Keeping Children Safe - What Balls would like us to believe

Keeping Children Safe - What Balls would like us to believe

I’ve just heard the latest on Kerry Robertson and the thought of social services virtually wrenching her baby from it’s mothers breast leads me feeling numb. I’m not one for trial by newspaper, especially where the Daily Mail is concerned, but Fife council’s behaviour has all the hallmarks of our current statistic approach to child protection. Compassion is gone, trust in parents is gone, the state knows what is best for us all. We have been fed a lie through politicians and bureaucrats whispering in our ears, demonising those that oppose then and grabbing ever more power for the state by instilling a sense of fear into the population. Through fear they can control, as they tell us how they will keep us safe.

I’m not saying there isn’t an argument for the state taking a role in child protection. I simply think it has reached a stage where they are doing more harm than good. The approach is typified by Graham Badman’s recent comment made to the house of commons committee debating plans to force me to register my children as I can’t be trusted to raise them:

“You ask me why the urgency. My urgency would be very simple: if, by going forward with a registration scheme, we safeguard the life of just one child, it is worth it.”

What a load of tosh. If your cognitive abilities are so poor that you can’t understand that government should never make policy on that basis then you shouldn’t be within 100 yearsd of parliament. The fact they let him in the door is evidence of the insanity of the system. Your urgency isn’t simple, your argument is simplistic.

And yet, this phrase has been trotted out time after time, and many people simply nod, hypnotized. Think it through people. You have to think beyond the emotive issue of the life you “safeguard” and look at the bigger picture. Does the action put a life somewhere else at risk? What impact does it have on people’s freedom to participate fully in society, to express themselves, to hold differing views? What impact will it have on the quality of life other children can expect?

Trying to distil a highly complex issue down to a crappy little soundbite which tugs at people’s heart strings is little short of evil.

Our system must stop trying to convince us there is greater danger than there really is, it must stop trying to eradicate any line of thinking which does not accord with the PTB’s ideology, must start trusting, and must be prepared to take some risks. Risk that things will go wrong. Risks that people will get hurt, physically or emotionally. Risks that people will die. We don’t live in a perfect world, bad things will happen. Government cannot protect us. Time to give back more trust, more faith in individuals, in parents, in families, in society, let’s take the risk.

Image courtesy of the Department for Children, Schools and Families and used under the terms of a creative commons license

When will you leave us?
When will we be free?
How long will we march?
How long will it be?

Badman why won’t you understand?

You think we need your guidelines
You won’t believe we’re right
Please leave us alone
We don’t want a fight

Badman please just listen!

You need us to prove we really are ok
To prevent us from danger
Help our education
Stop us being the stranger

Badman why can’t you see?

You don’t want us to exist
‘Cause we’re not the normal thing
Well we’re sticking with home education
Happiness, Fun, Laughing

Badman hear our protests!

Home education is right for us
And we’re coping just fine
We’re learning everywhere we go
In our own space and time

Badman these are our lives!

But if you won’t leave us!
If we can’t be free!
We’ll march until your walls fall down!
However long it’ll be!

PICT0115

By Rebekah Gibson

Age 13

Proud to have been home educated since birth

Not an anomaly

Not hidden

I have recently delved into the world of the Freedom of Information Act.  Under the act the people of this country have the right to request the release of information held by public bodies.  It’s all about transparency.  For apparently obvious reasons, the government added in a number of safeguards, under which public departments could withhold information in certain situations.  Unfortunately the Department for Children, Schools and Families for one appears to simply use these rules as a filter for its disinformation campaigns.

The recently released Badman review of home education makes a number of claims  which don’t appear to be substantiated within the report.  As such a number of home educators have made FOI requests to have the data used to draw some of Badman’s conclusions released.  In addition various other elements of the review have been under scrutiny so other requests have been made for information related to the review.

