More Spin from Soley’s Backers?

What’s been said?

Lucinda Borrell’s Telegraph Magazine article on 25 Jan 2019 carried the headline: The hidden torture of homeschooled children: Are controversial checks the answer? Its sub-title is no less sensational – “After a number of horrific abuse cases involving children educated at home, a private members’ bill is proposing a compulsory register – much to the alarm of the homeschooling community.” This is a reasonable summary of both the article’s content and its not-so-hidden agenda.

Five high profile exemplars, two further case studies plus additional comments from two other “home schooled abuse survivors” along with unquantifiable throw-away lines such as, “The extent of child abuse within the UK is not easy to gauge,” or “How many other children no longer educated in school are potentially facing the same fate?” all serve to build the take-home message that HE is a pretty dubious practice, and children thus educated are at greater risk of abuse than their schooled counterparts.

Some balance is found in comments from Fiona Nicholson, Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education and Eileen Tracy, who challenged Westminster Council over her daughter Lilian’s education. Tracy’s views on the usefulness or otherwise of registers and whether schooled children are automatically safe from abuse by virtue of being in school are worthy of attention.

Tracy’s statement about the UK being a leader in home education “because its laws have been based on presumed innocence” [emphasis added] also provides vital counterpoint to Borrell’s concluding paragraph, where “trust in the goodwill and care of their parents and guardians” is implied to be a very shaky guarantee of EHE children’s wellbeing.

Why does it matter?

Borrell describes herself as “a freelance journalist with a keen interest in domestic investigative journalism projects” who “aims to give under-represented members of society a voice within today’s media.”

A significant proportion of her article is allocated to well-documented child abuse cases with a EHE connection, but what she does not acknowledge is that in all but one instance the relevant local authority was aware of the children. This is true of Christopher Spry, Khyra Ishaq and Dylan Seabridge. Whilst every case of child abuse is a tragedy, the overwhelming majority of children who are abused are known to authorities (many in care), so what then might be the reason for this renewed attack on HE parents?

Soley’s bill is not being sidelined by Brexit as Borrell suggests; it has been clear since October that the government was not going to allow it to progress. Time is running out to get the Bill into the headlines and this could well be an attempt by Soley, or his spin-doctors, to extract maximum propaganda from it, whilst it remains in the queue with dozens of other PMB’s being denied a Second Reading in the Commons.

One may wonder what is driving Soley and/or his supporters to do all they can to denigrate HE parents. Perhaps one clue is found in the three case studies cited in the article – all of them involving religiously-motivated parents. It is no secret that the Noble Lord is associated with both the National Secular Society and Humanists UK and both support his Bill [example & more].

The take-home message from a summary reading of this article is that domestic abuse is a frequent occurrence in home schooling environments, and that there is a strong connection between the two. It is not hard to use the media to discredit any feature of life or society; in reality this report is a piece of lobbying, and a veiled attempt to attach guilt by association to much of the HE community.

Borrell’s emotive tone and examples convey the idea that social workers are at the mercy of ineffective safeguarding legislation, when this is not actually the case. A recent Tes article suggests that confusion has increased following the conflation of the remits of social care and education under the banner of “Children’s Services”.

Of course what is not said can have as much effect as what is said, with lack of balance skewing the overall impression. Borrell enquired very little about the comparative safety of schooled children, but fortunately Chris McGovern said what he could – this Byte quotes some of his previous observations.

What can I do?

You could add to the large number of comments already posted below the Telegraph article. It may be more effective however to inform the Editor directly of the inaccuracies in this article – the relevant email address is here or, if you believe the article breaks the Independent Press Standards Organisation Code, you can use this form. (Interestingly, the Telegraph have just issued an apology to Melania Trump for an article which “contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published.” Would they do the same to home educating parents?)

Lucinda Borrell also worked as a Researcher/Assistant Producer for Channel 4’s Dispatches series during 2017. We doubt it is a coincidence that the next programme in the series is called Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids, with broadcast scheduled for 4 Feb. at 11:15pm. Advance publicity reads, “As the number of children leaving school in favour of home education doubles, Dispatches asks why, and if parents’ rights to remove a child are coming before the education, or safety, of children.” If you are reading this before it is aired, set your recorders and get ready to contact the company – our guess is that it could be another piece of rhetoric inspired by Soley and his supporters.