Home school fury at Ishaq abuse smears

Home schoolers have expressed outrage after Ed Balls and council officials suggested that home education was involved in the tragic death of a severely abused girl.

Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was imprisoned in her own home by her mother and step-father, starved to death in May 2008.

She was withdrawn from school in December 2007, but despite warnings from her former deputy head teacher care workers missed numerous opportunities to end the abuse.

Fiona Nicholson, Trustee of Education Otherwise, said: “Ofsted has already found that Birmingham is failing to protect children and questions have been raised over the high number of child deaths in the last few years.

“Fears for the safety of Khyra and other family members were made known to social services by the deputy head of her school both before and after she was de-registered. However it appears that Birmingham Social did not see sufficient cause to act on concerns.”

However, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls used the case to champion his proposed clampdown on home education.

Mr Balls said: “The trial has demonstrated, and statements today from the police confirm, that home education was a factor in this case.

“It shows why we do need a system in place to make sure that when children are home educated or removed from school, they not only get a good education but are safe.”

He added: “I am now taking forward Graham Badman’s recommendations that every local authority should have access to any home educating family and that all home educating parents must register with the local authority.”

Graham Badman wrote a report calling for a clampdown on home education last year.

Mr Balls comments were echoed by Tony Howell of Birmingham City Council who said: “A particular concern that has come out of this case for us all is that our powers in relation to elective home education are inadequate.”

But Eleanor King, the High Court Judge who presided over the case, said that Khyra would still be alive if care workers had simply performed a more adequate initial assessment.

Mrs King said: “On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability, had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died”.

Proposals revealed last November in the Children, Schools and Families Bill would make it compulsory for home-educating families to register with their local authorities on an annual basis.

The proposals would also mean that parents who refuse to allow Government inspectors to conduct one-on-one interviews with their children may find themselves being deregistered and their children forced to attend school.

But Ann Newstead, spokesperson for Education Otherwise, denied that these changes would have had any effect on Khyra’s case.

She said: “It is ludicrous to suggest extra legislation such as proposed by this Government would have made a difference in this case.

“Once again it appears that staff were not trained in the detail of the powers already available to them and did not have sufficient expertise to correctly assess the risk. The only reason I can see for this case to be linked with home education is for pure political gain with no regard for the facts.”

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