achievement has shown in all cases that home educators achieve well.
Until there is evidence to the contrary that we as a community can accept and understand and that is not backed up by statistics with which we disagree, we cannot accept that your changes will be good for us. You are welcome to inquire and do research into long-term outcomes, but because nobody really understands how autonomous education works, for instance, or any one-to-one flexible educationnobody knows why or how it worksyou cannot judge it according to the same criteria as school education, which is the only way that the Government are judging it at present. I am convinced that the only way to judge education is by the outcome. If home educated children end up happy and healthy, with a house over their heads, what can we say against it?
This will be a question for Mr. Badman. We cannot get over the fact that we should get the evidence before we act. No one disputes the Ministers point about acting if the evidence is there.
We should consider other similar systems. For instance, Mr. Badman, you said in your report that New Zealand had demanded that home educated children be taught at least as regularly and as well as in registered schools. Why did you not mention the fact that for the second time in a number of years they decided that their monitoring and licensing scheme was a waste of time and money and dropped it altogether? Why did you not mention Ontario, which decided that it was a waste of time and money? In New Zealand, many people said that it was similar to the UK and that the incidence of problems was so small that it did not justify the cost, saying that the money would be better spent on support than on bureaucracy and licensing.
I have two brief questions. The first is to Chloe and Fiona. Do you accept the Select Committees conclusion that it is unacceptable that local authorities should not know accurately how many home educated children there are in their areas?
My second question is for Graham. Is it your view that local authorities have a responsibility to all home educated children to ensure that their welfare and safety are secured? Graham, as you have the easy question, do you want to go first?
Graham Badman: I shall take the easy one. Yes, it is my view that just as local authorities must have regard to the quality of education in school so should they have regard to the quality of education that young people receive at home. I took great pains in the report to stress that the home is first and foremost a home, but if people choose to use it as a place of education
Graham Badman: Im sorry. Welfare has a broad meaning. Local authorities must have regard to the safety of young people, wherever they are. Welfare is too flexible a word, but I would take it as meaning safe from harm, safe from abuse; it is something for which local authorities should have a function.
Fiona Nicholson: I return to the point that I made in evidence to the Select Committee. I find it surprising that some local authorities will say that they have no idea how many home educated children they have in their area. When we went through their consultation responses, some local authorities said that they felt that they had a pretty fair idea.
Is it unacceptable that that is the situation? Do you think that local authorities should know the identities of all home educated children in their areas?
Chloe Watson: I consider that it should be down to the parents and childrenand the children in particular. I dont think that children should be forced to notify somebody that they are doing a certain thing. If the local authority finds out, fine, but I dont think that children should be kept on any record against their will. They should be able to say, No thanks, I dont want you to keep track of me.
Graham Badman: I am not privy to the data that brought about that decision. Equally, I did not tell you in my report of the success of the Swedish system or of other systems. It was an attempt to draw some form of international comparison. I take the criticism that was levied at me just now, but the report was based on not just the weeks that I worked on itit was just weeks, I admit, though a substantial number of weeksbut the evidence accumulated over a number of years by local authorities, the NSPCC and Ofsted. It was not something that was just pulled out of the air, but distilled from a huge body of evidence.
Where the line of questioning just now seemed to go was to hark back to a voluntary scheme. We have a voluntary scheme, but it has not worked. That is why we are sitting around this table. Candidly, it has not worked because sometimes the statistics that are used are themselves abused. I looked at research on the effects of home education, but it is on a very small scale, and there is little of iteven Stanford finds it difficult to get that research.
Just to put one other matter right, in terms of the data that were used, no, you are not NEET because you have not registered for Connexions. The Connexions figures were the ones that gave the NEET figures, so those are the ones that were known.
This seems slightly academic and on a completely different subject. Clause 28 is about local safeguarding childrens boards, apparently giving them considerable powers to request information, the purposes of which are not entirely clear. There are no examples of what that information might be and for what purpose, so there are questions about confidentiality if it is on specific people. Are you aware of what this is aimed at, and the deficiency that it is aimed at bridging?
The final question picks up on what David Laws said. If local authorities are saying to us that they know about 20,000 children, but there may be 40,000 children, is it not incumbent on the Government to try to ensure that local authorities know how many home educated children there are?
Fiona Nicholson: May I just say that I do not think anyone can? May I also say this? It is not an answer to your question, but an answer to a question that I just asked myself. When we arrived in London this morning, we had the text of the Bill. Since we arrived, we have been having text messages saying that revised impact assessments have been published, and when I came here, it turned out that there was a piece of stapled paper on the table saying, Clause 26 and schedule 1 and Home education policy statement. It is not dated and I have no idea of the status of it. I would like to put on record that we did not have time to read it before the Bill Committee session, which I find absolutely extraordinary.
Sir Paul Ennals: I will give a brief answer to the Minister. I think we should find ways of establishing the information that the Minister outlines. I am not convinced about the numbers myself but, as has come up frequently in this session, the population data are not strong. That is part of the problem, and I hope that a registration system would genuinely help with that. My own view is that in addition to the 20,000 who have been identified, I would expect it to get up to between 25,000 and 30,000, rather than the higher estimates that I have heard quoted in recent weeks.
Beth Reid: I agree that it would be very helpful to have that information. There then needs to be consideration about what you do with it. It should be used for planning purposes, feedback into children and young peoples plans and into the childrens trust, to ensure that appropriate provision is madeparticularly for children with special educational needsfor all home educated children, so that they get the support that they need from the local authorities.
Chloe Watson: May I suggest that to find the numbers of home educated children, it would be good to make contact with the local authority at least palatable, if not desirable, which at present, it is not? Families do not want to know their local authoritiesthey have nothing to offer, and they have nothing to gain from meeting their local authorities, just the risk of a school attendance order if they meet someone who does not like them. Why on earth at present? Because it is voluntaryto some degree, we cannot deregisterand people do not want to do it, surely that tells you something more about the local authorities than the home educators.
Just to say, if it is any help to Fiona, if she would like another meeting with Diana Johnson to discuss the various papers that have been published, that can be arranged.
On behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank our witnesses for the time they have spent with us this afternoon. It has been an exhausting session, and an exhaustive one. The evidence that our witnesses have given has been very valuable indeed. We meet again, colleagues, in this room on Thursday at 9 am.