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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics


July 2009

  • We have seen the end of the Badman review into whether home educators are using home education as a cover for child abuse -a persecution by false allegation amounting to harassment and slander against us, surely?
  • We have seen the resultant admission in the review report that figures do not support this false perception perpetrated upon us. 
  • We have seen, nevertheless, manipulation of those figures to give the opposite impression from the truth for political purposes in an outright attack by government officials upon citizens of the country they serve.


It turns out that what this means is that we are now in a position to experience the truth that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics." The worst of these might be statistics for the false impression of truth and serious research they convey and the way they can be manipulated to misrepresent the facts. Take the Badman Home Education Review statistics on EHE and child abuse ...




Bad Press and Statistics


Freedom of Information requests to all Local Authorities in England following the Badman Review and carried out for AHEd via the "What Do They Know" website for ease of public access to information, show that home educators are a low risk community for child abuse with most authorities reporting no cases known to social services in relation to any child abuse issue or neglect issue. There are some specific factors of relevance however:



There are a number of children among home educators who are "known" because they use, or have used, services as a result of disability or special educational need. Special health requirements or a statement of SEN, which is needed to access necessary support for special needs children, results in that child being known as a child who is in need of services and therefore "known" to social services or children's services. This is quite different from being a child at risk of harm as implied in statements by Mr Badman!


Routine Referral

It is also known that some local authorities routinely threaten to, and indeed do, automatically refer the families of home educated children to social services if the parents try to protect their children from intrusive practices carried out by the authoritiy that are not supported in law. This, of course, is harassment of a law-abiding minority group, using the tools of office, but has been acknowledged by home educators for years. In those authorities, there is a disproportionate number of home-educated children referred to social services falsely; their case is investigated and put aside as requiring no action, but they are - ever after - on file as "known to social services." The way that Graham Badman has spun this is truly shocking.


Ignorance and Prejudice

It is not unusual for home educators to report that a referral has been made against them on the grounds that their child does not attend school. While this initial referral results in enquiry that sooner or later results in no further action, the family is then on record as being "known to social sevices." 


DCSF/Badman Manipulating Figures


In response to freedom of information requests by A White and Stephen McKie (among others) for the statistics used by Graham Badman and his team as the basis of their report, the DCSF has released part of an Annex to the report:




1.   Total elective home education (EHE) population

  • 12,300 children were registered EHE in the 90 LAs that responded to our questionnaire.  Approximately 35% were of primary age, 65% of secondary age.
  • Can therefore assume approximately 21,000 EHE children in the country.[1]
  • These data relate to known, registered children only.  We know that to be an underestimate and therefore one could assume these figures may be higher.


5.   Known to social care[2]

    25 of the 90 LAs asked responded (28% response rate).

  • Based on the data we have from the 25 LAs, the average (median) proportion of EHE children per LA known to social care is approximately 7%.  We estimate there are approximately 3% of children (5-16 years) known to social care in  maintained schools.[3]
  • Within the 25 LAs for which we have data, there were 477 registered home educated children who were currently known to social care.
  • On average (median) 7 children per LA are known to social care.
  • Extrapolating to the national level (150 LAs), this means around 1350 home educated children are known to social care in some capacity (6.75%).

[1] Taking an average caseload per LA (139 children) multiplied by 150 LA.

[2] Known to social care includes Section 17, 37 or 47 enquiries.

[3] Using 2005 data (the latest available), these are approximate figures and include disabled children. 


Analysis: "150 x 7 = 1,350" says Education Expert!


1. Only 90 LAs responded to the review (60% of all LAs).

2. Of those, only 25 LAs responded to the question about children known to social care (28% of 90, but only 17% of all LAs).

3. The figures are not only about children at risk, as media reports state (these reports have not been corrected by the DCSF or Mr Graham Badman).

4. Mr Badman and the DCSF have included figures for disabled children and false positive referrals.

5. Mr Badman and the DCSF are using these figures to suggest that the rate of abuse in the HE community is disproportionately high (s8.12 and recommendations 22 and 23).

6. Mr Badman has extrapolated a national figure from information provided by only 28% of his sample. One wonders why he thinks 72% of the respondents would leave blank the answer to a question if they had any data to report.

It would seem more reasonable to assume that the other 65 LAs did not respond to the question on social care because none of their EHE children are also recorded (by the education department) as being "known to social care". To extrapolate from the 25 respondents who answered the question to the 90 respondents who did not answer the question is an unusual statistical method.

