Tuesday, 14 August 2012

History lesssons: part one, the rise and fall of the Badman report

Just speaking personally now, about how I understood the Badman affair, and what I learnt from it.

It looks like the story of the Badman review starts in January 2009, with the announcement of a review to investigate current practice, and whether HE was being used as a cover for child abuse, neglect, forced marriage and weapons of mass destruction that could be launched against the UK within 45 minutes.

Of course, it doesn't start there, as Ed Balls did not wake up one day and think "today I will commission a hugely prejudicial review into home education." Because, as we all know, he wakes up every day and thinks "I WANNA BE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER!" but that is neither here nor there.

It could have been said to have started in 2007, when Lord Adonis said that HE without government oversight was "an anomaly which we intend to rectify." But that was just hot air.

It really started in May 2008, with the death of Khyra Ishaq. She was starved to death, at the age of seven, while in the care of her mother (Angela Gordon) and her mother's partner. She was not, at the time, attending school.

However, the authorities had first been alerted to Gordon's deliberate neglect of children in her care in 2000. There were a steady stream of reports about Ishaq's welfare, not only from her teachers before she stopped being sent to school, but medical staff and members of the public. Failures within Birmingham social services meant that they were not properly followed up.

The Ishaq case, rapidly approaching court in late 2008, was the main catalyst for the Badman review, and in my opinion, the course of the court case and the progress of the review and subsequent proposed legislation cannot be considered separately.

I believe that if the court case had gone according to Ed Balls' predictions, then England would now have compulsory registration for home educators.

For now, let's return to the home education review.

No-one is selected at random to head a government enquiry. In a perfect world, where policy is decided by level headed and rational assessment of impartial evidence, they would be conducted either by a well respected, neutral figure from outside the field in question prepared to weigh carefully the expert opinions offered them, or the best qualified expert inside the field.

In this world, a policy is decided upon, and an "expert" who agrees with it is found to head an "enquiry" to find evidence to support the policy.

Ed Balls found Graham Badman. Badman is a former teacher and headteacher who then moved upwards into senior circles of local authority education departments. By another of these accidents of history, education and children's social services were merged to form children's services departments, and thus did a man with a great and good history in education, but with no qualifications or experience in social work or safeguarding, become responsible first in Oxfordshire, then in Kent, for child welfare and protection.

One small note: immediately prior to being asked to conduct the HE review, Badman was parachuted into Haringey Local Children's Safeguarding Board (hereafter HLCSB) to replace Sharon Shoesmith after her mishandling of the death of "Baby P". HLCSB, it should be noted, were previously heavily censured for failing to save the life of Victoria Climbie in 2000. Climbie was, like Ishaq, not attending school at the time of her death. While not directly related to the Badman review, the Climbie case was referred to by the NSPCC as being a case of a child dying while being home educated, and thus of the need to monitor HE families, during the media coverage of the Badman review.

Personally, I cannot see how Badman, having been dropped into Haringey to oversee a review of a fatal child neglect case, could not have been influenced by this earlier case.

Incidentally, in the criminal case regarding Climbie's death and the subsequent serious case reviews, "home education" as such was not found to be a contributing factor. Local authority (and, ironically, NSPCC) incompetence was.

So, back to the Badman enquiry: for the progress of Badman's relationships with actual frontline home educators, I can do no better than to refer you to a contemporary eyewitness account:


For the TL:DR crowd, some quotes...
His main themes included:
- Why aren’t we arguing for our “share” of our tax money?
- What do we want from the LAs – and “to leave us alone” was not accepted as an answer. He was pushing for what we wanted in terms of support.
- Did we want access to internet schools
- He looked for structure and didn’t seem to “get” autonomous home education or just even freedom to chose
- Would we be happy with a health visitor, rather than an EWO or Social Worker coming to visit (if we are talking about welfare, safeguarding etc)
- If we didn’t accept the Government monitoring us, would we accept “other home educators” monitoring us!! Eg, local groups, national organisations etc
- How can “society” protect the vulnerable amongst us

The feeling/feedback from the families was:
- they weren’t sure that he listened
- felt they could see the points *he* was making
- felt that he didn’t understand/listen to the points *they* were making
- that he didn’t GET home education
- that he certainly didn’t GET autonomous home education
- many felt somewhat insulted by the end of the debate
- they were glad to have the chance to have met him for themselves and got a “feel” for what we are up against
My 13 year old said at the end that “talking to the Badman left a bad taste in my mouth”

This, however, is merely the prologue.

