The Truth Always Matters

The Truth Always Matters

The Independent Press Standards Organisation [IPSO] has upheld a complaint that Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s article in the Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2023, breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

What’s been said?

IPSO’s full ruling can be accessed on its website: “17743-23 Yallop v The Daily Telegraph.” The circumstances leading up to this ruling began on 27 March when the paper published a comment piece by Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP (commonly referred to as IDS) entitled “Covid’s lost children must not be forgotten.” In 2004 IDS was one of four people who founded the Centre for Social Justice [CSJ], an independent centre-right think tank. Of the four founders, he is the only one currently serving on its board.

IPSO’s Decision states:

2. The article was a comment piece which described a report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The article reported that the number of “ghost children”, defined as “severely absent children not at their school desks more than 50 per cent of the time” had increased “dramatically” since the Covid lockdowns. The article also reported that “[s]ome children are now being schooled at home. Whilst a number will be receiving a good education, sadly evidence shows that’s not true for the majority.” [Emphasis added]

Whilst the assertion at the end of that summary no longer appears in the online version of the piece, it is retained in this copy on the Archive Today website. Readers may recall the offence this statement caused to many home educating families at the time. The report referenced above was entitled, “Lost And Not Found | How severe absence became endemic in England’s schools” and the article was published the day before the Petitions Committee’s debate on home education. It seems reasonable to assume that the timing was not accidental.

Jeremy Yallop complained to the paper, as reported by IPSO:

“4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He acknowledged that the article was a comment piece, but he said it was inaccurate to report “evidence show[ed]” that “the majority” of children being educated at home were not receiving a good education. He said that no such evidence existed, and in fact, the available evidence showed that the majority of children being schooled at home were receiving a good education.”

Initially the Telegraph argued that the reference was to “children who are at home but registered with a school” and “there was a link between absence and poor academic attainment, and therefore considered that the article was accurate.” Yallop disputed this, citing that the report “described ‘home schooling’ as referring to the arrangements during Covid restrictions.” On 11 April the paper updated the online version [Archive Today] of the article, deleting the contentious statement and adding a footnote which read:

“This article has been amended to remove the reference to home schooling as it is unrelated to absence.”

Yallop pursued his complaint with IPSO, which began its investigation on 1 June. In its defence the Telegraph said it had offered to publish the following statement, but the complainant did not accept that it resolved the matter because, “the sentence under complaint was not an opinion – it was simply inaccurate.”

“Our article, ‘Covid’s ghost children cannot be forgotten’, reported that evidence showed the majority of children educated at home did not receive a good education. We did not make clear that this was the writer’s opinion, rather than fact. Evidence does not show that those who are registered as home educated receive a lesser education than children in schools.”

IPSO looked at the complaint in respect to Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. It found:

“10. The article had stated as fact that “evidence” showed that the “majority” of children “schooled at home” were not receiving a good education. The publication had not provided any evidence to support this claim, nor did it set out what care it had taken not to publish inaccurate information when making this claim. In these circumstances, there was a breach of Clause 1(i). As the inaccuracy related to the education of children, and in particular the effects of Covid on education – a topic of national importance – the inaccuracy was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii).” [Emphasis added]

The Committee considering the complaint agreed that a correction should be published in the publication’s print Corrections and Clarifications column, and as a footnote to the online article. They also stated that the wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance, and should make clear that it had been published following a ruling upheld by them.

On 21 August, the original online article was amended again, with the earlier additional footnote being replaced with:

“CORRECTION: This article previously reported that evidence showed the majority of children schooled at home did not receive a good education. This was inaccurate as there was no available evidence to support the claim. This correction has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.”

The same statement appeared on page 2 of the following day’s print edition under “Corrections and Clarifications.” (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Why does it matter?