7. Mr Badman extrapolates that national figure using the median, rather than the more expected mean value.

If the median from 25 LAs is 7 and the other 65 LAs have 0, then the median reduces to 0 across all 90 LAs that responded. If you extrapolate that to 150 LAs you get the obviously incorrect figure of no EHE children being known to social care. If you accept Mr Badman's median of 7, then 7 * 150 gives 1050 (not 1350) children known to social care (5.25% of 20,000). This is significantly less than double the national average for all children.

Let's turn to the more usual average, the mean. If 477 children in 25 LAs are known to social care, that is a mean of 19 children per LA and extrapolates to 2850 children across all LAs; if 477 children in 90 LAs are known to social care, that is a mean of 5 children per LA and extrapolates to 750 children across all LAs (3.75% of 20,000).

8. Mr Badman reports (s6.1) "there are around 20,000 [EHE] children and young people currently registered with local authorities". For Annex extract 5, this is the number on which percentages are calculated, but s6.1 also states, "We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children." This makes a big differences to the conclusions that can be drawn:

s6.1 means that there are at least 40,000 EHE children - and the other 20,000 are not known to the LA education dept, never mind social care (it is a fair assumption that a home educated child who comes to the notice of social care will then be registered by them as an electively home educated child.)

So, we now have a rocky estimation of 1050 children out of 40,000 (2.62%); or possibly 60,000 (1.75%); or 80,000 (1.3%). Even at Mr Badman's lowest serious estimate, home-educated children are known to social care (that is, for all children's services including false referrals and children needing special services because of disability or special needs) at a rate of 0.38% below the DCSF's estimate for the general population. Given the higher proportion of home-educated children who have SEN or chronic health problems, are deregistered because the system has failed to meet their needs, or who live in local authority areas that routinely refer home-educating families to social services, this would appear to indicate that home-educated children are not at a high risk of child abuse.

(Comments on points 6, 7 and 8 written by S Deuchars, info@nwilts-he.org.uk)

9. Figures collected via freedom of information enquiries show that the rate of abuse in the HE community is actually disproportionately low.

10. It is clear, by comparing the information from the Annex supplied by the DSCF, above, with the statistics obtained from individual LAs by AHEd members and collated here that, in the absence of any figures to back up early claims about child abuse in home education, the Badman report has used "known to social care" figures which do not correlate with figures for actual abuse.


(The reply received by A White, who is a Home Ed Forums member, was a partial response with other questions in the FOI refused. One of the grounds for refusal was that local authorities were promised confidentiality in whatever they would say about home educators. Individual responses from home educators were not accorded any privacy promise. Electors in those LAs who submitted secret information may wonder what their authority is saying in their behalf - especially if they are home educators!)  


AHEd Statistician Comment:

From W. Wallace

Mr Wallace has worked in local government as a statistician and also as a university statistics lecturer and research fellow.


Dear [AHEd]


Quite frankly I can't believe that you received the Appendix as an FOI request. I had been looking for a statistical / methodological appendix to the Badman report but had not found one. The methodology as shown does not stand up as plausible or acceptable statistically, apart from all the other issues concerning the precise information used i.e. abuse, disability services or known to SS for a variety of possibly unsubstantiated reasons. 


The use of a sample median to gross up to a national value requires that all LA's have the same number of EHE children, which they do not. 


It is not easily possible to estimate the statistical error introduced by doing this but suffice it to say that the standard error of such an estimate would be so large that it would not be worth using the statistic.


Also quoted is 477 registered EHE children known to the 25 LA's that responded out of the 90 asked to respond as part of the review. We have no way of knowing how representative the 25 are of the 150 LA's and this needs to be checked before any statistics can be quoted. Are we comparing like with like? If we were confident that these 25 reasonably reflected the total 150 then we might take the 477 and divide by the total number of EHE children in the 25 LA's. This would give us an estimate of the proportion of EHE children known to SS per LA. This is what they could have done but did not. 


There are at least two main flaws to be noted:


1. The inappropriate use of one measurement instead of the target measure. Using 'known to SS' rather than recorded abuse (often termed an error of operationalisation). 


2. Using a non-probability sample. No standard errors or confidence intervals can be computed. Only some qualitative value may be possibly obtained. This is error in sample selection.


I can say without any hesitation that the information on methodology casts grave doubt on any use of the results from the Badman Review. 


What small amount of the Appendix that is shown is enough to bring a case of maladministration. Refusing to show any further details for whatever reason is not going to support their case one bit. It is very serious that statistical methods can be misused to try to support a case that does not exist.  


