Memorandum submitted by Techla Wood

 

This submission presents evidence of the potential conflicts of interest on the part of the author of the report, and the potential for these to have caused unfair bias.

Letter from DCSF to the Information Commissioner

Explanation of the Facebook Group remark

The role of Mr Badman's daughter

Somerset County Council

Nektus

FOI request refusal

Call for evidence 3 months after the report was released

Questions for Mr Badman to answer

 

1. In a letter to the information commissioner just released under the freedom of information act,

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/communications_with_information#comment-5064

the DCSF use several examples to show why they are not releasing certain requested information to Home Educators. The first example used is the one I would particularly like to bring to your attention.

"http://www.facebook.com/wall.php?id=4545... &page=2&hash-Of2a77932b0633fb20f23cc27b7aOb09 The post of 13 June 23.45 suggests that Mr Badman will have a child's blood on his hands." 

2. I am the creator/owner of the Facebook group in question, and was astonished to see this discussion being used in this way. This particular comment was made by a Home Educator who has been instrumental in the development of good relations between Home Educators and North Yorkshire County Council's Elective Home Education team. It was in this capacity that she was invited by NYCC to meet with Mr Badman, on two occasions, to talk to him about her experiences. Having met with Mr Badman, and having spent some not inconsiderable time telling him about her own personal experiences of removing a child from school, she was horrified when she read the report recommendations. She left a message on the group wall to the effect that if the recommendations become law, Mr Badman would at some point have a child's blood on his hands. Sally Devlin queried what was meant by this comment, and several people explained that, with the recommendations contained within the report, children who were, or had previously been, unhappy in school would no longer have the same safety net that they currently do, and that in turn could lead to more child suicides. I have used the same phrase myself in a recent blog post about the report.

http://freedomineducationunderthreat.blogspot.com/2009/09/life-line_13.html

3. Conversations on Facebook group walls are very short lived and quickly get pushed out of view. It is therefore curious that such a brief comment in a short lived conversation made it to the notice of the DCSF, as *evidence* of the danger posed to Mr Badman. Until you consider that Sally Devlin is the daughter of Graham Badman. Not once in her time on the group did she disclose her connections, but in her parting comment to the group she admits that she was there to collect information.

4. This in itself might not be of any great interest to the committee; however, further investigation reveals some rather disturbing information which potentially has a bearing on the review report.

5. In his report Mr Badman puts forward Somerset Council as an example of best practice with regard to their Home Education policies and procedures. Many Home Educators were surprised by this, as Somerset is not an authority that has historically been put forward by home educators or the DCSF as either good or bad. Indeed, a consultancy firm specialising in the training of Local Authorities in Elective Home Education law and policy, who Mr Badman met during the course of the review process, was also surprised to see Somerset put forward in this manner.

6. It came to light that Mr Badman's daughter is a SEN Case Work Officer for Somerset Council. During the course of discussions on the Facebook group (hastily deleted when she realised we knew who she was) Mrs Devlin made some quite worrying comments about the home educating clients she has had dealings with. One has to wonder how much weight was given to her opinions by her father, particularly with regard to the considerable sections of the report that deal with HE and SEN, and whether the surprising choice of Somerset as an example of best practice, had anything to do with his daughter's professional position within this authority.

7. During the review process, Home Educators have obviously been very interested in finding out what professional interests Mr Badman holds, especially given that we have been told time and again that he, and therefore his review, are *independent*. Many home educators were surprised to find that an independent review into Home Education could be carried out by a former teacher, former head of children's services, and current chair of BECTA. Whilst looking into Mr Badman's professional interests, it was discovered that he was listed as the director of an Education Management company by the name of Nektus.

8. The company information is readily available from Companies House: Nektus was first registered as a company in October 2008. The directors of the company are Mr and Mrs Badman and Mr and Mrs Devlin. Sally Devlin is listed as company secretary.

9. When the report was made public, a discussion thread was started on the Facebook group asking the question *What happens next?* Sally Devlin got involved in the discussion, and seemed quite eager to convince us that the law would change very quickly, and that we would be best just accepting it. Again, these comments were deleted by Mrs Devlin, but they were cached, and are available to view should you deem it necessary.

10. This eagerness, together with her involvement in Nektus, lead a Home Educator to put in a FOI request for all communications between Nektus and DCSF between October 2008 and June 2009. http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/communications_with_nektus#outgoing-30153

The request was refused under sections 38 and 40 of the FOI Act.

11. What is curious about this is that in the original request, no mention was made of Mr Badman, or of any link to Home Education, and yet the response does. This suggests that the person responding to the request had information that the requester did not give. The responder appeared to know that Graham Badman had a connection to the private company Nektus. So either this is common knowledge at the DCSF or the responders have been given some particular "red flags" to watch for in FOI requests, Nektus being one. Either way, again, it raises questions. Was Nektus involved in the preparation of the Review or the Report? Was there any financial gain to be made by Mr Badman or his daughter from involvement with the review and its outcome?

12. It seems that, regardless of the truth of the allegation that "attempts have been made to vilify and harass the author of the Review of Elective Home Education," the best way to combat such "attempts" would be to tell the truth. If the interactions between the DCSF and Nektus have been completely above board, then it would seem to be in the best interest of everyone to disclose all interactions between the two entities. Not to do so merely raises the question that there might be something the either the DCSF or Nektus does not wish to be disclosed for public scrutiny. Simply complying with the FOI request would have defused the situation and eliminated any question of conflict of interest. Not to comply with the request simply raises these questions again.

13. When all the other issues Home Educators have with this review are taken into consideration, alongside the above information, and the fact that Graham Badman and the DCSF are now, 3 months after the report was published and accepted in its entirety by government, asking Local Authorities to provide evidence to back up the Report's *evidence*, it seems to me not only that the validity of the entire report must surely be called into serious question (and the resulting consultation consigned to the shredder) but also that Mr Badman has questions to answer about the extent to which his family's commercial interests may have influenced the development of his recommendations and the role his daughter's opinions - which are no more impartial than they are independent - may have played in the formation of his own views.

September 2009