Longfield Seeks to Justify Herself

What’s been said?

On 13 February a “response to feedback” about Anne Longfield’s report and C4 programme was published on the Children Commissioner’s website.

This is something of a curate’s egg – there is truth “in parts.” After the predictable sop to parents who “make a positive, philosophical decision to home educate and do so very successfully,” comes an undeniable fact: “there are a rapidly growing number of families out there who are ending up home-educating for other reasons, including a school system which isn’t able to meet their children’s needs.” [Emphasis added]

There is truth too in the next observation, as some families genuinely do feel that they have no choice but to HE and some are struggling to cope. Longfield then refers to “a number of sensible recommendations to address what are very clear problems with our current education system.” [Emphasis added]

Her point about the use of a single phrase, ‘home education’, “to encompass a wide range of different approaches to children’s education” being problematic is also valid. This umbrella term presently covers all types of home educator from the truly elective to the last-resort, including a very small number of potential evaders of authority.

She restates that further data collection and other work is being undertaken “to shine a light on the complex issues facing children with SEND,” and concludes with an overview of the role of the Children’s Commissioner.

Why does it matter?

Many HE parents have reacted to Longfield’s recent pronouncements by asking why the focus has been directed onto HE families, rather than onto shortcomings within the school system. Emphasis added above highlights two instances within this brief statement alone where Longfield concedes the connection that exists between rising numbers in HE and problems in the school system. Home education, nevertheless, still seemed to be the target of both her report and her broadcast.

Her belief that “a register would not be a big burden for families and would allow councils to better support those families who need additional help” needs to be challenged. A register represents the thin end of a wedge which could very easily lead to intrusive control of educational content and delivery, and councils already hold information about any children withdrawn from school registers, as a HEAS spokesperson points out here.

The role of Children’s Commissioner for England is relatively new, the remit extensive and the powers “unique.” The website explains that the post is “independent of Government and Parliament”, and that the Children’s Commissioner is “the ‘eyes and ears’ of children in the system and the country as a whole and is expected to carry out her duties ‘without fear or favour’ of Government, children’s agencies, and the voluntary and private sectors.”

Accountability is therefore a matter of concern. It would clearly be inappropriate for a watchdog to be under the control of those they are meant to supervise, but as an opinion former the role is potentially highly influential.

What channels of redress are available to members of the public when a high profile public employee presents such a one-sided view of home education? In her zeal to “champion the rights and interests of all children,” Ms Longfield appears to have failed to safeguard them from her own misunderstanding of national and international laws.

What can I do?

It would appear that Anne Longfield has already received plenty of individual responses.

Inform yourself about her role by reading this page on the Children’s Commissioner’s website.

It’s important for HE parents to consider how they might also take the debate into the public domain in a constructive manner, to redress the balance and present the opposite view. How else will politicians and the general public realise that Longfield’s portrayal of HE is neither balanced nor complete?

When you are speaking about home education yourself, try to choose words which distinguish between the various groups under that “big umbrella.”

Continue to highlight the need for attention to be redirected onto finding solutions and more resources for problems within the system, particularly with regard to SEND provision.