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NSPCC: Withdraw your report “Children Not Educated In School: Learning from case reviews”.

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When an organisation with extensive resources, child welfare experience and significant media and political influence publishes a report, one expects that report to be thoroughly researched, factually accurate, well evidenced, free of bias and well written.  The NSPCC report “Children Not Educated in School: Learning from case reviews.” is none of these. 

At best it expresses the NSPCC’s disparaging opinion of home education as neglectful, abusive and unconcerned with children’s welfare and rights.  It is evident that the NSPCC dislikes home education, placing little value on families who provide their children with an excellent education in a safe, caring setting.

This NSPCC report conflates home education, EOTAS (education otherwise than at school) and child welfare / child protection.  In doing so the NSPCC displays remarkable ignorance of education legislation applicable to all parents and their children, claiming "There are no mechanisms to ensure that they continue to receive a ‘suitable’ education or adequate care without the express consent of their parents / carers.

This statement is indefensible.  It covers two distinct and separate subjects:  education, and child welfare, the latter abundantly catered for in legislation (i.e. Children Acts) and substantial government guidance.  Further, considerable government funding supports the numerous authorities and professionals responsible for child welfare, including the NSPCC.

The education aspect of the NSPCC’s claim is clearly wrong:  The Education Act 1996 provides a duty for a parent to cause every child to receive efficient and suitable full-time education "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise".  The serious character of this duty is reflected in criminal penalties attached to breaches.  Local Authority education officers are supported in challenging any such breach by legislation and guidance, together with the financial resources necessary to their role.  Those authorities also have qualified legal professionals to advise them in fulfilling this role.

The NSPCC report is flawed in many aspects, including, but far from limited to the following:

The NSPCC states: ‘The isolation and invisibility of home educated children was flagged as a serious issue in most of the SCRs’, basing that claim on seven case reviews published over a period of six years.  Analysis of those case reviews makes clear that the relevant children, far from being invisible, were highly visible to professional agencies over extended periods of time, including before and during the period of home education.

The NSPCC further states: ‘In addition, they are isolated by having no right to independent access to friends, family or professional agencies’.  No child has those ‘rights’ and home educated children are widely socialised within their communities, where independence grows with maturity, as it does for school children.

The case reviews quoted in the report show consistent and serious failings by Local Authority Children’s Services officials, Education Officers, GP’s and other Medical Professionals, and the Police.  In each case those failings led to lost opportunities to help the children involved.

No one expressed the failings of authorities involved in such a case better than Tony Howell, the Head of Children’s Services Birmingham City Council, 2010 when he said:  ‘the report found two fundamental failings that occur through a huge range of services. One is the inability on occasion for them to follow their own procedures so they don't complete the task that needs to be done, and the second one is communication between departments and agencies, I think one of the issues that we have to be honest about (is that) all the agencies and indeed the safeguarding board's view is that we did fail Khyra in this case’  (Birmingham (2010) Child case number 14).  Clearly Tony Howell and Mrs Justice King could see that Khyra Ishaq’s pitiful situation was not a result of home education but due to multiple system failures.  The NSPCC chooses to ignore that fact.

Home educating families deserve better than to be vilified by the NSPCC for making a legally acceptable and viable choice in how they best safeguard their children’s right to education.  Home educated children, many of whom suffered severe and sustained bullying in school, are frequently home educated in order to repair their lives and provide an education tailored precisely to their needs and abilities, carried out in a safe space, supported by dedicated loving parents.

Children with SEN or Disabilities are frequently failed by schools and by purportedly universal services.  Where such services are of poor quality or completely denied to children, families find home education to be a robust and effective solution to provide for their children’s special needs, often making huge sacrifices to provide for those needs.

The NSPCC offers nothing but denigration to home educating families, falsely stigmatising them as isolated, invisible, neglected and abused, whereas the opposite is in fact the case.  A proper examination of the facts by the NSPCC would have made that clear.  Notwithstanding, the NSPCC promotes damaging prejudice towards these children and their families.

That prejudice regularly leads to overzealous local authorities quoting this misleading report as their justification for acting unlawfully toward home educating families, based on the premise that if the NSPCC has published it, it must be true. It is not true. The NSPCC report is not nearly of the usual standard expected by such a respected organisation, given that it is partial, biased, lacking substance and fails to evidence its own findings. 

For several years the NSPCC have consistently tried to link home education with neglect and abuse, claiming as it does that home education presents an unacceptable risk to these children.  It appears that the NSPCC’s inherent mistrust in parents rather than any factual basis underpins its stance on home education.  That approach is morally indefensible.

Mr. Wanless and Ms. Harker, please withdraw this appalling report without delay.

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