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

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

ELECTIVE HOME EDUCATION

WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 2009

ZENA HODGSON, JANE LOWE, FIONA NICHOLSON, CAROLE RUTHERFORD and SIMON WEBB

SIR PAUL ENNALS, ELLIE EVANS, PHILLIP NOYES and PETER TRAVES

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 43 - 131

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 14 October 2009

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Annette Brooke

Mr. Douglas Carswell

Mr. David Chaytor

Paul Holmes

Helen Southworth

Mr. Graham Stuart

Mr. Edward Timpson

Lynda Waltho

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Zena Hodgson, Support Officer, Home Education Centre, Somerset, Jane Lowe, Trustee, Home Education Advisory Service, Fiona Nicholson, Trustee/Chair Government Policy Group, Education Otherwise, Carole Rutherford, co-founder, Autism in Mind , and Simon Webb, former home educating parent, gave evidence.

 

Q43 Chairman: I welcome Zena Hodgson, Jane Lowe, Fiona Nicholson, Carole Rutherford and Simon Webb to our deliberations today. All of you know that following the Badman report we thought that it was the right time to consider home schooling. We started off on Monday. It is a short inquiry, but in the run-up to a general election, Select Committee inquiries tend to be short; we cannot afford the time for the very long ones that we specialise in at other times of the cycle. As our recent inquiry into false allegations against teachers shows, it does not mean to say that we cannot write a very good report and make a difference to what is going on out there.

I am going to riff through very quickly and ask everyone to introduce themselves and say exactly what their interest is in this particular issue. I want very fast responses on that. May I start with Zena? I hope you don't mind that we slip into first names in this Committee. However, if you want to be called Dr. Webb or Professor Rutherford or Mrs. or Ms, we will do so. You must still call me Chair, though.

Zena Hodgson: I am Zena from the Home Education Centre in Chard, Somerset. I am in the fortunate position to be part of a fantastic group of home educators who are located in the progressively thinking county of Somerset. Our concern is that the recommendations put forward by the Badman review will undermine the achievements that have been made between the home education community and the local authority to date, and that any further relationships between the two parties will become unworkable. At the moment, they stand on a very equal footing. The balance of power is very equal, so everything tends to come out of a good balance of collaboration between the two, with no one side.

Chairman: You have a good relationship with your local authority and you don't want the boat rocked.

Zena Hodgson: It's not a case of the boat being rocked. The balance of power is fairly even. Somerset, under the equalities and diversities department, approached us, almost as a cultural minority, and simply said, "We want to help you. Tell us about yourselves and let us see what we can do." From that basic question, a reasonable dialogue has occurred and many great things have been achieved, including exam access for our children and grants specifically for resources for the home ed community.

Chairman: We will drill down on that in a minute.

Jane Lowe: I am Jane Lowe from the Home Education Advisory Service. I am also a retired home educator. I have two children, aged 23 and 25. I am a teacher and have spent all my life with a passion for education of various kinds. I have been fully involved with home education all the time that my children were educated at home and since. Our Home Education Advisory service is very concerned about this review. We feel that it has not scratched the surface of home education, that it is hasty and ill-considered, and that the recommendations will be very damaging. They will not achieve what they set out to achieve and they will be far more expensive than anybody has realised. I have done an independent study to give some idea of the costs involved.

Chairman: Which you submitted at the beginning.

Jane Lowe: Yes, it has gone in.

Fiona Nicholson: I am Fiona Nicholson. I am chair of Education Otherwise, a Government policy group, and I am a trustee of Education Otherwise. I am also a home educating parent. I have a 16-year-old who has never been to school. I meet with a great many local authorities. I have a good policy relationship with my local authority in Sheffield and I attend regional forums of local authorities. Three, four or five times, I have met with groups of 20 or 30 home education officials in local authorities. We have had all-day meetings. So I feel I have a very broad experience to bring to this. Again, my feeling is, as we put in our submission, that the report was very rushed. Graham Badman wasn't given enough time. We are not being given enough now. I've had a ridiculous number of phone calls and e-mails from people saying, "You must mention this," but I can't possibly do that. So I'm here to say I haven't got enough time.

Carole Rutherford: I am Carole Rutherford and I am co-founder of Autism in Mind. We support parents in school and home educators. We can see the pathway that leads parents to come out of the system and into home education. We feel that the review was rushed and that special educational needs were, as always, very much an add-on. We don't feel that they were looked at in the light of what the recommendations could do to children with special educational needs, who are often very traumatised when they come out of the system. We don't feel that we had enough time to input, and I've got to agree that we don't have enough time today either.

Chairman: You know that the Committee takes special educational needs provision very seriously. Simon.

Simon Webb: I have a 16-year-old daughter whom I never sent to school. I taught her all her life.

Chairman: That was very brief. We will come back to that. Let us drill down into the questioning. Graham.

 

Q44 Mr. Stuart: There seems to be quite a discrepancy between the articulate representatives of the home education community and what local authority officers say is a large bulk of people who are perhaps less articulate and less capable, which prompts authorities to believe that the Badman recommendations will provide support. What is your response to that?

Jane Lowe: I also do some work for my local authority. I do freelance work-one-to-one tuition-with some of the children you are talking about. The local authority knows very well who these children are, because they have a track record of problems and attendance issues in school and they are often known to other services as well. There are a number of such children in every local authority-it varies according to the demographic of the authority concerned-but the Badman recommendations are not going to address that issue at all, because the people involved are already known about and they are not home educators-they are the non-home educators. There are many shades of home educator, but the people there are concerns about are not home educators.

Fiona Nicholson: I echo what Jane said, but we must also be aware of the danger of just taking anecdotal evidence along the lines of "I met a home educator once, and they said such and such" or "A number of local authorities have said such and such to me." Everybody has a completely different experience of the home educators in their local authorities. I have had local authorities say one thing to me, but I have also had local authorities say completely different things to me. As you know, my mantra is that we need to do a lot more research into the home education community. We should start by looking at the home educators we already know about. Local authorities know of 20,000 home-educated children and young people. Education Otherwise has begun to do research in that area, and we are researching local authorities, but if we stick to anecdotal evidence-things along the lines of "Here's a problem that we've defined for you. How would you solve it?"-policy is going to get very skewed.

Zena Hodgson: One of my main roles at the centre is as a support officer because I do the administration, run the website and receive inquiries from home educators and groups looking for advice. Given that our members and the wider community use us as a point of contact, I deal with many home educators who, although they are not as vocal as some, are in contact with those who are vocal and who are the point of contact or the link with authorities. Just because people are not speaking out themselves, they are not out of the loop in terms of support. They have groups and representatives as their points of contact.

 

Q45 Mr. Stuart: Before you comment on that, Carole, can you tell us whether you support Fiona's desire to see more research?

Carole Rutherford: Absolutely. There is no research at all that I know of that is wrapped around special educational needs and that is part of the problem, because we cannot come here today and say, "Well, this is what we know for certain about children with special educational needs." I cannot say to you with 100% authority that all children with special educational needs who are home educated are going to do better. I can tell you what parents tell us of the difference in their children after a very short period of time. With regard to parents not being as vocal, if you are looking after a child with a disability or special educational needs, it is often not as easy to become as vocal or as involved. That is when parents come to the likes of Autism in Mind and the National Autistic Society to fight their corner for them, because they are too busy, embroiled in teaching their own children. So they are there and, yes, they may look like a silent majority, but it does not mean that they are silent, because they are actually contacting groups to do it on their behalf.

 

Q46 Mr. Stuart: Does everybody think there should be more research into the home education community? Would you all agree with the criticism that, essentially, the Badman review has come in without doing that research and that the statistical handling so far looks pretty weak on things like level of abuse and child protection plans? It does not seem to bear much scrutiny. Looking at other Government statistics, it would appear that the level of abuse among home-educated children is lower.

Chairman: Graham, I think you should ask questions rather then tell them the answers.

Mr. Stuart: I just wanted to find out whether anyone disagreed with that view.

Fiona Nicholson: It seems to me that Graham Badman was being asked to present findings at almost the time, or later the same hour, as he was being expected to conduct research. That does not seem to me to be a very robust or academic way to go about things. He did not have the evidence base before he started to go out and talk to people, and that work still needs to be done at some point. We need to do that work. Education Otherwise has started comprehensive research into local authorities. We have sent out very detailed questionnaires and we are going to present that research shortly. It is a massive job. I am gesturing at a huge pile of raw data which we have.

 

Q47 Chairman: But you would not deny, Fiona, that it seems strange we do not really know how many home-educated children there are and where they are.

Fiona Nicholson: Absolutely.

 

Q48 Chairman: You would have thought that that would be important for us to know in each local authority area. Would we all agree on that?

Fiona Nicholson: It is strange that you don't know, yes.

Zena Hodgson: I think if you look at the situation, in a way, it is just about data collation, because, at the end of the day, I think it is very difficult for children, or for anybody in fact, to be hidden from the system. We are registered in many ways. The birth of a child is registered, you are registered at a GP, you register for child benefit and in all those kinds of areas.

 

Q49 Chairman: Zena, as a Member of Parliament, I know children disappear all the time in my constituency. It's a very real concern. It isn't only runaway children, but children who disappear overseas and when you try to track them it is impossible because we don't have the data. I am sorry, I have to correct you on that as a working constituency Member.

Jane Lowe: On disappearing children, the idea of a registration scheme is not going to do anything at all, because if any parent is suitably evil or deranged that they want to abduct and abuse a child, they are not going to take any notice of the minor offence of not registering themselves with the local authority as a home educator if they are that bent on committing a major crime. I think it is going to miss the point.

 

Q50 Helen Southworth: This is a similar question, but from a slightly different angle. One of the difficulties about identifying children who go missing and who are at risk is finding them among the children who are perfectly safe and happy but you just don't know about. Do you think that the benefit of being able to find those children, probably a very small number, who are at risk is sufficient that we should press to find the information so that we can identify them from among the wider group?

Fiona Nicholson: Since we are actually talking about registration, we need to establish what the purpose of registration would be, and you seem to be saying that the purpose would be that decent people would eliminate themselves from inquiries.

Q51 Helen Southworth: No, not at all. I was asking if it had the other effect that it would enable this to be continued, would that be beneficial?

Fiona Nicholson: If registration would allow?

Helen Southworth: If the fact that you could identify and know who the children being home educated are, that could help to identify some children who were just missing.

Fiona Nicholson: But we have statutory guidance on children missing education.

