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.