Upon meeting with Paula Rothermel, who has done arguably the best academic work on HE and outcomes in the UK, he first asked her if HE mothers suffer from Munchausen's by proxy, and shortly thereafter proceeded to rubbish her research to her face.

Other academics whose work was shown to demonstrate improved outcomes for HE children were similarly rubbished.

Meanwhile, Badman's approach to rigorous research, well... not too good

As I ranted at the time:
*(And to those who doubt that, I say that any man who has spent a good portion of his life teaching science who then takes an unrepresentative sample, extracts the median value and then multiplies it unweighted across the whole class to obtain an aggregate figure, is not being merely disingenuous but actively misleading. Either he is too mendacious to be trusted with the review or incompetent. You see, unlike Mr Badman, I tend to vilify and defame people solely on the basis of clear evidence of their actions.)
Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, a funny thing happened.

In June 2009, Badman produced his report. This was not unnoticed, nor funny. There was a media frenzy. The government responded with undetailed plans to implement the recommendations.

What did go unnoticed was that, almost simultaneously, the first trial of Khrya Ishaq's killers was abandoned.

For those playing at home, yes, the first trial "should" have ended pretty much on the day the Badman report was released. In the middle of a media shitstorm about "hidden children" at risk.

Personally, I believe Ed Balls planned to ride the wave of public outrage to pass HE monitoring legislation. Sadly for him, two (in some reports three) jurors became ill, and for want of a nail...

From this point on, the story essentially becomes one of party politics: the HE community latches onto some Tory politicians looking to make a name for themselves in the education lobby, an inquiry into the Badman review is held (and is pretty scathing), shadow education minister Michael Gove somehow makes statements supporting autonomous HE while calling for more discipline and structure in schools, time passes, leaves fall from the calendar...

Oh wait one more thing.

On 25th February 2010, the Khrya Ishaq trial ends. The Ministry for Children, Schools and Families puts out a press release welcoming the judgement, particularly the highlighting of the need for greater control of home educators...

Except the judgement says no such thing. It's very scathing about Birmingham social services though.

Oh, notice I linked to blog above? It's because within hours, the original statement has been taken down and replaced with one that mutters and mumbles about trying harder, tragic case, etc etc. No formal retraction, nothing.

Almost as if the DCSF had written it before the judgement, eh? Maybe months before. Maybe in June.

Back to politics. 2010 crashes onwards towards the national embarassment that was the election that year, parliament is suspended and in the shameful process that is the wash up, Labour decide the HE legislation isn't as important as the rest of the education bill and ditch it.

And that, in my view, is the potted history of why we don't have registration in England.

You will notice that HE families, campaigners, and organisations, do not feature greatly in this version of events. Politicians, cronies, dead children and two twists of fate (ill jurors and a general election) feature heavily.

Fast forward to 2012. A child not in school dies in North Wales. A child known to the local authority, for whom alarms have been raised, but intervention was not deemed necessary.

Epilogue: Where are they now?

Ed Balls is shadow chancellor. I think this may be his ideal job, as it allows him to imagine that his policies really would save the country without actually having to see them fail in real life.

Michael Gove is Secretary of State for Education

Graham Badman is... well, one thing he isn't, despite the repeated statements of Ed Balls, is Sir Graham Badman. Yet.

What he is doing... some will find distasteful.

Graham Badman is currently available for speaking engagements. His current topic? The lessons learnt from the death of Baby P. Sometimes, Victoria Climbie is also referenced.

To be absolutely fair, it seems that the thrust of the talks is that social workers who know their powers, the law and are absolutely dedicated to the welfare of children are what is needed to save vulnerable children.

I wholeheartedly agree.

What isn't, and has never been, needed is new legislation that forces those social workers into households where no concerns have been raised.

The Badman legislation failed because of happenstance.


  1. Superb, Pete. Really wonderful. Thank you for a magnificent blog entry.

  2. A much-needed post. Great!