Helen Southworth: Perhaps I have asked too complicated a question.

Chairman: Let us move on.

 

Q52 Annette Brooke: I would like a straight yes or no answer from each member of the panel. Imagine a very simple registration scheme that gets rid of all the strings and conditions in the Badman report and literally signs up-given that if a child goes to a local school, there is knowledge that the child is at the local school-just to providing the knowledge that a child is being home educated at X address. Let us start with a very simple principle and at least we would get some indication of numbers, although I accept what you said, Fiona. Do you feel strongly about the simplest of registration schemes?

Simon Webb: I cannot see any possible objection to it, personally. Actually, my daughter went missing because she was born in one local authority area but we moved to another when she was six. Nobody had any idea of whether she was at school and, when we moved, nobody knew what happened to her. I could have done her in and buried her in the garden in Tottenham, and then moved to Loughton and no one would have been any the wiser. She had no official existence in effect, so no, I cannot see any possible objection to a registration scheme.

Carole Rutherford: It depends on what it leads to. We are going to have to re-register every year. When you enrol at a school, you don't go back every year and ask, "Can I continue with my name on the roll?" The majority of home educators with special educational needs children are already known, because you cannot have a child with a disability who isn't seen by somebody at some point. In a way, we are already there; people already know us. If you have de-registered, and the vast majority of them have, you are known.

 

Q53 Chairman: So if it is already known, you wouldn't mind having a register as well?

Carole Rutherford: The parents who I speak to tell me that yes, they would actually mind that.

Chairman: They would mind having a register?

Carole Rutherford: They don't want to be registered because they feel as if they have been pursued enough by local authorities. That was probably the reason why they have come out of the system; they don't want to have to start all over again with the local authorities.

 

Q54 Chairman: So your answer to Annette is no?

Fiona Nicholson: My answer is that it is a really bad time to be asking this-at the end of the Badman review. If that had been the question at the beginning of the review, we would have put all our trust issues on the table and said, "Call us paranoid, but we fear that it would lead to a definition of suitable education and efficient education and that it would be far more intrusive." We would have hoped that somebody would give us some kind of reassurance. We have all had a look at the big blue book, the Graham Badman report, and it is really difficult now to answer a hypothetical question about how we feel about simple registration. If we could stop the clock and things such as the Badman review had never happened, and we had not seen what is entrained for us-

 

Q55 Chairman: I am sorry, but this is a bit hypothetical. Are you against a register or not? Before Badman's review and now, were you or were you not in favour of a register so that we would know where our children are in this country?

Fiona Nicholson: I thought it was inevitable that it would happen.

 

Q56 Chairman: But you would not approve of it happening?

Fiona Nicholson: I am not taking a position on whether I think it is a good or a bad thing.

Chairman: Okay, that's a don't know.

Jane Lowe: I have thought about this for years and I can see that it is a comforting prospect, but I really don't think it would achieve what it sets out to achieve, so no, I am not in favour of it.

Chairman: Annette asked for a yes or no answer and I am trying to get it for her.

Zena Hodgson: I echo what Jane said. I can see why you would need to have it, and a pure headcount situation would seem okay on the face of it, but I am sure that it would not simply be that. As Jane said, at the end of the day, if that register is to protect the tiny one or two that happen, if a family is ardently intent on doing something heinous and wanting to hide, you would not be able to compel that person to be on the register. There would be all the innocents, as it were, who would put their hands up and be on the register, while those whom you are worried about would still not be on it.

 

Q57 Annette Brooke: May I pursue that question? Obviously, you can now register voluntarily. How many of you are registered, or were registered?

Chairman: Three have their hands up.

Annette Brooke: I think that I am primarily on your side-

Chairman: Sorry. That was Simon Webb, Caroline and Fiona. Hansard cannot see hands in the air. For the record, Jane and Zena indicated that they were not registered.

 

Q58 Annette Brooke: I was hoping that I might achieve a consensus that a simple registration scheme was acceptable, and then work through the great long list of add-ons that come afterwards. I can see how those add-ons are troubling people.

There is a general lack of confidence in the ability of local authority officers. We have described how a partnership approach can work. I suggest that it is reasonable that people would want to be confident that there was a minimum standard to be met. I am totally opposed to making you conform and putting you in a straitjacket, but how in your view can the local authority establish education basics-this is where the local authority should be making visits-without sucking you into the national curriculum and all the things that we find too restrictive?

Carole Rutherford: It has got to be relative to the child, and that will be the problem. In looking at levels of attainment and what the child can do, we will be taking into consideration their special educational needs or disability. Parents are telling me that many local authorities do not do that, as it is not what they are interested in. Our outcomes and achievements will be completely different from those where special educational needs are not taken into account. That is not to say that we do not educate our children in the basic things; it is just that they need to be taught some things that the system does not teach. Parents who have come out of the system are so often bruised by it-they may have no relationship at all left with their local authority, having fought for provision statements or whatever and failed-that the very last thing they want is to have somebody coming into the home to assess them who fails to provide for their child. How can somebody tell a parent, "This is what your child should be doing," if they have failed that child?

What we are looking at is fear among parents who have children with disabilities. It is not hysteria but fear, because they know where such things can lead. We know how difficult it is to prove that your child has a special educational needs. That sounds stupid, but if a child is autistic or has a hidden disability, they may as well not have the diagnosis, because the schools think they know better. We have paediatricians and other people going into schools and saying, "This is what the child needs," but then that is promptly ignored or the school knows better.

Parents don't want to have to start again. If a relationship has completely broken down, as often happens, where can you start to rebuild faith? There is no mention of training for special educational needs. Yes, safeguarding is mentioned, and it is vital, but if you don't understand-

Chairman: Carole, would you stick to the question? I know that you want to go on to other matters, but hold fire for a moment. Who else wanted to answer our question?

Simon Webb: Leaving aside children with special educational needs, I am against an over-prescriptive approach. I have never had any dealings with the national curriculum, but if I met a child of 12 who was completely illiterate, it would not be hard for me to know that something was amiss educationally. If I met a child of 14 who was unable to work out in his head the change from a 10 note, I could be reasonably sure of guessing that he was not receiving a proper education. It should be a fairly simple matter. They should not be testing children in a formal way, but it is fairly easy to guess whether a child is receiving an education.

Fiona Nicholson: I would like to address the issue of why people would not want to have a relationship with the local authority, do more research in that area, and actually answer your question by saying, "Go to people who haven't wanted to do it. Go to people who were pushed into it and found that it didn't work for them, and ask them what would have made things better." I think you will get a whole range of answers, but I think that should help to inform any kind of training programme that is brought in for local authority officers. Ask people what they want.

Jane Lowe: Over the past 20 years, I have been supporting families all over the country-by phone and sometimes by visit-who have had problems with their local authority in getting the local authority officer to understand what they are doing. This is a real issue. We often get inquiries from local authority officers themselves who have just been given the task of monitoring home educators. They haven't a clue what they're doing, and they say so very honestly to us. They say, "Can you tell us about home education?" I had one two weeks ago. We cannot ignore this one, because the people who are doing the job are cast in the school mould. A lot of them are retired head teachers. A lot of them are very willing and very kind, but they simply don't know what they're looking at.

Zena Hodgson: That is where I would like to reiterate how Somerset actually is different with this. As far as I am aware, it is the only county in the country where this was under equalities and diversities, and therefore approached almost as a cultural need rather than an educational or an educational welfare need. Coming with the very open question of "We want to help; tell us about yourselves and what you need" allows that learning process for the local authority as well so that it understands what its particular community wants.

Through that openness, the achievements that have been made through it-that equal dialogue of "Help us understand what the picture is"-and seeing that it has worked for us has meant that, again, we have been approached by other counties. We have been asked to go to meetings with Devon and Dorset, and we even had a Gloucester lead come into the visitor centre to try and get some clues on how they could get in touch with their community in a more meaningful way. In fact, a new lead for Dorset has just been appointed, and he is now coming from a position of inclusion and complex needs, which again is similar to the equality point of view. He very much disagreed with some of the Badman report, because he felt that just inviting all the questions from the community about what they need was not open enough.

 

Q59 Paul Holmes: On the Badman report's suggestions about requiring a statement of learning, I know that a number of home educators-both nationally and the ones I've met in Chesterfield-have been very concerned about that and the implication that it might be imposing all sorts of very restrictive prescriptions. Does anybody want to elaborate on that?

Simon Webb: I can't imagine that any parent educating their child did not have at least some vague idea of what they would like to see that child doing in a year's time. For example, if you had a child of 11 who was unable to read, you would surely have at least the hope that by the time they were 12, they would be able to read, assuming they did not have special needs. If you were entering them for examinations, surely you would be wanting to plan, realise what the syllabus for the examinations would be, and know what you would be doing in a year or two's time. I can't see any objection, personally.

 

Q60 Paul Holmes: You have written about that view in The Times Educational Supplement. You have home-educated your daughter to a very high academic level-eight A*s at GCSE and so forth-but yours is quite a contradictory view to a lot of other home educators'.

Simon Webb: True.

Fiona Nicholson: I think, again, we need to know much more about what would be involved. I caught some of the evidence given the other day, and the Minister was saying that two sides of A4 seemed to be sufficient. I have talked to local authorities who think that a lot of information would be required.

I help a lot of home educators-I must have helped more than 200-to devise their educational philosophy and report. It takes a lot of time to put their ideas across. They are putting in a lot of information, and they repeatedly come back to me and say, "I'm told it isn't enough. They're going to serve a school attendance order. I still haven't given them enough information. They want more of this, they want more of that." I think that it will be a two-tier situation, where you will have some articulate, confident people who will be able to produce very little and won't find it very inconvenient at all, and you will have an unquantifiable number of other parents who could be made to feel inadequate. We have a consultation proposal that says it is a criminal offence to provide inadequate information. You could be in a state of limbo for a very long time if you still have not provided enough information and your licence to home educate has still not been granted. Again, we do not know what the statement might look like. When we met the DCSF civil servant, Iain Campbell, to discuss this at the end of June, he thought that a couple of sentences just indicating the approach that you might be planning to take would be all that was required. Now it is two sides of A4, and I have known local authorities that have not been happy with a 30-page report.

 

Q61 Paul Holmes: So what would you recommend? Should it perhaps be a two-page statement, one paragraph or the detailed academic syllabus that Simon talks about?