One would hope that in such a situation DCSF would release all of the information asked of it, in order to show they have nothing to hide about the review, and its recommendations are based on a solid base of research and consultation.  You can probably guess that they aren’t quite taking that approach.

Firstly lots of responses to the review have been requested, particularly those from local authorities.  As far as I can tell these have all been refused “because the information relates to the formulation and development of government policy” – an exemption under S35(1)(a) of the act.  Its an interesting exemption which appears to give them the ability to formulate and develop government policy based on spurious and ill-founded responses from other sections of government, with no ability for people to see if that is the case.  This exemption was also used to withhold all correspondence between Graham Badman and the DCSF.  So we can see the public terms of reference for the review, but not any extra requests made…

The departments responses most recently have taken a bizarre turn.   Responses like this are now commonplace:  “The Department is aware that attempts are being made on the Internet to vilify and harass the author of the review, and others who have participated, in ways which clearly go beyond the bounds of reasonable criticism and debate. It is the Department’s view that, whilst dealing with each request on its merits, this situation will have to be taken into account in dealing with any relevant FOI requests. We therefore consider that section 38 is engaged in respect of your request. The Department is not suggesting that you have participated, or are participating, in such a campaign. As far as we are concerned you are a bona fide requester under the Act and we have treated your request accordingly. It is unfortunate that the activities of a minority of people on the Internet have caused us to engage section 38.”

Now, I have every sympathy for someone whose health is genuinely being put at risk, and I think the FOI having an exemption allowing refusal on such grounds is sensible.  But let’s take a look at this case:

1.  Where is this claimed campaign of “vilification”?   Search the Internet, see what you find.  If you turn up anything which threatens Graham Badman’s health please do let me know.  I’ll post a correction and even send him a get well soon card.

2.  What is vilification?  And when does it impact on someone’s mental health?  Does my little jibe in point 1 count?  Clearly lots of people criticising someone can have an impact on their mental health does this mean all criticism is outlawed?  The report’s author was (presumably) paid by government, he was commissioned by government, he accepted a status as an “expert” bestowed by government, he saw fit to personally make a series of recommendations including that government should legislate to clamp down on home education.  I’m sorry, but if he didn’t expect robust criticism, satire, and expressions of anger then….

3.  How will the information being withheld make this health-destroying vilification worse?  The quote above comes from this FOI request.  What was it asking for?  The cost of the review. 

My personal view is that the DCSF is hiding behind these exemptions to cover up its own disinformation campaign designed to discredit home education.  In the absence of factual information they have used supposition, rumour and such extreme manipulation of numerical information you can’t even call it statistics. Then when we ask to see that information they hide as much of it as possible from us, using their very own Freedom of Disinformation exemptions.

P.S.  At the time of writing the DCSF have failed to respond to one of my Freedom of Information requests within 20 days.  This is a breach of the law.  A routine one though, it happens in in excess of 1 in 10 cases.  I’m not holding my breath.

HC-610_Home-ed_Page_01Over the last few days I have been posting a series of blog articles looking at the Badman review of home education, and proposals to introduce new legislation on the back of it. If you don’t know about the review, or the catastrophic effects it could have on educational freedoms and family rights in the UK, then I’d recommend you have a read. It is in 10 parts, so why not make a cup of tea before you begin 🙂 This is not a full analysis, nor a recommendation by recommendation critique, rather it deals with a series of topics related to the review. I hope it makes for accessible reading for home educators and non home educators alike.

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – What’s wrong with it?

Part 3 – Who’s the parent

Part 4 – Powers to enter the family home and interview children alone

Part 5 – It won’t cost any more. Eh?

Part 6 – The danger of defining education

Part 7 – But there’s more support for home educators isn’t there?

Part 8 – Government maths

Part 9 – Where’s the fire?

Part 10 – Death by a thousand plans?

paperwork3 This is the last post in my series. I may blog more on the subject of Badman (click on the keyword to see!) but in even more random fashion. I have saved what for us could be the worst until last. This could spell the end of autonomous or child led home education in the UK. The 12 month plan.

