Tuesday, 1 December 2009

CRB checks for home educating parents

I am guessing that it is a rare enough occasion when the average home educating parent finds herself agreeing enthusiastically with something that the Daily Mail has to say on the subject of families. Yesterday was such a time. The Daily Mail drew attention to the proposal by Ofsted that parents who choose to educate their own children should be subject to CRB checks. It is, on the face of it, an absurd idea. Whatever next, all parents in the country being vetted by the new Safeguarding body? Of course, there is more to this than meets the idea and Ofsted does not really want parents to be CRB checked just for supervising their own children's education. So what is going on?

To begin with, a few unpalatable facts. One of the greatest risk factors in a child's life is living with her mother and a man to whom her mother is not married, whether or not this man is the child's biological father. Evidence strongly suggests that children living with their cohabiting parents who are not married are twelve times more likely to be murdered by one of them than if they were in fact married. When the child lives with her mother and a man who is not her biological father, the chance of being murdered by one of these people is seventy four times as great. Of course, the murder of a child by anybody is a pretty rare occurrence. However, the risk of being physically or sexually abused also rises dramatically when a child is living with a man who is not the biological father. In fact, as two American researchers observed, "Having a step-parent is the most powerful risk factor for child maltreatment yet discovered".

Now because we are obliged these days to maintain the polite fiction that all lifestyles are equal and that any sort of family structure is as good as another for children, which is manifestly not the case, nobody can mention out loud that stepfathers can be a real hazard for children. I say stepfathers, because most children live with their mothers. They are thus more likely to share the house with a man who is not their biological parent. Another risk factor of course, because despite several well publicised recent cases, it is men who carry out most of the offences against children.

Which brings us to the subject of CRB checks and home educators. A few days ago, a home educating mother on one of the lists was complaining that she had been asked by somebody from a statutory agency about her marital status. A number of people jumped in to sympathise and say, "There there, dear. It's nothing to do with the nasty people!". Of course what the person asking this question was really trying to do was assess whether or not the children in the family were at risk and if so, to what extent. Live-in boyfriends, or partners as we are supposed to call them, are what are really being looked at a little askance here. I have no idea at all whether home education per se is a risk factor for abuse. I would guess probably not. That isn't really the point though, because a number of people in social services and education believe it to be the case. If you have this risk and then add in other risks, such as having an unrelated male about the place, some social workers get a mite edgy. Having a child with special educational needs is another risk factor, unfortunately. When one family has more than two or three of these factors, then antennae begin to twitch and there might be a request to check out at least one of the factors. This can mean a CRB check of the boyfriend.

As I said above, people are very touchy these days about appearing "Judgemental", although why this should be perceived as a bad thing in itself is quite beyond me. So in order to conceal the fact that they are really zeroing in on a suspicious boyfriend, everybody in the house will be required to have a CRB check. I think that left to themselves, nobody would be thinking about CRB checking all boyfriends; only those who for some reason gave cause for concern. But then the families who were asked to undergo a CRB check would cut up rough and claim that they were being victimised. Hence the new idea for blanket CRB checks for all home educating families. Annoying certainly, but no more than one more irritating by product of chronic inability in today's society to call a spade a spade.


  1. Sorry, Simon. Probability doesn't work like that. Your statistics for the likelihood of murder or sexual assault might be accurate for the entire population, but they cannot be applied to a given individual. This is because any given individual is at risk, not from all the risks that affect the entire population, but only the risks that affect them.

    Therefore although marital status might be seen as a warning marker, it should not be seen, in itself, as a risk factor. What's important is not the demographic profile of the family in question, but the issues they have to face that might put the children at risk. We appear to have forgotten that over the last couple of decades.

  2. Well of course strictly speaking suzyg, it does not matter whether you are right about this, because it is the perspective of the officers working for various statutory agencies that matters here. I am just explaining their point of view. I don't agree with much of it, for example the idea of home education being a risk factor for child abuse and so on.
    However, demographic profiles are relevant when assessing the chances that a child is at risk. Marital status is one of those things, along with size of family, income, ethnicity, educational level of parents and so on that help us to know if a child is at increased hazard.

  3. Leaving aside whether there is increased risk of abuse in any sort of particular family situation, the fact that Ofsted seems to think that actually admitting that they want to CRB check HE parents is a good idea is a bit amazing; it is bound to ring all sorts of alarm bells among the general population and accusations of govt interference. I can only think that either "they" don't think - or it is an idea put forward only to be withdrawn when they kindly make "concessions" later. Actually any Ofsted involvement can't be good - even the expert witnesses at the Select comm thought it was a bad idea!

  4. Originally, it was hidden away in a submission that Ofsted made; I don't think they realised that it would be picked up on. I hope that I didn't give the idea above that I think this a good idea? I was just pointing out that in order to avoid offending delicate modern sensibilities, they are proposing to use CRB checks as a blunt instrument rather than a precision tool.

  5. At a meeting this week, the education man gave an amazing example of a mistake an Ofsted inspector has made recently - it wasn't so much the original mistake (which was remarkable in itself) but the cover up which made you realise that the County staff etc don't have much faith in Ofsted either.
    Ofsted don't seem to back down -- mind you that has become apparent in the whole Baby P scandal too....
    However, I am not convinced by your argument - I think Ofsted say "CRB" because that is fixed in their mentality- they can't understand anything that doesn't involve professionals, so "CRB" seems obvious to them......

  6. Yes, you are quite right about this Julie. After all, from the point of view of many of these people, anybody standing still in a school playground for more than a few minutes must be CRB checked. I think that they are so used to this routine, that they honestly cannot understand how offensive it would be to suggest that parents are CRB checked to work with their own children.

  7. LOL about the mum being upset about being asked about her marital ststaus. I'd have refused to have said if it was me. Even though I've been married for a very, very long time.

    Reminds me of when a fill-in midwife came to visit me at home, 'Is there a dad around?' she airily enquired.

    'Well, there was this morning when I got up, though I suppose he might have done a runner by now,' I replied.

    BTW, this was 2 days after we buried our stillborn son.

    See, so called professionals can be incredibly thick. Why we'd be delighted to have more of them snooping around asking their stupid questions I can't imagine.

    Mrs Anon

  8. but are CRBs really effective? there are offenders that have never been caught. So, they must laugh their head off, while waiting for the CRB form back! why not just CRB all parents, while Ofsted are at it, as after all, parents have their children for the whole night unsupervised. And also, to CRB the neighbour, the postman, the milkman etc..the relatives coming from overseas for a holidays, the lodger (actually, this is a threat, having an unknown lodger). And surely, all these Ofsted officials are themselve ''angels'' at home, the perfect parents, never raising a voice, never annoyed, always relaxed and giving the right food, not turning the TV on after 9pm etc.... ahemmmmmm....
    Simon, you wrote earlier:[quote]However, demographic profiles are relevant when assessing the chances that a child is at risk. Marital status is one of those things, along with size of family, income, ethnicity, educational level of parents and so on that help us to know if a child is at increased hazard.[end of quote]
    Allow me to disagree with this. Child abuse and wife beating occur in every layer of the society. We do not expect it to happen in a well to do family, but it does. But it is not as well publicised than if it happens to Joe and Julie, unemployed and living on a council estate. THe way the media portray things is largely to blame, but people should not think that abuse can only happen if you are ethnic minority, poor and could not go to school beyond your 17th birthday. That is unfair, biased and as ridiculous as the idea of CRB the home educating parents. Please people, be fair, you do not know the history of everyone you meet and not everyone is a threat to the society.