UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 999-i

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

ELECTIVE HOME EDUCATION

MONDAY 12 OCTOBER 2009

GRAHAM BADMAN, Ms DIANA R. JOHNSON and PENNY JONES

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 42

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Monday 12 October 2009

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Annette Brooke

Mr. David Chaytor

Paul Holmes

Mr. Andrew Pelling

Mr. Graham Stuart

Mr. Edward Timpson

Lynda Waltho

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Graham Badman CBE, and Ms Diana R. Johnson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Penny Jones, Independent Schools and School Organisation, DCSF, gave evidence.

 

Q1 Chairman: I welcome Graham Badman, Diana Johnson, the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and Penny Jones from the Independent Schools and School Organisation, DCSF. Thank you for coming.

I am sorry that there has been a delay. One of the problems with trying out something new, such as the appointment of a Children's Commissioner, is that one does not realise just how complicated the process is, if it has never been tried before. So real apologies to you who have been waiting, and to the people who have taken great interest in our inquiry. It is nice to have such a full gallery. I hope that you will all enjoy the session. The normal rules apply, and we want to get straight on to the questions.

Graham, we have chosen this topic for a short inquiry because there is great public interest in it, in terms of wanting to make sure both that every child in our country has the full possibility of a good education, and that they are protected during their childhood. On the other hand, there is a strong movement towards home education, and a significant proportion of our school-age children benefit from home education. You have conducted a swift inquiry into this-I believe it took five months-and you have been doing some further research. That is why we have chosen this topic. We hope that we can help at this juncture, before legislation is introduced.

Graham, I shall ask you, the Minister and Penny Jones to say a couple of words, if you wish, about where we are at the moment. Who would like to start?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee. I am pleased to be here this afternoon. I would first like to set out the Government's position in a basic, plain way. It remains that it is a fundamental right that parents should be free to educate their child at home, if they wish to do so. We acknowledge that views on home education are polarised, with home educators feeling that local authorities do not understand the range of approaches that they can take, and home educators unwilling to accept that in a minority of cases home education may not be up to scratch.

In 2007, the Government published non-statutory guidance on monitoring home education which set out the legal requirements, and the approaches that we expected local authorities and home educators to take in working together to ensure that home-educated children receive a good education. However, it became clear during 2008 that neither home educators nor local authorities felt that the guidance was working, and that is the reason for the review.

Graham's recommendations fall into three broad categories: first, registration and monitoring; secondly, providing far greater support to home educators; and, thirdly, mechanisms for home educators' needs to be considered explicitly in local authority strategies.

I need to say at this point that I am not able to go into very much detail about the proposals on monitoring and registration today. As you know, they are out for public consultation, which ends on 19 October. We will have to consider carefully the consultation responses before proceeding. I would like to emphasise that no firm decisions have yet been taken.

Home educators have repeatedly asked for additional support, and I am pleased to say that we have listened to them. I hope that members of the Committee had an opportunity on Friday to see the response from the Secretary of State to the recommendations in the report.

Before January, we will clarify our advice to local authorities on claiming pupil funding to make it clear that they may claim funding for children with special educational needs educated at home in receipt of significant services from a local authority, or those attending college. From 2011, funding will be available for other home-educated children who use local authority services, which might be examination centres, brokering work experience or using the county music service.

If we proceed to legislate, we intend to require local authorities to broker arrangements so that home educators who want to take public examinations can do so at centres reasonably close to where they live and at no cost. We will also put arrangements in place for authorities to consider home educators' needs strategically, so that they are systematically considered and appropriate service is provided.

Finally, if and when the recommendations of Graham's review are fully implemented, home educators will still have a considerable degree of freedom. They will not be operating outside the law, as is the case in the Netherlands and Germany where home education is illegal. They will not have to sit national tests, as in Finland and Norway, nor follow the national curriculum, as in Denmark. England will still be one of the most liberal countries in the developed world in its approach to home education, reflecting the careful balance we have to strike between a child's right to education and a parent's right to educate their child in conformity with their beliefs and philosophies. I very much look forward to the report that you will produce after you have taken evidence.

 

Q2 Chairman: Thank you for that, Minister; it got us off to a good start. Is there anything you would like to add, Graham?

Graham Badman: My thanks for this opportunity. I have not actually said anything about my report since I submitted it to the Secretary of State, and there are some good reasons for that. There were lots of invitations to talk about it, but I chose not to because I thought it would be prejudicial to an open process of consultation. To echo the Minister's comments, if all the recommendations are implemented, there is nothing to stop home educators, many of whom I have met who do a thoroughly good job for their children, continuing. They would be subject to registration and to what I regard as light touch monitoring, but as the Minister as pointed out, in one of the most liberal regimes in terms of a developed education system, we now have greater access to a range of services. I stated in my report that it seems perverse for any Government to express concerns about this group of people, yet not offer any resources to them.

If I were before you, Chairman, as a Director of Children's Services and you asked me, "What do you know about the 80,000 children in your care?" and I replied, "I'm awfully sorry, but I can't tell you very much about them," I suspect that I would not remain in the post for very long. That, frankly, is the situation in relation to elective home education. That doesn't mean to say that it is bad; it means to say that we don't know.

Children have a moral right to education; I place great emphasis on that. My report, I hope, sets out to balance the rights of the child with the rights of parents. It seems timely on the 20th anniversary of the UN convention that we seek to examine whether or not this sector of the community actually honours children as expressed in the UN convention. I spent some time in my report discussing that and placed the recommendations in that context.

All that being said, if anything, the report is most critical of local authorities. If implemented, it will hold them to account through an audit regime for their systems of monitoring elective home education. I think it raises real questions about the support they have given and should give to statemented pupils; about their training, or the absence of it, of staff; and it crucially requires them to determine and analyse why those children left school in the first place. Ask that question: why did they leave, if indeed they ever attended?

