Targeting local authority resources more effectively with regard to elective home education

A couple of people commenting here yesterday made the very sensible suggestion that the way that monitoring of home education in this country is currently carried out is wasteful and inefficient. They asked why visits and so on cannot be more precisely targeted at those who need or would benefit from them, instead of the present scattergun approach, which apart from everything else, risks generating false positives. It is perfectly true that as things stand, over 90% of home visits are a complete waste of everybody's time. Those who deliver a suitable and efficient education often receive just as many visits as those whose children are not receiving any sort of education at all. How can we tackle this problem?

I am assuming that those who commented were not advocating a 'Bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted' kind of system. In other words, I am guessing that they are not saying that visits should only take place once a child has been abused or his education neglected. I imagine that they are really suggesting that local authority resources are directed more effectively so that children can be caught before abuse or educational neglect occurs. I agree with this wholeheartedly. Every year when Essex County Council came to monitor the education which my daughter was receiving, all of us knew that it was a farce and waste of everybody's time. I knew that the education was suitable and that my daughter was safe and well, the local authority officer, who had to make a round trip of sixty miles to come here, knew it, even my daughter knew it. My daughter enjoyed it because it meant that instead of an hour studying mathematics or physics, she had an hour of showing off outrageously to a stranger.

There would be no difficulty about focusing upon those families more likely to be in need of support; I could draw up a list of the 10 or 20 per cent of parents easily enough. I would need to see the children's school records, reasons that they were de-registered, ACORN postcode analysis, anything from social services, Health Visitors records when the kids were small; stuff like that. Sure, I would miss a few cases where there were problems, but I could certainly improve on the way it is currently being done. So why don't local authorities do this? Why do they religiously visit families where they know full well that there are no problems as often as those where they have good reason to suppose that problems do exist?

The system which I outline above is known as profiling and it has a very bad name. Let me give an anecdote from the past. Not long after the 7/7 suicide bombings on the underground, I was stopped by the police as I entered Mile End tube station. I carry a backpack, which by the by is a bit sad for a man of my age; makes me look as though I am trying to be young and with it! The police wanted to search me under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in case I was a suicide bomber planning to blow myself up on a tube train. Just as with the monitoring visits from Essex County Council, everybody involved knew that this was a nonsense. The police knew that they were wasting their time and that I was not a terrorist and so did I. Nevertheless, we wasted twenty minutes or so, time which the police could have spent trying to catch a real terrorist. Why did they do this? The answer is simple. They knew, as did I, that suicide bombers are young men of black, Asian or Arab appearance. However, in order not to appear prejudiced, they were also stopping and searching an equal number of men and women, black and white, young and old. During the same operation, they stopped an old white woman with her shopping trolley!

Obviously, in a case like the above, the logical thing to do is focus the limited resources of the police upon those most likely to be planning to blow up a train. This would be young black and Asian men with backpacks. Rather than cause upset, the police decided to waste their time. this is the same reason that local authorities do not use profiling to aim their limited resources at the families who are more likely to have difficulties with home education. In Essex, for instance, those with difficulties are likely to be living in places like Basildon. There will be more boys than girls and those particularly at risk of receiving an unsuitable education will have been withdrawn from secondary school and probably living in social housing. Many of them will live only with their mothers A family living in a detached house on the outskirts of Chelmsford in a family with two parents, only one of whom works and where the decision to home educate was taken for ideological reasons rather than in response to trouble at school, is less likely to need help and support.

How long would it take for the howls of protest to start if it were discovered that Essex were monitoring more closely the 'at risk' groups? In other words if they were paying more attention to the single parent families in a Basildon tower block than to the nuclear family in the leafy suburb? I can just imagine what would be said on the HE-UK and EO lists. How dare they stigmatise single parents? Why should working class families be penalised? The result is that just as the police do when hunting terrorists, the local authorities play safe and treat everybody equally. They do this although they know that it means wasting a lot of their time. The reasons are political rather than pragmatic.