Dispatches introduces Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, as the “eyes and ears of children in the system”. An interesting statement, considering how much harm is being caused to children by the school system, which Ms Longfield cannot be oblivious to and which goes on, continuously unaddressed.
There followed, abrupt verbiage from an apparent child welfare expert (who is later explained to be a consultant social worker named Gladys Rose White), as one of many experts who feel “alarm” about home-education. She is filmed, completely out of context, making statements about having had an image of a “pale child, with teeth falling out and bleeding gums” that was “harrowing” to her. A bizarre and shocking statement to make about home-education, that didn’t make sense and was simply ludicrous. Clearly it was intended to scaremonger and sensationalise, to gain public agreement as to the unsuitability of home-education, the context for Ms Rose White’s statement was not explained until much later in the programme.
Dispatches stated that home-education figures have doubled in 5 years and that there are now more than 60k home-educators in the UK. Well, isn’t the Government fortunate, that all those children (many with special needs that cost additional money to support and who have been failed and traumatised by the school system) are being educated and kept safe, happy and well by their parents, at no cost to the Government. Imagine what a massive amount of money they are saving, what heroes these parents are. It takes a lot of dedication to devote yourself 24/7 to your child’s entire wellbeing, education, stimulation and support, and to pay out-of-pocket expenses to do so as well.
The fact that schools are “tightly regulated and supervised” was given as a reason to believe that education being provided by schools is of good quality. I’d love for Anne Longfield and Dispatches to explain in that case, why there are so many articles on the following:
- children not being provided enough skills for future life by the UK education system ;
- funding for UK schools being insufficient ;
- lack of teachers ;
- poorer children being failed by UK education system ;
- exclusions are occurring across the UK, children often have special needs and often exclusions are illegal ;
- boys are being failed by UK schools ;
- autistic children are being failed by UK schools ;
- adopted children are being failed by UK schools ;
- children with a variety of special needs are being failed by UK schools ;
- all children are being academically failed by UK schools ;
- bullying is rife in UK schools and HALF of UKs children are scared to return to school after the holidays ;
- ironically, only 11 hours ago at the point of writing this, the Government not only admits  that the Government is even failing early years education but that:
“A strong home learning environment can have a major impact on children’s life chances. The Government needs to come forward with a comprehensive strategy for early years services, including children’s centres and family hubs, to give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life”
Rather hypocritical then isn’t it, for Anne Longfield to come along and portray home-education as an abuser’s paradise and imply that home-educating parents aren’t up to the job. The Government clearly recognises that up until legal school age (when children are often too young to speak up about abuse or neglect!) parents are trusted to be that strong home learning environment. What changes when a child reaches five? There are umpteen more articles and statistics showing that the UK education system is not working well for our children. It’s affecting their mental health negatively. There are a variety of reasons for this, which would take more time to explain that I can cover here. But if Ms Longfield is truly “the eyes and ears” of UK’s children – shouldn’t she have instead, been invited by Dispatches to present a programme on our failing education system? Yes, in case you missed it, Anne stated that not only did Dispatches invite her to do the programme (although how staged that is I don’t know) but that they even provided her statistics to quote from and details of a couple of serious case reviews into child deaths.
So, is this whole exercise simply for Channel 4 to obtain ratings by outraging people, or are there machinations behind the scenes (which would appear to be so) whereby the Government has entered into a mutually beneficial exercise. The Government is removing more and more rights and control from it’s citizen’s lives and stripping parental rights to bring up their children in the way they think best – and that’s what this is really about. And perhaps for some parents, it is the very fact that schools are so “tightly regulated and supervised” that they don’t want their child in such an environment, where their true creativity and wonder is stifled, where they learn to conform like robots, rather than discover and learn in a relaxed, fun and exciting way.
