What’s been said?
On Saturday 28 April, The Times published a report with the above headline. It states that “For the first time officers have begun conducting welfare checks on homeschooled children amid concerns they are slipping off the authorities’ radar.” This refers to an approach being practised by Durham Constabulary in Darlington, which was previously mentioned in a recent BBC report, where it is cited as the reason for a rise in numbers of children known to the LA said to be home educated in the area.
The scheme, begun in 2017, was devised by Detective Superintendent Victoria Fuller of Durham police, who has responsibility for safeguarding. Police are identifying “children who have not been in contact with police, doctors or local authorities in 18 months” and visiting them at home. It is unclear whether these visits are unannounced or if the police seek to make an appointment first.
The Times continues to publish sensational headlines that take the focus off the main issue which should be being discussed. In their report the BBC give no statistics for Darlington. Based on national figures, around 17.5 percent of England’s population is aged between 5 and 19. Extrapolating that in regard to the population of Darlington suggests that there are around 18,500 school aged children in the town. The BBC does not list Darlington in the top ten areas where HE children make up the highest percentage of the school-aged total. Wolverhampton and Gloucester are the lowest two listed, both at 1 percent. If HE numbers in Darlington were slightly less than these, it would mean that no more than 180 children were being home educated there, rather than the “hundreds” headlined. Amongst these of course will be a significant proportion who have recently visited a doctor, or whose parents have told the LA they are home educating, so where did this seemingly exaggerated claim come from?
Why does it matter?
However, the most important feature of this article is not the quality of reporting. The real concern is that parents’ decision to home educate their children is now considered worthy of investigation by the police! There have been repeated claims by senior police officers claiming that HE children are at risk of radicalisation. On their Child Protection Multi Agency Referral Form, dated April 2017, Darlington Children’s Services now lists EHE amongst the “Presenting Issues” which can contribute towards a child being referred to them. These are indicative of a shift in the perception of EHE which has been brought about over the last decade.
Many home educators are perplexed at how and why this shift in opinion has come about. Look back and you will see a trail of exaggerated claims starting before Ed Balls asked Graham Badman to carry out his now infamous review. One of the most vocal supporters of that review was Lord Soley, who is now very hopeful that his Bill will eventually receive government approval. Whilst he would probably like his name on a successful Private Member’s Bill, it seems he is definitely pleased with the opportunity it has afforded him to nurture a hostile atmosphere towards HE. The most oft-repeated sound bite in his recent so-called “Skype meeting” and in his Bill’s Committee Stage focuses on children at risk of “trafficking, abuse and radicalisation”.
His contribution to this Times article is no exception, but in it he was far more frank about his ambitions. According to Gabriella Swerling he told her that the Durham force’s scheme was “extremely good”, then added, “Let it spread.”
What can I do?
Lord Soley keeps stating that his Bill is intended to help parents by enabling support for home educators. Listen to the rest of his words and ask yourself if they point in that direction, or if he is seeking to impose state control on parents?
Watch out for mission creep in the arguments which are being made about the need to register home educated children. If they succeed, then those prosecuting this propaganda war will move a step closer to making the state a super-parent over every child.