What’s been said?
The last thing most members of the HE community wanted to hear on the day after many of us completed the mammoth task of responding to the English EHE Consultation was that MP’s were busy linking home education and terrorism. Unfortunately, this is what happened on 3rd July, in the fourth sitting of the Public Bill Committee’s consideration of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill.
Ben Wallace, Minister for Security and Economic Crime, introduced concerns into the debate when he said, “Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more people being diverted into home schooling or unregulated space, where I am afraid people can get their hands on people to effectively brainwash them.” (Hansard Col. 97) Later, after acknowledging that all MPs hear from “champions of home schooling”, he continued by defining “safe spaces” as being “where the modern terrorist operates.” Pointing the finger of suspicion he added, “Whether that safe space is on the internet – streaming – or in unregulated or home schooling, it allows messages to be targeted at young people, and we have to be alert and explore what we can do.”
Nic Dakin MP, (Lab, Scunthorpe) responded by linking school exclusions and HE to a loss of intelligence, calling for work to be done seeking “to cohere things back together.” Later Julia Lopez MP (Con, Hornchurch and Upminster) opened her contribution by saying, “I also share the concerns on home education”. (Col. 98) She went on to suggest that a clause should be included in the Bill prohibiting any household where a member had been convicted of a terrorist offence from home educating children. Ben Wallace later stated that the Clause 12 ability for police to obtain a warrant to enter the home of a convicted terrorist would also enable them to check on the welfare of any home schooled children. (Col. 109)
Why does it matter?
No one had imagined any connection between HE and terrorism until late 2015, when Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector at the time, linked unregistered Muslim schools with radicalisation and home education. He first did this publicly in an interview with the BBC but a month earlier he had written to the Education Minster (Nicky Morgan) with such claims.
Since then they have become part of the anti-HE mantra repeated on many occasions by a variety of “concerned” lobbyists and politicians. Who has not heard Lord Soley seeking to justify his Bill with frequent repetitions of his call for the protection of “children who are taken out of school to be radicalised, trafficked or abused.” What no-one has seen, however, is any evidence of home educated children who are being trained in a terrorist mind-set.
In 2017, Wendy Charles-Warner, of the Centre for Personalised Education, published a report entitled, Radicalisation of Home Educated Children which is well worth reading. 146 LAs (out of 152) replied to her Freedom of Information requests, and all of them said they had “no evidence to suggest that any home educated child in their region had been radicalised.” In her conclusion Charles-Warner suggests that “fear overtook the requirement to base policies on factual data”.
“All very well,” some will say, “But that was almost two years ago – there must be evidence available to the government now.” No, there isn’t, according to The Solicitor-General. Frank Field MP ( Lab, Birkenhead) asked a further written question about HE. Helpfully he enquired of the Attorney General, “whether his Department has any figures on the number of cases taken against parents who have (a) abused, (b) radicalised and (c) trafficked their children who were in home education at that time.” On 10th July, Robert Buckland replied saying that The Crown Prosecution Service had no searchable records containing the information requested. Whilst this does not prove that there are no such cases, it does suggest that there are not multiple cases which have so far been hidden from public view. This is true not only about rumours of radicalisation, but also regarding Soley’s other mythical concerns over abuse and trafficking.
What can I do?
Home educating families need to continue contact with their MPs over the coming months. Many of them have heard the fear stories, so it is important for them to be aware of the facts. Write to them with information about Charles-Warner’s report and also The Solicitor-General’s response. Point out that twice in the Consultation documents the DfE recognised that in all the cases commonly quoted, the children had “normally been known to relevant agencies”. (Call for Evidence Section 2.3f & Draft Guidance for LA’s 7.2)