The truth always matters, but for many years now politicians and the media have acted as though it doesn’t when it comes to reporting on elective home education. Look at the percentage of Bytes published on this website which comment on misinformation about HE. The fact that politicians like IDS resort to unfounded assertions about HE children clearly illustrates the poverty of their arguments for the registration, monitoring and assessment of this cohort. It has to be asked why such people cannot pursue their objectives without circulating unevidenced fears?

All parents, not just home educators, should be thankful to those who, like Jeremy Yallop, seemingly believe that the truth does matter. More home educators need to be determined to call out misleading statements such as this whenever they come across them. Whilst the five months between the publication of the misleading article and its proper correction may seem a long time, it is important that the correction is now on record and can be referred to should IDS’s article be cited anywhere in future.

It also matters because in the last few months, the CSJ has joined the ranks of those lobbying for a register of children not in school. So much so it appears that they believe it is going to be the panacea for many of the school system’s current woes. Clearly, there is an increased conflation between absence from school and parents electing to educate their children outside of school. This has been underlined by three of their recent reports.

  • November 2022: CSJ appeared to rush out its “Out of sight and out of mind” report as part of a last ditch lobbying effort for Parts 3 & 4 not to be scrapped along with the rest of the Schools Bill. The subtitle, “Shining a spotlight on home education in England” proved itself to be most misleading, with no home educating families apparently having been given the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the ‘research’ on which it was based.
  • March 2023: CSJ published the previously mentioned “Lost and Not Found” report into absence. However, on page 23 the authors stated, “Many children referred to AP [Alternative Provision] have missed big chunks of their education, especially if they are referred from home education.” [emphasis added] This claim has no supporting research to verify it, so appears to have a similar level of justification as the one now deleted from IDS’s article. In fact, the opposite is true in many cases, as the report “A Suitable Education For Every Child,” published this April highlighted.
  • August 2023: A report on unregistered AP called “Out in the open.” The foreword was written by Lord Storey, a long-standing advocate for registration of home educated children. The penultimate paragraph of his foreword reads:
    “It is time to bring these children back into view. The government urgently need to implement both a Children Not in School register and a new statutory registration framework for unregistered providers.”

    Obligingly, Recommendation 5 reads:
    “The ‘Children not in school’ register should be implemented and include data on pupils who attend unregistered provision who are not also enrolled in a mainstream or registered alternative provision setting.”

    Recommendation 7 also says the registers would be helpful in assisting “local authorities and Ofsted to tackle the illegal schools issue.” As we recently reported, this label has been attached to many unregistered settings which are completely legal. However, for many years now the state has been seeking ways to “prescribe what form of education parents should provide.”

One has to ask why the best-known politician in a think tank which says it is committed to social justice, along with his colleagues, would seek to undermine that very commodity for HE families.

There is a seeming inability to appreciate that making unresearched, unevidenced negative claims about a growing number of citizens who are acting within the law is the very opposite of justice for the children concerned. That number has been growing in recent years not because their families are rebels, but because the state is proving itself unable to provide a suitable education for their children.

What can I do?

We fully understand that home educators in England and Wales are weary of the battle to preserve the primacy of parents and children in education. However, if we grow weary now, our children and grandchildren will pay a heavy price. Therefore please be encouraged by the outcome of one man’s efforts. By taking determined action, Jeremy Yallop (a home educator see this article) has been an encouragement and example to the rest of us as to what can be achieved.

Whilst you may not feel like taking on a national newspaper or your MP single-handed, look out for unevidenced negative statements about HE in your local press or from your council members. Should you come across any, then object. Write to the editor, speak to a local councillor, don’t let them get away with it without challenge.

Of course, if there were good reasons to impose state supervision on home educating families, then there would be no need to say that there was evidence which doesn’t exist. By so doing, politicians only reveal the paucity of their arguments.

Editor’s Note: Over a week before publishing this article, we wrote to Sir Iain via both his Parliamentary office and the Centre for Social Justice inviting him to provide us a comment on the IPSO ruling. To date our request has not been acknowledged. Should we hear from him in the future, we will append that comment here.