Setting the Record Straight

What’s been said?

Children & Young People Now (CYPN) is “the only dedicated magazine for professionals working with children, young people and families. This essential read for the sector covers childcare and early years, education, health, social care, youth justice, and youth work.” The magazine and its associated websites claim to “provide a unique service to managers and frontline practitioners working with children, young people, and their families.”

A CYPN article by freelance journalist and writer Joe Lepper on 15 November 2018 is entitled “More than one in 10 children who are home schooled are known to children’s social care, a survey of councils has found“. Lepper reports on a survey carried out by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), seeking information from LAs as to what percentage of home schooled children are “known to children’s social care either currently or historically” or “known to wider children’s services”. He also observes that the numbers of children in HE are rising, and includes comments from ADCS Chair Debbie Barnes.

Lepper concludes his piece with several references to Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s 14 Nov speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference, because she “has also raised concerns around home schooling and is calling on the government to bring in a home education register, that can be run by councils”.

He stated: “Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference this week she said that home-schooled children can be a target for gangs, particularly those looking to exploit children as part of so-called “county lines” drug distribution networks between urban and rural areas.” In actual fact Spielman had said that the majority of the children targeted in this way “seem to be outside mainstream education“. The accuracy of Lepper’s reporting fell below an acceptable standard for Christine McDougall at this point, and caused her to submit the following comment:

“Reports such as yours perpetuate the myth that home educated children are at particular risk which leads to unnecessary referrals, disrupting family life and putting an unnecessary burden on our already overstretched social services.”

McDougall cited two specific areas of inaccuracy, and concluded:

“This is yet another example of sloppy journalism which has the effect of reinforcing existing prejudices against a law-abiding community of families that have their children’s best interests at heart.”

Another reader had already objected to the implications of the headline, and suggesting that any available funding should first be directed to fixing the problems within schools.

An apology from the Editor follows MacDougall’s comment, after which the text of Lepper’s article was amended! (N.B. Only the amended article is available on the CYPN website; an archive of the original can be accessed here).

Why does it matter?

A magazine with the brief outlined above surely has significant influence over the thinking of a broad swathe of professionals.

It is therefore very important that any reference to home education is truthful, unprejudiced and helpfully made, particularly because a largely negative stereotype of HE has already been established through previous media comment.

So well done to the two readers who picked up on the inaccuracies and took the time to write in. Thanks too to the Editor who had the grace to set the record straight.

What can I do?

Act in similar fashion if and when you find HE being misrepresented, either in the media or in conversation.

You may encounter factual inaccuracies, as in this instance, or a more generalised and unhelpful wrong impression. Either way it is important to set the record straight – as humans we have a way of assuming that everyone is happy until someone speaks up.

For example, complaints to the Editor about a Tes podcast which represented home educators in a less than favourable light resulted in a response being commissioned by Tes from Bernard Trafford.

Check your facts carefully, assemble references if necessary and go for it!

Remember, it is easier to defend the freedom home educators still have than to try and reclaim it once it’s gone.