Be careful with home education registration

The media reporting of the tragic death of Dylan Seabridge, blaming the fact that he was home educated, is bringing back bad memories of 2009. Then Ed Balls commissioned the “Badman Review” into whether Home Education could be used to hide child abuse. Whilst the review found no evidence to link the two, it felt very much like Labour was out to get us, like the government was looking for a reason to attack home education in an illiberal way as only Labour could. More often than not, home education is seen as the problem, not the local authority’s failure to act with the powers they already had, or the parents’ failure to seek help. These cases, whilst tragic, are very much the exception and do not reflect the reality of home education.

I was home educated between the ages of 11 – 17 and remember this being discussed by both students and parents. The approach felt like a witch hunt, with the government demanding access to your homes to privately question children. People were worried that the questions would be leading, and due to the number of children who were young or special needs the gut feeling was they wouldn’t realise the severity of the questions being asked.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of registration, but it would need to be done in a way that didn’t feel like an attack on home education.

Home Education, for me, is defined by the freedom it allows. I was able to work at my own pace and pursue my own interests greater than I ever was at school. I took part in group activities for most topics, which flies in the face of the popular misconception that home educated children are social pariahs. During that time, I was able to make my first proper friends, but was also able to have one on one support with a personal tutor for my weaker subjects, like maths, without having the stress of trying to keep up with the current that is created in most regular schooling.

Home educators aren’t forced to follow the curriculum, and I was aware of many teachers who had chosen to home educate their own children out of distaste for the curriculum itself. I have Asperger’s, which manifests itself in me in the form of a near refusal to learn what I don’t find interesting and a massive passion for learning that which I do. In my group “lessons” we were able to study wider topics than school would allow at whatever age. Away from those group sessions, my incredibly supportive Grandmother constantly took me to events that covered a wide range of topics, but that she knew I would find interesting.

If the government tried to enforce the curriculum on home educated children, it would kill off that freedom. It may be appropriate to ensure that English, Maths and Science are covered but it’s important to allow people to choose which elements they learn and how they teach them. Don’t enforce year by year standards of progression on a set degree. If progression must be seen let it be tailored to each individual child, because we are actually different people who learn differently.

Many home educators do avoid registering with the council, but many don’t. I did, but I was lucky enough to be checked on by a woman with a sympathy towards home education. I didn’t feel like I was being witch hunted, but I know many who had far different experiences. The feeling that the government is out to get you and your kids is a major reason why so many H-E children aren’t registered.

Forcing education to take one set form goes against my personal views of liberalism. In fact I’d wager my membership on that experience. Without it I doubt I’d have come out a liberal.

* Will Wilshere is a member of Watford Liberal Democrats. He blogs here.

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  • I appreciate you have strong feelings about this, but I would have liked you to have gone in to more detail about the difference between a registration system that isn’t a “witch hunt” (which you say you would support), and one that is.

    I’m sure there are some parents who would feel that any registration system would mean the government was out to get them.

  • …………….with the government demanding access to your homes to privately question children……….

    And why not? Would you expect school premises to be exempt from inspection? Would you prefer the, once a year, ‘token letter’ approach?…

    As for “the review found no evidence to link the two”…It was told that children educated at home were twice as likely to be known by social services and four times more likely as young adults to be out of work, education or training than those who go to school”..

    It was because of such statistics that the report recommended…

    That designated local authority officers

    Should have access to the home
    Have the right to speak with the child alone if deemed appropriate or if the child is deemed vulnerable etc.then with a trusted person present…

    How anyone can consider such a basic and obvious, requirement “A witch hunt” is beyond me…
    And as for being favour of any registration “Fiona Nicholson, of the support group Education Otherwise, described registration as “The state is coming into family life and trying to regulate it. It is an extraordinary invasion of the family,”

  • there is a problem for social services. whenever there is a tragedy they are questioned over why they weren’t more pro-active yet when they are pro-active they are accused of interfering. Either the state is involved or the state isn’t but can’t be blamed when there is a tragedy.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jan '16 - 3:07pm

    Bruce, there are degrees of state intervention and ways of doing it positively and ways of doing it in a way that stereotypes and degrades a group of people. Compare and contrast Justin Trudeau’s and David Cameron’s attitudes to refugees, for example.