I tried very hard to represent the views of the countless elective home educators who often spoke of their despair-I do not use that word without some caution, but it was genuine despair-at the schooling system. They had concerns about the understanding of local authority officers who did not appreciate the aims of elective home education. Elective home educators often viewed elective home education as a place of last resort where their children could escape bullying. They felt that many young people, particularly those with special educational needs and those on the autistic spectrum, were not being catered for. Added to that, there was a whole group of parents who had a philosophical belief in educating at home. There was a clear conviction on the part of many of them that they could do it better, and I respect that belief.

But in turning now, to safeguarding, I recognise that this was the most controversial element of the report. Many parents felt that the initial press coverage of the review found them guilty, and they had to prove their innocence. I regret that, because I don't think that is true, and I cite what they said to me-that hard cases make for poor legislation. And where there was no evidence-for example, on forced marriage, where I actually looked at the report that went to the Home Affairs Committee-where I could find no evidence, I said so. In regard to safeguarding I simply ask two questions about well-being and safety. They are on page 28, paragraph 8.2. Basically, my two questions were, "Are the concerns for child protection over-represented within the elective home educators community; and if so, what could have been done through better regulation to ameliorate those effects?"

Finally, with regard to education itself I recommended further work to be done, to determine, in the context of what constitutes not 21st-century schooling, but the 21st- century education system that is required, what is suitable and efficient, now. The definitions that we have got are only defined by case law. They are not legal, and they are pretty woolly. Although I came to no firm conclusions I recommended that further work be done on that; indeed, in the same way that I recommended that we explore more about autonomous education. We don't know enough; we don't know enough in terms of research, particularly on what are the outcomes for young people as a consequence of that.

I began by saying that I'd written this report in seeking to balance the rights of children with the rights of their parents. I hope that, if implemented, it gives children a voice. I know that in itself is contentious. But I have also tried to give elective home educators a voice. I recommended that they be engaged in the process of determining what is efficient in education, that they be involved in training, that they be involved in all the things that follow, and that, crucially, local authorities create a forum whereby they regularly hear from elective home educators about the services that are provided.

I believe that the EHE community has much to offer in developing our understanding of the effectiveness or otherwise of the schooling system. It holds a mirror up to the schooling system, and to that end, I have to say, Chairman, I have been somewhat surprised by the reaction of a vociferous minority-and I do think it is a vociferous minority; I can actually count the number of people who have done it. I have found the remarks of some of them offensive, but I draw comfort from an academic friend of mine who says that often personal attacks are made when logic has been defeated. I don't regard those people as a majority. I think that I have benefited enormously from learning of their experiences, but I actually think that the change in regulation and greater scrutiny is essential for the children.

Chairman: Thank you Graham. We are aware that there are great passions on this subject. This Committee, indeed, decided earlier this afternoon that we would make a particular effort to meet a whole group of home educators, and that will be part of our inquiry. Penny, would you like to say something?

Penny Jones: No.

 

Q3 Paul Holmes: Like lots of other MPs, I am sure, this summer I have met with home educators, in my constituency of Chesterfield, and they were very concerned, as you just pointed out. They feared that your report or the way the press reported it had labelled them as abusers, basically, so it is very welcome that you have gone to considerable trouble just now to say that is clearly not what the report is saying, and that there is lots more in the report about the raw deal that home educators get from the system, and so forth. So that is all very welcome.

Just to help further with the process of clarifying that and setting people's minds at rest, one of the concerns was paragraph 8.12 of your report, where you said that "the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." What home educators feel is that we need some clarification about this. Who is classified as being known to social care? Lots of children in home education-certainly lots of children I have met over the years-have left the mainstream system because they have special educational needs, and therefore would be known to the education and social care system, but not because of any danger to them. They're known to the system because they have a problem, and that problem has led to them being bullied at school or not being dealt with properly, and so they've been taken out of the system. So, how do you define "known to social care"? Who comes under that category?

Graham Badman: It is a term in common parlance, "known to social care". I understand why there needs to be some clarity around it. There are three sections. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 gives a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need, including disabled children. Section 37 refers to the powers of family court proceedings in which a court can direct an authority to carry that out. Section 47 refers to the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are at risk of significant harm. In other words, it leads into a child protection investigation.

From the original data, what became confused-I want to clarify it now-is that of the original small sample of local authorities, 41 young people were subject to a child protection plan. In other words, we did not take any account of those who were known because of a disability-they did not feature. There were 41 young people who were the subject of a child protection plan. Let us be clear about it-this is the highest level of protection we can afford children. But it was argued that that was a relatively small sample and that there was a glitch in the data, and so we went back and reworked the data. When it originally came out, I said I was cautious about it, in terms of that number from that authority, because proportionately it represents a population of elective home education that is about twice an ordinary population. In fact, on reworking that sample, and I didn't produce it in the first place, I can tell you now, the figure is actually five times. The proportion is five times.

But what we did in anticipation of this Select Committee, because I guessed this would come out, we went out to local authorities again and asked for further information about elective home education. Let me stress again that these children are not those who are just known; they are the ones who are subject to a child protection plan. And this time, from 74 local authorities, the figure confirms the original findings-namely, that on the basis of 74 local authorities it is slightly in excess of double the percentage. In other words, there is a significant risk attached to it.

What I also recognise from your question is that before invoking a section 47 inquiry, there will be a number of strategy meetings, and so there will be families that give cause for concern on what is sometimes good evidence, sometimes not. The strategy meeting will be held; there might be a core group that is formed; that strategy meeting might go nowhere. That strategy meeting might take place again, and then it could be that no section 47 inquiry is held, or if it is held, that there is no finding that there is a need for a child protection plan. The ones we are reporting to you are subject to a plan. They have the highest level of protection this land can afford. That is not to say that they are permanently enshrined in that.