Anne Longfield went on to say how home-educated children can fall between different services and professionals, “out-of-sight”, that LAs don’t know where they are. How is that so? Why is there an assumption that by being home-educated, means by default that children never see a GP, dentist, optician, hospital appointment, private professionals including OT, psychologist (to undo the trauma many have been caused by the school system) or speech and language therapist. Because yes, as the state services are so poor, failing to diagnose many children’s difficulties or offer the right type of support, or simply leaving children on interminable waiting lists, parents not infrequently do end up having to find the money for private professionals, to help their children. Then of course most HE families have relatives, friends and acquaintances by whom their children are seen. They are out and about in the community. Professionals aren’t the only people capable of judging if a child is OK anyway. If they were, there wouldn’t be any Daniel Pelka’s or Baby Ps. So the description of home-educated children as “invisible” is nothing more than a lie.
Then of course, there are many home-educating parents who belong to organisations such as Home-Ed Info, or the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) which offer plenty of excellent advice and signposting to resources, but also there are plentiful local HE groups (a variety on Google groups for instance) where families meet up for socialising events, outings, sharing of parental expertise as a resource and even organising and funding private tuition groups for their children.
The Children’s Commissioner sees herself as a “defender of children’s rights” and “speaking up for children”, so Anne, why aren’t you telling the truth and speaking up for the many excellent HE parents out there who go out of their way to provide a good education for their children and of the huge benefit to those children and their rights to HE as an option? Whose children are much more relaxed, have better mental health, have freedom of expression and learn in a way tailored to their individual needs. Because Anne, there is no legal requirement to follow the national curriculum, even for private schools and academies, let-alone for parents. Oh, did I mention that teachers voted the national curriculum as unfit for purpose ? Children are all unique individuals, not automatons and they all learn differently.
Anne Longfield believes that only schools can provide the “care, education and social skills needed”. In view of what I have described above, clearly that is not the case whatsoever and these types of statement have been made very deliberately to scaremonger and denigrate home-education. Autistic children, who struggle greatly with socialising, can be alone and bullied in the midst of a school full of children. If that list above of all the failings going on within UK schools is supposed to be the right“care, education and social skills needed” according to Anne Longfield, then she should step down from her job without further ado, because such opinions in the face of evidence of harm, in someone tasked with speaking up for children, are clearly extremely disturbing.
Just to add to the shock tactics still further, Anne then makes an outrageous statement that in Germany HE is outlawed, but that in UK all you need to do is de-register your child by sending a letter to the LA. Well, well, well. Who’d’a thunk it, a parent deciding what’s right for their child’s education – I mean, UK law states that the legal duty for their child’s education belongs to a parent, so what are parents doing complying with the law, strewth. I saw some great Tweets responding to this ridiculous statement:
How about the fact that home-education is legal in: Australia, Canada, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, USA (14 countries) and possibly other countries (source: http://home-ed.info/heabroad). Strangely omitted to mention this fact, did ‘ole Anne.
So Anne met up with some HE families, first up was Marcello. Ms Longfield could barely hide her contempt, when she said “Marcello ‘thinks‘ (heavily emphasised with a sneer) he can do a better job”. Well Anne, considering that long list above, of all the serious ways schools are failing children academically, emotionally/mentally and practically, I’m sure Marcello is doing a better job. Anne wanted immediately to know what Marcello’s son Coby liked about school, totally ignored his reply of “not much” and clearly only wanted to hear positives about it, so after she had pushed him to find one, she gave a big exaggerated “oh yeah”, when Coby said there was one thing he missed about school, which was seeing his friends every day. An empty unspoken question remains though Anne, despite you intentionally making it appear Coby was socially isolated. Does Coby see his friends 3-4 times a week, or every weekend? That’s not every single day as he would at school, but would be plenty anyway (and in a far more natural environment too). Maybe he does, but your questioning deliberately made it appear he was losing out. Notably, Anne didn’t ask Coby what he liked about home-education, she left poor Marcello having to justify why it was a positive experience, in the face of her obvious disapproval.
When Anne asked Marcello whether he had opted to have a LA visit to check his educational provision, Marcello replied that he had “declined”, but Anne immediately reworded this to say that he “refused”. Yet more parent-blame attitudes, portraying parents as unreasonable and obstructive, with the unspoken and lingering angle that such parents have something to hide and aren’t acting in their child’s best interests. The stench of extreme bias and disapproval was making me wilt by now, but I stuck it out until the end of the programme.