Fiona Nicholson: It would depend on what was appropriate in each individual case. I find it very easy to organise my thoughts into paragraphs in my head and then write them down. It does not make me a better home educator; it makes me reasonably good at dealing with authority figures. I talk to a lot of parents who can't do that and they say, "No, I'd rather meet somebody and talk things through". But if the object of meeting and talking things through is to come up with a sort of template, I do not think that would be helpful at all. There might be a meeting with somebody from a school or a local authority and the object of the meeting is to get some bullet points written down, which are going to be reviewed in six months and in a year, and your child is going to be required to exhibit, and be progress-tested against, those things that you said in order to have something written down in order to be able to home educate. Graham Badman gave too much information about what he had in the bag for us really.

Zena Hodgson: As I am sure you are aware, quite a proportion of the home education community likes to work in an autonomous way, responding to what their children want to learn. So, if what is required is too much of an academic statement, and you set out a plan for your 12 months that includes a certain amount of academic criteria, because at the time that is what your child is interested in, and they then say, "Actually, no, I've changed my mind. Over the next few months I'd rather be looking at this subject", that won't reflect the plan that you have submitted, even though they achieve many things. Would you then have the fear that the authority would come back and say, "This was your plan though, and you did not stick to it"? I think that that is also an underlying fear, certainly for autonomous educators.

Jane Lowe: There is another issue here, which is children who are withdrawn from school in pieces, some of whom are suicidal. Over the years I have seen a lot of these children, and they are not in a position to get their heads together and think about what they want to do. This can go on for anything up to a year. They are in such a state that if you even mention education they are right back to square one, and that sets up a whole cycle of fear in which they are afraid of the pressure that will be put on them to achieve during that year. They will have this ogre of fear of being pushed back to school, and that is going to be hanging over them for the whole 12 months. I think that's appalling.

 

Q62 Paul Holmes: What about what Zena touched on: the philosophy of autonomous learning that you let the child follow their interest for however long that particular interest lasts? On the other hand, Simon has written that that might mean that a child, after 10 or 11 years of home education, would not have achieved some of the education that they would need to function in the adult world.

Jane Lowe: That is something that I have watched over the years in families that I have known, families that I have worked with and families that I have advised, and children who are given a free rein with their education nearly always achieve in very extraordinary ways. If they have the resources and the input of a friendly and concerned adult-

 

Q63 Chairman: Has there been any research on that?

Jane Lowe: Alan Thomas has done a lot of research. He has actually been and stayed with families-

 

Q64 Chairman: Is he an objective academic?

Jane Lowe: He is not a home educator. He is a fully-fledged academic.

Chairman: He is very positive about home education though.

Jane Lowe: Yes, he is.

 

Q65 Paul Holmes: Simon wrote "Children raised in this way may well spend months pursuing a favourite topic, but they are unlikely to study a well-rounded curriculum...and therefore to acquire formal qualifications...The restriction of a child's life chances by the early decision of a parent, sometimes when the child is only four or five, must surely be examined."

Some years ago, I was approached by one person in my constituency who had been home educated. In his mid to late-20s he found that he did not have access to the professional qualifications that would allow him to take over his father's accountancy firm. So, the home education choices that were made quite a long time earlier, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed, meant that he now could not do what he wanted to do as an adult.

Fiona Nicholson: Lifelong learning. Obviously, we need more longitudinal studies because there is a paucity of them. The idea that something stops at 16 or 18 and that you cannot not access qualifications later is something that we need to tear up. We need to tear up the book that says that. My son has not got formal qualifications at the age of 16 because we do not think that it is necessary. If he needs them in his early 20s, I am entirely confident that he will have the nous to go and get them. If that is a problem and at 24 he is already too old and there is ageism in the workplace, that is another distressing thing. There are a lot of young people coming out of university, and they are 21. A home education parent could say, "We have ticked the box. We have done all we could." It does not necessarily make them fulfilled, successful, productive adults. I was one of those people myself, and it did not get me anywhere; I was working in a shop.

Carole Rutherford: It is well documented that children with autism learn better if they follow a subject that is one of their special interests. That does not mean that once you start with one subject it does not evolve into something else, but the child still feels that the emphasis is on the subject that it likes and it evolves from there. It is much easier to teach a child with autism if you start with something that they enjoy. Then you add on to it, and it is amazing where that can lead to. You are also enhancing things such as social skills and life skills. At the end of the home education of my two sons, if they are well able to look after themselves, I will feel that I have achieved. Yes, I want them to work, but I want them to have life skills.

 

Q66 Paul Holmes: Some parents who are home educators are very committed to autonomous learning, some are looking at rebuilding a child's self-confidence and dealing with special educational needs. You have others, as Simon was saying, who will get eight A*s at GCSE. There is a vast range. Going back to earlier evidence, what about all those parents, many of whom we do not know about, who have not got a clue how to cope with any of this? I have always admired home educators because of the amount of work that they do. I am a former teacher, but I could not teach science. So, what about all the home educators who are not in these self-confident, different and contradictory boxes?

Simon Webb: As far as not being able to do science goes, we did our GCSE science in the kitchen. It is not necessary to have a well-equipped laboratory to study science; anybody can do it from materials that they buy from the chemist shop. It is honestly not a problem.

As far as autonomous education goes, the problem is that we know that conventional teaching works pretty well with most children, and that it fails some of them. We do not know the same about autonomous education. It is possible that it is very successful with a few, and that a few will get to Oxford, but it might fail more than it succeeds with. That is why there is a need for more research.

Fiona Nicholson: I would like to address the issue of support. Paul, you said that you had met home educators, or you felt that there were home educators who would benefit from more support or who need more support. I agree with you. I have not met the same people, but home education support organisations and home education local groups are contacted all the time by parents who want more information about absolutely everything. They will come back and check. They test out anything that you have said with any other groups. I know that they do that with the local authorities as well. They will ask masses of questions about what they can do. Home education support organisations do what they can, but there has not been much from local authorities. The Badman report has been presented as something that offers more support. To say that I am sceptical would be an understatement, but if more of that could be available, that would be excellent. It would be good to have more resources and places where people could go to for information and non-judgmental support-the equivalent of a constituency surgery for an MP. I know that that does happen in some areas. North Yorkshire, for example, does it.

 

Q67 Paul Holmes: But Graham Badman said on Monday afternoon that that is a lot of the intention of his report. He would argue that unless you register everyone, and unless you ask for a statement of learning, whatever that is, there might be a lot of home educator parents who don't know what they don't know, what they might need to be doing or how to ask for help.

Jane Lowe: I am sure that there are some parents who would like support, and there are other parents who are perfectly happy to do it in their own way without support. If registration is somehow necessary for providing support, why can it not be voluntary, so that if anyone wants support, they can sign up for it?

 

Q68 Paul Holmes: But how do you reach home-educating parents who don't know what they're not delivering because they are not articulate, well-educated or self-educated people?

Jane Lowe: I don't think you have to be articulate, confident or particularly well educated. I think if you are desperate as a family, and if you have a problem, you will work at it and solve it. We find people coming to us all the time, who are in that situation. You give them a little bit of help, and off they go. The first parent I met, nearly 20 years ago, was a woman whose husband was a lorry driver. She had four children, one of whom was in deep trouble at school. She took in ironing and paid a lady down the road, a teacher, to come in once a week. That child is now in their 20s, working and happy. They can do it.

 

Q69 Mr. Carswell: I have a general question for the panel. In Clacton, the parents of 16 children have, rightly in my opinion, refused to send their children to a school that they believe is not able to provide the children with a proper education. They have successfully demanded that they receive a home education grant from the local education authority. Is this something that you welcome, and do you think that the sort of extra regulation and oversight demanded by Badman could be conditional on receiving the grant? If you get the grant, you can be overseen by the state, but if you do not, it should leave you alone.

Zena Hodgson: I am from the Home Education Centre, and we were approached by Somerset, who said that it had managed to put aside some sums to assist home educators. It asked whether we would accept it, as they felt that they were not able to give it to individual families, but could give it to a group to spend the money best to benefit as many home educators in Somerset.

Chairman: Zena, you are not answering his question.

 

Q70 Mr. Carswell: Would you like a legal right so that home educators could say to the local authority, "It is my money-give it to me now"?

Zena Hodgson: As a family?

Mr. Carswell: As an individual. My child, my money-give it.

Zena Hodgson: Yes, I suppose. There will always be things that your children would want to better their education.

Fiona Nicholson: My understanding about the situation in Clacton was that the parents were setting up a small school. If there is a political party that supports groups of parents setting up small schools, that would be an option that some home educators will want to take.

 

Q71 Chairman: That is not home education, though, is it?

Fiona Nicholson: No, I don't think that is home education. When we look at the incredibly small amount of money, Education Otherwise is doing research into the money that local authorities are able to spend at the moment on home education. There is a local authority that has 269 children on their books and they spend 17,000 a year in total on staff, training and support for those 269. There is another local authority that will spend 125,000. We are getting those figures about the money in now. There is a lot of money that is not in home education, and so to try to decide where we will put the money that we do not have is very hard.

 

Q72 Mr. Carswell: So you would not like to see a legal right to allow home educators to control their child's money?

Fiona Nicholson: I don't see that you could possibly have a situation where the money follows the child, politically.

Carole Rutherford: It is difficult to believe that the money would be there because, when we fought for support in the system, the money was not there to support us. Some parents may say yes, but I think the majority of parents home-educating special needs children would say no, because they just want to be left alone to get on with it. We don't necessarily want to be invisible-we just want to be able to get on with educating our children.

Simon Webb: I live in Essex, so I have an interest in this. I had to pay 120 for every GCSE that my daughter took. It cost me nearly 1,000. I tried to get the money from Essex, but there was absolutely nothing doing. I pay council tax, but I cannot get the services from the education department.

 

Q73 Mr. Chaytor: What interests me is that those who are confident about the quality and value of home education as it stands are so reluctant to consider a registration scheme or a process to assess their children by the same criteria as other children. If people were nervous or unsure about the quality of what was going on behind closed doors, I can see that they would be nervous about registration, but what is the objection if you are confident about the quality of what is being done?

Jane Lowe: The problem is that the local authorities don't leave people alone-they interfere with what is being done.

 

Q74 Mr. Chaytor: But there is no registration scheme in place yet, so how can you make that assessment?

Jane Lowe: Children who are withdrawn from school are known to the local authority, and the authority normally makes inquiries as to the education that is being provided-

Mr. Chaytor: Because parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children are properly educated.