Doubtless some people will have just spluttered tea all over their keyboards reading that. You will have decided I have finally flipped my lid if I think a 12 month plan could kill off the way we have educated our children for 13 years. All I can say is get a cloth, clean up and read on. I’m not crazy. Well ok, maybe a little, but there is method in my muttering.

Badman called for new legislation to require parents to “provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months. He then went on to specify that the terms “effective” and “suitable” currently used to describe the education parents must provide should be further defined ”sufficiently…to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum”. He doesn’t provide any evidence for these elements being essential for education to be “effective” and “suitable”

The consultation into proposed new legislation states that “regulations will specify the information that parents must provide which is likely to…(include) a statement of approach to education”

Note the different language, the consultation uses much softer terms, much less definition, makes it sound like nothing too onerous. Call me a sceptic, but I don’t think the legislation will be as light as this, and I certainly don’t think the statutory guidance DCSF will be empowered to issue will be anything like as light.

So, how will the requirement of 12 months plans, against which we will be monitored cause problems? Well, in the hands of a benign LEA they might not cause major problems (though undoubtedly the bureaucrats will ensure we have to waste lots of time filing in paperwork to rectify an as of yet un-demonstrated problem) but as home educators up and down the country have found, many LEAs want to see all children in school, ofsted have often supported this drive, and home education is seen as an anomaly which should be discouraged or even wiped out. I have mentioned Birmingham in a previous post, so now I’ll bring in another example. Staffordshire.

In their submission to the Badman Review they said that changes should be made to the monitoring of home educated families thus:

“All CYP (I assume this to be Children and Young People, they’ve even acronymed our children!) are registered and monitored – parents have a duty to demonstrate how there child is receiving a suitable and efficient education to cover the
key areas of:
A All ages (5-16)
• Understanding English, communication and languages
• Mathematical understanding
• Scientific and technological understanding
• Human, social and environmental understanding
• Understanding physical health and well-being
• Understanding the arts and design.
B Personal Learning and Thinking Skills – to be considered during Key
Stage 3 & 4
Independent enquirer – process and evaluate information in their
investigations, planning what to do and how to go about it; take informed and well-reasoned decisions, recognising that others have different beliefs and attitudes.
Reflective learners -evaluate their strengths and limitations, setting
themselves realistic goals with criteria for success; monitor their own
performance and progress, inviting feedback from others and making changes to further their learning.
Self manager – organise themselves, showing personal responsibility,
initiative, creativity and enterprise with a commitment to learning and self improvement;
actively embrace change, responding positively to new
priorities, coping with challenges and looking for opportunities.
Team worker – work confidently with others, adapting to different contexts and taking responsibility for their own part; listen to and take account of different views; form collaborative relationships, resolving issues to reach agreed outcomes.
Creative thinker – think creatively by generating and exploring ideas, making original connections; try different ways to tackle a problem, working with others to find imaginative solutions and outcomes that are of value.
Effective participator – actively engage with issues that affect them and those around them; play a full part in the life of their home, college, workplace or wider community by taking responsible action to bring improvements for others as well as themselves.
Parents should give some thought of how they can best present evidence of learning of A , and B, so that the local authority can be satisfied that the child is receiving a suitable education. For instance this could be as
• drafted/redrafted written work;
• graphic / annotated drawings;
• photographic portfolio/record;
• video;
• Practical demonstration / presentation or demonstrate any flair /
expertise / strength.
• Third party testimonials
• Reading log
• Project(s)

So, given some latitude by new legislation, I guess that Staffs will be ensuring that home education is wiped out, as parents drown in a sea of paperwork and red tape. The state system that many have decided not to use will be forced onto them by the back door. Choice will be gone. Coming to a local authority near you soon.

