Friday, 26 February 2010

Why Khyra Ishaq would probably still be alive if the Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009 had been in force while she was alive

There cannot be the least doubt that Angela Gordon, Khyra Ishaq's mother, was or at the very least intended to be, a genuine home educator. She withdrew her children from school because she honestly thought that she would be able to teach them herself at home. It was not some cunning ruse. This is plain when reading the transcript of the care proceedings. It is true that she did not send a letter notifying her intention, of which more later, but this is really a technicality; a minor breach of the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, which cover the deregistration of children from school to be home educated and contains the following provision. Regulation 8 (1)(d) says that a child's name is to be removed from a school's register if;

"He has ceased to attend the school and the proprietor has received written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school ."

The local authority in Birmingham took her verbal assurance, rather than insist on a letter. This in turn led to the fatal confusion which cost Khyra Ishaq her life; a confusion which could not have arisen if there was one clear and unambiguous set of laws covering home education in this country.

The law surrounding home education in this country is, to put it bluntly, a mess; a confusing hodgepodge of Statute and Case law so jumbled up that even legal staff in many local authorities cannot work out which department is responsible for which aspect of home education.
The basic law relating to home education is to be found in Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. This states that;

"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable -
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

To work out what is meant by "efficient" , "suitable" and "full-time", it is necessary to delve into various old Case law dating back a century or so; Bevan v Shears 1911, R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzeikei Hadass School Trust, 1985, Phillips versus Brown in 1980 and Harrison & Harrison versus Stephenson in 1981, together with half a dozen others. In addition to this, attention must be paid to the Education Act 1981 and also the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006. This isn't all. Local authorities have responsibilities beyond the purely educational as far as children living in their area are concerned. They have a duty to see that all the children in its area are safe, well and have access to the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters document. These outcomes, which are legally underpinned by the Children Act are to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic wellbeing. Local authorities have yet another duty which has brought them into conflict with some home educators. An amendment to the Education Act 1996, Section 436A, laid upon all local authorities a duty to identify children missing from education. Section 437 then goes on to specify that home educated children receiving a suitable education are not to be regarded as being missing from education. So local authorities must seek out children who are not receiving a suitable education, but at the same time must not bother home educating parents who are providing their children with a suitable education.

As things stand, deregistering a child from school is a very simple process which can be and sometime is undertaken on the spur of the moment. Under proposed new legislation, this would no longer be the case. Taking a child out of school would become a formal and pretty serious business. A plan of education would be needed, as well as visits and interviews; no nonsense about just saying something to a teacher and then refusing to engage with the local authority or not answering the door. The very fact that removing her children from school could be done in such a casual fashion was a precipitating factor in the circumstances which led ultimately to Khyra Ishaq's death.

The first thing to strike the impartial reader about this case is that the school seemed to be the only agency which comes out of the business with any credit. They spotted that things were badly wrong, visited the home themselves and did everything in their power to notify other concerned parties of their concerns. Reading the full account of last years court case of the care proceedings shows that the school were on the ball from the very beginning.
This fact has a number of implications when we are considering whether or not schools provide an extra layer of protection for vulnerable children. It is evident that in this case at least, that is precisely what the school did. The fact that Birmingham social services screwed up subsequently and the child became misplaced between the various statutory agencies does not alter this. School is important as a first defence when watching out for abuse, neglect and ill treatment of children. I don't think there can be any doubt about this for anybody who has read the full transcript. One of the teachers, for example, was actually looking closely at the children of this family when they were getting changed for PE, looking out for signs of ill treatment. If we accept that school does often, as in this case, provide a rough and ready early warning system, then it is obviously the case that this system will not be working to keep an eye on home educated children. This is worth thinking about.

Unfortunately, it was this concern about the child which also contributed to her death. Because they did not wish to abandon the child and despite the fact that their local authority accepted that she was actually being home educated, the school kept Khyra on roll. They thought that this might at least give them a stake in her welfare. This was a tragic, but well meant mistake. Because she was on the school roll, social services, misunderstanding the muddled state of current law, assumed that responsibility for Khyra Ishaq' welfare rested with the Education Welfare Service. The school and some local authority officers thought that because she was no longer at school, social services would take over responsibility for the child.

This situation could only arise because of the confused and muddled state of the law surrounding home education. It is high time indeed that every legal aspect of home education is brought together in one piece of legislation. Then everybody, parents, local authority officers and other professionals alike, will know precisely where they stand.


  1. "This situation could only arise because of the confused and muddled state of the law surrounding home education. It is high time indeed that every legal aspect of home education is brought together in one piece of legislation. Then everybody, parents, local authority officers and other professionals alike, will know precisely where they stand."