Anne spoke of how LAs had been surveyed about home-educating statistics, but we should be asking why there was no survey of home-educating parents to ensure the full picture was provided. Isn’t the horse’s mouth more accurate? Or is being mere parents not good enough, are they not trustworthy as a data source? Never mind, the proof of the pudding is evidenced further down. If this is the sort of reporting that Channel 4 Dispatches does, then I will never believe everything another of their episodes says.
Anne then visited Bailey, and his (dyslexic) mum Sam and narrated how concerned she was, about the fact that there could be multitudes of parents out there (meaning like Sam, who was displayed like a sacrificial lamb) who struggled to teach their children and who were without resources or adequate knowledge. But instantly I spotted the issue with this portrayal. There are in fact tons of resources out there including: free and paid websites for all subjects; subject books complete with tests freely available on the high street or online , not to mention private tutors and as mentioned above, other parents in the HE community who share their expertise as a resource to other HE families – and these families network and swap, donate and share other resources. So really all it boils down to, is LAs needing to offer HE parents fact sheets with information on resources and how to link up with other HE families, just in case they haven’t discovered this rich ocean of opportunities alone. Job done. Only Anne wouldn’t have it. It turns out Sam did get hold of a list of websites at least, following a visit by an LA official, yet Anne wanted to scare Sam and make her lose confidence and spoke of how daunting the list was. Once the LA official had visited, Sam’s educational provision must have been deemed at least adequate, otherwise Anne would have wasted no time in proclaiming she was failing her son.
Anne then discussed schools off-rolling. This is a big concern and there’s not much I can add here, other than, parents should never be forced into home-education because of poor practices by schools. The case of an autistic girl who this happened to, was then shared. The problem is, 70% of autistic children are forced into mainstream and it doesn’t work for so many of them. The Government isn’t providing enough special schools and almost none whatsoever geared towards autism. The noise, chaos, uncertainty, socialising difficulties and unmet needs, make it a living hell for most autistic children . Special Needs Jungle recently wrote articles on school-induced trauma  & . When needs are unmet, behaviour escalates and the child can end up excluded. There is a type of ASD known as pathological demand avoidance and the educational and support needs of this profile, differ significantly to those of typically autistic children. Unless children with PDA are correctly diagnosed and supported, they can react with very extreme behaviours. Many NHS Trusts refuse to recognise this diagnosis (in breach of NICE Guidance, because PDA is an ASD and NICE requires the diagnosis to describe the child’s profile) and the standard ASD clinical tools aren’t very good at identifying this sub-type. This is a disaster waiting to happen for the child and their family. The Children’s Commissioner spoke about barriers to learning, but when a child is autistic and in mainstream that is the barrier to learning.
Ms Longfield comments that parents don’t often know the law, the answer is simple. Inform them of it. Inform them of their rights, duties and provide information on resources. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to HE and saying we need a register and to have inspections, look at WHY so many parents are HE in the first place and the fact that so many are children with SENs in the HE community. Fix the education system, put money in, build autism-specific schools, ensure all teachers have autism training and have resources to correctly support all children with SENs and you will find HE numbers would decline. If school is traumatising children, what parent in their right mind would make them continue going? That would be neglect. There are already more than enough suicides from bullying and pressures of exams, in school. You don’t hear of children committing suicide because they are being home-educated though, do you Anne. Anne says a child’s wellbeing must be put first, she talks about safeguarding, but if she really believes what she says, she would not only understand why parents are home-educating but appreciate the amazing job the vast majority of them do and how it is the best thing for their children compared to the alternative. And let’s not forget, the current law fully covers cases where parents might not be providing an adequate provision and LAs can take parents to court to obtain an order for the child to be returned to school. Just as if there is any reason to suspect a child is being neglected or abused, the LA has powers to investigate that too, whether a child is HE or not.