One point I think it is really important to get across is that assessment is a process-it is not an event-and the mistakes that are causing local authorities to be chastised on their child protection at the moment, I would suggest to you, are often because section 47 assessments have become an event rather than a process, something that is subject to a continual review. So there are two ways of looking at it. One is that this figure is not static, because they are in the process of continual review. Secondly, there might be other families who will come into this as statutory meetings continue to take place. Clearly, what my report does is to draw attention to those five key morbidities that we know are so important in terms of child protection-drugs, alcohol, substance abuse, domestic violence and learning difficulties-as possible precursors to need in regard to the child's education, not of a one-to-one relationship. We are just saying there is a risk. All my report tries to say is that local authorities must be diligent in pursuing that risk and determining whether or not it is a risk that needs action or a risk that can be managed. And so, although there will be, if this report goes through, the power of local authorities to refuse registration, they do not necessarily have to do so. And certainly some of the categories that you spoke about earlier would not invoke that right.

 

Q4 Paul Holmes: You mentioned disability. Are you saying that the figures for children in home education who are known to social care do not include children who are known because they have a disability?

Graham Badman: That is correct.

Paul Holmes: You are talking strictly about-

Graham Badman: I was talking strictly about those who are on a child protection plan.

 

Q5 Paul Holmes: Your initial findings, and then the later September wave of requests that you made, showed huge disparities between different local authorities on what these percentages were. How would you explain that?

Graham Badman: Without going back to those local authorities, that is difficult. Not all children's social services departments work in the same way, as we have discovered. I suspect that there will be a variation in terms of the elective home education population because they are not spread universally across the country. There are concentrations of home educators. Equally, I would imagine there are some issues around deprivation that would be important. There are also issues around the quality of schooling in that if you can create a schooling system which satisfies everybody, the movement to elective home education would be probably be less. It is a question worthy of further asking. The aggregate figure is correct and I stand by it. It is slightly in excess of double the proportion. But yes, if one of my recommendations is carried out, namely that local authorities reflect on why children have left, they also might want to reflect on what they don't know about them and whether they are assessing that risk adequately.

I said in my report that I had considered serious case reviews. The identification of serious case reviews was quite difficult because it is not axiomatic that serious case reviews name the place of education. It is not always known. There were, in fact, only four where elective home education was a feature. I will not go into the detail because some of it is confidential. Two of them were stark in their concerns for those young people. All of them made recommendations to make changes in regulation to provide greater powers of scrutiny. Some of the evidence, and certainly that offered by local authorities, was that they were hampered in their task. So it may well be that the disparity in local authority figures was because some local authorities don't know what they don't know.

 

Q6 Paul Holmes: If you are saying that the figures are fairly robust because they don't include children with disabilities or special educational needs, what about false reporting? A neighbour might ring up and say that these children have been kept off school and so forth and it turns out that they are being legitimately home educated. Does that appear as a child investigation?

Graham Badman: There is always false reporting in children's social services. Whenever you get the situation that I have dealt with in another way in terms of Haringey, you always get an increase in that false reporting. But good strategy meetings will sort that out. You won't get that section 47 inquiry on the basis of false evidence. That will be tested by the strategy group. It will be tested by the core group. Remember, too, that when you get a section 47, parents have the right to be there. Authorities have the right to exclude them, but I know of few circumstances where a child is subject to a child protection plan where parents or carers do not have an opportunity to speak. So I would be surprised if false reporting in any way accounted for those figures.

 

Q7 Paul Holmes: Finally, one of the concerns of home educators is the speed at which all this has happened. They put in freedom of information requests so that they could look at your original data and then they have not had time to do that for the September data. Will all this data be put on the website so that home educators can go through it and come up with counter-arguments? Perhaps the Minister can answer that.

Chairman: Minister?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Freedom of information requests are being dealt with. I think that more than 150-

Penny Jones: Yes, 150.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: More than 150 freedom of information requests have come into the Department. That is clearly a lot of work. With that volume of requests things have not happened as quickly as they need to. We are well aware of the need to get on and sort out the freedom of information requests. There has been a huge number.

 

Q8 Paul Holmes: Can you not just put all the responses up on the website so that people can read it directly anyway?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: As I recall, these FOI requests are all slightly different. There is no common thread.

Penny Jones: FOI requests cover quite a broad range. We have put up an analysis of the second report. That was up with a letter from Graham, so that is all up on the website for everybody to see. We go into quite lot of detail, giving graphs of the spread of findings and that sort of thing. The general line that we have taken is that we do not release the information that individual authorities have sent to us because the numbers tend to be small, and there is always the danger that an individual child can be identified, and then, of course, there are exemptions that apply for the protection of those children who are vulnerable.

 

Q9 Mr. Stuart: Overall, what percentage of children are subject to child protection plans?

Graham Badman: On the basis of the new data-the new data include issues of concern such as whether a child is in education, training or employment and whether the family is co-operating-the national figure is about 0.2%. The figure among elective home educators is 0.4%.

 

Q10 Mr. Stuart: You have slightly lost me there. Having gone to all the local authorities, I thought that what you were basing the doubled risk assessment on was the very hard measure of child protection plans. In other words, it wasn't anything to do with the expression that has previously been used about contact with social services. This is now very much at the hardest end-although it happened to align with your original position.

Graham Badman: Absolutely.

 

Q11 Mr. Stuart: Just now, you said something about other issues.

Graham Badman: What I was saying is that they were among the data set that was given to the Chairman of the Committee as well as being published. We went out to local authorities and asked other questions as well. Just to be clear, the data sample was from 74 authorities. The percentage of the population of elective home educators from those 74 authorities who are on child protection plans is 0.4%. From the same group of all children, it is 0.2%. So, it is double. It is double proportionally and not double in terms of the actual number.