    The authorities already have many powers to intervene to protect children which they can and do use. It has become popular to scapegoat home educators and others who don’t conform to society’s norms. As liberals, we should be proactive in defending people’s right to do things differently.

  • Will Wilshere 23rd Jan '16 - 3:26pm

    I don’t expect that at all. I’m also not saying that I totally disagreed with a lot of the report, however it was the general feeling of the motives for the review and the way the H-E community was made to feel that created much of the reaction against it. The general sense was Labour wanted to ban home education entirely, simular to Germany.
    I’m simply voicing the concerns I heard from parents.
    Privately questioning a child, who possibly has learning disabilities or developemental issues (such as my own aspergers) who may not understand the severity of the matter, with leading questions, could lead to a lot of dangerous answers. If the child had got in trouble recently and the parent had shouted at them if asked “Does mummy/daddy get angry at you” there’s a high change they’d respond that yes, they do.
    If you made sure that the general checks on children who weren’t presumed to be at risk were not made to feel like an attempt to find fault in the parent then it would be far less likely to provoke such a reaction.

    My point is in favour of registration, but that if you didn’t want a backlash you would need to A. Be careful with the implementation so it did not feel like it was yet another attempt be ban H-E and B. You would need to ensure that there was flexibility in the regulation to ensure that it didn’t simply end up being a school at home, with the same level of developmental standards and being forced to follow the curriculum which would kill one of the best things about H-E.

  • As liberals we should also defend a child’s right to an decent education, checks of some form are therefore a necessity. The parents right to educate their child as they see fit doesn’t trump the child’s right to learn.

  • Will Wilshere 23rd Jan '16 - 3:31pm

    Carin, I totally agree. I believe that there should be support for home educators available from the government and that they should be checked up on.
    I just don’t like some of the talk of how it would be done, which would really narrow down the freedom Home Education offers.
    Every child deserves a decent education, I absolutely agree. Hence I believe that there should be requirements to ensure a child is learning English/Maths/Science properly, outside of that I don’t believe that state should regulate what you learn or how if you’re not in a state school.

  • @Will
    “it was the general feeling of the motives for the review and the way the H-E community was made to feel that created much of the reaction against it”

    But how can any government allay “general feelings”? Some people will be automatically distrustful of the government no matter how sensitively it tries to handle something. We see this happen all the time.

    “Compare and contrast Justin Trudeau’s and David Cameron’s attitudes to refugees, for example.”

    This is similar to the home educator’s “general feelings” about registration schemes, in that it’s based more on vague gut feelings than a cool look at the facts. A lot of the key aspects of Canada’s scheme – only taking refugees from UN camps close to Syria, and carrying out stringent security checks first – are similar to what Cameron proposed, and he was widely slated by liberals here for doing so. I wonder if Lib Dems would accuse Cameron of “stereotyping” if he proposed banning single male refugees? Well, that’s exactly what Trudeau has done, and his immigration minister has said that this will help protect Canadian women from the sort of thing that happened in Cologne.

  • Children benefit greatly from the social interaction that school brings, as well as opportunities to be in school plays, play team sport etc. If we are thinking of what is best for children, not parents, then I don’t think home education can ever really be the right way to go. Poor Dylan must have suffered a great deal.

  • Will Wilshere 23rd Jan '16 - 10:24pm

    Judy – Actually its a myth home educated children don’t meet anyone, in fact groups seem to be more common than anyone would think. I had a greater social interaction level in H-E than I did in school, I was bullied in school where as in H-E many of them also experienced bullying and are far more accepting.
    We also had our own drama groups, I know a small group of my friends wrote and performed their own play at one point.
    I also took part in a weekly sports session in a local gym with about 30 other home educators of various ages, which was actually a lot of fun before one of the dads turned it into an almost total basketball based activity, rather than the multi-sports it had been before hand.