Jane Lowe: Because parents have delegated that duty to the school and then taken that duty back. The local authority knows about them, so it checks up to see whether education is being provided-that is what happens. The parent has taken a child out of school and often faces a problem because of the situation that has led to that child being withdrawn, so they cannot just switch seamlessly into some kind of delightful arrangement at home-it takes a while to set things up, to sort things out, to calm the child down, to find out what resources you have and to find the way forward. Obviously, parents will not be happy about the demand that we prepare a statement, that we should be seen within x days of withdrawing our child from school and that everything should be in place. That is not reasonable, and it is no wonder that parents are worried about it.

 

Q75 Mr. Chaytor: Do you think that parents should be able to give their children medical attention at home without any registration? What is the difference between setting yourself up as a teacher or as a doctor at home?

Jane Lowe: All adults can learn, but not all adults have the technical expertise to do brain surgery at home-that is just not reasonable.

 

Q76 Mr. Chaytor: I agree, but should there not be some objective assessment of levels of capability? Is there not a wider issue for the community in that the child is not the personal possession of the parent, but a member of the wider community?

Jane Lowe: The child is not the possession of the state, for the state to impose its rules on.

Mr. Chaytor: No, but the child is a member of the wider community.

Chairman: Can we have just one question at a time and no comments on questions? David, get on with your questioning.

 

Q77 Mr. Chaytor: I am just curious as to why you are so reluctant to demonstrate the quality of what you are doing. You are happy to assert it, but not to demonstrate it.

Carole Rutherford: It is not the quality of what we are doing that we are worried about; it is local authorities coming into our homes and seeing our children, who are often traumatised and suicidal. I have a good relationship with my local authority and I want it to continue, but when we took our son out of school, he had cyclical vomiting syndrome as well as autism. He would wrap himself in a duvet and lie under his bed if anybody so much as knocked on the door, because he didn't want anybody to come in. If I'd had the home ed people at my door three or four weeks after we took him out of school, they would have seriously worried about what was going on. Now, six or seven years down the line, it is different. So it is not about the quality of my provision; it's about everything that comes with that-it's about the intrusion into the home. They are not even saying that you can be seen somewhere else-it has to be the place of education, as if we were running a business. We're not talking about a place of business-it's our home. We are trying to do the best that we can for our children.

Mr. Chaytor: I understand that point completely.

Carole Rutherford: But the law, the way it is at the moment, says that it is my responsibility to educate my child. It does not say that I have a responsibility to minister to him in a medical capacity, but it does say that it is my responsibility to educate him.

Mr. Chaytor: I understand completely the point about the initial period of withdrawal from school and the trauma, and about the difficulties of children with special educational needs, perhaps, but surely over a period of time-

Carole Rutherford: It does not go away if you are autistic. Over a period of time, you are still autistic, and it is still going to be the same 10 years down the line.

 

Q78 Mr. Chaytor: Lots of children in mainstream schools and special schools are on the autistic spectrum, so is it your argument that under no circumstances whatsoever should there be any objective assessment of the progress a child has made or of the achievements of particular children who are educated at home?

Carole Rutherford: Not unless the person we were involved with knew specifically about the condition and was trained about the condition. Having another person that just knows my son would not be enough for me: it would have to be someone I trust to understand an answer my son gave them, because often children with special educational needs, especially those with autism, give the answer that they think adults expect from them. It is not necessarily the right answer, but if they can give an answer that they think will shut the adult up, even if they are autistic, they will give it.

 

Q79 Mr. Chaytor: But isn't this issue dealt with by one of the recommendations in the Badman report-

Carole Rutherford: No.

Mr. Chaytor: Can I tell you what recommendation I think it is? Isn't it dealt with in the recommendation that recognises that there is a need for further training?

Carole Rutherford: But it doesn't mention special educational needs.

Mr. Chaytor: Well, that doesn't say very much about the nature of the training.

Carole Rutherford: It mentions safeguarding and puts that at the top. If you put safeguarding at the top, the safeguarding has got to include children with special educational needs and how you would approach those children.

Chairman: This is becoming a dialogue. Fiona, what is your answer to David's question?

Fiona Nicholson: When we first came in here we were being asked whether we objected to a simple registration scheme, and I imagine that we might have sounded quite paranoid when we said it would not stop here. It has already not stopped here, about 15 minutes later. This is on the level of an "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" line of questioning, which we get all the time. It is extremely difficult to answer on that negative basis, and that is why you are finding very well-defended positions.

Chairman: Let me put this down very straight: this is a Select Committee. There are 14 members and they have their own opinions and ask their own questions. You interpret us as having moved position in 15 minutes, but that is not the collective view of the Committee. This is a group of very distinct individuals who want to find out the facts, and that is why we are asking the questions. It may be that questions from David are from a different angle than those from Graham, but that is the nature of Select Committees.

Mr. Stuart: That is certainly true.

 

Q80Mr. Chaytor: If you are asked these questions all the time, surely it must become easier, rather than more difficult, to provide answers. You have voluntarily registered, as you told us before, so what is your objection? Do you have a profound objection to an external assessor coming to discuss with you the progress of your child or the achievements of your children? I genuinely do not understand the basis of the objection. I of course understand some of the specific points that Carole has made about children on the autistic spectrum and the issue of the period of time after the withdrawal from school, but how can you justify locking the door against the world outside over several years? I don't understand that.

Fiona Nicholson: I don't see why we have moved to "locking the door against the outside world". In my local authority in Sheffield we have a group of home educating parents who meet regularly with the local authority, and in some of those cases the parents are not known officially and are not on the books, but they are not hidden .They will go and talk to the councillors, line managers and individuals who are the home education visitors, and their children will be there as well and there will be that level of interaction. We have invited them to visit our groups and they have been to visit groups and talk to people. They are not checking in names at the door. They are aware that they will be talking to people who are not officially known and register them. It is very active outreach work that they are doing and I think it is very good. In the local authorities that I have applauded, such as those North Yorkshire and Somerset, the same things are happening.

If you are focusing in on a one-to-one inspection with somebody interrogating, questioning or interviewing individual family members, that is something that I would want to move away from. I did it for myself and my family for specific reasons. I am a single parent and my son's father, at that point, was concerned because he felt that my son was not being tested in any way. Because my son is not at all good with surprises, I did not want somebody to knock on the door and say, "You have got nothing to hide and nothing to fear. We are going to come and test you now." So I voluntarily made contact. People do not voluntarily make contact and we need to look at why they would not want to make contact with the local authority. That seems to me the central issue to address. Why are people given the choice? Why is it so bizarre that I made the decision to grass myself up? That is really what you need to look at.

Chairman: Let us hear from Zena and Simon, and then we are really running out of time.

Zena Hodgson: Can I just add that I am not officially registered, but I am evidently not hidden? The duty for my children to receive an education lies with me, not with the state. I know that that duty is being fulfilled. I know that my children are progressing and developing in a way that they are happy with and we are happy with as a family. I do not believe that that emphasis should change and that the state should have more of a say about how well my children are progressing, over how I feel they are progressing.

Simon Webb: Parents might have responsibility for their children's education, but all the rights in this case are with the child. The child has a right to a suitable education. If it is not receiving suitable education and it is not getting that right, society has a stake in establishing whether the rights of the child are being respected in regard to receiving an education. In that case, the parents would have to give way to society's legitimate interest in the case.

Chairman: This has been a very interesting session. I am sorry that we have run out of time, but we have another session before 12 o'clock, when people have to move across to Prime Minister's Question Time. Thank you very much. This is not the end of the dialogue. If you go away and think that there are things we didn't ask you or things that you didn't have a chance to say, we are very open to dialogue. Thank you all for your attendance.

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Sir Paul Ennals, Chief Executive, National Children's Bureau, Ellie Evans, Head of Children Missing Education team, West Sussex County Council, Phillip Noyes, Director of Public Policy, NSPCC, and Peter Traves, West Midlands Region Committee Association of Directors of Children's Services, gave evidence.

 

Q81 Chairman: May I welcome Sir Paul Ennals, Ellie Evans, Peter Traves and Phillip Noyes to our deliberations?

Peter, may I say that we were very upset that Colin Green couldn't come and we will take up the fact that he is not here with your professional organisation, the Association of Directors of Children's Services? We don't believe that it's good manners to tell a Select Committee that someone whom we have specifically asked to give evidence on behalf of an organisation has more pressing matters in talking to a conference. We will seek to talk to the executive of your organisation about that. We are very pleased that you are here, Peter, but we think it was very discourteous of your colleague not to be here today. I hope that that message will go back to him personally, because I was very tempted to send the Serjeant at Arms to take him from the conference and bring him here, which it is our right to do. Will you remind him of that? This is the first time this Committee has had such discourtesy, apart from one brush with a trade union. We are not happy about it, but it is nice to have you and it is not your fault.

Peter Traves: I totally understand that and I will take that point back. I only heard about this yesterday or the day before. I cleared my diary to come down, so I feel a little like the boy who is told off for the other boy.

 

Q82 Chairman: Absolutely, but it is necessary to put it on the public record that we do not accept such discourteous behaviour to the Committee from a professional organisation.

We are looking at home education. Paul, do you want me to call you "Sir Paul" all the time?

Sir Paul Ennals: No, that's fine.

 

Q83 Chairman: Okay, no titles then. I welcome you all. I will give you a couple of minutes each to say where we are, what you think of Badman and what you would like to see come out of this inquiry. Paul, I start with you.

Sir Paul Ennals: I am Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau and I was invited to be a member of the advisory group for the Graham Badman review, which meant that I attended two or three meetings and had the opportunity to comment on a draft report. I accepted the invitation for three reasons that might come up during this session.

First, I have long felt that much more support--positive, constructive, active support--could and should be offered and made available to home educators. Secondly, I felt that there are some genuine and significant safeguarding concerns about a very small proportion of children within that community. Thirdly, and related to that, because NCB is an umbrella organisation whose membership includes not only home education organisations such as Education Otherwise but local authorities, I felt that this is an area of public policy which has been riven by disagreements, often through misunderstandings. I have sought, not particularly successfully up to now, to enable this process of the Badman review to lead to a somewhat more harmonious and shared approach to this group of children.

Ellie Evans: I am Ellie Evans, and I manage children missing education and elective home education for West Sussex county council. I was part of the consultative group on the Badman review from local authorities and was happy to be part of that group, because, like my colleague, I feel very passionately that all children should have a voice. They also have a right to be protected and to receive a suitable education. My particular concern is the conflict between children missing education legislation and elective home education because it is very difficult for the local authority to discharge a duty on children missing education when we have a legitimate group that is under the radar.

