Get tough on home tuition to weed out abuse, says review

Opponents question independence of review and accuse author of advocating 'extraordinary invasion of the family'

By Polly Curtis

June 5, 2009 / Guardian.co.uk

The government will be advised to crack down on home education to ensure it is not being used as a cover for child abuse or for parents to avoid educating their children at all, in an independent review that has angered families that home-school their children.

The inquiry into home education was ordered by ministers in January to investigate whether home education is used to conceal "child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude".

Sources close to the review have confirmed that its author, the former director of children's services at Kent county council, Graham Badman, is looking "favourably" at proposals that would require parents to register their children with their council when they are born or when they move to a different local authority.

Campaigners claim the move would fundamentally undermine the responsibility that lies with parents to ensure their child is receiving a good education, and allow the state an unprecedented intrusion into family life. The review has sparked a furious row between home-educating families and social services departments in local authorities, which say they need extra powers to prevent the few but serious cases of child abuse.

The government estimates that around 20,000 children are registered with local authorities as receiving home tuition, but the real number could be closer to 50,000 because parents are obligated to inform the authorities only if they withdraw a child from school, not if they have never been to school.

The review, which is due to be published in the next week, is also expected to recommend new guidelines on minimum standards for educating children at home. This would clarify the circumstances under which a local authority can order a child back into school, if it believed the provision at home was not up to scratch.

Jacqui Newvell, a principal officer of the children's charity the National Children's Bureau (NCB), which took part in the review, said: "We need to put children's interests at the heart of this and embed a children's rights agenda instead of a parents' rights agenda. This is a very, very sensitive issue, We know a lot of home educators are doing a great job but our concern is the minority who slip thought the net."

The launch of the inquiry in January, when the children's minister Delyth Morgan warned that in "extreme cases" home education "could be used as a cover for abuse", was widely condemned by campaigners for home education, who said they were unfairly being made the subject of suspicion.

Fiona Nicholson, of support group Education Otherwise, said: "We felt rocks were being thrown at us. We'd had circumspect, polite conversations with ministers and civil servants, and then suddenly we were being accused of child abuse.

"If they introduce a registration system it would completely shift the balance of power. The state is coming into family life and trying to regulate it. It is an extraordinary invasion of the family."

One organisation for families, Action for Home Education (AHEd), has called for the Badman review to be abandoned, saying it has been skewed to favour the evidence provided by local authorities. The public was invited to answer six questions in a survey feeding into the review, but councils were asked to fill in a separate questionnaire with 60 further questions.

In a written submission, the organisation said: "AHEd members believe that the review has been composed in this skewed manner in order to attain predetermined answers for the purpose of supporting the government's desire to impose compulsory registration, monitoring and tracking of electively home-educated children and their families, including state control and prescription of educational method, content and outcome for all children."

Andy Winton, the chair of the National Association of Social Workers in Education, said: "School is a good safety net to protect children. They have access to adults who can detect behaviour and are with children who make them realise what is normal social behaviour. If parents are home-educating, that safety net is not there. We don't think home education is a route to abuse – the majority of it is brilliant – but we think there is an additional risk."

Morgan said: "There have been concerns that some home-educated children are not receiving the education they need, as well as suggestions that in some very extreme, rare cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse or neglect … I'm sure the vast majority of home-educators are doing a good job, but we want to make sure that the right systems are in place to address quickly any concerns."

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home schooling

the thing is here in USA actually many public schools are not good places... kids get raped and killed at some of them... my son was called faggot retard on daily basis at one of his schools... home schooling is the only way out for some children.. :(

Lessons Learned at Home

Many years ago, before we moved to our current location, a neighbor of mine introduced me to the concept of homeschooling.  She was a young mother like me and I liked and respected her very much because we shared many likes, dislikes and beliefs.  Since we got along so well, I felt comfortable asking her many questions about homeschooling, including, "WHY would you keep your child home all day and not let them go to school?"  For her, the answer was simple -- she wanted to make sure her children were safe and away from bad influences.  I could understand and appreciate that.... I just didn't agree with the idea that keeping children home all day, every day, was a healthy choice, for anyone.... especially the mother.  [I have 4 children, and there have been many times I wanted to throw my little heathens like darts into the wall -- but I knew that's NOT how a mom should treat her children.]  It turned out my former neighbor had a large network of friends, and they got together to do "field-trips" and group activities, so the isolation factor was not a real issue.  In other words, she AND the kids got out and away from one another several times a week [they each got their much needed break] so hostile feelings of resentment would not fester and grow within the home.

Unfortunately, there's another side to this "keep-em-home" mentality.  In some cases I could see where the man/husband/father of the house was very stern, strict and very much the dominant authoritiy figure.  These sort of men did NOT want their wives mingling with others, and they did NOT want their women or children associating with people outside their group or church.  Those marriages/families scared me, as I knew how it felt to be told, "No body knows our business, you hear?" or "You come right home."  In other words, there's a fine-line between "doing what's best" for a person, and taking full dominating control of another.

Among our abuse cases, we have a section that features children killed or abused within their homeschooling adoptive homes.  Two things go through my mind when I read the articles related to these cases:

  1. How many of these parents took their children to the pediatrician for their regularly scheduled well-visits?
  2. How many of these women were overwhelmed with the demands put upon them, and too afraid to say so?

I know how isolation can affect a person...  I know how fear can rule a person's behavior... I know I had no idea what I was getting into once I agreed to have children.  I look back at those early years of motherhood and wonder to myself, "How the hell did I do it?"

If not for a few very good understanding friends, a couple of EXCELLENT pediatricians,  and a warped sense of faith in a God who may or may not like me very much, I don't know WHAT would have happened to me and my little family.

Pound Pup Legacy