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Q 77Mr. Laws: Yes, we accept that the local authorities have to know who those individuals are, not necessarily that they have to prove at the beginning of the process.
May I take you briefly to the question of monitoring, which links with the previous issue? Page 10 sets out the monitoring requirements. Earlier, you said that the primary concern was that the education should be suitable. On page 12, it says the same—that the primary purpose of monitoring is that it should be suitable. In paragraph 40, on monitoring, it states:
“This section requires local authorities to make arrangements with a view to ascertaining as far as reasonably practical...whether education is suitable”.
It then tacks on three other things:
“whether education accords with the application for registration; what the child’s wishes and feelings about the education are; and whether it is harmful for the welfare of the child to continue with home education.”
Do you accept that it is not asking only about the suitability of education, but about a load of linked—but arguably not linked—issues that would require a different level of monitoring?
Graham Badman: To use your words, I would argue that they are linked, in that children do not learn well in chaotic schools. They do not learn well in chaotic homes either.
Determining whether a child is benefiting from the sort of environment that you would get in certain homes might be quite appropriate in relation to the suitability of the education. Equally, to ascertain the child’s feelings about what education they are receiving is also important, and determining whether it accords with what the parents set out to do is crucial. There would be little point in parents submitting a registration saying, “By the age of 14, my child will have a full understanding of calculus”, if they had no intention of doing anything about it. Checking that what the parents say in their registration is the truth and that they are achieving milestones on their way to their major objectives seems appropriate and important.
Q 78Mr. Laws: Given the time that we have for these initial exchanges, may I ask one further question? One reason why Home Education is probably concerned about the proposals is about what is meant by “suitability”. At the moment, we have a fairly light-touch regime. We do not always test it, but if we are to set up a more rigorous regime, suitability will become much more important.
Paragraph 43 makes it clear that you have raised concerns about what suitability should mean and about how children should be prepared in the 21st century. It also confirms in paragraph 48 that the Government will now establish a review to look into the whole issue of suitability and to report, presumably in a year or two. Is not that really putting the cart before the horse? Should not we know what suitability is, how we shall define it and bottom out that debate before putting the apparatus into place? Surely the concern of home educators is that your vision of suitability, my vision and theirs might be completely different and the burdens coming through the provision could therefore be far more onerous than many of them would wish to see.
Graham Badman: I understand your point, but we all operate within the legislative framework of the time. One would have thought that, in defining throughout the review a more embracing definition of “suitable”, it would have all sorts of effects on the curriculum that is offered in schools. Wearing a different hat with different interests, I might well argue, for example, that we pay insufficient attention to social networking sites as a means of communication between young people, and the vital role that they play within learning. Having access to a social networking site, for example, could be a key element of the provision of education.
Q 79Mr. Laws: So we do not know what we are signing up to until we have an idea of what “suitability” will mean over the next two, five or 10 years.
Graham Badman: Forgive me, but you do know what you are signing up to. You are signing up to a review or a commission of some sort to determine that. You are not signing up to anything that is unknown.
Q 80Mr. Laws: But we do not know what the outcome is, do we?
Graham Badman: What you have at the moment, though, is a legislative background for education in this country that is perhaps greater in definition than in most other developed countries. There are ample definitions out there. I tried in the paragraph to which you referred to say that, within that broad sweep of legislation, we should reasonably expect home-educating parents to define what curriculum they would put in place in front of their child in such a way that the child’s choices were not limited in terms of career, interest and aptitude.
It would be of little point to have a totally monolinear education. I do not mind if a child is going to be a chess grand master—that would be terrific—but I would also expect them to know other things about the world. It is that broad spectrum that I am concerned about. People have chosen to opt out of the education system, and my report makes it very clear that I found countless good reasons why many of them have done so. I was not critical of many of their motivations, but in terms of the rights of the child as enshrined in the UN convention, there is a right to a quality of education that does not limit a child’s choices. Part of the statistics that I presented to the Select Committee, and which are contained in the note of that report, is that there is certainly clear evidence from a substantial number of authorities that there is a much higher likelihood of young people who are home educated to be NEETs.
Q 81Caroline Flint: We have received a number of submissions about this matter and, on safeguards, it has been brought to our attention—other people have read it—that a number of home educators feel that some of the impositions that would be placed on them would mean that people who abused their children would have greater legal safeguards than those who home educate their children.
Graham Badman: Yes, I understand that view. Let me tackle this in a slightly different way. Local authorities are often criticised for their failure to intervene when children are at risk—a number of fairly high-profile cases would evidence that. Equally, local authority intervention in the lives of children we do not know about has brought about significant improvements in their welfare. All I am saying is that if there is any risk of a child being the subject of abuse—probably leading from the five key morbidities and certainly if they are already subject to a child protection plan as a result of a section 47 inquiry—the local authority has a responsibility to consider the welfare of that child as paramount and, if necessary, either not agree to registration or revoke it. I am not arguing that there is a greater likelihood. I am saying that on the basis of the evidence that we have, twice as many young people within the home-educating community as in the general population are subject to the highest protection this country can afford: a child protection plan—[Interruption.] I am sorry. Mr. Stuart and I have had this argument before. I promise you that that is the case. You cannot ignore those figures.
Q 82Caroline Flint: What do you say to that, Fiona? It is a fair point, is it not? If we do not know where children of school age are, there is the potential—maybe it is a reality for a number of children—that home education could be used as a smokescreen, dare I say, for abusive or isolating behaviour by parents. I am sure that that is not the case across the piece, but unfortunately we know that it could be happening. Why not notify about the arrangements, just so it is up front and there?
