What’s been said?
On 15 November, Tulip Siddiq MP (Lab. Hampstead and Kilburn) submitted a written question with the heading Home Education: Radicalism. She also asked about abuse, writing:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the evidential basis is for the statement in his Department’s consultation, Elective home education: call for evidence, that home education may present increased risk (a) to safeguarding and (b) of radicalisation.”
Five days later Anne Milton, Minister of State (Education), answered:
“The text of the call for evidence made it clear that there were concerns amongst local authorities that home education increased these risks but did not claim to present evidence to show whether this was in fact the case – one of the purposes of the call for evidence was to allow respondents to give information on views on these matters, and on the issues of registration and monitoring of home education.”
Now it is often difficult to interpret parliamentary language, and this reply is no exception. What the Minister’s response seems to suggest is that at the time of publishing the consultation in April, the DfE had had no substantial evidence that EHE children were at significantly higher risk of either abuse or radicalisation. She specifically made clear that the Call for Evidence contained requests for corroboration of either allegation.
Why does it matter?
This is a remarkable admission. Whilst the government is repeatedly being pressed by local authorities and Ofsted to introduce a HE registration scheme justified by fears of abuse and radicalisation, it seems that no-one has actually presented them with any substantial evidence of either. Could this be why the consultation was given the descriptive title of a “Call for Evidence“? It is remarkable how easily people can be stirred up to express grave concerns about almost any matter without actually checking the facts for themselves.
We should not forget that in the consultation the DfE was very clear that they had seen no persuasive evidence of EHE being used as a cover for abuse. Twice they stated that despite it being claimed that HE was a factor in a number of cases of children being neglected or abused, in all such instances the children concerned had “normally been known to relevant agencies despite being home educated.” When viewed through the lens of Milton’s answer, such statements do indeed sound like a signal that evidence of abuse was being sought. In this light, the frequent appeals for a register to protect EHE children increasingly appear to be crocodile tears – a phrase which arises from this carnivore appearing to weep while devouring its prey.
The HE community has known for a long time that in all the above instances the children concerned were not hidden from the authorities, but that commonly the authorities had failed in their responsibilities. In contrast we have been frustrated by nebulous claims, originating with Sir Michael Wilshaw when he headed Ofsted, that HE children were at greater risk of radicalisation. Willing reporters took up his call and published sensational headlines reinforcing his assertion. When faced with such accusations, the HE community is not short of motivated researchers determined to do all they can to unearth the truth. Despite their best efforts, no hard evidence has come to light. Even going straight to the horse’s mouth by asking Neil Basu, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations at Metropolitan Police, for the evidence on which he based his claim that HE was part of “a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists” proved uninformative. One can see why the police might be reluctant to share their intelligence on terrorism with the public, but why not with the government? The ministerial reply to Siddiq’s question indicates that they haven’t done so – which is apparently why, like the HE community, the DfE needed to ask for it!
What can I do?
When you are next faced with someone regurgitating the claims that EHE is a cover for child abuse and terrorist radicalisation, remember that rumour spreads further and more quickly than the truth. Do not be intimidated by such claims; calmly but firmly ask the person asserting such “facts” for their evidence. Remember that this written answer was to a question which specifically asked for evidence of these claims, and the Minister implied in their response that the consultation was a genuine Call for Evidence on these and other matters. It will be interesting to see if the critics of EHE have provided them with evidence of either.