Peter Traves: I am Peter Traves, director of children's services for Staffordshire and I was also interviewed by Graham as part of the review. Broadly, as you know, the ADCS welcomes the review and thinks it is balanced and generally sensitive. However, I do think the way it is presented and the way it is interpreted will be critical, because I think we have to get the balance right. The key is the relationships that are to be established between local authorities and home educators. Unless that relationship is a positive one, no amount of legislation is going to make this work.

Local authorities must assume that the overwhelming majority of people who educate at home do so for very good reasons and do so very well, in many cases. The problem, however, is that directors of children's services now hold very substantial accountabilities for all the children who live within their area. To be put in a position where you're simply not aware of a significant number of those children and what's actually happening to them is not helpful to us. I do think a register would be helpful. I do think that some visiting process needs to be put in place. However, the danger is that that is perceived simply as the heavy hand of the local authority. Sometimes, to be quite frank, it is the heavy hand of the local authority. I don't think that's the only relationship we can have, though. I do think it's possible to establish a constructive relationship, and if this is going to work, I think it's going to depend on local authorities and others and the DCSF working closely with organisations like Education Otherwise to make sure we have a model that is supportive and critical, and that a genuine dialogue takes place.

Phillip Noyes: I'm Phillip Noyes, director of public policy at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We're a safeguarding child protection organisation. I don't have expertise in education. Our interest in this, though, is to ensure that every child is properly protected. We know that most children in this country grow well and happy, with some fits and spells on the way, but a significant minority do not. We've got no view on people who elect to home-educate their children being different from the rest of us, but we are concerned to ensure that children who are educated at home receive the best education they can and are well and safe.

We are also concerned about children who are completely under the radar altogether. We think it's important to differentiate one from the other. We support the Badman report. We think its logic, from the point of view of principle, in its first chapter through to its conclusions, is well made. We are very keen to help in whatever way we can to ensure the right balance between regulation and partnership. The course of this process has brought me into personal contact with home educators that I hadn't met before, and I have huge personal respect for them. I understand the extent to which we mustn't offend people who do so well, but at the same time, we need to find the children who are below the radar and make sure they're safe.

 

Q84 Chairman: May I start the questioning with you, Paul? The criticism of Badman is that it was done in great haste. Some people say the research base is slipshod-not that it's wrong, but that it's slipshod-and not up to the normal standard. Of course, it was done in five months. What do you say to people who say, "Look, this was all done in haste, and it's really not quite as good as it could have been"?

Sir Paul Ennals: There is certainly not yet enough research evidence, but I think sometimes, when we constantly ask for more research, we're just putting off some of the trickier decisions. I think the survey has some weaknesses, but the real problem is that I don't think it's survey data of the type that has been undertaken which produces the answers for us.

The home education population is not a homogeneous group. It's not one community, as indeed most of us aren't. In my mind, there are three or four separate, as it were in broad terms, sub-groups. There is a group who are very firmly to committed to the principle of educating their child at home. Most of them are well educated, highly motivated and, in general, although there isn't research evidence that's firm to show it, I suspect that they produce really good-quality outcomes for their children.

There's a second group-we were hearing from one earlier-where their child has special educational needs. Very often, the withdrawal of the child from the school is either the failure of the school-very often it is-or there's something very specific about the needs of the children. Then the third group, which also isn't a group, is that shadowy and much smaller group where there are children at very significant risk, either where there may be some malevolent parents-we do know of some cases where children are withdrawn from school to be taken out of the public eye-and others where the parent may well have mental health difficulties.

It's there-it's really a very small proportion-where the serious safeguarding risks occur. When the data show, for example, as you were analysing the other day, a small-and it is a small-higher ratio of children with child protection within the home education population, that couldn't and shouldn't be used in any way to blacken the names and the reputation of home educating parents as a whole. What it is, I believe, identifying is a small population that, to a certain extent, we do already know about, some of whom will choose to use home education as the opportunity to not be identified. We could do triple the amount of research data looking at the figures, and I don't think it would highlight any further what's really a series of individual issues that we find across the country.

It is the same with the outcomes. The limited research that has been done around the educational attainment of children has tended to be self-selected; it has tended to be from those home education parents who are willing to be considered, and, broadly speaking, it has shown good educational outcomes. And I am not surprised; they are educated, they are bright, they are deeply motivated, they are focused on the needs of their child. Why wouldn't their child do really well out of it?

 

Q85 Chairman: You said four groups, and you made it three.

Sir Paul Ennals: Did I? Forgive me. Within that last group there are two sub-sets. One is the group-I think it is very small-that is malevolent, and the other is very vulnerable children and families. The extra sentence that I should have said is that I am aware of some anecdotal evidence of many families who are advised by someone in the school system-either the local authority or the school-to withdraw their child and educate them themselves, not in the child's best interest, and not, in my view, in the parents' best interest, but because the child presents some behaviour challenges within the school. That is entirely wrong, and although we don't have objective evidence as to how many I certainly know of some individual circumstances.

 

Q86 Chairman: I am glad you mentioned that category, and I reminded you to mention it, because I was with a director of children's services yesterday evening who said that when he took over a local authority he found a number of schools that forced people out of school, to de-register into home education, for the convenience of the school.

Ellie, what about the view that all this has been rushed and it wasn't nearly as good as it could be? What is your evaluation of Badman; you've seen the criticism and you heard the criticism, because I saw you sitting in the Gallery just now. How do you answer the sort of profound criticism that you heard earlier?

Ellie Evans: I think it's very difficult to depend totally on data because, as we've already mentioned, there is a tremendous amount we don't know, and therefore to actually get a complete data set around this subject is, I think, very difficult. There is no substantial quantity of data, as you say, about outcomes, even in child protection issues, on which I know, obviously, we've been asked for data. In local authorities, some of that data is not aggregated, either, so it's very difficult to actually deliver the data when asked for it, and I know that I personally have struggled to deliver data for various surveys that have gone around.

 

Q87 Chairman: Is it only a question of data? Perhaps I'll turn to Phillip on this. We have all these universities with research departments and, as I ask our special advisers to this Committee, is there no research in local authority areas to find out what the scale of this is, what the challenges are, and how many people are involved? Even if we took a number of local authorities and researched them-and I don't mean just data, though data is useful, but in-depth research, and knowing what's going on in, say, an urban area of our country, and a rural area and so on-surely that research must have been done, or surely your organisation or somebody should have commissioned it?

Phillip Noyes: Research may well follow on this discussion, but there is a real poverty of research into demographics of young people and what they receive from local authorities. Also, it is very difficult to piece together the scale of safeguarding concerns and abuse in this country. We, the NSPCC, are in the middle of a prevalence study to understand the scale of abuse in this country, but there is nothing that replicates some American work to understand the incidence-how much there is in a particular place in a particular year. So when I had a look at Mr. Badman's report I was surprised at some lack of detail around how the relationship between the home educators and the local authorities works now. I wasn't surprised at the lack of evidence about children below the radar or the scale of maltreatment in our communities.

May I say something else about it being rushed? We didn't actually feel it was any different to the rush that is now just part of life when we are asked to consult for Government; things happen at a very quick pace. I sympathise if he would have liked longer and didn't get it.

Chairman: Peter, what's your view on that?

Peter Traves: I think it's a little bit harsh to say that it's not of an over-good quality, to be quite honest, Chair.

Chairman: I am not saying it is. I'm saying that people have said it is. It's my job to ask if that is right or not.

Peter Traves: No, I don't think it is. This is not a piece of academic research. It is actually a report, as you know. The key question is does it raise the right questions from which we can move forward. I think that the report does raise the right questions.

The problem would be if we rushed from this to legislation that was based solely around concerns about safeguarding. We do need to look at the safeguarding issue. The danger is that that would push us in a particular direction that I think would be unnecessarily heavy-handed because, to be quite frank, Graham Badman says clearly in the report that, from what he's seen, there isn't evidence that home education is used on a large scale to disguise the abuse of children.

We also know that there are a significant number of children who go to school who are abused, and that is not always picked up. My point is that we need to move from this report to a constructive dialogue with those organisations that are involved in home education to move things forward. There are things in here that are actually absolutely right. I do not understand the argument against registration if it is done sensitively.

Chairman: Right, let's move on.

 

Q88 Mr. Chaytor: I have a question for Peter. First, on the issue of registration, the submission of the Association of Directors of Children's Services says that further legal technicalities are needed to ensure local authorities have the powers that they need to carry out the registration system. What are the issues surrounding the powers in respect of registration?

Peter Traves: First of all, at the moment, we don't know how many children are educated at home. It is interesting that in his discussion with me, Graham Badman talked about a figure that was a multiple of three from the figures that are known. The first problem that a local authority has is, because it is actually something people can do of their own accord and they are not compelled to register, that we simply do not know how many children are, for example, educated at home in Staffordshire. We guess it is at least twice as many as are actually registered.

Legislation should require people to register the fact that they have chosen elsewhere, because, after all, in relation to any other form of education, we would know where that child is. It is the assumption of some home educators that that would automatically lead to an intrusive and harsh approach from the local authority. That is what we need to reassure people about. We do need to know where children are and we need the power to require people to let us know.

 

Q89 Mr. Chaytor: But from the local authority's point of view, I appreciate that there has not been a power to register in the past. Isn't it pretty self-evident that this is something that local authorities should have been doing? Local authorities have access to data on births and the number of children in primary and secondary schools, and they have access to the number of children registered with Connexions. Isn't it possible to work out the number of kids who are not in school? Why haven't local authorities been doing that over many years?

Peter Traves: Not really, David. We do have access to data on births through the NHS, but every child born in Staffordshire doesn't stay there for ever. Children move in and out of Staffordshire all the time. Consequently, the population is turbulent. In some parts of the country-London is a classic case-that turbulence is of a very, very high nature. So the data to which we would have access simply wouldn't allow us any confidence that we know of all the children who are in our authority at the moment.

 

Q90 Mr. Chaytor: But shouldn't local authorities have made some kind of effort to do that? Accepting the proviso about migration in and out, they should have made some kind of effort to do this. They don't seem to have done so at all-hence, the criticisms of the Badman report that it didn't have a solid basis of statistics to underpin it.