 

Q12 Mr. Stuart: Sure. As you mentioned in those figures, it is also very important not to give the impression that there is a very high number of children in child protection plans among the home-educated community. Obviously, it did feel as if the initial publicity suggested that home educators should be viewed with suspicion.

Graham Badman: I am not arguing that at all. I am saying that proportionally there is a higher percentage. I do not regard any home educators in that way with suspicion. Indeed I met a number of home educators whose children were so accomplished I thought that they should be justly proud of them. All I am saying is that you cannot say-certainly from the view of those whom I met-that all children are safe, particularly as there is no security about the number of children who are known to us. The best estimates that have been put forward are around 20,000 or so. Most local authorities believe that it is at least double that in terms of those who are unknown and not registered. Certainly members of my reference group put that figure much higher again. All I am saying is, no, you should not treat home education in that way. You should not view it with suspicion, but you should know that the risk factor is proportionally double.

 

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.

 

Q16 Mr. Stuart: I am probably being rather slow here. Take me through that again. I am obviously not understanding this.

Graham Badman: Well, if 0.2% is all population and that includes elective home educators, then that figure actually depresses the overall figure. If you have them separated out, it would make it proportionally worse. If you take out home educators from the first figure, it makes that figure 0.2% lower.

 

Q17 Mr. Stuart: Ignoring that, because the number of children who are home educated is statistically insignificant in the overall population, so the 0.2 per cent. can be left roughly where it is, the point is how many home-educated children have child protection plans? If those who are formally known about are only half of the number of children who are estimated by you, the leading expert on the subject, to be home educated-local authorities likewise think that they know about only half-that suggests that, roughly speaking, they are about the national average.

Graham Badman: Forgive me. It is me who is being obtuse. I understand your point absolutely now, but who is to say that they are safe? If you don't know anything about them, a high proportion of those who are unknown may be unsafe.

 

Q18 Mr. Stuart: Absolutely right, and people rightly worry about safety, but first one must deal with data as they are. From what you said, the data seem to be that there are no more children with child protection plans among home-educated children, if it is in fact twice as many as those that are formally known about, than in the wider population. To put in context the previous Minister's remarks about the risks, which caused a lot of offence among the home education community, unless there were very good data to back them up, they were wrongly stigmatised as having a higher incidence of child abuse, or the threat of it within their families. I am putting to you a fairly important point, not least to them, that perhaps on your own numbers a home-educated child is no more likely to be abused than anyone else in the population.

Graham Badman: You are asking me to determine a causal effect that I cannot. All I can say to you is to repeat the evidence that I have, which is that on the basis of the information provided by 74 authorities, twice the percentage of young people have child protection plans among the elective home-educated population than in the general population. What you would consider in terms of an assessment of risk about a family before you decide that you are going to bar them on safeguarding grounds, is a range of other reasons and data drawn from a strategy group, if you had gone to a section 47 inquiry, or whatever you had gained in terms of intelligence from your officers visiting. If you want me to clarify the statistical interpretation of those, I will gladly write to you afterwards.

I also draw your attention back to the second set of data, because local authorities asked us to raise other issues in terms of their assessment of whether children were receiving an appropriate education, whether it was not suitable, whether they were co-operating and, crucially, in terms of the data that we have given you, the percentage of the elective home-educated young children-young people-who were not in education, employment or training. We are concerned about outcomes as well. The report is not just about safeguarding; it is also about the quality of education that they receive.

 

Q19 Mr. Stuart: Sticking with NEETS, I am glad that you raised them because whenever education Ministers are in front of us, I say that the crude proxy analogy is to see whether the system is working. I normally point out that it is not, because we have more NEETS now that we had 12 years ago, which suggests failure. What is the number of NEETS in the home-educated community?

Graham Badman: I cannot say about the whole community, but I can tell you about the 74 responses that we have.

Chairman: That is about half.

Graham Badman: Yes. In a reported population of 1,220, 270 of those children were not in education, employment or training, which is 22 per cent. The national figure for NEETS is 5.2 per cent.

 

Q20 Mr. Stuart: Is that 16 to 18-year-olds?

Graham Badman: Yes.

Penny Jones: If I may clarify, that is the count that takes place in September.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chairman: Right, we are quorate, so we can get started. Over to you, Annette.

 

Q21 Annette Brooke: Please excuse me, but I would just like to backtrack if I may, Chairman. I received an e-mail from Home Educators, which is very partial in terms of not identifying the local authority, and of course I have no evidence as to the e-mail's authenticity. However, it said, "Finally, someone got a straight answer from a local authority. A high percentage of children arose from all the data that we have ever had"-this is from the local authority, allegedly-"and therefore that includes people that are now adults. The 9% includes all the children known to social care, so if they are known to social care because they are disabled then yes, it does include disabled children". I imagine that this is allegedly from one of the freedom of information requests, and obviously it is contrary to your answer earlier, Graham. As I received this, I need to check it out for my own sake. Is there any doubt about the basis on which the data that have been collected in local authorities have been submitted?

Graham Badman: I think that the simple answer is, no, there is no doubt. We went back over the data. We made sure the data were clean, and as we have said, these data have been checked by Department for Children, Schools and Families statisticians. The data do not include that group of children whom you talked about; these are children who have child protection plans.

While we are briefly back on the data, may I go back, as I was thick in relation to Graham Stuart's question regarding the 0.2% and the 0.4%? I understand the point that you are making, but the reason I would argue against you is that your assumption is that the other unknown half have no children who would be subject to a child protection plan, and that is why I am saying that I think my statistics are right and yours are wrong. But we have undertaken to write back to you, and we will do that.

