After Victoria Climbie's death at the hand of her aunt, an enquiry was set up with Lord Laming at its head. Victoria Climbie had been known to practically every service provided for children, from social services to the police, from her local hospital to the London Borough of Haringey's education department. Despite this, she had fallen between the cracks and nobody prevented her murder. At the same time that Lord Laming published his report, the Government brought out a Green Paper called Every Child Matters. This was intended to give an outline of what every child in the country should be entitled to; the so-called five outcomes. These are to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and to achieve economic wellbeing. These outcomes were underpinned by new legislation, the Children Act 2004.
Now we come to the problem as far as some parents of home educated children are concerned. Local authorities had responsibilities, via new Children's Trusts, for seeing to it that all the children in their area were being given the chance to achieve the five outcomes listed above. All the children. Not just all the children at school, but every child, including those educated at home. This of course put local authorities into a bit of a tricky position, because as we all know many parents don't trouble to notify their local authority or Children's Trust that they are educating their children at home. Nor do they tell anybody when they move to another local authority area. Never the less, the local authority is still technically responsible for the wellbeing and safety of all those children who they never see and do not even know about. This is a regular conundrum! If one of these children should be murdered or abused, the local authority will still be held to account, just as they will for any such children who are not achieving the five outcomes.
The solution for local authorities was a simple one; to agitate for new legislation to enable them to keep track of the children in their district. ContactPoint will help, as will the lists of rising fives that they have. These are not infallible though. I can think of half a dozen ways of evading these measures if I had a child and wished to do so. The answer was, as far as local authorities were concerned, compulsory registration of all children in their area who were not at school. Once they were registered, then people could pop round their homes and see what was happening to them.
None of this has anything at all to do with education. It is purely safeguarding and also, of course, local authority officers covering their backs. Peter Traves, from the Association of Directors of Children's Services, summed this up rather neatly when he gave evidence before the Department of Children, Schools and Families select committee in October. He said;
"We have seen recently what happens to director's of Children's Services when things go seriously wrong. It is not only a case of sacking; it is public humiliation. It is a very serious matter."
Of course in the case to which he was referring here, a little boy had his back broken by a homicidal maniac. This is also a very serious matter, but not presumably in the same league as a director of Children's Services being humiliated!
There is not the remotest chance of the current situation with regard to elective home education remaining as it has for the last century or two. Ironically, the main concern is not the standard of education being provided, but the extent to which the children can meet the outcomes of Every Child matters. This is quite irrespective of my view on the matter or what Education Otherwise says or how passionately some parents may feel on the subject. There is going to be a change and by my way of thinking it would make sense for home educators to be part of that change and influence its direction. If they opt out and refuse all co-operation, then the changes will still come, but without the input of the parents themselves. I cannot think that this would be a good or desirable outcome.
The safety of kiddies is a very emotive topic and trumps all else. By playing this card, the Government has ensured that the law on home education will not remain the same. My own concern is purely educational, but this is becoming sidelined by the whole child protection thing. I seriously wonder whether or not a lot of home educators are in tune with the public mood on this. If they were, then I suspect that more of them would be bending with the wind, instead of digging in and taking to the barricades!