Peter Traves: Actually, I think every effort is made to try to establish the children who are living in the local authority. It's just that, at the moment, we don't have sufficient confidence that the evidence base we have access to tells us exactly how many children are there.

 

Q91 Mr. Chaytor: Moving on from registration, what about refusing registration? What do you see as the criteria on which a local authority ought to be able to refuse registration of a home educator?

Peter Traves: I think there are two areas in which that would be possible. One would clearly be where there were concerns about safeguarding issues for a child-a child who we perhaps already had concerns about through the health service or other agencies that we work with in the children's trust. If there were concerns, it would be absolutely right and proper for a director of children's services and for the children's trust to refuse the right to educate at home.

 

Q92 Mr. Chaytor: As of now, a child is put on the child protection register. Shouldn't the local authority know if that child is being educated at home? Why isn't there an intervention to prevent that as of now, because the knowledge is there?

Peter Traves: I think that in many authorities there is an intervention in that case. The problem in general, David, is not the children who are on the child protection register but those who should be on it.

Chairman: Can we bring Ellie in on this, as she has expertise?

Ellie Evans: Going back to finding children and knowing the whereabouts of children in our authority, obviously, since the Education and Inspections Act 2006, we have had a duty to find children who are missing from education. We have actively been seeking them. However, some members of the home educating community have autonomous learning as their ethos, and some of them tend not to engage with any state intervention whatsoever. We cannot make an assumption that they are engaged with someone-they are not always engaged with someone. They are totally within their own community.

We actively work with partner agencies to find children who are missing from education. That may deliver a home educated person at the same time, because there is an assumption that if a child is not in a school, they are missing from education, but clearly they are not. I would reiterate that we have some very good home educators who we work incredibly well with, and we embrace what they are doing through such education.

Going back to challenging when a child is on a child protection plan, that is actually quite difficult. We would have to go to a court and persuade it on welfare grounds-we would not be able to. It is not a given in child protection legislation that you can refuse home education. You would have to present the case in a court, and challenge and say that on welfare grounds the child should not be home educated.

 

Q93 Mr. Chaytor: So, as of now, in your local authority and many others, children on the child protection register with a child protection plan are being home educated, and that is widely known.

Ellie Evans: I would tend to ask the chair of a case conference to make a recommendation that the child should not be home educated. I tend to go through it that way, but it is difficult because there is no legislation around this at all.

 

Q94 Mr. Chaytor: Can I pursue another question with you, Ellie? On the issue of quality in education, if a parent were completely distraught with the way their child was being taught or cared for in a conventional school and withdrew the child, and then the local authority came along and refused to register the parent as a home educator, where would that leave the child? Secondly, what criteria would you look for for successful registration, or, conversely, what criteria would you look for to deregister or not register a parent?

Ellie Evans: Going back to the breakdown of a relationship with a school, I welcome the recommendation in the Badman report for a 20-day cooling-off period in which the child is not removed from the roll. A tremendous amount of work can be done, and there can be a multi-agency approach to resolving issues, so it is not necessary for a child to come off the school roll. Sometimes, in my experience, there has been a knee-jerk reaction, but perhaps matters could be resolved or we could offer alternative provision. That is something that I would really welcome.

On the criteria for registration, if a child comes off a school roll, it is the school's responsibility to let us know that the child has been withdrawn from school by the parent. We would then make contact with the parent and give them all the information around elective home education. It is the school's responsibility, not the parent's, to let us know.

We work very closely with home educating families. I have some fantastic advisers who work very closely with them and have very good relationships with them. Home educators are embraced and work very well with the authority.

 

Q95 Mr. Chaytor: What guidance does your authority give to schools about encouraging parents to withdraw their children and become home educators in order to avoid exclusion or other disciplinary procedures?

Ellie Evans: It is straightforward: schools should not be doing it. It is as simple as that.

 

Q96 Mr. Chaytor: Right. What is your assessment of the extent to which schools in other local authorities encourage parents to withdraw children?

Ellie Evans: I think it is very difficult for schools because they have certain criteria that they have to meet and benchmarking that they have to perform with regard to examination results and the measures that are placed upon them. I would challenge a school if I understood that that practice were happening. I would personally challenge the school and go much further up the food chain if I felt it necessary.

 

Q97 Mr. Chaytor: That doesn't answer the question, does it? The question is what is your assessment of the extent of the problem with the local authorities. Would 5% of schools be doing that? How many parents out of the recorded 20,000 home educators across the country have become home educators because they were encouraged to do so by the schools as a means of avoiding exclusion or making it easier for the school?

Ellie Evans: I can't answer that question. I really don't know. It is not a piece of research I am familiar with.

Chairman: Peter wanted to come in.

Peter Traves: I could not answer specifically on that one, either, David. What I can say is that things such as unofficial exclusions from school, particularly for children on the autistic spectrum, are more common than the encouragement to home education. One thing I have been doing in my authority is working with an organisation called Jigsaw, which is pressure group of parents. I made it explicit that I would want any parent who receives that advice from a school to contact me directly. I have had a number of direct contacts in that way and it has led to some robust discussions with head teachers.

 

Q98 Lynda Waltho: I would like to look at home visits by a local authority. There is a significant group of home educators who believe that local authorities already have sufficient powers to intervene should they be worried about welfare or educational provision, specifically within the Children Act 1989. Could you spell out, Ellie, what an authority can do at the moment and why you think that may be inadequate?

Ellie Evans: Currently we are engaging with the children as they come out of school. There is no necessity for a parent who has a child rising five to inform us that they are going to choose the elective home education route. That is when it is very difficult because we do not necessarily know about those children. When the children are withdrawn from school, we make contact with the parents and say that we will offer advice and support for home education. If a parent decides that they don't want that intervention, they can write a report to give us information around the provision that they are intending and they can do that on an annual basis. I have a family where we haven't seen the children for five years. We have no rights to see those children in the current situation. Clearly, our concern that we haven't seen them does not constitute a risk of significant harm and therefore we can't raise a question with social care, for example, because we haven't seen the children. That's not sufficient. It is a limbo situation. Hopefully, home-educating parents will work with us and the advisers. They have got some good relationships with a lot of our home-educating families but in the current situation, we have no rights to see children; we have no rights to check the education provision because we have a letter or report sent by a parent and we have to accept that.

Lynda Waltho: I don't know if Peter has anything to add. I would be interested.

Peter Traves: I think Ellie is right on that and considerably more expert than I am in that area.

 

Q99 Chairman: Do you talk to health visitors and people like that? They have access, better access than you, don't they?

Ellie Evans: If a parent wants to engage. If a parent doesn't want to engage, they haven't.

 

Q100 Chairman: A health visitor has the right to enter any premises, I understand, unlike social workers.

Ellie Evans: But parents can still opt out and, in my experience, health visitors wouldn't force themselves on a family unless, again, there was some sort of concern.

Chairman: What about our two wingers here, Paul and Phil? Is that right or not?

Sir Paul Ennals: I am not quite sure.

Phillip Noyes: I'm not sure. I thought not, actually. I thought there was one statutory visit that health visitors have to make at 15 days for the baby and after that contact with a health visitor, I thought, was voluntary.

Chairman: Sorry, Lynda, back to you.

 

Q101 Lynda Waltho: I am quite happy with that answer. In three of the four cases that Badman cites in the serious case reviews, the children had been seen by social services several times prior to the incident that caused the review. In the light of that, how valuable will additional home visits be in those situations?

Ellie Evans: Sorry, are we talking about safeguarding concerns or education provision?

Lynda Waltho: Safeguarding.

Ellie Evans: It depends on the level of the concern. If social care is engaged, it doesn't necessarily mean that it has gone to a child protection plan. It could be an initial assessment or something like that. It doesn't necessarily mean that we have moved on to a child protection plan. Additional visits, certainly from education professionals, will primarily monitor the educational provision.

Peter Traves: The other thing is that, although it is taking a while, there is a growing sense of an overall children's service around the five outcomes. I used to do a lot of home visits when I worked in Shropshire in the 1990s. Now, there is a greater view about the five outcomes and a greater sense that the people involved in educational visits and the social workers involved in social work visits will take a broader view across those five outcomes. It is by no means complete yet, and we have not arrived at that destination. However, the speed of the growth of awareness should not be underestimated. I think that those serious case reviews were picking up failures on the part of the process, rather than an improving trend.

Phillip Noyes: I was going to give the slightly different answer that safeguarding-and good it is-means trying to remove false negative information or missing things and eliminating false positives or thinking abuse is there when it is not. The fact that some things have been missed does not militate against the need to be concerned and vigilant.

With Every Child Matters and the five outcomes has come the verb "to safeguard" and the sense that safeguarding is preventive and not just the storm-trooping kind of child protection work. The mindset that the DCSF quite rightly wants to inculcate in everybody is a sense that safeguarding is everyone's responsibility: everybody, regardless of whether they are specialist professionals or people at the periphery of children's lives, should have a soft-touch awareness of when a child might be at risk and know what to do next. From our point of view, those failures to recognise abuse are serious as they stand, but they do not militate against the need for a sensitive, soft-touch approach to a sense of vulnerability or what the home visitor does next if he or she is concerned.

 

Q102 Lynda Waltho: How about the confidence of home educators in the people who will be visiting? How do local authorities typically staff their home education teams? How much knowledge do the officers have of safeguarding matters?

Chairman: Who wants to take that? Ellie?

Lynda Waltho: I am sorry, it is just that you are the expert witness on this one.

Ellie Evans: The advisory teachers that we have in our authority are education-based. However, they all have safeguarding training on a rolling programme. I feel quite confident that they have the ability to recognise abuse, for example, and know where to go next. They are fully conversant with the process. As I say, they are primarily education-based because the bottom line is that that is what we are asking them to check out the provision of.

 

Q103 Lynda Waltho: Would that be the case across all local authorities or the majority of them? Do you have that information?

Sir Paul Ennals: I think that is what I wanted to say. In the same way as the home education community is not homogenous, I do not think that local authority services in this area are. Many-I would say most-of them are largely staffed by people whose expertise and background is in education, maybe from inspection and advisory services. There are more now that involve and bring together the services with children missing from education, which strengthens the safeguarding aspect. On one level, that is positive and on another, it might make home educators feel more nervous and anxious.

There are different levels of qualification in teams across the country. There is not a standard level of qualification. The education and social work population is quite varied in its levels of qualification currently.

 

Q104 Lynda Waltho: Would it be useful if there was a standard or a level?

