De Souza latest in long line of attack on home educators
Dame Rachel De Souza is the latest in a long line of those claiming that home educated children are “vulnerable” or “invisible” with extraordinarily little evidence. Her claims represent a substantial step up in the rhetoric however, with emotive interviews about 80,000 – 100,000 “ghost children” entirely ignoring the reality that approximately 80,000 of the 100,000 children Rachel de Souza claims are missing are in fact known to their local authority to be home educated. The children they claim to be worried about – those who so called dropped off the radar – are known to local authorities and on their databases. There is a legal duty on schools to inform the council and pass on all data.
There are some home educated children who are not known to local authorities as home educated but to talk of them as ‘invisible’ or a ‘ghost children’ is a nonsense. These children are not invisible, they are seen by family, friends, community groups, neighbours, go to classes, are seen by professionals and will be on numerous different databases such as the NHS. There is no benefit of being on a Department for Education database. Indeed there is possible harm. The Department for Education has a very poor track record with children’s data. The Information Commissioner’s Office report found they fail on numerous serious grounds . Data which they hand over to the Home Office on a monthly basis, has been used in the “hostile environment”, they sell children’s information to companies, including to betting firms. There is evidence that the way that children’s data is used can have serious long term impacts.
This idea of invisibility is a real distraction. The Victoria Climbié Foundation, which 20 years after Victoria’s murder still campaigns for better protection for children, is really clear on the fact that Victoria wasn’t hidden. Nor was she home educated. They say lockdown was a red herring in Arthur’s case and many others. What they fight for is for professionals to actually listen to children. Time and time again following the death of a child it is claimed that they were ‘invisible’ to social services but numerous people, family, friends, schools contacted social services, sometimes the child themselves spoke out about their fears.
There is sometimes an argument made – that home educators shouldn’t care about being put on a register or about authorities wanting to come and inspect our child in their home because if it helps one child it is worth it. But there is sparse evidence that this approach would help children. There is no evidence that home educated children are more at risk than any other children. Adding children there are no concerns about into social services oversight only risks further diluting the focus and resources available for children who do need that help. Research, including that by Professor Lauren Devine, shows that increasing the numbers drawn into social services assessments has not increased the number of children helped nor has it led to more detection of abuse. Her research also shows extensive evidence that children and families are harmed by the experience of being assessed by social services with some impacts akin to PTSD.
Dame Rachel’s distortion of facts takes us further towards ever increasing official overstep and unwarranted state intervention. It is also a further obstacle to real solutions being found. Solutions to the problems of children not being heard within child protection, and of a school system which increasingly fails to provide a suitable education or indeed even a bearable daily routine to ever growing numbers of children.