  • Our daughter was home educated until secondary school when she chose to go to school. We did not register with the local authority in order to avoid bureaucratic interference in our approach to education, which was to allow her to choose what interests to pursue for how long she wanted and when she wanted to (autonomous education). When she went to secondary school she had had six years in which to develop her own interests while her new classmates had been cooped up in a classroom. Once she got to secondary school we started coming into conflict with the authorities, just as we’d feared. I have just come back from spending the day with her at the university where she is doing an MA, and where she was showing visitors around. Please don’t tell me she ‘suffered terribly’, grew up to be socially isolated, or any of the other cliches that people who know little or nothing about home education trot out. This country needs young people who are capable of independent thought, who are flexible and imaginative, not regiments of identically educated clones.

  • One of the main reasons I see registration as a witch hunt is that there is no evidence for it. There has been research into the home education communities and the outcomes for children, and there have been government reviews into home education and they have found no justification to change anything. Home educated children are more likely to be known to social services as so many of the people they have contact with do not understand the laws and make referrals to cover their own back, but this has created sufficient access to allow statistical analysis of risk and they have been found to be far less likely to be at any actual risk, and despite widely published research on illiterate children (home educators often learn to a different time frame than the school curriculum allows) as adults they are under represented in the NEET figures. Any other expensive program would be expected to justify its existence with empirical data and peer reviewed research. Yet despite the repeated failure to do so with the regards to a home education register people are still calling for it. Uneducated mob opinion that resists any actual evidence, that is pretty much the definition of a witch hunt. and each time a single case comes to light where a home educated child has been harmed, it is treated as proof that home education fails children (usually before the investigation is even complete), and ‘every child matters’ is rolled out to justify why any child falling though the system is not good enough, while conveniently ignoring all the 100s of children like myself and ten years later both of my daughters who are failed by the school system in the interim years.

  • @tonyhill
    “Please don’t tell me she ‘suffered terribly’, grew up to be socially isolated, or any of the other cliches that people who know little or nothing about home education trot out.”

    Anecdotes are not evidence. Expats provided some evidence which, if correct, shows that many home-educated children had a much inferior experience to your daughter, to the point of damaging their life chances.

    It’s right that there should be some sort of checks on home educators, because in the final analysis, the right of a child to be well educated should trump the right of a parent to home-educate badly – every single time.

  • Hi Will

    Can I ask what you think registration that didn’t interfere with the parents’ ability to determine the education most suitable for their own family would look like?

    I think you’re failing to grasp, as is Carin, that the parent and not the state is, in the vast majority of cases, the first and best expert on their child, and the one with the most interest in acting in the best interests of the child. If you say that the state must dictate what a suitable education looks like for every child, you are saying that the state is a better parent than the parent, for every child. Is this really the liberal (with or without a capital L) way?

    The current legislation empowers local authorities to act if, and only if, they have evidence of a lack of suitable provision. There is a process, from the initial ‘informal enquiries’ to responding to specific concerns through to applying to court for a School Attendance Order. At all points, the parents can submit evidence of their provision, such that would convince a reasonable lay-person, in whatever form they wish. If they cannot provide such evidence, then a SAO is a reasonable requirement. This maintains the parent’s authority in the main, while allowing state intervention *when it is proven that it is necessary* and not before.

    The Badman enquiry and report seemed to be driven by an ideology that the responsibility for all children’s education belongs to the state. The current attack on home-ed, as evidenced by the NSPCC’s statements last year and the reporting of the tragic circumstances of Dylan Seabridge, seems to be fuelled by rent-seeking and profiteering. What benefit is there to children, and to their freedom to be educated in the most appropriate way for them and their family as a whole, in either of these?

    And may I finally refer you to this blog, by a trusted friend of mine, outlining the pointlessness of any kind of registration. What difference does it make to any child that their name’s on a list?

  • @ Will Sorry to hear you were bullied at school. Unfortunately, bullying isn’t always dealt with well at school; I have seen that first hand and can be really unpleasant. Teachers need to take it far more seriously.
    @tonyhill I actually know children who have been home educated and, having had children myself, see they can more easily make their own choices about what activities they want to pursue and who they want to play with etc when they go to school. It helps children to become more independent and self-reliant. And if our education system turns children into clones, then its the system and our schools that need to change.

