I have been looking at a letter which Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, sent to Tim Loughton MP yesterday. Questions have been asked of Graham Badman during the Public Committee sessions held on the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Specifically, he was asked about his assertion that home educated children are over represented in safeguarding cases.
In her letter, Diana Johnson says that in September the DCSF was aware of 140 current SCRs involving children aged 5-18. Only three of these concerned home educated children. She also mentions that 113 SCRs relating to children aged 5-18 were sent to Ofsted in the period between April 1st 2007 and August 26th 2009. Only one home educated child was to be found in these cases. She ends her letter with the astonishing admission;
"We concluded that the SCR figures are too low and not sufficiently robust for us to use with any confidence in drawing conclusions about the level of safeguarding risk amongst the home educating community."
This sums it up neatly. An attempt is made to hint that there may be more home educated children hidden in the figures, though. She says earlier that, "Many SCRs do not include the educational setting of the child.", a clear suggestion that some of those other cases might have home educated kids in them. Good try, Minister! The reason that most SCRs do not mention the school setting is that it is taken for granted that children attend school. You can be sure that if a child involved in an investigation was not at school, this would rate a few words in the report. That one case between April 2007 and August 2009, almost two and a half years, is certainly the only one.
In an Annex to her letter, Diana Johnson cites four cases where home educated children are concerned in SCRs. One of these is of course the Spry case! Again. They at least have the goodness to say;
"Education services maintained contact with the family on an annual basis, to monitor their education at home, and their education and situation appeared to be generally satisfactory. No child protection issues were noted"
In the Enfield case, it was noted of the mother;
"She co-operated with visits from the London Borough of Enfield Education Department in Aprils and may 2005 and June2006. The visiting officer had no concerns about the family or their circumstances and was satisfied with the programme of education proposed."
The Isle of Wight case concerned not the home educated child, but a sibling. The final case is suicide, no details given.
Neither the figures for SCRs nor the four cases given above, seem very impressive as evidence that home educated children are at greater risk of harm than those at school. In two of the cases above, local authority officers were actually visiting the home. The Enfield case had three visits in just over a year. As for the Isle of Wight, I don't think that one can cast the net so widely that harm to a sibling can be seen as a relevant factor in home education.
I think personally, that the DCSF would have done far better to stick to the educational benefits of a new inspection and monitoring regimen. Children can and will come to harm under any circumstances, whether at school or home. The evidence is not, to say the least of it, strong that they are more at risk when being educated at home than if they had been sent to school.