 

Q22 Chairman: Is one of the problems, Minister, that the home educators have become very cross with you and Graham because, in a sense, there is this great focus-we have already had it in this session-on the percentage of children that are in some danger because they have protection orders on them? The home educators would, I suppose, argue that they want to be judged across the piece. They want to be judged on whether the children in home education get a decent education. What Graham is dwelling on at the moment, and you to an extent, Minister, is this quite small percentage-it may be double the national average-that ends up with child protection orders.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think that that is absolutely right, in that what the Government are interested in, in this review, is making sure that children and young people who are home educated are getting a good education at home. That is what we want to make sure. We want to know who those children and young people are, and we want to be able to say, "Yes, we are satisfied they are getting the standard of education that they need". That is what this is really about. Obviously within the review, there are comments and data that have been looked at, and we have had a series of questions now. The media have picked up on this particular issue, and have focused in on it. But a lot of the recommendations that Graham has brought forward are very much about creating a positive relationship between local authorities and home educators to support home education, and I think that the press ought perhaps to focus a little bit more on that particular issue, and not dwell to the extent that they have on this one.

 

Q23 Chairman: But there are serious issues, are there not?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Very serious, yes.

 

Q24 Chairman: I read the report and imbibed as much as I could. On the one hand, as Chairman and member of this Committee, of course I want to make sure that every child who is home educated gets a good deal, and it is obvious that there are some absolutely fantastic experiences for a certain percentage of home-educated children. But there is obviously real evidence that for a significant percentage there are some pretty bad horror stories.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: The worrying thing for me as a Minister is that we do not have full data sets; we do not know about who is educating their children at home. The figures that we are looking at-perhaps 20,000 or 25,000-are estimates. There was work done by York Consulting a few years ago, trying to give figures, and even that body found it difficult. So, I think it would be very helpful to know who is home educating and what numbers we are actually talking about, and then as a Government we can feel confident that we know who these children are and be satisfied that they are getting a good education.

Chairman: That does seem sensible. Annette, back to you.

 

Q25 Annette Brooke: I want to probe on registration and I will perhaps put my cards on the table: I am actually in favour of a simple registration scheme because I don't want children disappearing below the radar. I think that point is important. However, I wonder if we could just look a bit at the applications for registration. Surely it is going to be fairly clear-cut that a local authority will have a right to refuse registration on the grounds of child protection, and presumably there will be a right of appeal because that would be a British justice situation. Can I ask you about the appeals process that might have been thought of?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think you are absolutely right in that any process that is set up needs to be fair. We all know that having a right to appeal would be part of the fairness of any procedure. These matters are out for consultation, which does not end until 19 October. Therefore, I am not at this stage able to give you any definitive view about how an appeals procedure would work. All I can say is that being fair would obviously be a key part of any procedure created.

 

Q26 Annette Brooke: One of the difficulties in making sweeping statements is that the generic term of "elective home education" covers such a wide range. As you mentioned, I am sure that there are so many cases that we should celebrate, and I would quite like to have seen some case studies of good practice, which I think would have balanced your report out a little, Graham. I take it for granted that there is all that out there.

I have certainly met a number of parents who have removed their children from school, possibly because their child is on the autism spectrum-probably a very frequent reason-and the school is not providing, or is not able to provide either protection in terms of anti-bullying or a suitable education. I think those parents must feel very threatened that they are now effectively going to be inspected on what they are doing, which may be working on confidence and self-esteem, against some unknown criteria of what a good education is. Can you comment on that particular portion of home educators?

Graham Badman: Let me pick up on autism first of all. My words were sincere when I described the emotion with which some people tell me their stories, so I accept that for many young people, home education was the last resort. If these recommendations go through, the money, in terms of the age-weighted pupil units, then flows to the local authority, either because that child has been in receipt of School Action Plus, because they are in receipt of significant services, or because they are statemented. The opportunity will now exist for the local authority to commission other services to support those families.

As I make very clear in my report, within special educational needs-I have cited at length the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice's evidence, which I think is strongly supportively of home educators' views-when it comes to commissioning support for autism, it may not be the local authority that does so. I am persuaded that some in the voluntary sector, such as Autism In Mind, may offer better support and help than local authorities. Under my proposals, they would be able to do that, and could be commissioned to provide those services, with money now going for the first time to local authorities to provide the services. To repeat a word that I have used, I think it is perverse that for many young people, for whom there are quite legitimate concerns related to welfare and education, as soon as they opt out of school, they are cut off from what they would have had in terms of value.

To go back to your first comment, Chairman, about the positive sides of this, there are recommendations in the report about access to examinations-if people have not previously had it-to flexible schooling and to better vacation provision, all of which, I think, from what I have seen of the Government's response, have been accepted. Chairman, I think you are right: there is an awful lot that has been said about safeguarding. Most of this report is about ensuring that the rights of children are met within the context of home education-not outside of it-by the better provision of services and the better engagement of home educators in the training of local authority officers and in determining what the services are.

 

Q27 Chairman: I speak as Chairman of this Committee. Recently we have been inquiring into looked-after children and the training of social workers. The fact of the matter is that in this country, for some reason, anyone engaged, as a family, with social services seems to have a stigma about it-they feel it is a negative thing. Are we not taking the same approach here? What we need to get from the Government and from anyone involved with a local authority is a positive relationship that supports home education, if that is what a parent chooses-a positive framework. There should not be a feeling that there is inspection, and that people will come to see if you are going to do something naughty, but a feeling that if you are trying to do something good, they should help you to do it. Is that not the frame that we want?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: That is certainly the view that the Government have taken on this. It is about creating a much more positive relationship between home educators and local authority officers. You will see examples in the report of good practice, which is already happening, but of course not across the whole of England; we need to spread it.

 

Q28 Annette Brooke: I welcome the recommendations of support, but I am still concerned that a parent who really understands their particular child's needs and has an alternative approach that will ultimately build up confidence and communication will never fit into the round hole of what formal schooling would advocate. I am concerned-perhaps you can reassure me-that there is not enough flexibility to allow for that approach.