    It could also have arisen, as many other cases of missed abuse, totally unrelated to home education, have done as a result of overstretched social services departments and police forces not being able to make sure that messages are passed on and phone calls returned. Also, it should not be beyond the wit of a local authority to make sure that *somebody* is responsible for ensuring that a child protection case is dealt with effectively. Current powers are sufficient to have prevented this tragedy.

  2. This whole issue is one of those where (as CS Lewis said better) "we are never given to know what might have been." Yes, I think (and this won't be a popular thought amongst home educators) this child wouldn't have starved to death had she still been at school, although since there was clearly a lot of other punishment going on in the house there is no guarantee that she would have been safe from some other sort of beating which may have ended her life in a sudden way. (The mental health of the male partner and his own childhood experiences, including the death of his siblings show that.)
    However many social services departments have terrible track records in cases which have nothing to do with home ed- so it is impossible to be certain about what might have happened. We also live in a society which is quick to condemn over interference... " social worker stole my baby" sort of headlines scream out from the pages of tabloids all too often- social services are damned in they act and damned if they do. One of my children had considered a career in this field, but has changed her mind.... I wouldn't want to be in that job.

    Whatever the actual truth in all this, I suspect that the home ed factor may well be considered a significant one in the SCR when it comes out(do you know when that will be?) and may well be the influencing factor in what happens next in Parliament...or perhaps not - because of the date of the General Election??

  3. Rereading my reply - I think I was answering a different question "would Khyra have died had she remained at school?" (my answer; not of starvation anyway) whereas you asked about whether legislative changes would have saved her ... which given the previous track record of ss etc is not nearly so certain!

  4. "Because she was on the school roll, social services, misunderstanding the muddled state of current law, assumed that responsibility for Khyra Ishaq' welfare rested with the Education Welfare Service....This situation could only arise because of the confused and muddled state of the law surrounding home education. "

    The school was responsible for her educational welfare maybe, but not the type of welfare social services should have been concerned with. They have no excuse for ignoring welfare issues and leaving them to the school. Schools are responsible for educational welfare and responsible for reporting other welfare concerns to social services which they did. Once other welfare concerns have been reported, social services become primarily responsible for them. I fail to see the confusion in that.

    Under the new law the EWO would be able to visit and see the child. This effectively happened for K though it was split between two different people over about a month, one checking on health and welfare and the other on education. How would merging the two into one meeting have changed anything? Why would anything have been different if the new Bill becomes law? The cause of the problem was not lack of powers or muddled powers, it was lack of resources and staff that would have allowed current powers to be used and allowed adequate communication between professionals.

    On 29th December 2007 a PC visited and said that K appeared healthy and was dressed in clean clothing. Just over a month later two EWOs inspected for an hour and found a classroom with a display board, no chairs, some basic readers, one or two books and no other teaching resources. He later agreed in writing that they were providing a suitable education despite not receiving further evidence in writing that the mother had agreed to provide and a failed attempt to visit again. Do you really think that seeing the children would have made any difference if they were fit and well a month before? The problem here was that one EWO was responsible for 350 families. He could not use the powers he currently has so why should he be given more powers? What he needs is resources so that the initial visit and lack of evidence of suitable education could be pursued instead of ignored.

  5. "Yes, I think (and this won't be a popular thought amongst home educators) this child wouldn't have starved to death had she still been at school,"

    Is it impossible for a child to truant for 2-3 months without being seen? This is all it took (K was seen on the 21st Feb and died 3 months later) and so it seems entirely possible that the same could have happened had she continued to be registered at school. Her brother went from the 75th percentile to below the 25th, had to hold up his trousers with his hands because he had lost so much weight and ate food out of the bin whilst attending school over the same period.

  6. Sections 246 onwards are particularly telling. The court appointed Guardian and the judge believed that K's death was preventable under current legislation and guidelines.

    There should have been no confusion between educational and welfare concerns. From section 232, "The school's referral was unequivocal, it was issues over the children being hungry, thin and cold which were of concern, concerns shared by Miss M once she had spoken to the school and had been exposed in the telephone call on 30th January to the mother's aggression and irrational response to her visit. "

  7. Your desire to get this bill through and promote yourself as a trainer of home ed inspectors whether it be through the company set up by a bad man for the purpose or as a solo endeavour is causing you to lose touch with reality I fear.

  8. Birmingham social services were too lazy and stupid to understand the law as it stands and the powers available to them. So Simon suggests that they should be given even more power.

    Sheer idiocy.

  9. Very nice of Simon to offer his humble opinions. I wonder if he would have felt the same about all the proposed legal aspects of the HE bill if he was still a home educator himself??

    Imust admit that if I was in SS or some kind of HE inspector I would be very concerned with some of your comments as to your suitability to home educate a child.

  10. Elaine, is this comment based on any facts or is this just your theory? If it's just a theory it seems an unreasonable attempt at smearing Simon. I think it's legitimate to question people about their motives if they campaign for legislation that affects areas in which they have a monetary interest, but there's a difference between questioning motives and stating theories as fact.

