The author of a controversial review of home schooling has backed plans to register and monitor home educators in Wales and called on the Westminster government to follow suit.
Professor Graham Badman, who chaired the official inquiry into the death of Baby P, said Welsh government proposals to monitor home educators - reported by TES last month - were "absolutely right and proper". The move, which has provoked fierce opposition from the home education lobby, would be a "key step forward" in ensuring child safety, he added.
Professor Badman, a former director of children's services at Kent County Council, is no stranger to conflict with home educators. In 2009 he authored a review of the issue in England, which also recommended the mandatory registration of parents who want to teach their children at home.
The review was accepted by then education secretary Ed Balls, but was dropped before the 2010 general election in a deal to push through other legislation.
Professor Badman said local authorities backed his plans for greater scrutiny of home education. "There is not a broad public understanding of home education: its strengths, weaknesses and, on rare occasions, dangers," he said. "If the (Westminster) government were to reconsider, of course there are issues around curriculum, resources and attainment. But they would, in my view, have to consider safeguarding issues first and foremost."
Professor Badman's comments come as the Commons Education Select Committee is again investigating home education, including the duties of local authorities and whether the Westminster government needs to change its approach to supporting home educators. Education Select Committee members in the last Parliament described Professor Badman's 2009 report as "flawed" and "badly handled". But, despite the fallout, he is still keen to see his recommendations enacted.
The Labour government in Cardiff Bay is consulting on a similar set of plans, after recent figures suggested that the number of home-educated children is on the rise in Wales, from 722 in 2009-10 to 986 in 2011-12. Education minister Leighton Andrews said current legislation has "shortcomings" because there is no legal duty on a parent to tell their local authority their child is being home educated.
Professor Badman said there would probably be "relatively muted responses from local authorities and strong responses from home educators". "The government need to balance that against what they are trying to achieve. The rights of all children should be foremost in their minds," he added.
Home educators in Wales have reacted angrily to the plans and have already gathered more than 900 signatures on a petition. Mike Fortune-Wood, who edits the journal Home Education, has called the Welsh government's plans a "retrograde step" that would change the relationship between parents, children and the state.
Professor Badman said he understood the concerns. "I think it's this notion of the state intruding on something they hold to be deeply private," he said. "I don't think registration is about that. It's about safety and receiving a suitable education.
"I'm not saying home education doesn't work; in many cases it does. There are many examples of home-educated children who have thrived. This is about minimising risk."
He added that the Welsh government must ensure suitable support for home educators, and understand how home education differs from regular schooling.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education in Westminster has said that ministers were considering whether any policy changes regarding home education were needed.
From the forums
"The draconian proposals will drive (parents) underground in order to protect their children, some of whom are home educated because the authorities have already let them down in school."
"Mr Andrews should really get his house in order first. Until the failures are addressed, I'm sure home educators will call into question the competence of the government to assess them, especially when many local authorities demonstrate a worrying level of cluelessness when it comes to the current law around home education."
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