Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Home education in Birmingham

I seriously doubt if anybody will be the least bit surprised to learn that staff at Birmingham council are once again in a muddle. When Khyra Ishaq died, a little over two years ago, it was soon obvious that the procedures used in Birmingham had failed. Whether it was the school to blame, or Social Services, or the department dealing with electively home educated children; someone had screwed up. I think all of us would probably agree on that point. Now between the death of the child and the full facts coming to light, there was a period of well over eighteen months. Plenty of time, one might have though, to get to grips with things and sort out what had gone wrong. Needless to say, being Birmingham, this is not what happened. Instead, the matter was more or less shoved out of sight and mind until the verdict was delivered in the trial.

I suppose that we have all done things like this; put off dealing with something that we know at the back of our mind we are going to have to tackle sooner of later. Of course for most of us, it might just be a letter from the bank that we are sticking at the back of a drawer and trying to forget about. It is unlikely to be a dead child. Even when everything came to light earlier this year, Birmingham still delayed taking any action. This had less to do with 'best practice' and more to do with the fact that some people there thought that it might be possible to blame the whole business on their supposed lack of legal powers to regulate and monitor home education. It was thought that if they could only hold off looking too closely at things until the Children, Schools and Families Bill was passed, then they could blame all that had happened to Khyra Ishaq on the lack of sufficient legal powers previously. Then a line could be drawn under the incident and a fresh start made. Of course, in the event , this did not happen.

As a result, since early May the local authority officers in Birmingham whose job it is to deal with elective home education have been racing around frantically trying to get a look at every child in their area who is supposedly being educated at home. I need hardly add that this is not in the least anything to do with the education that these children may or may not be receiving. They have been told that they must physically set eyes upon each and every one of those kids and make sure that they are still alive and well. True, they are guying these frantic efforts up as a chance to hear little Jimmy reading and look at some of his work, but what they are really wanting to know is if little Jimmy is starving to death in the attic.

The problem is, that a lot of people avoid giving their telephone numbers to the EHE department. Many of those who do, have no landline and change their mobiles every week or so. Letters remain unanswered. Many people move frequently as well. Without going into the ins and outs of it too deeply, most of those who deregister their children from school there, are not owner occupiers living stable lives in nice suburbs, as is often the case with home educators in some other parts of the country. Many of these people are on the move regularly and hard to find. The only way to see them in many cases is to go and look for them physically.

At this very moment therefore, two exceedingly harassed and tired men are driving round Birmingham, looking for every home educated child with whom their department has dealt in the last couple of years. Where they have moved, these guys are talking to neighbours and when they actually find somebody who is still living where they expected, they are trying to bounce them into letting them in there and then to have a look at the kid. You might think that since this is essentially a series of lightning 'safe and well' checks, Social Services might lend a hand. They have their own problems though and do not feel inclined to offer staff to help out with this mammoth undertaking. The men actually doing the checks are getting confused sometimes and not liasing properly, with the result that some parents have been offered visits by two different people turning up on their doorstep within days of each other.

I have a suspicion that we are going to be seeing quite a few complaints over the next few months from irate home educating parents in Birmingham who find themselves being 'offered' visits in some cases less than six months after they last had one. Never the less, every single child on their books as being home educated must now receive a visit. They are not taking any chances of another horrible surprise like the Ishaq case. While he is listening to Aziz read, the local authority officer will be casting glances at around, trying to look for anything wrong in the house. he will also be examining the child for signs of abuse or starvation. It will be interesting to see if they succeed in seeing all the kids or whether some parents, backed up by home education charities, will dig in their heels and refuse.


  1. I saw the posts elsehwrer about this and immediately thought "oh, Birmingham". It is of course completely understandable from the LA point of view - they know the SCR can't be far way and the whole city council must be obsessed with the fear of what might go wrong next.

    The problem of course is that a) they are clearly incompetent - someone ought to work out that chasing the same family twice is not only unneccessary but foolish b) the LA may ask to visit but under current regs they can't insist.

    Now you (and they) may wish the law was different, but it isn't. So what should they do? - firstly they could actually appear to know what they are doing (ie not deny the first visitors existance.) Secondly they may have less hassle with most HE families if they were honest - how about "since the trouble over KI we are trying to cover our backs and hence we want to see you even if we know and you know we have no legal rights to insist"- actually some families may be less resistant to a bit of honesty. Gosh, they could even try bribery - it can't be beyond the wit of these people to acquire a few books from one of the book packs given to schools and deliver them.

    Any better suggestions?

  2. Yes, I agree Julie; bribery sounds like the sensible option. You are of course absolutely right and I am sure that some people will, quite legally, refuse to let them see their kids. I think that the doomsday scenario for Birmingham is another abused HE kid cropping up during the Serious Case Review. I don't know about bribery, I think that they would probably pay a hitman to take out the whole family and then torch the house to prevent news of that leaking out!

  3. I'd refuse on principle, although fortunately (a) I'm not in Birmingham and (b) my LA don't have my family on record unless they've managed to extract details from ContactPoint. From meetings we've had with the EHE head and the local inspector (group meetings, that is), I think they're somewhat more competent than Birmingham appears to be.

    However, I would argue that it is places like Birmingham that make it worse for everyone. They're blundering around like bulls in a china shop trying to catch a fly, apparently oblivious to the collateral damage they're causing to relations between home educators and LAs country-wide.

  4. It makes their job harder if they damage relations with home educators because we all start insisting that they stick to the law and are happy to challenge them on it. A side effect of the Badman fight is that a lot of us are more militant and prepared to fight back when faced by unpleasantness because we've learned the rules.

  5. Dave's right. In some ways Badman has made things worse. Some LAs are acting more aggressively, and home educators are more clued up and less co-operative. I allowed visits pre-Badman. I don't now.
    But the upside is that more home educators are working with LAs now to improve practice and to improve their understanding of HE.

  6. George Stewart17 June 2010 at 06:57

    Simon you are still living in a blissful world oblivious to world financial markets.

    I am amazed that you can still dream of millions of pounds spent on inspectors but as I told you months ago, there is no money!!

    Power is seeping away from Parliament and it is going into the bond trading pits.

    Your rantings calling for inspections, todays Ofsted Report, they are all meaningless!!

    There is not a single pence for anything new and that is the truth no matter what horrid stories can be produced.

    The finances of the UK are only a tiny step better than the PIIGS.

    There is also a message to home edders and that is do not inspect money for exams either.

    There is no money for inspections and there is no money for examinations.

  7. I was describing a situation George, not recommending a course of action.