  • Judy – agree with you 100% that our education system needs to change, but our legislators have become more and more prescriptive about what children should learn and how teachers should teach. Home education is, by and large, a revolt by parents against a system that has failed their children or which they believe, as experts on their child, will not suit that child’s needs.
    Stuart – my 12 years of experience as a home educator is no more anecdotal than the government building a case against home education on the basis of a handful of neglectful parents. I am not part of the home education community any more but I would suggest that all Reports, Commissions of Enquiry, Royal Commissions, etc. set out with a particular end in view and find the evidence to support it, and Badman was no exception. Fundamentally though, you are a statist and broadly support the Labour Party, and I am not – and that’s fine.

  • @tonyhill
    “Fundamentally though, you are a statist”

    In this context I’m only a “statist” to the degree that I don’t think it’s acceptable in the 21st century for a child to die of scurvy having had no contact whatsoever with “the state” for the last seven years of his life. If home education registration could have helped avoid that – as the inquest suggested – then I think we should look carefully at it instead of instantly dismissing it as the state getting involved in things that it should not. I entirely agree with the OP that this should be done with great care. Maybe there are better solutions – I don’t know but I’m perfectly open to them.

    We’ve had registration of childminders for many years now and as far as I know it hasn’t led to mysterious men in black conducting witch hunts against child minders. Let’s get some realism in to this.

  • Stuart, you are not just registered you are inspected and forced to deliver a mandated curriculum. This is where we fear registration would lead as what otherwise is point.

  • For Expats.

    Graham Badman’s report was thoroughly debunked by far sharper minds than his including Graham Stuart in the select committee inquiry into the report.

    Q13 Mr. Stuart: In any case in which a child is known to be on a child protection plan, will it, by necessity, mean that that child is known to the local authorities?

    Graham Badman: Yes.

    Q14 Mr. Stuart: So, if the numbers that were formally known about were approximately double your best estimate, it would take us back to almost precisely where we started, at the average of the population as a whole.

    Graham Badman: I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

    “Q15 Mr. Stuart: Well, if there are twice as many children in home education than are formally known about, which by definition includes all those for whom there is a child protection plan, it would suggest that, roughly speaking, you were back to 0.2% of the home-educated population having a child protection plan, which would put them in line with the national average.

    Graham Badman: I think that it propels the figures the other way. It would actually make the proportion higher, because they are already included in the overall population and in the subset of the population, which would mean that the percentage will be fractionally higher. It works the other way.”

    Worrying that he was a maths teacher in a previous life.

    “AFTER the report had been issued and roundly criticized by home educators, Badman conducted a third survey of LEAs to try to get a larger sample size. Badman claimed that this third sample was representative, but Stafford argues that it in fact was biased toward urban areas. Stafford here pulls out all the stops, for his concern is not so much about what all this means for home education but that government policy is being made on such flimsy grounds.”

    I could produce many many other links, the report was trying to produce policy based evidence and used quotes in a very misleading way.

  • Anon for this one 25th Jan '16 - 12:27am

    “I’m only a “statist” to the degree that I don’t think it’s acceptable in the 21st century for a child to die of scurvy having had no contact whatsoever with “the state” for the last seven years of his life.”

    I don’t think it’s “acceptable” in the 21st century for a child to be stabbed to death at school, but it happens. Isolated anecdotes are a lousy way of deciding policy.

    Light touch registration might be a good idea, but that’s not what happens.

    My wife took our dyslexic eight-year old out of school, part time, for a year, and taught him to read. Part time because he wanted to keep his school friends and we respected that. Part time home education turns out to be technically illegal unless the school permits. What in fact can happen is that people from the school system think you are branding them as failures, they are horrified, scared and angry about that, and so they virtually declare war on you. It was twenty years ago, fortunately, so sanctions such as fines hadn’t been instituted, and harrying was used instead. Once our child could read we let school have him back, but we’d done what was needed to put his life back on track. A home education regulator would inevitably be at risk of capture by those who, like our school, were vindictively opposed to home education.