Anne wonders about HE children’s education being negatively impacted, about them losing out, but not only does research absolutely not bear this alleged concern out, but Anne needs to think bigger. Children with SENs may mature later than typical children, this is definitely the case with children with conditions such as ADHD and ASD, which are both neurodevelopmental disorders. Learning is lifelong, even if a child struggles academically and delays their learning during home-education, that doesn’t mean they won’t catch up, at a pace that meets their needs, later on. But most HE children are not losing out, quite the opposite in fact. If a HE child with a disability struggle to learn, it is almost definitely due to their SENs not deficits in parental provision.
Evidence shows that HE children are in fact faring far better than school-educated children, so Dispatches have presented a totally dishonest programme and Anne Longfield should really be ashamed. She should be praising, endorsing and encouraging home-education (where it is by choice) because it’s better for children! 
“studies confirm that home-educated children on average achieve higher intellectual scores than their school-going age-mates, regardless of whether the parents follow an existing (school) curriculum or whether education is child-led (ACTP, 1997-2001; Calvery et al., 1992; Galloway, 1995; Ray, 1994; Ray, 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999; Sutton & Oliveira, 1995). Only Tipton 1990 reports no difference in the scores of home-educated children.
Some studies have even found that the lead of home-educated children can be considerable. Six-year-olds had a lead of one school-year, which increased during their school career to four years at the age of fourteen. This means that an average fourteen-year-old home-educated child is comparable – in terms of schooling – to an eighteen-year-old who goes to school (Ray, 1994; Ray 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999).“
HE also produces more well-rounded, mature, inquisitive children who are far better prepared for life than school-educated peers. They have far superior outcomes and score better, on all fronts!  And this isn’t new information, there are quite old articles around about this.  (August 2000 article*) so the Government knows this. But they have an agenda for control and stripping of rights, an overlord mentality – and that’s what this is really about.
* “It discovered that home-educated children of working-class parents achieved considerably higher marks in tests than the children of professional, middle-class parents and that gender differences in exam results disappear among home-taught children.”
Anne Longfield stated that no matter how bad it is for a child in school, removing children from school is not the answer. Wow – and this is someone tasked with the best interests of children. In view of everything shown here, I would like to know why ever not. Of course for those parents forced into HE, improving the educational system and ensuring their children’s needs are met, is the answer. But the public sees no evidence of that any time soon.
The Children’s Commissioner then focused her disapproval on Leo and his siblings in Leicestershire. Leo’s mum’s face had a harried look, I wondered if it was her child’s special needs putting her under stress and making her appear that way. Anne was keen to raise an eyebrow at the children’s lateness getting out of bed and a history of persistent lateness when in school, completely overlooking the fact that the family were dealing with special needs (health conditions/disabilities) and many children need a lengthy period of de-schooling once they leave school for HE. But then, she didn’t understand anything about HE and why it was better for many children, which was clear. The Government doesn’t get to dictate what time people get up and what time they do their learning.
It transpired Leo’s mum had a harried look, because she had been accused of FII and of “keeping her children at home” and was under supervision by social services. And there we have it. Another family with special needs and disabilities that were falsely accused by professionals, who wanted to disbelieve the child’s needs and put barriers in the way of support and help they needed. Falsely accusing parents of FII is a well-worn tactic towards special needs families, as testified all over the internet in blogs, forums and social media. And it harms children, so we know these child protection “concerns” aren’t really about protecting the children, they are far more often about blocking resources. There have been media articles about the harm these investigations cause to entire families . Notably, the phone rang whilst Anne was visiting Leo’s family, social services were full of apologies all of a sudden and told Leo’s mum sorry, they didn’t even know why they had an open file as the family never met the criteria for child in need plans in the first place. Funny that. No wonder this mum was clearly relieved, described it as having been “hell” and asked Anne Longfield whether she had told social services she was visiting. She made a dark joke about “the Children’s Commissioner – or child snatcher” when Anne wasn’t around. What’s happening to families is very wrong.
Anne said the biggest concern was about children’s wellbeing and said between 11-55% of HE families were “known to social services” but for what reason? Doesn’t mean they were known as neglecting or abusing their children, being addicts or mentally unstable. Considering the amount of children with SEN and disabilities being HE, many of them would have child in need plans and therefore of course would be “known” to social services. Because the law says that every child with a disability is defined as a child in need, although they don’t all have a CiN plan. So this comment is somewhat disingenuous. Also, the fact that so many schools maliciously refer families to social services for child protection investigations, because the school isn’t meeting the child’s needs and the parent points this out to the school. Schools go on the defensive and start accusing their parenting .