Graham Badman: There is certainly nothing in this report to suggest that there should not be that flexibility. We have had a quite deliberate distinction between the way that youngsters with special educational needs and others who are electively home educated are treated. I take the view that some people have absolutely prospered through being home educated. Sometimes they are not home educated for the entirety of a normal school career; sometimes they do so to recoup, if you wish, and then they re-enter school, perhaps on a part-time basis. I do not think there is any suggestion that the rights of parents who are dealing with young children, sometimes with quite specific needs, will in any way be negated. On the contrary, what we are trying to say is that it is important that the state knows what is happening to them. Equally, the state has responsibilities to ensure that support is given to them.

 

Q29 Mr. Pelling: Could the flexibility go so far as to drop the idea of registration and just have the approach that there should be an obligation to receive advice? Could you go that far in terms of flexibility?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I would say on that point that the reason why local authorities need to have numbers on how many children are being home educated in their local authority area is so that they can plan services and make resources available. That would be very difficult if you did not actually know how many children were being home educated. That is part of the problem that local authorities are describing to us at the moment-they do not actually know.

 

Q30 Mr. Pelling: But there is a sanction, is there not, in terms of the local authority having gone through its registration process?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Are you asking if there will be a sanction?

Mr. Pelling: Yes.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Again, this is the consultation period, so I cannot say what will come out at the end of the consultation. Certainly, a lot of people have been writing in about the registration requirements, but it closes on 19 October and then the Government will have to look at it.

 

Q31 Mr. Pelling: So, in terms of the open-minded approach that is being taken to the consultation, it will still be a possibility not to have registration with sanctioning.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I don't want to pre-judge things. Clearly, in having a registration process, you would think that if you didn't register, that would have to be thought through. It seems to me silly not to be registering everyone.

Graham Badman: I don't want to fall foul of the trap of forgetting that hard cases make bad law. It is nevertheless the case that registration is a relatively simple process. You are talking about it happening only annually. It is not a great intrusion into families that are conducting a normal process of elective home education. But there are hard cases. There are some tragedies in our country that we need to try to prevent as far as we can. Let me cite something said by Daniel Monk, an expert in the legalities of home education, in the Child and Family Law Quarterly of 2009: "Parents who home educate are not simply performing a private duty, but also a public function. For all these reasons the case for compulsory registration is logical, legitimate and compelling."

 

Q32 Mr. Pelling: Is it not the philosophy of this approach that it is important for the state to intervene in the life of the family to ensure that the rights of the child are protected? Is that not the backbone behind this approach?

Graham Badman: I interpret it in a slightly different way. The UN convention represents the wishes of this country for all the children in it. All I am saying is that there need to be some changes to guarantee absolutely that the rights of children to an education and freedom of speech, so that they are able to give a view about their lot in life, are met. I agree with you, but I argue the case from the point of view of the rights of the child.

 

Q33 Lynda Waltho: One of the areas on which I and my colleagues have been lobbied by many people is the proposal to interview the child and to enter the home. Many home educators have pointed out that even police officers need a suspicion or a warrant so to do. In your report, you concede that some local authorities are not making effective use of current powers. Will you spell out why local authorities need new powers rather than just a better understanding of what they can do already?

Graham Badman: Let me quote a local authority, which said, "Given that Local Authorities do not have the power to see the child or enter the house, we have no direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children currently being educated at home. By submitting a report in the post, we cannot guarantee that children ARE receiving the provision identified, moreover, we cannot see if the child is meeting the every child matters outcomes. There is no way knowing that they are even in the country and we cannot be certain that they are living in the address provided. This has huge implications re: the 'Children Missing from Education' guidance and procedures.

We feel as a LA that we have a duty of care to the children educated in our area and that we cannot fulfil this duty of care if we have no access to the child or the family."

That is an accurate view of the response from local authorities, almost universally, in terms of the feedback on the report. Yes, of course, I understand the sensitivities of interviewing the child and the child alone, but I hope that, given what we have said about training, it is, in a sense, the last resort-that proper relationships are established and that it would only be in extremis that a local authority would want to use the powers. We have those powers, but it does not mean that we need to exercise them.

Crucially, I have also argued in the report that there should be the presence of another trusted adult. The person does not necessarily need to be an unknown officer alone with the child. I understand those sensitivities and, again, I make the point in the report, in a direct quote from Jane Lowe, from whom I think you are getting evidence. She wrote a very good book full of case studies on the good practice in home education, and said that, if you educate at home, it is still first and foremost a home. Whatever training is given, officers need to respect that, and they need to caveat their approach by asking, "Have I assessed the risk appropriately? Do I need to do this?" I am arguing for a greater flow of information that would enable anyone with a quite proper regard for the safety of children to exercise the power without being draconian.

 

Q34 Lynda Waltho: That is helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?

Graham Badman: That is the one question that I was dreading from this Committee.

Lynda Waltho: Oh, sorry.

Graham Badman: It is a very good question.

Chairman: As you have been dreading it, can it be repeated?

Lynda Waltho: What if the voice of the child is that he or she does not want to meet, or refuses to meet, someone from the authority?

Graham Badman: My view then would be that it is up to the sensitivity of the officer to judge whether or not that is truly what the child wishes or whether it is a view that has been given to them by the parent that they have repeated. That is quite difficult to determine. That being said, we are making provision that other trusted adults can be engaged, and I repeat that speaking to the child and the requirement to speak to them would have to be used after a whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation had been explored.

I go back to my first statement to the Chairman of this Committee. I don't think there is anything in the report that prevents good elective home educators from continuing to do what they have always done. All we are going to do is to offer them greater services and greater protection for a minority-but a significant minority. I can well understand that there may be children, particularly on the autistic spectrum, who would be completely fazed by that. I have indicated that within the section on special educational needs as well. I understand that point, but judge each case on its merits. What we cannot legislate for is every single occurrence. We have to trust to the good sense of those involved in the support of home educators, whether they be from the local authority or whether they are commissioned from the voluntary sector.