  • the lad who died of scurvy (though the investigation is still ongoing as there is dispute of the original diagnosis) would not have been protected by registration. He was known to the authorities, just as he would have been with registration, and he had been red flagged as potentially at risk by two professionals, and as such the authorities had every right to access the home and confirm his well being, but they did not. The procedures already in place were not followed. registration would have made absolutely no difference because he was already known.

  • Jonathan Adams 25th Jan '16 - 12:08pm

    The fallacy of the Badman nonsense and that of the equally ill-founded new lunge at HE by the state, embodied in this scurvy tragedy (an illness which incidentally, has been on the rise again in the UK since at least 2009 ) is roundly dismissed here .

    As Tracy perfectly reminded us above, the state is not the arbiter of what is best for our children, we, the parents are!

    And it’s not as though the state has a great track record in doing, well just about anything, very well, but especially so when concerning such amazing, individual, priceless a resource as our children.
    One need only look at the gladiator bear-pits that pass for state schools and the woeful levels of illiteracy and ignorance today to see this.

    Whether by accident or design the state is failing to inculcate our children with little else but a consumer identity and just enough nouse to put on a uniform and spill blood for the bankers’ foreign misadventures or operate the machinery of commerce at minimum wage.

    Make no mistake, this has nothing whatever to do with safeguarding children, but is rather the state as usual seizing upon any excuse to feed its Sauron-like lust to database and monitor everyone and everything.

    When did it become OK for the state to pry into every aspect of our lives?
    When did we stop being citizens and start being suspects?
    When did anonymity become a crime?

    As Benjamin Franklin famously said,
    “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

    And as George Orwell screams daily, revolving at high speed in his tomb,
    “It was meant to be a warning, not a manual!”

  • Marie – there is a multi-agency review taking place, so I’m not sure that you can state categorically that the procedures were not followed. In fact, the Guardian reports that “A well-placed council source said that officials did try to visit Dylan but were denied access to him. They had no evidence that he was being mistreated so did not have the power to force the Seabridges to show them the child.”

    But let’s stick to the topic of this post, which is about the registration of home educators, and not specifically about this case.

  • Maire 24th Jan ’16 – 9:10pm………….For Expats…………Graham Badman’s report was thoroughly debunked by far sharper minds than his including Graham Stuart in the select committee inquiry into the report…………

    Most of these ‘debunks’ are from Home Educators (many whom appear anti-registration in any form) with a vested interest….When your attachment from ICHER carries the disclaimer that “The views expressed in reviews are not the official views of ICHER or of its members” one might be excused for accepting its validity…

  • Any government request for* additional* registration needs to be seen for the con that it is.

    Having a name on a register doesn’t do jack. You need to inspect. And inspect regularly (once a year is not enough). Even then there is no guarantee of spotting anything untoward as it’s education officers who inspect, not social workers.

    But, hold on, 90% of child abuse cases involve children under five. So why inspect only those parents who have children above five (who are not in school)? Once the register exists it’ll be expanded in due course to cover the most at risk i.e. children under five. And have the inspections done by SW. That’s really what they’re after: regular inspections of all families from the day the child is born. Why not just station social workers at maternity wards to microchips all new citizens as soon as they arrive?

    Besides. why do we need another register for information the government already has? The government already knows about every single child who is being home educated. They have registrations at birth and registrations at school. The difference between the two are children who are home educated. How difficult can that subtraction be in this age of fast computers and big databases? And given the parents get child benefit, pay taxes, use GPs, have driving licences etc., the government even knows where they live.

    Asking for another database is just a cover for their failures on child protection so far. Thousands of children who are registered are being abused with social workers not taking action. Councils have lost thousands of children in care. Seriously, councils have LOST these kids! Vulnerable, already abused children. The NSPCC, various Serious Case Reviews etc., have told the govt time and time again that what will make the biggest difference is joined up government, better internal communications.

    And some MPs think the solution is another register?

    They must think we are fools.