In conclusion:

The Badman Review is poorly researched and based on opinion rather than evidence. Even on that basis it ahs proved impossible to demonstrate any real need for change, use of warm fuzzy terms like “safeguarding” and “children’s rights” has been essential to give an air of credibility to calls for change. Change is being brought in out of a dogmatic desire to see one of the last outpost of free choice closed. As a result of this, ill formed plans are being drawn up to legislate to solve a non-existent problem, with no reference made to the paperwork, stress, suspicion and false allegations that may ensue. Time to stop this nonsense, celebrate freedom, celebrate choice, and remember that parents are far better placed to care from their children and ensure their voice is heard than the state, who should be focusing their attention on getting it right when they are called on to help, and to hearing the voices of children who are already crying out. Stop looking for more problems, sort out the ones that are already staring you in the face. One final thought before I leave you in peace. Where is Badman’s analysis of how existing legislation could be used more effectively to solve the (non) problem he identified? Lacking perhaps because it was already decided that no change was not an option. Hmmm…..

Photo courtesy of Flickr user luxomedia

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fireengine OK, this is a biggy for democracy lovers out there. Anyone who holds to the principle “legislate at haste, repent at leisure” (he says mangling a quotation, sorry, but it was good enough for the Spectator…).

Why is new legislation being rushed through?

First off, why am I claiming that legislation is being rushed in? Well, the first signs were Ed Balls rapid acceptance of the reports recommendations and the need to introduce legislation, coupled with the simultaneous launch of a public consultation (a nicety they have to observe to placate us plebs and make us think they might be listening to our views). For doubters though, this could be seen as a normal course of events, and you may dismiss me as a conspiracy theorist if I based my assumption on this (though I think I have given you enough rope on that score already 😉 ). So, how about this.

Draft Legislative Programme 2009/10

Improving schools and safeguarding children Bill

Creating world class standards in schools, listening to parents, giving them more information and acting to protect vulnerable children by:

  • delivering the commitments in the forthcoming Schools White Paper including:
  • a new set of guarantees to an individually tailored education for each child and their parents;
  • backing head teachers to enforce good behaviour with measures to clarify parents responsibilities to sit alongside their entitlements;
  • an accountability framework and school improvement strategies for all schools, underpinned by a new School Report Card;
  • giving parents a greater say over the range of schools in their local area;
  • clarifying the role of Ofsted and other inspectorates in inspecting Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and enable information sharing for LSCB purposes;
  • improving monitoring arrangements for children educated at home;
  • helping to tackle anti-social behaviour through powers of intervention with Youth Offending Teams that are considered to be failing – otherwise putting young people and/or local communities at risk;
  • putting in place a new framework, based on the position in youth courts, to enable the media to report the substance of family proceedings whilst protecting the identities of families and providing the courts with discretion to disapply this safeguard where it is in the public interest and safe to do so.
    (Red emphasis is mine)

So, report received, recommendations accepted, consultation opened, legislation scheduled, consultation closes October. Order strikes me as a little strange, as does the pace. Surely deciding to legislate before the consultation is complete suggests a) they have already decided b) they see the need to do it in a hurry, otherwise they would wait for the consultation results, decide a course of action, and then schedule any necessary legislation

So, why the hurry? Are people in imminent danger? The Badman review found anything but, they even had to fiddle the stats to even suggest there was the merest hint of abuse being a potential problem. So what other option is there? Possibly an attempt to crush home education before the general election? I’ll leave you to reach your own conclusions.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User Fred_Bear

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OK, the following was released after a Freedom of Information request.

5. Known to social care[1]
25 of the 90 LAs asked responded (28% response rate).
• Based on the data we have from the 25 LAs, the average (median) proportion of EHE children per LA known to social care is approximately 7%. We estimate there are approximately 3% of children (5-16 years) known to social care [in] maintained schools. [2]
• Within the 25 LAs for which we have data, there were 477 registered home educated children who were currently known to social care.
• On average (median) 7 children per LA are known to social care.
• Extrapolating to the national level (150 LAs), this means around 1350 home educated children are known to social care in some capacity (6.75%).
> [1] Known to social care includes Section 17, 37 or 47 enquiries.
> [2] Using 2005 data (the latest available), these are approximate figures and include disabled children.

