Freedom for Children to Grow
The Law Relating to
What the New Children's Commission Thinks about Home Education
Paul Holmes MP: "What do you think we should be saying as a Committee regarding the legislative process and the Badman report, and whether it is protecting children's interests or trampling all over the interests of home-educated children?"
Maggie Atkinson: "I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who died — Khyra Ishaq"
On October 12th, the Select Committee for Children Schools and Families gathered to put questions to Graham Badman, former Director of Children's Services in Kent and author of a recent report on home education.
Earlier in the afternoon the Committee had been asking questions of Maggie Atkinson, the Secretary of State's candidate for the post of Children's Commissioner. A member of the Select Committee took the opportunity to seek a view on the Badman Report (see here).
In June The Badman Report made 28 recommendations about home education. The Government immediately announced that a clause about home education would be included in the new Safeguarding Bill which will be put before Members of Parliament in the Queen's Speech next month.
Maggie Atkinson, Director of Children's Services in Gateshead, referred to the case of a girl in Birmingham whose mother and stepfather are currently being prosecuted for starving the child to death. The trial of Khyra Ishaq's mother and stepfather began on June 3rd and was halted the following month after three members of the jury were discharged.The retrial will take place in 2010.
In July a spokesperson for Birmingham Council said that an executive summary of the Serious Case Review on Khyra Ishaq would be published after criminal proceedings had been completed and Ofsted had scrutinished the report.
What did not emerge during Select Committee questioning of the Director of Children's Services for Gateshead, was that Birmingham Children's Services and the Birmingham Local Safeguarding Children Board have been under sustained attack for a number of serious cases and for failings in statutory services as a quick glance at the Birmingham Post will show.
Child referrals were screened by inexperienced staff with insufficient management oversight. Lack of senior management has been judged a serious risk. Investigators and inspectors have a high number of case loads and there are a high number of vacancies and sickness absences. An inquiry into Birmingham also highlighted the failure of police, council and health trusts to work together and share information.
19 children from Birmingham have died of abuse or neglect since 2004 and Birmingham Council has confirmed that 16 of those children were known by social workers police or health trusts to be at risk of harm. Media reports of the trial of Angela Gordon and Junaid Abuhamza indicate that school teachers had repeatedly raised serious safeguarding concerns with the council while the children were at school but that Government guidance on safeguarding procedures had not been followed.
The case cited by Maggie Atkinson is not an argument for more statutory powers with respect to home education, rather it is an argument for Birmingham Council to learn serious lessons and to address the urgent issues of recruitment, retention and training of social workers.
Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board was until recently chaired by Birmingham's Director of Children's Services
On Friday January 16th 2009 the joint president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services wrote about
"a 24-hour session with the Department for Children, Schools and Families and partners about the Children's Plan. Ed Balls introduces. The event is excellent with a great sense of opportunity and shared commitment. My co-president John Freeman and directors Maggie Atkinson and Graham Badman fly the ADCS flag."
DCSF launched the Badman Review of Home Education on January 19th.
Maggie Atkinson is a former president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services. Ms Atkinson's independence from Government was cast into doubt during the Select Committee interview for the post of Children's Commissioner.
NotesSelect Committee questions Maggie Atkinson for post as Children's Commissioner