Rochdale Council were interviewed and they said they don’t know if there is a concern, if families are not engaging with them (i.e. having educational inspections) but there is no reason that plenty of other professionals aren’t seeing the children as mentioned earlier, along with relatives and other adults in the community. All the information provided in this programme was designed to mislead this way.
Someone by the name of Katy Fosgale-Hopper made a statement about there being less abuse (or chance of it) if a child is in school. But this is factually untrue. Did they think nobody would check these claims? The tragic case of Khyra Ishaq was cited. But not only was she not home-educated, but she was seen by multiple professionals who all failed her – and what about Daniel Pelka who was starved and beaten to death right under his school’s nose? Or the disabled, non-verbal 4yo autistic boy, Chadrack Mbala Mulo, who starved next to his epileptic mother’s body at home, because school staff didn’t check why he hadn’t been into school. Anne stated that there had been five other cases of HE children who had died in ten years, but how many more died who were in school? One death is one too many of course, but if it has taken ten whole years for a total of five deaths (with at least some with dubious or erroneous categorisation as HE), when sixty thousand children are being home-educated, the facts speak for themselves. The fact is, that rates of child abuse are significantly lower in home-educated children. But of course this inconvenient fact was kept out of the programme and avoided by Ms Longfield – and she is well aware of it because (1) she just is, in her role, and (2) I Tweeted the evidence* to her about a week before the programme.
An awful case of a Welsh boy who lived with his parents in a very isolated rural part of Wales, who didn’t go to school (but this may not mean he was HE either) and who starved to death, was shown. This is the case that Gladys Rose White was speaking of at the beginning, that gave her harrowing images of bleeding gums and teeth coming out. But as awful and tragic this event was, it didn’t happen because he was HE. It happened because his parents neglected him and not sending him to school was part of that. This very rare tragedy, even if it could be included as a HE family, still doesn’t change the fact that significantly less HE children are abused or neglected than those at school. This is another deliberately misleading case being used.
So this case was used as an illustration, that LAs simply not knowing, meant there could be thousands more cases like that. The evidence absolutely does not bear this out so lies and hysteria based on those lies, are being used to make people scared enough into agreeing that HE needs to be heavily overseen and controlled. Very few families live so remotely as this poor Welsh child that died, even fewer who are home-educating. What’s even worse, is when children attending school are dying right under the noses of so many professionals, even sometimes when there are additional professionals such as social workers seeing the family. And this is happening. Where were those serious case reviews Dispatches? It’s clear that alleged fears of child abuse are being used to create a reason to monitor home-educators.
Dispatches then went onto the subject of illegal schools (which by the way aren’t HE so why would they be used). They used an example, where the set-up may not in fact have been intentionally run as a school, the people using an office space to provide tuition for HE children, stated that they found the law confusing and had inadvertently gone over the amount of hours, which made them classified as a school. They had been to court and the finding was that they had run an illegal school. So Anne Longfield went along with Ofsted inspectors unannounced to catch them out. The court had clarified that more than 25 hours a week is deemed a school. However, what Anne Longfield seemed not to understand (and the constant lack of awareness about HE means she was never going to provide an accurate portrayal of it), is that HE doesn’t only take place in the home! It seems that Anne is subject to the same ignorance about HE as the general public are, taking the term “home” very literally. HE children as before stated learn not only in the home but out in the community, meeting other HE families and sometimes having private tuition elsewhere, going to clubs, libraries etc and sharing resources in other HE homes. So this again was entirely misleading and it was notable that the court findings had not criticised the standard of provision these people were offering.