Sir Paul Ennals: I am not sure about a standard. I would certainly like to see a higher level of qualifications across the piece and more effective and appropriate training made available. It is one of Graham Badman's recommendations that something be done about that. The circumstances in Somerset are very different from those in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. It would be quite hard to produce one national model that requires a certain level of qualifications, size of team and certain backgrounds.

Ellie Evans: I want to add that my team have gained greatly from the home educating community as well. Some of my members of staff have been there for 10 years and have learned a great deal from the home educating community. I think that it has been a bit of a two-way process, for sure.

Chairman: Helen, do you want to ask a supplementary question on this subject?

 

Q105 Helen Southworth: Yes. May I ask a question in general terms about orthodoxy? In terms of a home visit, it is a judgmental home visit by its purpose. How confident are you that the issues around the cultures of home education by choice are understood by people within the home visit process and that that understanding can be built into this? Are you confident that there will not be culture clashes, misunderstandings and bad judgments?

Peter Traves: I am quite happy to answer that one.

 

Q106 Chairman: Peter, are you from a social background or an education background?

Peter Traves: I am from an education background.

Chairman: Thank you. I asked because we have not had your CV.

Peter Traves: Sorry. I was a teacher in inner London for many years and I worked in an advisory service, both in London and in Shropshire. I was a head teacher and now I am a director of children's services.

In terms of orthodoxy, I must say that there is a danger of a mystique being created here about what we mean by "good education". What we are talking about is differences in terms of pedagogy and differences in terms of methodology. Anybody who is half-decent who goes to look at home education and expects to see a replication of what takes place in a school is entirely missing the point, because the whole advantage of educating at home as against school is that freedom and that flexibility.

What we should be looking at are the outcomes. Is that child growing in confidence, in relation to the situation that they are in? I say that because I take the point that some children have been in pieces from their educational experience before, and it would be utterly unrealistic to make the same demands of them. Is that child, over a period of time, gaining a wider view of the kinds of knowledge that common sense would suggest we require to operate in our society? I think that the point was made by one of the witnesses in the first group that literacy is not a negotiable skill for most people. If somebody ends up at the end of their education experience being illiterate or poorly literate, that is inappropriate education.

So I think that there is a danger here that we are confusing methodology-I think that most visitors are sympathetic to a variety of methodologies-with the outcomes. What is the child learning? What progress are they making in terms of their self-esteem, their confidence and their love of learning?

Chairman: Right. Two quick supplementary questions. You first, Edward.

 

Q107 Mr. Timpson: You might have heard from those giving evidence earlier that one of their main concerns about the Badman recommendations is the proposal for the local authority officer, whoever that may be, to have the right of access to the child and to interview the child without the presence of the child's parents. They are right to be concerned about that, are they not?

Ellie Evans: It is my understanding that that is only if appropriate. We tend to miss the condition "if appropriate", which is really substantial in this regard. If it is appropriate, the child will be seen. I have experience of children who have not wanted to continue with home education but the parent has desired it. It would have been appropriate at that point to obtain that child's views, and it was only because his cousin had gone into a school and said that he was so discontented that we managed to ascertain that. That would have been appropriate, because of the age of the child. There is also a proviso that another "trusted adult" could be present.

I think that the idea of an officer sitting in a room who is a stranger to a child is not appropriate. We must remember that there are additional words in that whole phraseology, rather than just, "We're going to interview a child on a one-to-one basis", because that is not what Badman intended, as I understand it.

 

Q108 Mr. Timpson: But it goes back to Helen's point about the fact that a judgment will have to be made in each individual case, and that judgment will be subjective. One of the concerns is, as has been demonstrated with some home education teams around the country-Paul alluded to this earlier-that there is a range of ability in the people involved in that process and that they will not have the skills to make an appropriate judgment. Is that judgment based on looking at educational attainment, or on a safeguarding issue? It is a very grey area and I am not sure at the moment that we know exactly what "if appropriate" means.

Ellie Evans: But we would have the freedom to commission somebody who did know.

 

Q109 Mr. Timpson: Then we are into a resources issue, aren't we?

Ellie Evans: Yes.

 

Q110 Chairman: But Ellie, surely in our recent experience of high-profile tragedies in the child care area, the social work profession has been criticised in particular cases where it did not talk to the child on its own. One of the major criticisms of work in one or two of the notorious cases that we have had was the failure to talk to the child on their own. Why is that appropriate to social work in one situation but not in another?

Phillip Noyes: We supported the recommendation to see children on their own, but there would be a caveat. If there was a situation in which the child was clearly in distress and really could not cope with seeing the visitor on her own, it would be perfectly reasonable to write down the fact that you could not see them. But it is an important matter of principle, for educational reasons as well as for the general role, rather than just safeguarding, that the child sitting on her own has an opportunity to say what she thinks.

 

Q111 Chairman: But when we looked at looked-after children, there were some who said, "We never got the chance to talk to anyone on our own. There was always someone-a carer or someone else-who we were worried might overhear what we said."

Phillip Noyes: In the safeguarding context, we hope that that will be the No. 1 point in the new "Working Together" document. They must be seen on their own and have the opportunity to say what they think. There is a skills issue linked to the quality of the person on the other end of the conversation. They must be able to understand what is being said and be able to listen to what the child is saying and deal with it sensitively. That is a whole other area around training for the role.

 

Q112 Mr. Stuart: Do you all accept the fundamental right of parents to home educate?

Phillip Noyes: Yes.

Peter Traves: Yes.

Ellie Evans: Yes.

Sir Paul Ennals: Yes.

 

Q113 Mr. Stuart: Peter, you said you didn't understand the argument against registration. Isn't there a principle that regulation and registration in almost any area should have to pass a high hurdle of need before it is brought in? There should not be an assumption that the state regulates and registers us all in business or our personal lives for its convenience. You said that there are responsibilities and that it is not very helpful for us not to have all that data. Parents and children are not there to help you meet your responsibilities.

Peter Traves: May I be clear about what those accountabilities are? If something happens to a child in terms of any of those five outcomes, we are held directly to account. This is not some kind of button counting. We have seen recently what happens to directors of children's services when things go seriously wrong. It is not only a case of sacking; it is public humiliation. It is a very serious matter. If I get it wrong in my job with children across a broad area, I am held to account for children's welfare. I think that not knowing that there are children living and being educated in my area is unreasonable if I am being held to that account. It is not about state control; it is about being aware. What we do with that information can either make it an oppressive or a reasonable relationship.

 

Q114 Mr. Stuart: Do you think a higher percentage of children are failed in poorly performing schools than in home education overall?

Peter Traves: I think a higher proportion of children are failed in relation to their social background in this country at the moment. That is the biggest single issue in terms of failure in education.

 

Q115 Mr. Stuart: My point is about failing schools. You say that you cannot see the argument against registration. The irony is that, on average, four in 10 boys leave primary school unable to write properly according to Government levels. That means, in the worst schools, it is massively hard now. The worst parents in this country, as we know from our looking into looked-after children-

Chairman: No other member of the Committee would recognise that.

Mr. Stuart: That is not necessarily the case. I often don't recognise what is said by other members of the Committee; you don't have to agree with all the questions, Chairman. The point is that when you look at children in care, you will see that the worst parents in the country appear to be corporate parents. So we have local authorities who are failing with schools and with looked-after children, and they are sending officers to the homes of people who have withdrawn their children very often as an act of safeguarding from failing local authority provision. Can you not see an irony there, and should there not be a very high bar before the state, regardless of the responsibilities you hold-

Peter Traves: May I respond to that? I don't see how the issue of failing schools negates the issue about our responsibility to children who are not educated in schools. We have a responsibility to improve all schools, and that is absolutely right and proper. On the issue of withdrawal, parents withdraw their children from school for a whole range of reasons. I did six years of home visits, and there were parents who withdrew their children because we had failed them-that is absolutely true. There were parents who had withdrawn their children for ideological reasons because they had a profound belief in a different form of education, which I respected. There were also parents who withdrew their children for particular religious views because they wanted those views inculcated in that child. It is not just about the rights of parents, but about the rights of children. It is not necessarily about the state's responsibility to children, but about the community's responsibility to them.

Sir Paul Ennals: Much has already been said about this. With regard to the constraints on introducing a new registration system, we need to be satisfied that it is a proportionate response to a problem that is there. I do believe that there is sufficient evidence of weakness, either on some safeguarding issues and or on the need for the local authority to be more able to provide the right support for the family, to justify a registration system. I think that the registration system should be only light touch, and it does not need to be over-elaborate. I am actually not sure that a new criminal offence is required for not completing it, because with the legal framework on school attendance orders, as amended in 2006, the necessary legal framework is already in place to ensure that if someone has refused or failed to register, there is an existing legislative means for following that up. As long as it is light-touch, sensitive and formative, rather than simply trying to catch people out, I believe it is a proportionate response to the situation.

Ellie Evans: I agree with Paul. However, the registration process, going back to the legislation on children missing education, is learning from a serious case review for a serous case. Lord Laming had done considerable research, and that inquiry was not rushed and is considerable. Out of that came the recommendation that local authorities must identify children who are not in suitable education. If we do not do something about the registration process, we are almost contradicting ourselves.

 

Q116 Annette Brooke: Can I quickly backtrack to the home visit? I feel that perhaps there is the wrong entanglement between the need to assess on educational grounds and to make assessments on safeguarding. In the school situation, I would expect teachers to be trained to recognise certain symptoms and then report them so that there will be justification for further investigation. I feel that home educators are feeling threatened because the person who is coming to assess the education is assessing them on safeguarding. Is there a case for having home visits, with working in partnership and all the things we like, such as a formative process, but in a way that that person is highly trained to pick up signals and then report them so that action is taken when needed, rather than this process of casting everyone in the same light?

Sir Paul Ennals: I agree entirely with that.

Annette Brooke: Do I get agreement on that? Gosh! Thank you. That has made me feel better about it.

Chairman: For the purposes of Hansard, all the witnesses agree.

 

Q117 Annette Brooke: It is so unusual for people to agree with me that I shall keep going. My real question is about the other tricky position: having to provide a statement. I have not got my head around what will be the right balance between encouraging exciting forms of education for children that are right for the child and actually ensuring that there might be a minimum requirement, say, in literacy. Peter and Ellie, what on earth will the statement look and feel like?