  • For Expats Are home educators automatically presumed to be dishonest now, or to have nothing to say about their own lives that is valuable.

    Is it ok to discuss us but dismiss our view as not allowable because we are biased.

    Actually we are knowledgeable, we have had to think hard about it and The Badman report was politically motivated policy based evidence.

  • Er, how are you paying for registration and monitoring? We had to fight to keep the library open. The hospital is running on emergency, and the food bank is open. And the discussion is about registration for home educators? Okay, follow it through … so a mentally ill parent registers as a home educator and there is no visit, despite known concerns … then a terrible thing happens. But would their child be alive? Because the parent registered? There’s no point to registration unless you back it up with a home visit. But who visits? An education official, presumably, and not a social worker. But an education official has no right of entry to my (home educating) home; only a social worker can enter to see a child they believe is in danger. So how does this registration now work in practice? Are you suggesting that a child at home with a parent needs a social worker to check the child is okay? … Should that principle now apply to any child under the age of 5, since abuse can start before school registration! But let’s still go with the idea that we home educators register, then we sit at home and await the visit from the educational official (and the social worker, who only has the right of entry, remember!). But to gain entry, the social worker needs to bring the police to enforce the visit … Wow, think of the overtime! There are thousands of home educators, up and down the land! What a great way to spend your taxes!!

  • There is no need for a register. There is a register of children born. There is a register of children who die. There is a register of children in mainstream schooling. It is simple to realise there is a register of children not in mainstream education already.

  • children are automatically put on a list as soon as they have been deregistered so Im assuming as will started home education from age 11 you were at school before that so you was on an LA’s list as being home educated. you register a child at school, your child is seen every day at school so how was daniel pelka 1 classed as invisible & 2 not saved. after all he was on a register & a government approved 1 at that. I keep hearing ‘a register could save that 1 child’ well it didnt & daniel is proof of that. so people want to waste the money this country doesnt have on a scheme proven time & time again doesnt work. If people read the serious case reviews, well the 1st available then they would see where the failure was. serious case reviews are supposed to be used so professionals can learn lessons but again evidence shows that lessons are never learnt. Maybe as Libdems you could start making a difference by finding ways of improving social services, Gp’s hospitals etc then you might just save that 1 child that everyone is looking to save

  • @ Jonathan Adams “One need only look at the gladiator bear-pits that pass for state schools and the woeful levels of illiteracy and ignorance today to see this.

    I’m sorry, Mr Adams, but I find that more than a little over the top. It shows no respect for the efforts made by thousands of schools and teachers every day and does nothing to advance the case for justifying home education.

  • Shirley Briggs 31st Jan '16 - 11:43pm

    An education officer went to Dylan’s home and could not see him. Education officers do not have right of entry. If the education department has concerns that a child is receiving a suitable education they are supposed to refer to social services who have powers to enter the home. This poor boy WAS known to the authorities so registration was irrelevant to his case.

  • Maire 25th Jan ’16 – 4:38pm…………For Expats Are home educators automatically presumed to be dishonest now, or to have nothing to say about their own lives that is valuable……Is it ok to discuss us but dismiss our view as not allowable because we are biased……….Actually we are knowledgeable, we have had to think hard about it and The Badman report was politically motivated policy based evidence.

    In your first two paragraphs you stress the unbiased honesty of ‘Home Educators’ yet you, in your third, have no compunction of accusing the Badman enquiry of bias and dishonesty….Hardly a recipe for compromise…

  • nvelope2003 1st Feb '16 - 12:24pm

    No doubt many teacers are trying to do a good job but they have to do what they are told by the authorities. Bullying is not just the preserve of the students. I know those who were bullied by teachers which makes it virtually impossible to do anything about it.

  • @expat badmans ‘evidence’ was discredited

  • Joanne Hornby 2nd May '18 - 12:28pm

    And there appears an assumption that schools pick up on abuse. It’s this illogical thinking that makes me despair of the school education system that has produced the politicians peddling this nonsense for political gain in policies they imagine are popular.
    Disappointed with LibDems. Sadly disappointed here.

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