Exams The programme then moved on to the number of HE children taking exams and Anne said that no-one knows how HE children doing academically. The latter is simply not true as the referenced articles below prove. The former, parents can enter their children at external exam centres, but there is no requirement to inform LAs that their children are taking exams. Also, some will be doing distance learning courses and take exams that way, so any statistics collated won’t be accurate. Yet despite this, Anne claimed that out of 11k HE children, only 263 sat exams. This cannot be true and the aforementioned articles must have incorporated exam results as part of their research. Anne referred to an ADCS HE survey from 2018, which said that only 31 LAs kept records, but HE is not their business, why would they need to document this? And in any case, life is not all based on exams anyway. Universities can look not only at qualifications and points but other sources of learning and education (if they couldn’t, they wouldn’t consider mature students on this basis). Here it describes other ways HE parents can track progress: https://www.theschoolrun.com/tracking-progress-in-home-education and also says of children in school, that: “Childline has reported a 200 per cent increase year-on-year in calls from young people about exam stress“.
Ann told us that data outlines HE children four times as likely end up NEET (not in education, employment or training), I find this impossible to believe in view of all the research on better outcomes for HE children. I would like to see the source of this data and what children are being included. If the vast majority are SEN children then it would be far more likely that it’s their SENs resulting in this, not by virtue of being HE. She said that “parental rights” must not come before the best interests of the child, well clearly that’s not the case as the content of this article shows – the opposite is the case and these tactics won’t convince the public otherwise once they see all the facts.
The Children’s Commissioner finishes the programme by asserting that home-educators “must be registered and be visited” and she would be writing a report to the Government stating this. Well Anne, I will be sending a copy of this article to the Government also and sharing it across social media (send it viral folks!), to counter your wholly dishonest representation of home-education.
* And Anne, research proves that regulation does not reduce (the already low) rates of abuse of home-educated children . And yet HE families are disproportionately monitored and referred to social services already, without any basis for doing so  because the rates of abuse by HE parents is lower!
“…teaching staff with responsibility for caring for children during school hours, were found to be more likely to be guilty of abusing those children, than a home educated child was found likely to be abused. Clearly, the risk of a home educated child being subject to abuse is lower than the risk of an educational professional employed in a school being found guilty of abusing a child or children in their care.”
“2014 NSPCC23 report refers specifically to home educated children being denied the right to formally express their views or participate in decision making in respect to home education. Yet no process is in place to allow schooled children to take part in the decision to send them to school or to express their views about being sent to school.”
“That perception of risk is also demonstrated to be false by the current research, which indicates that home educated children, whilst twice as likely to be referred to Social Services, are between 3.5 – 5 times less likely to have that referral lead to a CPP than are schooled children aged 5-16, and 5 – 7 times less likely than children aged 0-4 years.”
Footnote: Planet Autism wrote to the chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler, in May 2016 about one of the very issues raised by a featured home-educating parent – but unfortunately glossed over entirely in this programme, how special needs families are being failed by the system and falsely accused of child abuse, often fabricated and induced illness (FII) and how this traumatises families, including the children. Isabelle Trowler didn’t respond to the communication about this issue, although a DfE minion did, only to respond with generic blurb which is freely available online. Anne Longfield clearly must work closely with Isabelle Trowler as their roles by default strongly overlap. The Government has known of and ignored this issue for many years. And many of the population of home-educated children have special needs, these same families, as the Dispatches programme showed, are the same families who are being wrongly targeted with child protection investigations.
 National Autistic Society’s “School Report” (2016) https://network.autism.org.uk/content/report-finds-new-education-system-failing-meet-needs-autistic-children
 Home-Ed Info http://home-ed.info/heresources
 Home Education Research http://edyourself.org/research/#icher.org
 “Children taught at home learn more. Youngsters of all social classes do better if they avoid school, study discovers“
 “How can children be traumatised just by going to school?” https://specialneedsjungle.com/children-traumatised-just-going-school/
 “Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric.“ http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/article-safeguarding-myth.pdf
 “Teachers reject national curriculum as ‘not fit for purpose’ in exclusive TES/YouGov poll”
 WHSmith education books examples: https://www.whsmith.co.uk/dept/books-education-02×00002
 “The Schools that Spy on ‘Munchausen’s Mums’ – Teachers accuse them of lying about children’s autism to get attention” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article2554867/The-schools-spy-Munchausen-Mums-Teachers-accuse-lying-childrens-autismattention.html