Are the kids alright?

Clive_Soley.jpgClive Soley on the reasons underpinning his Bill to ensure proper checks on all children who are home schooled

In recent years there has been a steady and significant increase in elective home education, with some 45,500 children in England and Wales registered as ‘home educated’ with local authorities. Such registrations are either reported to the council by schools, who have a legal duty to inform the council when a child is taken off roll, or parents who choose to say whether or not the child has never attended a school.

As there is no requirement for parents to register a child who has never attended school, we can only make an informed guess at the actual total number. The best estimates suggest it is around 60,000 – a quarter higher than currently registered. In one county (Hampshire), they have 1422 electively home educated children – a figure that has tripled over the last five years.

Limited research exists on the quality of education being received. Perhaps more worryingly however, there is little knowledge of whether any children are at risk.

The majority of parents who choose to home educate are doing so in an informed and responsible way, with minimum help. It is not however, the whole story. Parents have important rights that must be protected when making decisions about their child’s education. But children also have rights, which must be carefully balanced with those of their parents.

Many parents who take their child out for home education do find it difficult to deliver the quality of education necessary. Children in this situation are often returned to school, having been absent for significant periods. With the right help, these parents could make home education a success and avoid the disruption for both school and child alike.

Some children start being home schooled when a parent feels that they are being failed in some way in the class room or by the education authority. This is particularly true for children with special educational needs. More must be done to give such children additional support.

Then there is a very worrying but, hopefully, small group of children who are at risk either of failing to get anything resembling adequate education or in some extreme cases, radicalisation or of sexual or physical abuse.

With increased awareness of child abuse, it seems likely that a few children are taken out of school by a parent who seeks to hide signs of abuse – along with those cases where they have been seriously ill-treated after being removed. We cannot ignore the dangers. Equally, we need to be much more vigilant about the threat of radicalisation.

The first essential step is to put a duty on local education authorities to create a register of all children out of school. My Private Member’s Bill, which gets its Lords Second Reading on Friday, will put a duty on councils to visit the family and child. This duty should not be seen as negative, as the idea is to offer help where it is needed. Nor is it meant as a prescriptive instruction to home educating parents but rather a way of ensuring the child is receiving an education, safe and not being ill-treated or radicalised.

Should the Bill proceed through Parliament, I will of course take advice from the relevant experts, along with parents and children themselves – all with a view to ensuring we get the right balance on this important area of educational policy.

Lord Clive Soley is a Labour Peer

Published 24th November 2017

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commented 2017-12-15 11:33:24 +0000 · Flag
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commented 2017-11-25 18:27:05 +0000
I have no issues with telling the LEA I am home schooling or with providing an Education Philosophy. Happy for my doctor to do a medical check to check my kids are safe. Happy to supply a report each year to the LEA to show progress based on my Education Philosophy and to support my sons EHCP. But I would like to raise my concern that schools are so underfunded they are unable to support children unless they are the majority, there is not the funding to support children that are behind and the skilled staff are leaving teaching. I supported school, took ridiculous amounts of time off work to attend meetings, learnt all about the SEN process, got to grips with the National Curriculum and the NC Grading system to understanding what was expected progress. I followed the paper trail to obtain funding from the LEA whilst watching valuable time slipping away, seeing my son lose more and more confidence and falling further behind. But when my son was assaulted over and over again to the point he needed to visit A&E we drew the line. The police have no powers in this situation and safeguarding did nothing other than make the head upset enough to take early retirement. If any of this happened in my home social services would be regularly visiting and ensuring the kids safety or removing them from the family home. But not so in school – why not? Why aren’t schools treated the same as families. At the same primary school a kid in class punched out at the teacher daily, another kid brought a steak knife to school to stab his pregnant class teacher. No police, no punishment just brushed under the carpet. Schools need more resourcing and every teacher and child needs to be safe both emotional and physically every day. This is a bigger concern that needs addressing Please see http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_7795000/7795535.stm
commented 2017-11-25 00:04:39 +0000
Dear Lord Soley,

Do you know that Northumberland County Council don’t give dyslexia diagnoses due to NCC then having to find funding … so please tell me what would happen to my child’s emotional and physical well-being if she fell behind at school, and then was bullied or teased because of it? I bear the emotional scars of feeling stupid throughout school because I struggled. NCC won’t even fund the dyslexia assessment. We had to find a private specialist. My child gets the one-to-one attention that is required to help her learn because of home education.
Lord Soley, can you promise me that my child will get the specialist funding and attention she needs by going to school?

