What’s been said?
When The Times (28 April) reported “Police track hundreds of ‘invisible’ home-schoolers” we commented that this appeared to be another sensational headline from a once highly respected newspaper. Since then two significant pieces of information have been published, both highlighting how far this story was distanced from reality. It can now be accurately declared “Fake News”.
Three days after the story was published, the Green Party’s Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb submitted a written question: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to use police to visit the homes of home-schooled children who have not been in contact with public services for a set amount of time.” Lord Agnew replied “There are no such plans.”
In response to a Freedom of Information Request, last week Durham Constabulary provided details about the scheme referenced in the report. Rather than the headlined “hundreds”, just four homes have been visited since January 2017. Of these, two families were not a cause for concern and we wonder therefore why they were visited at all? The FoIR states the criteria for triggering visits under the scheme are “where children have not been seen for 18 months by either education officers, health worker or the police and concerns had been raised regarding the safeguarding / welfare of the child or children.” [emphasis added] The Times omitted the second criteria from its report.
Why does it matter?
The biggest concern of course is whether or not this scheme is legal in the first place. Lord Agnew also told Baroness Jones that LAs need to apply to the courts before they can demand access to a family home, adding, “The police can also provide assistance to local authority staff in an emergency. These powers apply for any child, whether educated at home or at school, but only where a child is in need of emergency protection.” There is nothing to suggest that in any of the families visited in these instances one or more children were in need of urgent protection. In two of the cases there was nothing at all which justified police involvement. It would be interesting to discover the nature of the concerns which had apparently been raised about the safeguarding of the children in these two families. (Do get in contact if you were one of them.)
Another major concern for the EHE community arising from this series of events is why some journalists and media outlets like The Times and the BBC are seemingly involved in a propaganda assault on parental freedom. The latter two have been in the forefront of “raising concerns” about EHE, taking their lead from people like Ofsted’s previous Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, its present Chief Amanda Spielman, and of course, Lord Soley, who is championing the cause through his Bill. If there really is evidence of “trafficking, abuse and radicalisation” amongst EHE families in Soley’s words, there would be no need for misleading headlines.
What can I do?
All truly elective home educators should recognise that there are some genuine causes for concern regarding situations where children and parents have been failed. The parent mentioned in The Times had withdrawn her daughter because she was being badly bullied at school. The school had seemingly been unable to resolve the issue. The family was also apparently failed by the LA, which did not step in with support when needed either. Perhaps The Times will ask more relevant questions next time.
Conversely, we see that the “blame” for these problems is being foisted onto the EHE community when they have nothing to do with us. Where parents have opted in to the state education system, it should work with them to avoid them or their children experiencing unnecessary stress. Reports of failure to address bullying, of inability to provide suitable education for SEN children, or of coercing parents to off-roll demanding children highlight failures to put children first.
It is now less than four weeks to the deadline for responding to the EHE Call for Evidence. Several questions are relevant to the issues which are forcing parents to look for alternative means of education. Use these to tell the government that such things are happening because they are failing children, and that they could do better.
Finally, the next time you read a sensational HE headline, especially from The Times, don’t panic. Remember, on past evidence it will very probably be fake news!