Vanishing children

When Contactpoint was recently switched off, there was great glee among some home educators. What had been referred to by a number of parents as the 'de facto registration' of home educated children had ended. A cause for rejoicing indeed! This was monumentally selfish of home educating parents, because ContactPoint was in fact a brilliant idea, a tool which would certainly have saved lives. Let's look at why it was needed and what an unfortunate thing it was that the Coalition decided to scrap it.

Home educators displayed a good deal of pious hypocrisy about Khyra Ishaq's mother because when removing her daughter from school in order to home educate her, she did not comply with the Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 1751 - The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006. Hardly anybody apart from teachers even know about this obscure amendment to the law and it is generally ignored by most people. Anybody removing a child from school is supposed to give written notification and so on. Most parents who move house, change schools or go abroad do not do anything of the sort of course. They simply tell the child's teacher that the kid won't be back next term and there's an end to it. Herein lies the danger.

Let us see how children can vanish from sight and fall into harm's way. I have mentioned before the case of eight year-old Charmaine West, who was removed from her school by her stepmother and murdered. For over twenty years, nobody asked about the child. She had vanished and no one had even noticed! An even more disturbing case took place in Scotland in 2002. Five year old Danielle Reid was the daughter of a drug addict. This child was being abused by her mother's boyfriend and there was a fear that staff at the school were becoming suspicious about the bruises. The mother was worried that the child might tell somebody about what was happening. So in October 2002, her mother simply took her out of school, telling the school that they were moving to Manchester. Nobody bothered to check up and a month later the little girl was beaten to death and her body dumped in a canal.

It was to prevent cases like that of Charmaine West and Danielle Reid that ContactPoint was set up. The educational setting of every single child in Britain would have been known and it would no longer have been possible to remove a child from school with some vague story of moving house and without giving details of the child's new educational provision. The ostensible fear of many home educating parents was that this database would become a hunting ground for paedophiles, but this wasn't the real anxiety at all. In fact it was thought that all those home educated children who are currently, 'under the radar', as home educators call it, would have come to light. It would have been all but impossible for parents simply not to send their child to school at the age of five without somebody becoming aware of the fact and asking questions.

The problem is that the very laxness of the current system which enables home educators to keep their children from school without their local authority being aware of the fact, also provides a fantastic mechanism for those who are harming or murdering their children to escape notice as well. It was this that ContactPoint would have dealt with. So although home educating parents are very pleased at the scrapping of this supposedly intrusive database, they might bear in mind that it has almost certainly been done at the cost of the suffering and deaths of other children who were not being home educated. This seems a high price to pay, just so that a handful of parents may continue their chosen pedagogy without any oversight.