Maggie Atkinson: I will take you back, if I may, to when I was an adviser in Birmingham city council, where there were quite large numbers of home-educated childrenâ€”it is getting on for 20 years now since I worked in Birmingham. At that time, as an adviser I had a right and a duty not only to knock on the doors of people who were choosing electively to educate their children at home, but simply to go into their premises and, on the most headline of bases, to look at whether the environment was right, whether there were age-appropriate materials in use, and whether the children seemed okay. They were never interviewed on their own, they were never taken on one side, they were never taken away from their parents and there was never any really intrusive work that I did as an adviser from Birmingham city council. I felt it was entirely appropriate, and it was within the bounds of reason. In the last two to three years, the regulations are such that I can go no further than the doorstep. I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of families who choose electively to educate their children at home are doing so for entirely right reasons, for entirely honourable, fair, just, creative and admirable reasons. But I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who diedâ€”Khyra Ishaq. I do not think that it is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut simply to be able to go across the doorstep of the home where a child is being electively home educated. Not to interfere, not to insist, not to direct, but simply to check that they are as safe as you need them to be. Khyra Ishaq was electively home educated and withdrawn from the roll of her school in Birmingham, and within 10 weeks she had starved to death. That may be an extreme case, and horrible and dreadful, and it happens very, very, very rarely indeed. None the less, it happened.
Who is Maggie Atkinson? Why do we care what she says about home education? Well, tbh, I don’t much care about her personally. But she’s the new Children’s Commissioner for England and in that role presumably her opinion will carry some weight.
Born in Barnsley, Dr Atkinson studied at the University of Cambridge and taught English and drama before moving into local government in inspection and advisory roles.
She joined Gateshead Council, initially as director of learning and culture. In 2005 she was promoted to director of children’s services when the education and children’s social services were merged.
She was appointed president of the Association of Directors of Children Services in 2008, the professional group for senior managers in child protection. In that role she was the national figurehead for senior social workers during the Baby P crisis.
So, 20 years ago she was working as an advisor in Birmingham. And she was completely unaware of her rights and duties in law. She did not have right of access to ppl’s homes as an adviser. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt, presumably at that point she was not a senior member of the council team, and she just did what everyone else did. EO at that point was not fighting against home visits, and in some parts of the country was even supportive of them.
That however, is no excuse for a director of children’s services not to know the law, and particularly for the head of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
Q37 Paul Holmes: Who rewrote the rules to stop you going across the doorstep in the way that you did 20 years ago?
Maggie Atkinson: My understanding is that it was statutory guidance that was rewritten within the Department.
This is simply not true.
And if she didn’t know this piece of the law, what else doesn’t she know?
She obviously doesn’t know that the police and social services had Khyra Ishaq reported to them multiple times between the time that she was withdrawn from school, and the time that she was deregistered. Perhaps she doesn’t know that the police and social services do indeed have right of access if they have cause for concern, and they had ample cause for concern with multiple reports from ppl who knew Khyra. They just didn’t use those rights, and for that a child died.
Not because of home education.
Who are you covering for Maggie? Is one of your mates in charge of Birmingham? Or did Ed ask you to trot out those tired lies?
I’d really like a journalist to do some investigative journalism on Maggie, and maybe a few more Directors of Children’s Services, and let’s find out how many of them know and apply the law, and how many don’t.
Of course, if the select committee on Children, Schools and Families also don’t know the law that presumably they were involved in drafting and overseeing, what hope is there for the rest of us???