Peter Traves: I have to say I think that the last people who should write this on their own are local authorities, quite frankly. I do think that this is something we would have to do in negotiation and discussion with home educators. I come back to the point that I don't think it is beyond the wit of human beings to define what we think children ought to be demonstrating in terms of a sound educational experience. I think the problem would be if we in any way linked it. There are some worrying things about age-appropriateness that have all the signs of national curriculum about it, and I do think what we need for the next stage is a sensible discussion with organisations like Education Otherwise to say, "How can we reflect the strengths of home education but also protect the right of children to grow up so that they do have the skills and knowledge that are going to be necessary for them to perhaps make different decisions from their parents?"

Ellie Evans: On Monday, I noticed that Graham Badman alluded to an article by Daniel Monk. Within that article on planning an education provision for a child, it was the intention-the actual provision had been thought through as a basic fundamental-that there was going to be consistent involvement of parents and other significant carers; that there would be thought-through reasons for electively home educating, signs of commitment and enthusiasm from the parents, and a recognition of the child's needs, which is quite key and core to this; that there would be opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences and involvement in further activities; that there would be a wide variety of interests appropriate to the child's development and access to resources to meet their objectives; and that there would be opportunities for children to interact with their peers and others.

I think that is probably quite a good basis for a statement, but obviously it would have to be discussed further. I would very much like to work with the home educating community to derive that statement, but I think that is quite a good basis, particularly with regard to the commitment and enthusiasm of the parents, because I am aware that people do withdraw children, perhaps to avoid prosecution, and they haven't thought about it at all. It is an alternative to being prosecuted, or to having the local authority on your back for your child not attending school, for example.

 

Q118 Annette Brooke: I am pleased that Paul wants to add to that. What is the balance, Paul?

Sir Paul Ennals: The key thing, if anything, is the last one. I am most interested in using it as a trigger to avoid-to flush out-those cases that we referred to earlier on, where local authorities and schools, on some occasions, are inappropriately advising parents, or, similarly, where some parents are inappropriately, on the spur of the moment, taking decisions, maybe out of a fit of pique with the school. Simply the requirement to set out-I tend to think no more than two pages would do it, I suspect-the basics of what they actually intended to do with their child would flush out, I believe, some of the ones that are of greatest concern to me. I do believe it would not represent a challenge or an unnecessarily high hurdle to the vast majority of home educating parents, who are more than able to design the way in which they're intending to educate.

Chairman: Annette, what do you think?

Annette Brooke: I'll pass on that. I don't think we're quite seeing what this is going to look like, but perhaps-

 

Q119 Chairman: Can I just ask you this, because I didn't ask the former group of witnesses, although I know some of them are in the room so they'll hear it? As I read Badman, I felt that having in every children's trust and every local authority area a group who are knowledgeable about home education meeting, and a sub-group of the children's trust, seemed like a very positive idea. Would you value that in terms of being able to meet on a regular basis to consult and learn from them?

Peter Traves: We have in Staffordshire appointed, through the trust, the children's commissioner, whose function is actually to answer directly to the trust and to relate to the different groups of parents: all parents, but also particular interest groups. I think, for us, that would be a good means of connecting it through to the children's trust: for the commissioner to say, "It's your job to relate to this group, to find ways of talking." However, she is not the employee of the local authority. She is not answerable to the local authority; she is answerable to the trust, and she is primarily there to promote the interests and views of parents.

 

Q120 Mr. Stuart: Would you support the idea that a sum-whether it is the full amount allocated to the local authority for that child's education or a lower amount-should be available as a right for home educators to use to support the education of their children? As you may have heard, one of the earlier witnesses talked about spending 1,000 just to pay for his child to sit GCSEs, which seems quite wrong.

Peter Traves: If we had a registration process that told us exactly how many children were in the authority, we would hopefully be funded by Government for all children in our local authority for their education. For those children who were not in school, we could use that money both to support those parents and engage with parents as to how that money could be spent.

Chairman: Paul, do you have a view on that?

Sir Paul Ennals: As I understand it, that is part of the package that was proposed by the Minister this week-hat a small proportion of age-weighted pupil unit be allocated not direct to the parent but to the service, to enable better support that has been sadly lacking in most authorities up to now. I think that is probably the right model.

Mr. Stuart: Can I press on that?

Chairman: No. I will call you if we have the time. Paul has been waiting patiently for his question.

 

Q121 Paul Holmes: The home educators we had earlier had some wide, divergent views on different things. What they all generally agreed on was that, with a few shining exceptions, most local authorities were very bad at providing support for home educators. Is that a true and fair assessment?

Sir Paul Ennals: I would probably sway it slightly the other way. I think it is a very mixed picture. We have Staffordshire and West Sussex, and we are hearing that Somerset and North Yorkshire are very good. A number of authorities are very good, but a number are pretty poor as well.

 

Q122 Chairman: Do you want to name them?

Sir Paul Ennals: No, I don't think so, Chairman.

 

Q123 Chairman: Why is it that everyone wants to name the good ones but never the bad ones?

Sir Paul Ennals: For very good reasons-partly motivational reasons.

 

Q124 Chairman: Phillip, do you want to name anyone or do you have a comment on that?

Phillip Noyes: No, I couldn't, if I wanted to.

Chairman: Peter, I am not asking the same question. Just answer Paul's question.

Peter Traves: I think it's a mixed picture at the moment. To be honest I don't think it has consistently had a high enough profile in local authorities. I don't think enough resource has consistently gone into it. Clearly, there are authorities which do very well. I wouldn't dare name other authorities and probably wouldn't be in a position to know. We have had to work hard in the local authorities I have worked in to catch up on this issue. If this is going to work, it goes back to my original point that I do think some statutory guidance or even legislation would help us, but it won't be the answer unless we actually increase the expertise within local authorities and, most important of all, engage in a positive dialogue rather than a dialogue of suspicion with home educators.

 

Q125 Chairman: Should Ofsted find out who is good and who is bad? Don't bury your head in your hands.

Peter Traves: Chair, you are asking us to name authorities. Without having a really complex process of analysing each individual authority it is really hard to give a name. That is part of the reason why I don't think that would be a proportionate response, to be frank.

 

Q126 Chairman: Peter, Hansard didn't pick up the fact that you buried your head in your hands. What about my mentioning Ofsted caused that?

Peter Traves: If parents find it intimidating-and some parents do-that a local authority officer goes in, I think the idea of an Ofsted inspector going in-

Chairman: Going in to you to find out if you're working well with them.

Peter Traves: Sorry, Chair. That is perfectly reasonable and I think Ofsted is planning to do so.

Ellie Evans: They have started already.

Chairman: Ah, so you misinterpreted my point.

Peter Traves: Yes, I did entirely.

Ellie Evans: With regard to the Ofsted side of things, it is very difficult if we do not have an idea of suitable education. I would be very interested in the criteria that Ofsted come up with. I haven't seen them, as yet.

 

Q127 Paul Holmes: Peter, you touched on this point before the last bout: if the Badman recommendations lead to all local authorities having to look again at support for home education, how is it going to be funded? The Minister suggested on Monday, and DCSF has suggested, that the money is already there but local authorities aren't using it. If you are going to have proper training for everyone who is involved; if you are going to provide more support and more access to facilities; if you are going to pay for exam entries and all the rest of it, is the money already there but you're just not spending it?

Peter Traves: It depends what you mean by the money being already there. Local authorities spend the money that they are given, as you know, Paul. It would be up to local authorities, if there were no additional resources, to vire money from one part to another out of existing resources. One point about knowing precisely how many children are educated at home is that it would give us a much better idea of how much resource we ought to allocate to that issue.

Paul Holmes: But DCSF has said the proposal would be cost-neutral.

Peter Traves: It is not unusual for the DCSF to say that. I understand that.

Chairman: It would say that, wouldn't it?

Peter Traves: We have clearly reached a period of significant financial constraint. If the figures are anywhere near as high as Graham Badman is suggesting, local authorities will need to look at their current allocation of resources and say that they need to vire resources according to that.

 

Q128 Chairman: But you're missing out at the moment, aren't you? The money flows with the child to the school-90% of it to the school now. Presumably, you are saving a lot of money if those people do not pitch up and ask for education, are you not? Or the Government are.

Peter Traves: Yes, but we don't know how much at the moment, Barry.

Chairman: It's 150,000, which is a lot of money.

Peter Traves: If that is right.

 

Q129 Paul Holmes: What about something simple that I don't really see would cost money? Home educators are incensed about the difficulty of finding an examination centre. Why is that so difficult?

Peter Traves: I don't see why it should be so difficult. To be honest, that doesn't cost huge amounts of money, and there is no reason why we couldn't-we already have schools and other places where we run exams. We have colleges that run exams. I don't think that's impossible. Do you, Ellie?

Ellie Evans: We could certainly look at also using alternative providers that register as examination centres.

But going back to costing, there was an indication that money is already there, but you have to draw it down. It is not the case that we are already getting money for home-educated children. We are not. The money has to be drawn down. Therefore, you would effectively be going back to the central pot and drawing the money down.

 

Q130 Paul Holmes: But if home educators keep going to local authorities and saying, "I want help to pay exam fees," and the local authority by and large says, "You can't have it," why are they not drawing down the money, if it is there?

Ellie Evans: I think that is something that needs to be explored, but the actual inference is interesting. I noticed there was something from the DCSF that said that they believe that the money is already there. That is different from saying that the money is already there.

 

Q131 Chairman: But you agree it is wrong, is it not? The gentleman said that he had to pay for all the examinations. Why on earth would that be justifiable? It wouldn't, would it?

We are drawing stumps in four minutes. Is there anything we haven't asked you that you wish you had been asked, or is there anything you want to tell the Committee before we wind up?

Ellie Evans: Local authorities are standing there and getting some criticism and what have you because the money is there but they have not actually allocated resources, but the must-dos, indicator sets and so on are the things that they have to focus on within the financial constraints that they find themselves working with. A legislative framework around this would make it a must-do. That is something that needs to be considered.

Chairman: Paul, last word?

Sir Paul Ennals: No.

Chairman: Peter?

Peter Traves: I think the must-do is that we are already responsible for all children, and for those five outcomes. That ought to be driving the approach on this. We already have a responsibility for those children in broad terms.

Chairman: Phillip?

Phillip Noyes: No.

Chairman: Peter, may I apologise and say that you have been a better witness than I could ever have expected from the person who was supposed to be here?

Keep in touch. This is a short, sharp report, but we want to make it a good one. If we can draw on your expertise, we will remain in communication with you. Thank you very much.