Chairman: I don't think you should be so defensive about this, Graham. When we did our inquiry into looked-after children, I don't think we really got under the surface of that whole inquiry until we met children who had been in care, or were in care, on their own and talked to them. We intend to talk to home-educated children on their own as a group, but I really can't see how we can evade trying to do that, even though we must do it in a sympathetic and sensitive way.

 

Q35 Lynda Waltho: Going on from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response, but you're talking a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a last resort and everything's going to be-I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?

Penny Jones: We have talked to local authorities, and we've made an estimate of the amount of time. When we looked at the cost of implementing these recommendations, we did explicitly consider the length of time it would take to train officials, how much it was going to cost to develop training packages and the cost of backfilling when people were off going training. We put a cost in, and that's part of the cost we've given in our full response, so it's in there. We think it's fully costed, and we have consulted, so hopefully the resources will be there. They've been earmarked.

 

Q36 Mr. Chaytor: Minister, if the statistics on numbers of children are so difficult to collate, presumably there are no statistics on learning outcomes. Do we assume we have no information at all on any learning outcomes of the 20,000 to 40,000 children we're talking about?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think they would be incomplete, wouldn't they? Because we don't know how many children we're talking about, finding the outcomes for those children, the data we've got is incomplete. You could look at GCSE results, but obviously, that may not encompass all children who are home-educated.

 

Q37 Mr. Chaytor: Do GCSE stats or Key Stage 2 standard assessment tests indicate whether the child has been home-educated or not?

Penny Jones: I think the difficulty is that we don't have systematic data for the outcomes of these children. There have been a number of academic studies, both here and quite a lot in America as well, showing that generally, home-educated children attain well, but there is always a question as to how representative the sample is. Unless and until we can get a cross-section of the whole population of home-educated children, we actually can't answer the question "How do the outcomes compare with the population as a whole?" The difficulty we've got with GCSEs and the key stage examinations is that yes, the young people may take these tests, but then when we look at our statistics, those individuals aren't recognised as being home-educated, so we can't just lift up the data and look at it. I don't know if Graham wants to add anything.

Graham Badman: One positive thing. Extending examination centres in the way in which I think the report recommends was always at the top when I asked home educators to give me their shopping list. "What do you want from it?" They wanted the access. That will give us better data in terms of entry to examinations and performance, but I think the needs data is stark and needs further examination. I suspect that there's an untapped mine of information in Jobcentre Plus that also could be sought.

If I can turn the question round, if you're asking me "Do we know enough about the outcomes of a substantial number of young people?", I think quite clearly and unequivocally no. That is not to say they don't have any; we just don't know. To go back to anecdote and case study, I have met some extraordinarily accomplished young people who've done very well and sailed through university and so forth, sometimes developing very late, and others for whom the attainments are absolutely minimal. We don't know enough about that and therefore local authorities did not know when to intervene to provide something additional that could have improved their attainments.

 

Q38 Mr. Chaytor: Could you tell us a little about the proposal for a statement of intended learning? How detailed is that going to be and who is going to draw it up?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I've asked about that and I was told-obviously, this is all very provisional at the moment-that people would be required to produce no more than two sides of A4. There are certain issues with autonomous learning that need to be addressed. That's why one of the recommendations is looking at putting some further research into autonomous learning and how that could be fitted into providing a statement on a yearly basis. So there is work to do, including looking at the issue of what is suitable and efficient education. Some further work needs to be addressed to look at that and to flesh it out, but in terms of the statement, my view certainly is it would not be more than a few pages.

Graham Badman: I'm delighted to say it won't be me doing this. We shall leave the space on Facebook for somebody else, which is a blessed relief, but against the background of the demands of 21st-century society, I go back to the UN convention, because the UN convention actually doesn't specify just the right to education; it specifies the right to take part in society and to have that requisite level of qualifications. Although I understand why autonomous educators believe it would be difficult to outline that, equally I cannot conceive of a situation where, for example, a child of middle secondary years does not know something about oriental history, given the world as it is now; does not know something about carbon sequestration, if they are interested in science; and does not know something about the nature of the economy. So, even if you go to the broadest spectrum of what constitutes a curriculum and an entitlement, it would not be difficult to get beyond that definition.

I think it's intriguing that the Royal Society of Arts has defined a curriculum in about two pages. I actually tried it on home educators and said, "Well, have a look at this." They in the main rejected that as well, but there have to be some broad- brushstroke elements to what is reasonable in a statement that, as I've said in the report, gives the child choices. If you don't know about something, how can you make a choice?

Going back to "Elective Home Education", I cite at the end the court judgment in the Harrison case. What was said at that time-forgive me while I find the right page-was this: "in our judgment 'education' demands at least an element of supervision; merely to allow a child to follow its own devices in the hope that it will acquire knowledge by imitation, experiment or experience in its own way and in its own good time is neither systematic nor instructive...such a course would not be education but, at best, childminding." That was the court's judgment in the case of Harrison and Harrison.

 

Q39 Mr. Chaytor: The logic of that is that the statement of intended learning does have a requirement to conform to certain general outcomes or to work towards certain general outcomes, doesn't it? It's not simply tailored to the individual child.

Graham Badman: I will answer that. I am independent and I really am truly independent and it is beyond my brief, but as somebody who has spent more than 40 years in education, whether we like it or not, we have a world defined by systems of knowledge. If you're going to take part in that world, you need to understand how those systems and knowledge developed. It doesn't mean to say you have to be equally interested in everything, but you have to know something and so I repeat: it will not be me doing this, which I'm sure will be a great relief to all home educators, but I would go for an education system that if it does not define the outcomes, at least defines a curriculum structure that allows that child to make choices.