Fiona Nicholson: I am sitting next to somebody who just said that that was a fact about the child protection plans and then you said to me, “Fiona, what are you going to say about that?”, but actually your question was something different. As I understand it, you are making the same point that was made by the Liberal Democrats, which is, “Why would there not be a requirement to notify that a parent either is home educating or intends to home educate?”
That is one question; the child protection plan is another question. The statements in the Bill are another issue. The policy statement that was thrown at us when we came in says something completely different, and the Badman review says a fifth thing. I think it is the case that we do not know what we do not know. The facts about child protection plans are not facts. You can speculate however much you want about what you do not know. There are children that you do not know about; that is undoubtedly the case.
Q 83Caroline Flint: Yes, but constituents have written to me about this in particular. I have some sympathy for not ending up with something that is basically a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but as I said in our earlier sitting, I am sure that I heard David, and either Nick or Michael Gove, say on Second Reading that some changes to the system needed to be made. I am trying to think of a way forward.
One issue is knowing at least where children are, if not going into huge detail about how they are educated—there is a point about suitability and what it means—and allowing a level of engagement that can clarify in a light-touch way whether the parents really want to educate at home, for a number of very good reasons, or whether there is something else going on that is not about education. As I said, I do not have the answers as to how to do that, but I think that it is a valid question. How do we know where children are when they are of school age?
Fiona Nicholson: But that is not what is in the Bill. That is not what is going through Parliament.
Q 84Caroline Flint: But it might be amended.
Fiona Nicholson: My organisation would not propose any amendment to tweak any part of schedule 1. I would be the wrong person to ask about amendments that could ameliorate any part of it, because I do not agree with the first premise.
Q 85Mr. Stuart: Mr. Badman, what is the rush? I must say that I am rather disappointed that, following our exchange at the Select Committee sitting, you have not reflected in any way on the child protection plan figures, but we will not necessarily play that out again.
The truth is that we do not have sound data on the educational outcomes for home-educated children in this country. There is a lot of research around the world, but it would be fair to say that your report airily dismissed pretty much all of it. Would it not be right to go slowly and with humility, to establish the facts in a way that could be commonly accepted, and then to take forward—perhaps immediately, while doing the research—the recommendations in your report that I certainly welcome, as I know many home-educating parents do, that additional support should be made voluntarily available to families if they wish to have it? Is it not true that most of the children who are beneath the radar at the moment are there because there is absolutely no benefit whatever in registering or notifying the local authority? If there is no support and no access, why would anyone bother? Should we not move forward on a voluntary basis, put in place the extra support that you talked about and get a better understanding of the facts before we move to what is by any stretch of the imagination a fairly draconian set of proposals, as we have been discussing?
Graham Badman: I reflected a great deal on our exchange of views, I promise you. I did go back and look at the figures and I came up with exactly the same conclusion. In fact, if you want me to qualify it, when surveying the number of child protection plans in the authorities that we covered in the last survey, we came up with a figure of 0.4 per cent., which is double that within the normal population. In fact, that figure could be fractionally higher, because we discounted any child protection plan that was there as a consequence of disability. I know you argued that because I did not know about the other half, that therefore negated it and made it even again. My argument in return, as you will recall, was that because we did not know about the other half, that did not mean to say that they were all safe either. It could be exactly the same figure or more.
Q 86Mr. Stuart: May I interrupt you there? The question was not about the letter to the Select Committee in which you suggested that I had said that any child who was not known about was automatically safe. I said no such thing, so you have your facts wrong there—again. What we were establishing was the rate of child protection plans in the home-educating community. We went through it slowly, and you want to rehearse it, so I will rehearse it.
If you have a child protection plan, automatically you are known to the local authority, so children previously not known to the local authority who become subject to a child protection plan are then known to the local authority. It does not by any means guarantee that children who are not known to the local authority and do not have a child protection plan are necessarily safe. But what you do know is that every child with a child protection plan is known to the local authority, and you claimed, completely erroneously—and although you have been corrected, here you are months later still getting it wrong, which is pretty frightening—that the percentage of children who are home educated who have a child protection plan is double the national average, when your own report suggests that the numbers are at least double the 20,000, which is the number registered with the local authority, and the Secretary of State said on Second Reading that the Government estimated the number was 70,000. They do not know for sure, but they think it is 70,000.
If you take the number of home-educated children with a child protection plan and you see that as a percentage of 70,000, it comes out at a great deal less than the average for the population, and that I believe is the definitive statement of what we know. It does not tell us everything we need to know, which is why I would not overstate my reliance on it. Could you please comment on whether you believe that we can truly say, as you have repeatedly said, that there is double the rate of the most serious level of child protection plan among children who are home educated?
Graham Badman: I fear we are in danger of going round in the same circle. I am afraid I fundamentally disagree with you. You think I am wrong; I think you are wrong.
Mr. Stuart: It is maths.
Graham Badman: Well, fine; we might want to debate that later—perhaps you went to a better school than me. The fact remains that I do not agree with your assumptions. On the basis of the data collected from the local authorities and from two surveys that have been validated by DCSF statisticians, I believe that we are quite safe in saying that on the basis of the child protection plan analysis that they carried out, there are twice as many young people on a child protection plan known to local authorities within that population as are within the general population. That is a fact. I am sorry that you do not agree with me, but we could go on for ever disagreeing.
Q 87Mr. Stuart: The wider point to focus on is that there is a lot that we do not know. I think that you called for greater research and for greater support. Why not do the research and the support before coming forward with a procedure? If the Secretary of State is right, and if the impact assessment’s numbers are right—that is a whole different ball game, I know—it is going to cost £500 million-plus over the next 10 years at a time when we are seeing numbers in child welfare and in education being slashed. That is the situation. We are going to spend £500 million chasing a problem of which we have not established the existence. Can we not go more slowly? Why do this now?
 
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