W. Wallace BSc MSc MPhil FSS AFIMA


DCSF Statisticians:


Graham Badman sat in front of the select committee on the 12th of October 2009 and said that the figure for all children in England on a CPP was 0.2% this figure was verified by dcsf statisticians 


On the 17th of September 2009 this document was published which gives the official figure for children in England on a CPP as 0.31% this figure has been verified by dcsf statisticians




The Press


Unfortunately the press, in large measure, appear to sup up and regurgitate government spin. The same paper can report positive news and conflicting spin with no apparent memory or serious journalism to present a true picture to readers. Home educators have complained to the PCC about scandalous misreporting about their families and child abuse, including recent misreporting of the results of the review as spun by government that resulted in one well respected organisation concluding after talks with Graham Badman that 40% of home educated children are "on the at-risk register." 


See, for example, "British media failing the public"

"That we should have editors arguing for the legitimacy of this kind of journalism when serious political coverage is lying dead in a ditch is deeply humiliating to my profession. The case against the media is so severe it appears conclusive. We desperately need to give it the kind of scrutiny politicians receive. But will we, as an industry, be brave enough to do it?" Ian Dunt (journalist)


Copied below is an excellent reply summarising this issue as it applies to home educators following the Badman Review.


Letter: Summary re Press and the Review


A very serious example of this is the reporting of the Graham Badman Review of Elective Home Education. We have collated the statistics on child abuse in the EHE population and find from the Local Authority submissions to the review (gained through freedom of information applications held at www.whatdotheyknow.com) that the EHE population have less than half the rate of abuse of the general public. However, it is reported that EHE children are twice as likely to be abused (Independent, etc)! Many complaints are being processed by the PCC (regarding TES, Independent, Guardian, etc.) The collated stats can be found here:




The problem is that the journalists reporting have taken 'known to social services' to be synonymous with 'on the at risk register' because they have not read the review and have misunderstood the reasons children may be 'known to social services' such as being in receipt of a disability allowance, being referred merely for home educating, etc.


A number of home educators recently received a letter from the Church of England (who submitted a response to the review) which said 40% of EHE children are on the at risk register.  They had appeared, from the letter, to have gained this misunderstanding during a meeting with Graham Badman whilst discussing the way parts of their submission to the review had been used to misrepresent their overall submission. (They have subsequently sent an apology to those home educators and you are welcome to contact me for a primary source contact).


In my correspondence with the Independent regarding their article claiming EHE children twice as likely to be abused, they have reassured me that their article is accurate according to Graham Badman's press conference. They have not checked the review nor the empirical evidence of the review ... of which there is virtually none.


Please feel free to contact me regarding this as we are struggling, as a community, with getting these actions reported accurately. The government are proposing breaking civil rights laws to privacy at home, and the law as regards the rights of our children to refuse interrogation without parents present.  They are proposing to do so without proportionate risk to our children of abuse. I think they are using a populist agenda to undermine the civil rights of a minority group in order to set a precedent to extend the invasive monitoring to every family with children not in school, ie the under fives.


The review recommendations will seek to homogenize education into the failing kind the government provide, with 1 in 4 children leaving primary and 1 in 6 leaving secondary school unable to read, write and compute adequately. Meanwhile, Paula Rothermel's research* shows that home education leads children (even those of disadvantaged working class parents) to outperform their schooled counterparts by a large degree.


Undermining our right to philosophical difference is a violation and should also be being reported by the media. Meanwhile, they sell papers based on the scandalous and persecuting headline "Home educated children twice as likely to be abused." I don't suppose they'd sell much with the truth:


"Home educated children half as likely to be abused and yet twice as likely to be pursued by social services. Government plan to interrogate home educated children for signs of abuse."


You can contact Action for Home Education here`; http://www.ahed.org.uk.




S. Lloyd


* Dr Paula Rothermel (PhD)


What is it all about then?


There is a long history now of attempts to conflate home education and child abuse. There is a very long list of consultations affecting us recorded on this site and outlined in the Briefing Paper.


However, in 2007, Lord Adonis said about home education that although, at the time, the government was not dictating the content or outcome of the education provided to children by parents, this is an anomaly that must be brought into line with government objectives. The party with this policy wishes to control the educational content and outcome for all children, as they have said, regardless of the educational "setting." In order to carry out this agenda they have called us first of all an anomaly and forged full steam ahead all the way to the present day implication that there is a fifty fifty chance we are abusing our children. But this mistreatment and marginalisation of a small section of the nation's families is only a foot in the door that we believe will bring in the widespread loss of the presumption of innocence, family autonomy, the right to a private family life, privacy, freedom of conscience and independence for all families with children.


This should be alarming to anyone who is interested in freedom of thought and diversity or who is aware of the history of state dominated and controlled education systems of history. It should alarm all those who care that an education should suit the needs of the child and not the demands of the state! Otherwise, what are we and our children for?







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