 

Q40 Chairman: All this to-ing and fro-ing between you and David is instructive, but you have not mentioned anything about the other purpose of going to school: mixing with one's age group, and with those of other ages, socialising and becoming a social citizen and a civic person. A lot of people who believe in home education believe that they produce better citizens than the citizens that go to school. Has any research been done on the qualitative outcomes of these different experiences?

Graham Badman: Not to my knowledge, but I was careful when citing evidence to take the views of the Church of England, which of course is a major provider of schooling in this country, about the benefits of going to school and of understanding how other people live their lives, according to other religions and faiths and so forth. To my knowledge, I have seen nothing that says you can make a judgment about the roundedness of a person who either has or has not been to school. I have met some really nice people who are home educated and some very strange people who have been school educated.

Chairman: Yes, it's all those posh public schools. You know that's a joke, Edward Timpson.

 

Q41 Mr. Timpson: That's not on my curriculum vitae.

Graham, can I go back to the point about statement of approach? My concern, which was borne out a bit when we explored this area, is that for a lot of people who educated their children at home, partly because, as I said before, they despair at the schooling system in their area, but also because they want the freedom to teach their children in the way they feel will bring them into the wider world as citizens who we all want, is not this idea of having outcomes, as you say, or a broad-brush curriculum, just the thin end of the wedge? We must then look at the statutory guidance that will have to be given and the regulations that will have to be put in place, and that provides the state with the opportunity to go into the home and dictate to the parents what they have to teach.

My concern is that this is actually a way of ensuring that you regulate the form of education these children are having, as opposed to giving the parents the freedom to provide the education that will provide the outcomes but without being straitjacketed by national strategies and a national curriculum, which started off, as we know, being applied with a broad brush in this country in the late 1980s, but it has now become a very closely prescribed curriculum. The danger is that the same will happen for parents who home educate their children.

Graham Badman: In the report I used the words, broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated. Those who have been around a bit will know that those are taken from the red book that preceded the coming of the national curriculum-it was the old HMI definition of what constitutes a sensible education. I think that what you heard the Minister say in her opening statement in accepting these recommendations, if they are accepted in full, is that you would not be in the situation that other countries, such as the Netherlands, are in, with compulsory application of the national curriculum. So, if anyone interprets what I am recommending in that way, I will not have done my job right and it would be a mistake.

I think that it is also fair to point out that if you try to define what home education is about, you will lose. You just cannot pin it down, because there are as many views and models of home education out there as there are home educators. I actually wrote that into the report: in seeking for a system, there is no system. There is an enormous variation, and you see that in the case studies in the books that home educators have written, from those who have a rigid timetable for the day to those who actually take whatever is in the child's mind and try to develop it over a period of days, or even weeks. You cannot offer a curriculum model that sets out what you want for that range of opinion.

I am saying that there needs to be some greater definition of what constitutes an effective education, and a working group should look at that. Going back to David Chaytor's comment, at the end of that process surely we want all children to have achieved something. That achievement may be to become a chess grand master, to play the cello brilliantly or to play football for England-I do not care what it is-but if you have that ambition for your child and have something you really want for them, you have to have some way of being able to spell it out and you have to have a route map you can take for it.

Elizabeth Green, who is sitting behind me and who was the officer who worked with me, and I took evidence from home educators. I actually said at the end of it, "Gosh, I wish I had had that quality of education, in terms of what was being brought in-an understanding of the classics at a much earlier stage, access to music that I never got at school." So, I am not arguing for that prescription; all I am saying is beware of that prescription. I actually used the words, "this is not over-prescriptive". All I am saying, though, is that in terms of getting what is right for your child you cannot leave it, as the judgment in the Harrison case said, to laissez-faire. There has to be something which comes from the parent for their child. I am not arguing that the state should write it. I stick to my words: broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated, sufficient to enable a child to make choices.

 

Q42 Mr. Timpson: You spoke about light-touch monitoring and it sounds like you also talked to them about a light-touch curriculum. You have given us examples of countries where home education is illegal, or is made more difficult by their monitoring system, or at least is more closely monitored-Germany, Holland, Finland and so on. Have you got an example of a country where they do have light-touch monitoring, where there are systems in place, where there is registration, but it is left to the home educators to get on with educating their children rather than it being prescribed to them? Because that might provide some reassurance that there is a model that will work and will not continue down from the thin wedge to the thick wedge.

Graham Badman: In the process in Scotland there is of course registration, but if you want the example that I used, it was Tasmania. I looked hard at the Tasmanian model, where they actually involve home educators in the monitoring of home educators. I have to tell you that when I tried that on groups of home educators, it was roundly rejected. They did not want that third party judgment any more than they wanted local authority third party judgment. I risked their wrath further by including it in the report-even by saying that they rejected it. But it does seem to me that the model in Tasmania offers some reassurance to home educators that they are not being put in the dock; that those who understand it are going to be engaged in their support and advice and monitoring if they wish, but also that they have a view.

My line on that would be that if you want to try and guarantee such light monitoring, then home educators should respond to the opportunities, if this report is adopted and taken, to create a reference group in every local authority in this land, which they do not have at the moment. The biggest organisation representing home educators has only 4,000 members. It is not a representative body in terms of a huge body and they admit that. So, there is an opportunity for all local authorities to have a reference group. There is an opportunity for home educators to be engaged in that definition of curriculum; it is not going to be done to them. Our recommendation is very clear that they should be engaged in the process. They should be engaged in the training so if they want, if you like, to come out of the shadows because they feel that the spotlight is now shining upon them, they have an opportunity to shape what happens to them as well.

Chairman: I think that is a good point to draw stumps. I think we have had a very good session and thank you Penny Jones, the Minister and Graham Badman. I apologise to everyone here that this has been a rather disconnected session, first of all because of the overrun in the first part of the session on the Children's Commissioner, and secondly with the Division, but I thought we got through it after all. So, thanks everyone for being so patient and we will carry on with the inquiry. Thank you.