  11. "Imust admit that if I was in SS or some kind of HE inspector I would be very concerned with some of your comments as to your suitability to home educate a child."

    Err, which comments would those be? Can't believe I'm defending Simon!

  12. I too am curious to know why Elaine Kirk posted the above comment! I spoke to Graham Badman once, back in April 2009. Why on earth should he give me a job? Not that it is anybody else's affair, but I already have a job. Since my current job entails arguing with local authorities and calling them to account for neglecting their duties to children with special educational needs, it seems unlikely in the extreme that I shall be offered a job training local authority officers any time soon. However, this is now the fifth person to raise this crackpot idea here and I suppose that I shall have to respond with a proper post this evening. I thought that the whole thing had died out yesterday, but I was wrong. The ironic thing is that I have made a total of £350 out of home education to date, while others have made thousands! More details in the long post which I shall make later.

  13. I think you've miscounting. I've seen one person ask a question and I've suggested that it was legitmate to ask the question so I don't think you should include us in the 5. Unless you are saying it's unacceptable for people to question the motives of others campaigning for legislation in areas connected to sources of at least some of their income? Something you've not really replied to so far - I hope you cover this in the article. So that just leaves Anna and Elaine, unless I've missed any?

  14. Hard to say really. With all the Anonymous comments, I can't tell sometimes how many people are asking these things. As far as it being legimate to ask questions of people who are campaiging for or against legislation, I suppose you would have to explain more fully what you mean by the word "legitimate". It's not really any of my business what other people stand to gain from the imposition of new legislation, any more than it is theirs to ask what I might make if the law remains the same. Or indeed, vice versa.

    A lot of people are curently making money out of home education. Some may make more if the law changes, others may make less. I really have not given it much thought.

  15. Simon
    It's not the law that is confused and muddled, it's the people whose job it is to follow it. The law is quite clear.

  16. "It's not really any of my business what other people stand to gain from the imposition of new legislation, any more than it is theirs to ask what I might make if the law remains the same."

    So for arguments sake, if someone were to campaign for something that will be harmful to others purely for monetary gain (ID cards, for instance) you don't think their motives should be questioned? You consider the reasons people or companies campaign and lobby for legislation are irrelevant? You effectively think that a change in the law is appropriate even if its primary purpose is to improve the income of already rich individuals or companies at the expense of the taxpayer?

  17. I have not over the last fifty or sixty years encountered a law whose primary purpose was to improve the income of already rich individuals. Nor am I campigning for anything. I am expressing my opinions on an an obscure little Blog.

  18. Probably should have said the primary purpose of the person or company carrying out the lobbying rather than the law itself. Though to be honest, I'm not sure that the primary purpose of ID cards isn't business related - part of the push towards the UK service industry dominance in Europe possibly and there are plenty of companies like Capita that will have lobbied for ID cards.

    So does this mean that you do think it would be legitimate to question the motives of someone campaigning for legislation related to a source of their income?

    Re. campaigning, if submitting supportive written evidence and supportive evidence in person on several occasions and writing newspaper articles in support of change doesn't count as campaigning, what does?

  19. Simon - just piss off. You are a sad wanker who needs to get a life.

  20. If I wind you up that badly, anonymous, I wonder you keep coming here. It's more than a little odd to visit somebody's Blog and then tell the author to piss off.

  21. Simon can you honestly not see that the CSF bill would have made absolutely no difference to poor Khyra? She was known to be at risk and reported as such. Social services had all the power they needed but they didn't use them. They failed her.

  22. "It's more than a little odd to visit somebody's Blog and then tell the author to piss off."

    no not is quite normal when one visits the blog of a man who would be king, but who really is the pawn.

  23. I am a relatively unimportant person who writes a pretty obscure little Blog on a topic that most people have no interest in. So yes, it does strike me as odd to hunt out such a Blog solely in order to swear at the author! I prefer to visit Blogs which interest me. However, you are of course most welcome and if the only way that you feel able to express yourself with sufficient clarity is by the use of words like piss or wanker, why then you go right ahead! It does not bother me, but presumably fulfils some need of your own.

  24. oh no..I am not the anonymous who said *piss off wanker* but I am just saying I can see why they did. You don't know someone might be a wanker until you encounter you don't necessarily come upon their blog thinking automatic wanker. But it is well within reason that the person encountered your blog, not knowing of you before, and read a few sentences and suddenly had the urge to swear. This happens quite often in small blogger world and big blogger world. So try not to take it to heart!

  25. My dear anonymous, I have been sworn at in the past and shall probably be sworn at in the future. I don't ake it at all to heart. I have never myself felt the urge to write anonymous letters to people swearing at them, but it is not a new phenomenon. When I was young, we used to call this sort of thing "poison pen letters". The writers were often viewed with sympathy rather than anger.