Regarding safeguarding, how safe are children in schools? If you research it thoroughly, you’ll learn that schools aren’t dealing with bullies, and that victims can carry the emotional and sometimes physical damage of it through adulthood.
Please could you also tell me how the government plan to fund/accommodate the supposed 60000 (the number could be higher) home educated children who will require school places if school is made compulsory? I currently save the government (or tax payers) ± £10000 per year by home educating … it would be higher if my daughter dyslexia diagnosis is consider. ±60000 children x £5000 = ± £300,000,000 (the figure could be higher if you factor in SEN funding).

Please consider spending time with Sir Ken Robinson to find out how to improve the educational system in the country. When it is revolutionised maybe then home education will reduce … but as it stands the schooling system fails many pupils.
Also, please tell me what things you learnt in school that you still use today? Reading, writing and arithmetic? You also know that the information you acquired as an adult (partly due to your interests) is the information that you retained and can easily retrieve. Home educated child can easily recall information (facts or figures) as they follow their interests. It doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. They do self-direct research, write reports, do maths sums, learn about the geography (eg. the different countries or oceans or environments where the subject originated, this might lead to the history of that area or the demographic, which might lead to weather patterns or learning about the biology of an animal in that region, etc.) … if you spent time with home educated children, you’d be surprised at their knowledge. What unnecessary things are taught in schools today instead of life skills? What happened to woodwork, needlework, handling finances (budgeting, saving, balancing the books, etc.), playing sports (exercise) which is fundamental for brain development and processing of information {reference Dr Terrence Sejnowski (SALK)} , etc.? How many pupils leave school without the ability to do basic arithmetic or the ability to write a CV covering letter?

What is the real issue here? My children are seen out in public by our doctors or other medical team members, the optician, the lecturer at Newcastle University, sea cadet leaders, my neighbours, etc. Someone in the list would know child behaviour, and would be able to assess if my children were victims of abuse due to their behaviour. You’ve acknowledged there isn’t a link between home education and child abuse. Was Daniel Pelka home educated or in the school system? How many people failed him?

In addition, please supply me with a list of extremist who were home educated in Britain.

I’d be more than willing to meet with you and Ian Lavery to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely,
Mrs Gibson
commented 2017-11-24 23:44:55 +0000
Dear Lord Soley,

I entirely understand and respect the fact that your bill has been proposed with the strongest of motives – to protect children from harm. However, with respect, I feel that there are a few assumptions which you have made which I would question. These, in my mind, mean that your proposals may do more harm than good.

Firstly, you have stated that the rights of the child are more important than the rights of the parent. I entirely agree with this, and I believe that nearly all parents would also agree. Another proposal, which I have not heard stated, is that the rights of the child are more important than the rights of local authorities. It can be argued that local authorities act with the best interests of the child in mind – this is true; however, so too do the vast majority of parents. Local authorities can make mistakes; both in failing to protect children at risk, and also in identifying concerns where there were no valid grounds. When we speak of the parents’ rights, we are speaking, often, of the rights of the parent to decide what is best for their child. This may involve choosing to remove their child from a school where they were bullied, or where their educational, social or emotional needs were not met. The parent, often, is the first and last defender of a child who is not yet mature enough to argue for their own needs when the system fails them. To weaken this power of parents to advocate for and defend their children is not something that should be done lightly. No system is free of error, and our national education system is a very large system indeed.

Secondly, I would argue that you have assumed that additional monitoring has no welfare cost to children. The argument is often made that if even one child is saved from harm then the monitoring is worth the cost. That may be true in money terms; but what if the cost is harm to many other children? For children who have SEND or mental health issues – particularly issues such as anxiety or autism – having strangers enter their house and question them may be very distressing. Children can also pick up on their parents’ anxiety, and may be upset by the fact that their parents are tense or worried about the assessments and questions. Also, parents may be deterred from providing an education fully adapted to their child’s needs because of the knowledge that they may be questioned by the local authority on any deviations from the norm. In addition, the requirement to complete paperwork and answer local authority requests for information must be taken from time that would be spent home educating or from family time. That time cost may be small – but there is no guarantee in these proposals that the time will not be very large in some cases. Teachers presently report excessive amounts of time required for administration and reporting, and unlike schools families cannot employ an administrator to do some of the work for them. For all these reasons, monitoring and assessment of home education cannot be seen as having zero welfare cost – or even as necessarily being low cost. The effectiveness of monitoring must be carefully weighed against its cost to those children currently benefitting from home education.

