Baby P, David Cameron and Home Education

What’s been said?

A week after the English EHE Call for Evidence was published, blogger Sue Gerrard published an article rather unimaginatively entitled Home education: politics. However, it’s an important article which should not be overlooked because of the attention demanded at the time by the consultation. Its importance lies in its demonstration of the chain of events following the 2008 conviction of toddler Peter Connelly’s mother and two men for causing or allowing his death and the 2009 Badman Review of home education.

The article draws strongly on the book Learning from Baby P written by Sharon Shoesmith, the director of Haringey’s Children’s Services at the time of his death. Following interventions by the then opposition leader David Cameron, Shoesmith was sacked by Ed Balls. In the same statement Balls announced the appointment of Graham Badman as chair of Haringey’s Local Safeguarding Children Board. This all came about as a consequence of politicians and the press using each other “to manage the political narrative”.

Explaining how the tragic death of this child became a political hot-potato, Gerrard extends Shoesmith’s evidence by demonstrating further connections with home education, the most obvious of these being Graham Badman’s roles in both Haringey and the Balls initiative to discredit EHE as “hidden” and a cover for child abuse. How many of us realise though that Badman was commissioned to undertake his review just eight weeks after Balls moved him into Haringey?

Why does it matter?

What has perhaps perplexed the HE community most about the recent consultation is the emphasis therein on “safeguarding”. It seems the DfE thinks that every aspect of a child’s life is the responsibility of the LA under their safeguarding remit. Prominent throughout the three documents was the argument that ensuring a child receives a suitable and efficient education is a safeguarding matter. This, it is claimed, is all the justification a LA needs to permit it to supervise parents. Our purpose here is not to explain what is wrong with this argument, but simply to highlight the chain of events between the death of “Baby P” and the increasing pressure on HE parents to succumb to state monitoring.

A key comment in Gerrard’s review is, “But there’s another factor involved in the calls for sackings; it’s the assumption that if a public sector worker failed to prevent the death of child, they would have been able to prevent it if they’d acted differently.” She rightly responds, “That’s nonsense of course.” It is however this overstretched sense of responsibility which is driving the majority of those involved in children’s services to be constantly watching their own backs, by making sure they tick every bureaucratic box on the sheet and a good number of others besides. To put it bluntly, no one wants to become the next Sharon Shoesmith, sacrificed on the political altar of safeguarding.

Over the last decade the ideal of flawless safeguarding has become embedded in the minds of public servants at every level. It is this which is now troubling many involved in local government. They are effectively asking how they can be held responsible for safeguarding children if they are not allowed to inspect them and their parents!

For Gerrard, this is a fundamental mistake, “But the idea that children can be fully protected persists. Cameron, Brown and Balls all vowed to ensure that nothing like Peter Connelly’s death happened again – even though, in reality, such promises are meaningless.” They are indeed meaningless, as illustrated when the state proves itself incapable of protecting the children it knows about; it either scapegoats others or fails to act upon the lessons it says it has learned. We have asked elsewhere if children really are Safer in the Hands of the State? The names of Khyra Ishaq and Dylan Seabridge are embedded in the minds of most people as “invisible” to the authorities, when the facts are that they were known to them. Yet, five years after their deaths, how many remember the name of Daniel Pelka and Ayesha Ali? The four year old Coventry schoolboy was seen by a paediatrician and known to the police and social services for over a year before he died. According to Barking and Dagenham Council, Ayesha, whose mother and partner were convicted of her manslaughter, “appeared to be a happy, loved child, who was a delight to teach at school.”

What can I do?

Whether or not you are perplexed by the focus on safeguarding in regard to EHE, we encourage you to take time to read the blog post which has been the subject of this Byte. If you are concerned to defend your fundamental responsibilities as a parent, you need to understand why so many seem determined to take them from you. The state is not the prime safeguarder of your children – you are! Try to help them appreciate that much, at least.