This was supplied in response to a query for “…in relation to the statement (by Graham Badman) reported in the media that “Children educated at home are twice as likely to be on social services registers for being at risk of abuse as the rest of the
population” – ‘full details of the statistical evidence on which Mr
Badman bases this assertion’ .

Let’s get the obvious one dealt with first. 150 X 7 = 1050 not 1350.

Some more points (I’m sure I’ll miss many others)

– These “statistics” relate to children “known to social care” not “at risk of abuse”.

– Median? You really want to use a median here? I haven’t studied much by way of statistics but I smell a rat. And multiplying up to extrapolate an overall proportion? Let’s try that for some sample figures.

Lets say numbers reported were thus from a sample of 7 “LA” responses:

0 0 0 7 7 7 8

Median value, (the middle one) = 7

So if we take that median and extrapolate a number of children across all LAs we have 7 X 7 = 49. So therefore across all the LAa we have extrapolated there are 49 children known to social care. But hold on, if we add them up there are only 29! We just added 20 new cases through our dodgy maths. But imagine if we instead extrapolated from that sample of 7 up to all the LAs in the country. We couldn’t check because we don’t have data from them all. Could the same mistake possibly be made? Raed the quoted stats above again. Trust them?

– What about population size? The assumption has been made that these LAs are representative of the population of all LAs. Is this likely?

– Could there be sample bias? Maybe LAs who feel there is an issue are more likely to respond. Those with no cases don’t bother.

I could go on. But others have done it much better here and here

So, do you trust the maths on which Mr Badman has been basing his opinions? Opinions which have been publicised in the press and informed his review, which looks set to lead to far reaching legislation. Nice to know it’s all based on sound stats <cough>.

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Erm yes. Except, no.

The Badman review makes some recommendations for extra support for home educators. It also dresses up some unnecessary and intrusive interventions as support. Some of the support suggested are actually things a lot of home educators would like access to, and would cost little or nothing to offer (such as access to examination centres). But Ed Ball’s response says it all.

“I accept all the recommendations in your report that call for urgent action to improve safeguards for home educated children and we will introduce these as soon as possible…We will consider how best to respond to your other recommendations as we will need to work through their implementation and resource implications.” (Source: Letter from Ed Balls to Graham Badman accepting the review. Emphasis is mine)

So, the control measures will be introduced (so much for the consultation that is currently open then) but the rest they will have to consider.

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The Badman review calls for a new definition of what constitutes a suitable and efficient education:

“Recommendation 2 That the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education in the light of the Rose review of the primary curriculum, and other changes to curriculum assessment and definition throughout statutory school age. Such a review should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act, should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum that would allow children and young people educated at home to have sufficient information to enable them to expand their talents and make choices about likely careers. The outcome of this review should further inform guidance on registration.”

Some might think that’s quite innocuous, even positive. I think it’s anything but.

I believe that education has traditionally been defined in legislation and case law as broadly as possible for good reason (and it has been consistently so drawn). The reason is that government views on what is suitable change with the wind. They move from more prescription to less, and back again. They move from this to that method being the “right” one. This recommendation suggests the definition is changed based on the latest review of the primary curriculum. In effect, Badman is recommending that we nail down a definition of education based on current government policy. This assumes that current government policy is right. It also assumes that people should have no option but to accept this policy. The whole recommendation is framed in terms that relate more appropriately to a school based environment. If the recommendation is accepted and carried forward we will see a new definition of education which will rule out alternative ideas of education. Are these alternative forms really unsuitable and inefficient?