  26. A quote from Khyras case..."The school drew social services' attention to the family the day after the mother withdrew them from school. Between then, December 2007, and K's death in May 2008 the police had one glimpse of K and Miss G and Miss S a brief glimpse of K, L and Z. No professional person, whether teacher or social worker saw the children after February 2008 and no-one tried to see them."

    So even though social services KNEW she was at risk, she was allowed to die.
    So you think a LA official's visit would have more power than social services, do you?
    How would a LA official have been able to do more? Tell us how she would have been saved by the new bill, when LAs can't put into use the perfectly suitable laws we have already?

    She was ALREADY known to be at risk when IN school. So many people failed that poor child. But how did the current Home ed laws fail her? Please explain?

    I don't get it at all.

    It is so easy to endorse a Bill that will not affect you personally isn't it Simon. Will it give you more power? Will you have won a battle against thousands of home educators throughout the land? Is that what you want?

    It seems to come easy to you, especially as you seem to 'get off' on annoying/upsetting so many honest loving, caring, GENUINE home educating families when doing so.How incredibly unfeeling.
    You alone, out of all the home ed community fight against ALL their wishes so strongly and so LOUDLY too.
    Why don't you want to support these families and their wishes? Do their views,needs, wants, mean nothing?
    That in itself says alot about your view of family life.
    Your view is 'right' and therefore EVERYONE else MUST be wrong.Hmm?

    You are so eager to push through something that so many families oppose.
    Even the happiness of SEN children, who would be so badly affected by the new bill doesn't stop you in your tracks does it.
    That saddens me .
    But after reading all your comments, here, there and every bloody where, it doesn't surprise me.

    One more question.
    What about the funding that is going to be directed away from social services and aimed at thousands.... tens of thousands...possibly 80,000.. innocent families and their children by the CSF Bill?
    Money spent searching ,DESPERATELY searching for something, anything at all, to make the new funding, given to this bill, seem worthwhile. To tick boxes. To placate the state. To cover their previously failing arses.
    This in all honesty, will only serve to allow the Khyras of this cruel and horrid world, to slip through the net yet again.
    Social services will be stretched beyond breaking point. Something will have to give.

    Their time will be spent investigating false positives, passed onto them by over cautious and increasingly nervous local authorities, instead of saving the very children it should be saving.
    Those KNOWN to be at risk.

    PS. I don't like you .

  27. Dear Simon, there would be no need for anonymity if people felt they could confide in you and you wouldn't go bleating about their personal life elsewhere. So I'm afraid you made that little bed for yourself. Not a poison pen, merely self preservation from someone who is especially caustic!

  28. Come off it, Anonymous. People have said the most awful things about me on Blogs and lists. These have included references to my daughter, supposed family life, personality, integrity and every other aspect of my life! Some of these posts have been more than a little caustic. That's fine, it's just the normal rough and tumble one expects on the Internet. I have not felt so traumatised that I now need to cower in the shadows and post anonymous comments. I am assuming that all those about whom I have myself made any remark are grown-ups?

    I have never in my life sent an anonymous letter. If I have anything to say, I always sign my name under it. However, I realise that you and various others do not share this view and you are of course quite welcome to continue posting if your name is something you would prefer to keep quiet about. I would probably feel the same way myself if I were called Ali Edgley or Maire Stafford, rather than Simon Webb.

  29. Not everyone likes the idea of their every comment being available to others through a Google search. Is privacy not acceptable on the internet? Why would I want acquaintances to be able to view my hopes and fears in all subject areas I'm interested in at the touch of a few buttons? Not all of us are exhibitionists.

  30. Birmingham City Council hired Terry Brownbill, a specialist PR consultant, to liaise with journalists in the wake of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq's death.

    The authority’s social services department has been condemned for failing Khyra who was starved to death by her mother Angela Gordon, despite repeated warnings from her teacher and several visits from welfare officials.

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    But Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Bar, claimed that the council has paid Mr Brownbill £800 a day for his services.

    He said that it was "disgraceful" that the council had spent the money at a time when cuts are being made.

    The council has defended its decision to employ Mr Brownbill, citing his “considerable specialist knowledge of supporting local authorities, particularly where children have died in suspicious circumstances”.

    It said in a statement: “Being such a small team, there will be occasion when we need additional specialist support, which is why Terry Brownbill, a former national journalist himself, was retained.

    "Terry Brownbill attended court every day during two trials regarding the Khyra Ishaq case, to liaise with media, which given the low staff numbers, the press office did not have the capacity to do.

    “In addition, his daily attendance at court provided invaluable detailed information about the progress of the case, both for senior managers, and for central government."

    Khyra died in excruciating pain in May 2008 after months of abuse by Gordon and her partner Junaid Abuhamza.