I think that I made it clear a few days ago that I do not personally regard home education as a risk factor for the abuse of children. I tried yesterday to point out why some people, especially local authorities, do think of it in this way. It was I suppose inevitable that I should be thought to be agreeing with them!
Dreadful abuse of children is mercifully rare and no more common in home educating families than those who send their children to school. That being so and considering that over 99% of children go to school, it is obvious that the vast majority of abuse is against schooled children. So much is true. However, if you are abusing a child, it is easier to conceal it if you live in a caravan miles from the nearest neighbours and don’t send your children to school.
There was another way that the case of Lianne and Martin Smith raised suspicions among professionals. I mentioned yesterday that there has been a lot of criticism from home educating parents of Olaf Hindmarsh in Staffordshire. After his authority appointed a home educator whose children were being beaten and raped, as Head of Children’s Services in Staffordshire, it rather made many in the local authority a little dubious about home education in general. One can quite see why. Similar suspicions were being raised nationally at about the same time.
It is popularly supposed by many home educating parents that it was the Khyra Ishaq case which precipitated the Badman Enquiry. We must also look at what was going on in Education Otherwise at the same time. Lianne Smith was a regional advisor for EO. She also worked in child protection in Cumbria and was vociferous in arguing that parents were the only ones who should be responsible for the welfare of children. She was a high profile campaigner in her professional capacity against anything like compulsory visits or monitoring of home educated children. In retrospect, one can see why she felt so strongly about this. In the same year that she and her partner fled abroad with their children, Education Otherwise had a radical change of management committee. One of the new people, very prominent publicly for other reasons, ended up as Child Protection Officer for the organisation. She then turned out to have a partner with unfortunate proclivities. Despite this, she remained responsible for child protection, even though many in EO knew about the situation.
It began to look to some people as though the main home education support group in the country was harbouring a number of women with abusive and perverted partners and that this rather tainted EO. I do not say that it did; merely that that is how it appeared to some in both central and local government.
When we criticise local authorities, as I do myself, we must always try and bear in mind just why they are feeling this way about home education. Their fears are rooted not so much in prejudice, but in a perhaps exaggerated reaction to real events.