A few interesting terms are used in the recommendation as though they are automatically necessary for a suitable and efficient education:

Curriculum. I don’t know many home educators who follow a curriculum. Most follow their children’s needs, lead and interests. A curriculum is perhaps of use in an institution where a degree of consistency is required, but in home education it is an irrelevance, unless you choose to follow a particularly structured approach. The effectiveness of education outside a curriculum has been well demonstrated. A narrower definition could outlaw this.

Broad and Balanced. Does an education need to be broad and balanced? How broad? How balanced? Do we need to include astronomy? Geography? Environmental Studies? Geology? Algebra? Quantum Theory? How much of each of these is in balance? Is there an easy answer to this? Has government cracked it, or do they keep moving the goalposts on the state system? If the latter how can they possible define it for those outside of the state’s provision?

Differentiated. Eh? We’re talking about individualised learning! Differentiation is a classroom issue. Has he really thought this through?

Badman also talks about “benchmarking”. I guess we are talking benchmarking against a “standard” child. I expect home educators will be expected to perform to some school-oriented benchmark, using assessment criteria which don’t really fit a totally different model of education. Of course they will be looking for every child to reach that benchmark, and home educating parents will be deemed to fail if they don’t. Do all school children meet government benchmarks?

This narrowing of a long-standing definition of education is dangerous and short sighted. It is also rather big-headed to determine that any person or group of people can define something as widely and hotly debated as education based on one government’s set of priorities determined at one point in time.

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Apparently the new measures proposed aren’t going to cost anything significant, and the recommendations that would cost money (essential the only ones that might have given something back to HEers) don’t appear to be on the radar any time soon. Here are two statements relating to funding:

“I accept all the recommendations in your report that call for urgent action to improve safeguards for home educated children and we will introduce these as soon as possible…We will consider how best to respond to your other recommendations as we will need to work through their implementation and resource implications.” (Source: Letter from Ed Balls to Graham Badman accepting the review)

“We do not expect (the proposals) to place any significant additional burdens on local authorities as most already monitor home education, and our proposals will provide additional powers that will assist local authorities in dealing more efficiently with the small number of cases where home education does not come up to scratch.” Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families) (Source: They Work For You)

So, basically no resources for local authorities as overall it won’t cost them more. Hmmm… lets have a look at that.

OK, Badman in his review claims that there are around 20,000 home educated children known to their local authorities. He goes on to estimate numbers could be in excess of 80,000. Each child is to be visited, the parents spoken to, the child spoken to, possibly on their own, the child given the opportunity to express their views and exhibit their work. As access to the home is apparently necessary, some form of inspection of the premises will be carried out. Enough time will need to be spent to ensure the child does not show any signs of abuse. Substantial notes will need to be taken, and parents may well provide written evidence. This information will need to be written up and collated and a report produced. This will need to be sent to the parents, and may well need to have inaccuracies remedied. Time will need to be spent setting up appointments with parents, travelling to visits etc. Some visits will be missed if parents accidentally forget the LEA are coming round or an emergency crops up. I think it reasonable to suggest that the whole process will take around 2 person days as a conservative minimum. That means 40,000 to 160,000 days per year, an average of 268 to 1,074 days per top-tier local authority (1). So, just for this task an average local authority will require 1.36 and 5.5 FTE members of staff (2). I don’t know how many people are involved in work that would be replaced by this, but based purely on anecdotal evidence I would say it is around a 0.5 FTE member of staff. So we are looking at between £31,175 and £181,250 per local authority on average. A total of up to £27million pounds. I believe I’m being conservative with my figures. And that’s just the extra costs of the new monitoring proposals. No extra burden on local authorities?

Notes:

(1) Based on 149 Top-tier local authorities (those responsible for education)

(2) 260 working days per year (5X52), less average 13.5 sick days (source) less 28 holidays/bank holidays, less 10% time allocation for personal admin, training etc. (22 days) gives 196.5 productive days.

(3) Assumes SO1 grade officer on spinal point 30 at £25,220, 20% NI/pension deductions, £1,000 training budget, £5,000 office costs relating purely to post = £36,260 per FTE staff member.

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