Following on from yesterday’s post, in which we looked at the pernicious influence of a document entitled Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, which was consulted by those investigating the death of Dylan Seabridge, I want to consider now a fear which some well-known figures in the world of British home education seem determined to promote; the idea that parents opting to educate their children at home are routinely referred to social services. This is of course quite untrue, but for some reason people like Mike Fortune-Wood, Wendy Charles-Warner, Alison Sauer and Paula Rothermel all seem determined to promote this particular fiction and even, as in the Home Education and Safeguarding Myth paper, elevate it to the status of supposed fact. Here are two quotations on the subject; the first from Wendy Charles-Warner’s document and the second from Paula Rothermel’ book, International Perspectives on Home Education; Do We Still Need Schools?
'referral rates in some Local Authorities indicate a policy of automatic referral for home educated children,'
'there is an increasing tendency for welfare officers and social workers to become involved with home-educating families from the outset.'
Both these statements were published in 2015, so this is very much a current myth in the making. Rothermel gives no reference for her belief that social workers might be involved with home educating families ‘from the outset’, and it is possible that she has relied upon Wendy Charles-Warner for the figures to back up this strange assertion. Looking at how these figures were acquired will show us firstly that the idea is a nonsense and secondly that we may safely disregard the paper Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth as a reliable source of information on this, or indeed any other, subject.
We find that Wendy Charles-Warner is claiming that in one local authority 100% of home educated children have been referred to social services. It is of course quite untrue and the explanation casts further doubt upon the methods used by the author of the paper to compile and analyse data.
The local authority in question is Telford and Wrekin and on 31 December 2014, a Ms Martel, acting on behalf of the author of Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, made a Freedom of Information request, asking how many children aged 5 to 16 in the LA had been referred to social services. She then asked, how many of these were home educated. The answer given was;
Aged 5-9 EHE number is 28
Aged 10-16 EHE number is 105
This was a simple error on the part of whoever answered the request, because these are the total numbers of home educated children in the LA. In fairness to the local authority, the question was not very well phrased and it is easy to see how the misunderstanding arose. Obviously, they have not referred every single child to social services. Just to be sure, I telephoned Malcolm Webster, the man at Telford and Wrekin who deals with EHE, and asked about this. He was absolutely bemused at the idea that he would have been referring every child to social services. Why on earth would he do such a thing? Just to make perfectly sure, I followed this up with a Freedom of Information request of my own, which confirmed what I had suspected.
The fact that the document's author did not bother to make checks of this kind indicates another flaw in the process. It also suggests that the number of social services referrals for home educated children has been greatly inflated. The numbers are very low anyway and the addition of 133 extra children in this way was sufficient to throw all the apparently careful calculations made about social services referrals hopelessly out of kilter. When this and one or two other points are taken into account, there turn out to be no more referrals for home educated children than there are for those at school.
I do not know why these characters are so determined to spread the alarming notion that home educating parents are being referred, as a matter of course, to social services. In the case of one of those mentioned above, there is probably a strong business end to it, for she runs a company called 3rd Way Law, which is a commercial concern helping people deal with legal problems relating to home education. Obviously, the more anxiety there is about the possibility of social workers knocking on the door; the greater market there will be for an organisation which will, for a price, help deal with the supposed problem. From this perspective, it makes sound business sense to promote a feeling of unease and fear among potential home educators.