Thirdly, I would argue that monitoring of home education may be an ineffective and possibly even harmful way to try to prevent child abuse. It is a general principle in medicine that any diagnostic test, in order to be useful, must not only reliably detect those patients who have a disease, but must also have a low false positive rate in flagging patients who do not have the disease. If too many patients are flagged up with false positive results then the net effect is to divert resources away from the patients actually needing treatment. The analogy with home education is, I think, clear. There is as yet limited data on home education, and I agree that this is of some concern. However, it is worth noting that your bill comes at a time when (i) public spending has been greatly cut, and is expected to be cut further for at least the next five years, (ii) local authorities in particular have suffered severe budget cuts, and (iii) there have already been many instances where SEND provision has been cut. Indeed, this last is often proposed as one of the reasons for the increase in home education. Even if local authorities are given some extra money to monitor home education, it is unlikely that it will be enough to meet the full costs of monitoring every H.E. family, meaning that local authority budgets will be further stretched. Moreover local authorities already have families who have been identified as at risk – either for abuse, truancy, or with unmet SEN needs – who need more resources spent on them. The effect of seeking to monitor every H.E. family is that inevitably there will be fewer resources to concentrate on those families known to need intervention.

I hope these points may give some insight as to why I have concerns about the proposals that you have made. I have not listed all my concerns, and hope that there will be more opportunities for home educating parents to give you our opinions and concerns on this matter in due course.
commented 2017-11-24 16:26:10 +0000
Dear Lord Soley, having just listened to you speak in the HOL, I am at a loss to understand how you can describe compulsory home inspection annually for ‘good parents’, as a ‘light touch’. Surely, no matter how little you know about home education, you are nonetheless aware that the right to enter a family home is only available for dealing with criminal acts or risk to life or safety? Are we to treat home educating parents as suspected criminals?
Do we have compulsory home assessments for all under 5 year olds to ensure that Mum is potty training them? Of course not.
With the greatest respect, I do have the data you seem unaware of, including: data on numbers of home educated children, school children and under fives investigated by social services and the outcomes of those investigations; data on criminality in school children and home educated children; data on radicalisation; data on the cost of your proposals and data on numbers of home educated children.
With equal respect, that data was offered to you but you did not see fit to respond. Perhaps had you accepted the data and perused it, you would have framed a more suitable Bill?
commented 2017-11-24 16:01:56 +0000
Did you ever consider taking advice from parents and children before you started down this path?

What I heard and saw in the debate by the mere handful who support your bill was anecdote and speculation delivered by closed minded people not in touch with the real world. As a family we home educate and I can categorially state that your bills intrusion into my childrens life is as unwelcome to them as it is to us as parents.

As Lord Lucas so clearly stated – start from EVIDENCE. The powers you claim to need are already available to competent LA staff . So how about looking at the competence levels of those who are ‘judging’ before calling into question the motives, competence and dedication of those you seek to judge.

It is a bad bill; withdraw it and set to work on fixing real problems for children, such as:
better SEND provision and funding,
eradicating bullying in schools by teachers and pupils,
penalise schools for forced off rolling by those schools and via the ridiculous pressure exerted on them by OFSTED,
shut down the illegal schools,
build an education system based on curriculum choice suited to the 21st century.

The whole education system is so out date it is irrelevant for a signifcant percentage of children and young people – and I dont mean 10-20%, I mean 70-80%. No sane person could possibly expect 90-100% of children will thrive when forced into a school environment and be forced into learning the same things in the same way. It is simply nonsense to expect that.

You speak of rights of the child and yet you refuse to fully implement the rights of the child to education and in education. And if you dont know what that means then you and your colleagues need to find out. In our home education and in many many other families I know of, the rights of their children are not just considered but are acted on each and every day. That is the role of a parent after all, to protect and promote their rights. School is sapping children of their rights to education and in education.

Home education is not the problem here – take a good look at how Birmingham have approached their duties within the powers they already have and by showing respect to families and you will see the real problems lie elsewhere.

Please withdraw this bill and rally your fellow Lords to focus their attention and intellect on fixing real problems.
commented 2017-11-24 14:42:20 +0000
The children are doing brilliantly, they are no longer suffering at the hands of bullies that the school either refuses to deal with or deals with inadequately.

However they are still recovering and to inflict on them intrusive home visits with people who have no experience or understanding of what the children have been through at the hands of state schools will only cause more anxiety and regression from children who are fighting to recover.

Where is the evidence of these children who are being radicalised and abused (that are not already know to social services).

Social services already have the power to deal with neglected children, unfortunately that system tends to fail a lot, very like state schools. So another system is expected to be more successful?

It will just cause even more damage.

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