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Open letter to the Education Committee

Dear Mr Halfon MP,

The Education Committee report on home education came out on 28th July 2021 and recommends exactly what the committee chair told us it would at the very start of his inquiry.
 
There are a number of disturbing recommendations which range from a call to arms for compulsory registration through to gifting education officers powers that supersede those of social workers.
 
There is a call from the committee for the need to build trust between the home educating community and public bodies. The committee does, however, fail to grasp the basic requirement of trust, the foundation upon which trust can only be built and upon which trust stands: honesty.
 
Here is the committee’s honesty: it recommends registration and monitoring despite the fact that 76% of their published submissions to their inquiry are against it. How can trust be nurtured when the committee has chosen to force a recommendation that is so completely in conflict with its own data!
 
Over the years there has been a concerted drive to conflate home education with safeguarding, including the worst forms of abuse. The argument is simple and linear and thus has the potential to be persuasive. The extended argument, or what we are being pushed to believe, is that registration will address safeguarding.

Unfortunately for the committee and indeed for this simplistic argument, on the day the report became public, yet another case of cruelty and sexual abuse took centre stage. In this case, staff and councillors with Lambeth Council Care presided over a ‘culture of cover-up’ that led to more than 700 children suffering cruelty and sexual abuse. An Independent Inquiry strongly criticised Lambeth Council for allowing abuse in five care homes from the 1960s to the 1990s.(1) Let us not forget that these children were all registered, they were all known to the local authorities.

Let us cast our net slightly wider-a-field and test further the seemingly subjectively blind association between safeguarding and registration. 92% of girls report some form of sexual abuse in schools.(2) Once again, these children, these girls, attend schools and are registered and well known to the local authorities.
 
Delving even more deeply into this point, despite double rates of referral, no significant difference has been found between rates of child protection plan in children who are home educated and those aged 5 to 16 years across wider society; 0.44% and 0.43% respectively.(3)

It is fair therefore to conclude that despite the committee’s skewed, preferred stance, being registered does not magic away cruelty and abuse, or perhaps it should be said that not being registered is not synonymous with cruelty and abuse.

We work on the basis that Parliamentary Committee chairpersons are selected for, amongst other qualities, their ability to be objective and to have the capacity to direct and interpret data in an impartial manner. It is also expected that such committees are chaired by individuals who do not simply throw out messages into the ether without due thought and consideration; discretion is important. We must accept that Chairperson Robert Halfon fits this bill. It is therefore most shocking when he voluntarily compares home education in England to that in France where there is a proposal for it to be banned, where there is a ban on women wearing any sort of veil, or the niqab outside their homes in any public place.

Taking words out of context is a confidence trickster’s approach, it is however difficult to interpret Chairperson Robert Halfons’ words through social media, namely ‘A national register for children outside school must just be the first step in shaking up the status quo’ in any other way than that the dismantling and ultimate demise of home education is front and centre of the committee’s covert intentions.

The committee links the finding of 9 million adults being illiterate, innumerate or both to the need for registration, monitoring and to provide education officers with draconian powers that will affect our children.

Consider these facts. In round figures fewer than 1% of the 12 million school aged children in England and Wales are home educated. Even if all home educated children morph into adults who are illiterate, innumerate or both this will be less than 1.5% of this 9 million figure, ergo over 98% of this 9 million figure being bandied around by the committee attended school, where they were registered and monitored each and every year. The school system has clearly failed these adults. The phrase ‘physician heal thyself’ springs to mind!

Nowhere in the inquiry was the topic of samples of work raised, but like the Tommy Cooper of public inquiry, they magically produced a mandate for children’s work to be provided and literacy and numeracy assessed. The committee has clearly demonstrated a frightening lack of understanding as to the differences between home education and schooling, notwithstanding its flexibility and the plethora of reasons why schooling does not work for some children; shameful.

Let us not forget that assessments demand establishing standards and we are under the impression that GCSE, A-levels etc. already exist for this purpose and are freely taken by home educated and school educated children alike. Why would the committee therefore seek to actively single out the minority home educated children? We cannot help but feel that this is a shameful, cynical attempt to influence current high court proceedings, given that fact.

Camouflaged within the detail of the report, the committee also recommends that for home educated SEN children and children whose parents decide that the education of their child is best served by home educating, the local authority that oversees schooling should select an advocate or review officer to represent the child. This has no legal basis and if it becomes law would supersede parental responsibility to educate their child. Home educated or otherwise, is this a right that parents want to hand over to local authorities? Let us not become deaf or blind to Lambeth Local Authority, or the findings by Ofsted Chief, Amanda Spielman: ‘Too often, children who have been assessed (SEN) still do not receive the services they need’ and ‘27% of pupils with SEN support had a fixed term exclusion in 2017’(4), or official statistics showing that in 2017 in England, 4,050 special needs pupils were without a school place.(5)

Framing a parent’s legal choice to home educate as a concern has nothing to do with education and everything to do with political and personal agendas. It is not a far stretch to question the trustworthiness of this committee.

It must be accepted that the education of our children is paramount. It must trump individual personal preference, personal political ideologies and the arrogant desire of individuals within our democracy to impose their will on others who, whilst operating within the law, have different views as to how best to educate their children. There must be an all-round adherence to legislation and publicly funded bodies should not be supported to function outside the law.

The committee has thus squandered an opportunity to support children who flourish better when educated at home than within a school setting, or for whom school has acknowledged that it cannot provide a suitable education. It must not be forgotten that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Yours sincerely
Dr F Mukwamba-Sendall, President
Mrs W Charles-Warner, Co-Chair
Dr A U Neil, Co-Chair

Footnotes:
(1) Culture of cover-up saw hundreds of children abused in Lambeth, report finds (July 2021), Mark Easton, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57984924
(2) OFSTED (2021) ‘Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges’
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges
(3) Charles-Warner, W. (2019) ‘Home Education and Child abuse: How Media Rhetoric Drives the Myth, https://www.educationotherwise.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Home-Education-and-Child-Abuse-How-Media-Rhetoric-Drives-the-Myth-2.pdf
(4) Missing special needs support ‘a national scandal,’ Hannah Richardson (December 2018) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46400397
(5) Special needs cash shortfall ‘leaves thousands of pupils unplaced,’ Hannah Richardson (April 2018) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43604865