Our forum continues to be deluged with enquiries from home educators throughout the UK who are concerned about the implications of the Badman review for home education north of the border. While some Engish families are thinking of relocating to Scotland to escape the draconian measures proposed by the DSCF, home educators in Scotland are concerned that the Scottish Government may have similar plans to regulate elective home education, most especially autonomous home education, out of existence.
The Badman review is not directly relevant to Scotland as education is a devolved matter, although Scottish MPs are entitled to vote on English education matters. Those who are concerned about the situation for English home educators may, therefore, wish to lobby their Scottish constituency MPs to vote against any legislation brought before the UK Parliament. Indeed, the successful enactment of such legislation is likely to rely on the votes of Scottish Labour MPs.
In a memorandum submitted to the recent CSF Select Committee inquiry into the Badman review, Scottish home educators drew particular attention to the fact that, to our knowledge, the review team omitted to ask the Scottish Government and Scottish NGOs, including home education bodies, for any information about the legal framework and system which operates in the neighbouring nation.
Scotland currently has a minority SNP government, which is likely to be disinclined, in principle, to follow Labour UK Government policies. However, GIRFEC (the kilted equivalent of ECM), which has been blatantly misrepresented to professionals and parents alike as a child protection project, is already being implemented in Scotland, as is the outcome-based Curriculum for Excellence. The omens are, therefore, not good as long as Westminster and Holyrood politicians continue to accept the child protection cover story at face value.
The Scottish Government has demonstrated a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to home educators. While in opposition. most of the SNP parliamentary group, including the current Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop and current Children’s Minister Adam Ingram, signed this supportive motion tabled by Robin Harper MSP calling, among other things, for
an amendment to section 35 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 so that children attending state schools in Scotland may be withdrawn from state schools upon written notification to the local authority.
Once in government, SNP Ministers issued revised statutory guidance on home education, following an extensive consultation exercise and drawing on independent research undertaken by the Scottish Consumer Council (Now Consumer Focus Scotland) in co-operation with home educators. This guidance has been broadly welcomed by home educators and supportive local authorities, and has been found to work well in practice.
On a similarly positive note, Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Schools and Skills, provided assurances in April to a concerned Scottish home educating constituent of Jo Swinson MP that the Scottish Government had no plans for a review of home education in Scotland similar to that being undertaken by Graham Badman on behalf of the DCSF. However, fast forward to September and two of our members were alarmed to receive a less than reassuring response from Fiona Hyslop, via Menzies Campbell MP and Angela Constance MSP, which included the following extract:
Of course we recognise the right of parents to home educate but we must also recognise the rights of the child. While we would consider that as a basic premise every child is brought up in a caring environment, we recognise that there can be circumstances where it is necessary for social work services to become involved and in some cases this will involve children who are being home educated.
With this in mind, the Scottish Government commissioned a survey on home education from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) seeking information around child protection, welfare issues and the quality of education provided. As a next step, officials intend to engage further on the implications of child protection policy for home educated children with stakeholders, including local authorities and home education groups to discuss the content of the survey.
These words may as well have been written by Ed Balls – indeed they probably were – prior to the announcement of the Badman review in England. It is concerning that Fiona Hyslop should be curtsying cutely to vested interests who are overtly hostile to home education rather than offering unequivocal support for freedom in education.
We would like to reassure members and others that we are aware of the ADES survey referred to by Fiona Hyslop, which took the form of a poorly constructed questionnaire to local authorities, not all of whom bothered to respond. We have been gathering data independently from all 32 local authorities and the Scottish Government via freedom of information requests and mystery shopping exercises, and the responses are presently being analysed by one of our members who is a qualified statistician. A report will shortly be available to members, but we can confirm that the ADES survey was undertaken as the result of a sabre-rattling exercise by the usual suspects, who have categorically failed to produce any evidence in support of their allegations that home educated children are at risk of – or at risk of being at risk of – every conceivable ill because they are not seen by state-appointed professionals (such as these?) on a regular basis.
We have managed to obtain copies of communications from one home ed hostile Scottish local authority to the Scottish Government, which include the scurrilous claim that “most home educated children are abused by their parents”. Should the Scottish Government proceed with a review based on such bogus allegations, we will publish the details in full, but we would far rather engage directly with local authorities and the Scottish Government to alleviate any concerns, fabricated or otherwise, about the practice of elective home education.