What’s been said?
In November the Association of Directors of Children’s Services published the third of its annual surveys [PDF] of LA’s and EHE. Overall the document provides some useful information, despite much unnecessary negativity towards HE.
Concerned only with England, surveys were sent to 152 LA’s, of which 106 responded. These reported a total of 40,359 children known as being home educated on 4 October. This is hard data on the number of HE children known to LAs. The summary extrapolates this headcount to a rather precise total of 57,873 children across England. The authors state,” This represents an increase of approximately 27% from 5 October 2017.” They further highlight that the majority of respondents indicated that, “80% of their known cohort had previously attended school.” Information like this helps to provide the HE community with a snapshot about present trends, and the report contains plenty of similar insights.
However, there are several notes of caution which also need to be sounded. We have highlighted previously the importance of asking good questions if helpful answers are to be received. That is a lesson which the authors of this survey could benefit from. For instance, respondents were asked what proportion of EHE children were known to “social care and/or wider children’s services.”
Three problems arise with such an imprecise question; firstly, it is too wide – surely there should be some breakdown as to the reasons they are known to such departments? Secondly, there is an implied though unstated implication that such children are in need of protection from their own parents. Finally, there is no attempt to distinguish whether these individuals were known to the agencies because they needed to be, or because of unjustified concerns. Surely the ADCS would have received a far more informative response had they asked how many of the known EHE cohort had Child Protection Plans? These are a much more reliable indicator of the numbers of children at risk.
Another area of concern is how respondents’ comments have seemingly been selected to support the ADCS campaign for a EHE Register. It may have been subconscious on the part of the authors, but one does wonder if over fifty percent of the free comment answers received to the relevant questions, had actually mentioned the need for a change in legislation and/or the introduction of registration, or if these were selected because they made the desired point? Section 6 allowed for “Additional Comments” and this trend continued here, with six out of ten quotations listed calling for legislative change and mandatory registration.
In several places these quotes reveal some worrying attitudes amongst LA staff. Question 3.1 for instance asked about visits at home or a neutral venue. One response includes, “There are a very small number of families (less than 5%) who know the legislation and request that we only contact them when we have evidence to believe that their child may not be receiving a suitable education.” This is an admission that at least one LA chooses to wilfully flout the law in respect to ninety-five percent of HE families! Make no wonder the EHE community is concerned about hostile attitudes amongst local government staff!
Why does it matter?
Even though they are not as well thought through as they might be, the benefits of surveys like this to the HE community are twofold. First, they provide useful insights into the bigger picture. Secondly, by including quotations from LA employees, the ADCS also provide a window into the prevailing mindset amongst them.
Their disregard for the law has been highlighted in the instance quoted above. Again, in response to 3.1, another LA indicated that should a family refuse contact, they will investigate and “if there are no agencies that can evidence engagement with the family or sight of the child, we will instigate a home visit with a Social Worker and Education Officer, primarily to ensure that the child is safe and well.” This further illustrates a willingness to go beyond the law and emphasises the importance of genuinely elective home educators knowing what the law actually allows. Such comments illustrate that in their enthusiasm to “safeguard” children, many LA employees are prepared to ignore the legal safeguards which protect children, and their families, from unwarranted interference.
What can I do?
This ADCS survey reminds home educators that there is a need to be watchful as the campaign to enforce registering and monitoring on HE continues. We also need to equip ourselves with a better understanding than those lobbying for change. Dating from 2015, Wendy Charles-Warner’s research into “the Safeguarding Myth” [PDF], provides helpful data and is very readable. It was written to address the “lack of academic evidence with respect to the true prevalence of abuse in home educating families,” and it does precisely that.
If you do read it, you may be frustrated by a broken link to a 2010 Telegraph post by Gerald Warner . At the time he accused “totalitarian propagandists” of exploiting the Khyra Ishaq case to discredit HE. Thanks to the foresight of others, it remains available on the Web Archive. With the DfE repeatedly admitting that it has no evidence of a link between EHE and abuse, the ADCS report signals that such propagandists have had receptive audiences in town halls across the country.