Thursday, March 22, 2007

"The LA expects evidence."

Following a recent comment here, I've been thinking about possible ways to, as Ruth said, "..keep life/learning how the kids want it and respect their right to own their own learning," whilst still keeping a very difficult LEA like Ruth's at bay.

When I deregistered Tom, Ali and Zara from school I was furious with the LEA and the school for failing my children so spectacularly. We started home ed provision on the firm basis that anything the children did at home would be an improvement on the school provision, which had damaged them so inarguably and measurably. In that way, I suppose we had the LEA on the defensive - although I wouldn't recommend it as a plan!

In my very early dealings with them after deregistration I wasn't in touch with other home educators, so I didn't know about difficulties HEing families had with various LEAs and I had no idea that people would resent their involvement so much. From my own perspective, my LEA was involved in my children's education - to the extent that they'd had charge of it until we began HE. I was angry because I'd been stupid enough to trust them to do a decent job, and I felt that they hadn't even tried.

In my frame of mind at the time, the idea of privacy didn't really occur to me. In writing the early HE reports I was thinking more along the lines: "At least if someone there is reading how problematic it is to sort out their mess, then it might help those children still in the system to get a better deal." I still thought school was meant to be a beneficial thing, in those days, and I felt cheated because it had been the opposite.

I held the school firmly, totally responsible for my children's unwillingness to learn. I don't think I still hold that view though: with hindsight I realise that it was not being in complete control of their learning that made them unwilling to learn. I actually found it helpful to 'have to' log the process of solving this problem, in my reports to the LEA.

I suppose, from the LEA's perspective, they didn't have much choice but to accept and condone what I was telling them in the reports. I wasn't hiding anything and they could come and verify what I was saying at any time. My only priority was my children's best interests and this was glaringly obvious throughout my whole dealings with them. It wasn't deliberate, but I guess the fact that I was justifiably angry with them and sufficiently articulate to be able to do something about it (I'd sent copies of my deregistration letter, including lengthy and very detailed rant, to the Minister of Education) might have dissuaded them from challenging anything in the reports.

I would have relished the challenge anyway, and when the children's father tried to get a court to order their return to school, I got one of sorts. In the event, I just handed my LEA reports over to the judge. The LEA submitted their own report in support of my provision and my ex-husband's request was denied.

I was working from a position of righteous fury, and the LEA was on its back foot which is, I now realise, not the case for most home educators in their dealings with their LEAs. Most home educators - quite understandably - just wish to be left alone by the LEAs, to preserve their privacy and to protect their children from unwarranted intervention for fear the LEA will reject the provision as being unsuitable.

So have home educating families with autonomous learning children got anything to fear from their LEAs, really?

One LEA visitor to our house, early in our autonomous provision, asked to see samples of the children's work.

"I've stopped insisting on them producing work," I said, "Because their interest in learning shut down whenever I did. Is the LEA interested in my children's learning, or in their work? Because the two things are mutually exclusive, so it can't have both."

"Erm... well I suppose learning is the important thing," said the visitor and the LEA has been happy to take my word for it that the children are learning, ever since - though I accept that some LEAs might just never be so amenable.

At the heart of Calderdale's treatment of families and children are some chief officers who really do care about education and child welfare. I know this because I've had lengthy conversations with them about it, though I did also find they had concerns and some prejudice that "some families aren't fit to home educate," and that "some children's best chances are in school." We tried to dispel those myths, but kept coming back to child welfare issues which shouldn't have been - and, I believe, still aren't within an education department's remit to detect or solve.

Autonomous educators' main worry, I think, is lack of work to show. I think we need to strongly make the case that education does not mean work. Learning and work are very different, largely unconnected things. I don't think even education law confuses learning with work, though many LEA personnel obviously do. Perhaps we can produce some documentation, for the general use of autonomous families, to support this? Perhaps it already exists somewhere and we just need to find it.

In law the Harrison ruling still stands, in which the term 'suitable education' was defined as one which enabled the children ‘to achieve their full potential’, and was such as ‘to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society’. The term 'efficient' was defined as achieving ‘that which it sets out to achieve’. [Harrison & Harrison v Stephenson (appeal to Worcester Crown Court 1981)]

It's impossible for anyone to justify how viewing samples of work could possibly prove any of the above, because it can't even give an indication of whether any of the above criteria are being met.


Blogger Ruth said...

I have found L.A staff can't get over the idea that something tangible must be the end product of a learning process or part of it all along. The threat I got was if you can't show us something( meaning "work") we will assume no education/learning is taking place. Also the L.A can't accept that any product of learning is the child's property and not up for public scrutiny. If told this the L.A immediately think that is cos the product is "sub-standard." I have had the argument with them that pieces of writing ( cos lets face it that is all they want to see in reality) are not an indicator of whether the childrens' education is efficient or they are reaching their full potential. Anyone can produce busy work with zero effective or meaningful learning going on. I think it all boils down to the fact the responsibility for making sure that it is efficient and the children reach their full potential rests with us as H.E not the L.A. They can't see that tho. The warcry I get over and over is "How can we decide your children are reaching their full potential if you won't show us any "work" or let us speak to your children? My response is how can they possibly decide with whatever they are shown? They don't know my children and made a p**s poor job of the older 5 when in school. So yes they do confuse work with learning. Phew! I have another 10 years of this to if the school leaving age goes up:)

8:45 pm, March 22, 2007  
Blogger Tibetan Star said...

Interesting reading, which reminds me we're due an 'inspection' any time now...

9:04 pm, March 22, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Gah, so they've got a totally rigid idea of what learning is, haven't they? I suppose you tried giving them a reading list?

I think we need to insist on LEAs fielding staff to liaise with us who at least understand the basics about home ed. I'd have expected them to have read John Holt, Jan Fortune-Wood, FREd and Gareth Lewis. How on earth can they advise families new to HE if they don't know what HE actually is?

I'm sure you have tried Ruth - I'm getting deja vu.. we've had this conversation about 3x before, haven't we? And it always goes the same way, with me saying, "Have you tried xyz?" and you saying "Yes.." Very depressing :-(

How do other autonomous HErs in your area fare with them? Just stay unknown I guess? Lucky people, if so!

9:15 pm, March 22, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

TBh Gill I don't think any of them would read anything even if offered it:( As for autonomous educators here they are mostly unknown or fly by the seat of their pants:) Or the big up stuff to put a spin on it. I get a lot of calls now and most decide on a structured approach. This is usually cos the L.A has put the fear of god into them before they get to me. It takes a lot of guts to be autonomous in some L.A's - or plain bloody mindedness as in my kid's case:)

11:23 pm, March 22, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

We went on the offensive with our LA from the start - with regard to autonomy. They got our ed phil - with a bibliography. We did have one visit - and now we do an annual report.

Our report has some pictures of things the kids have made or written, but is mostly our reflections. We make a photo-montage cover of the kids doing various stuff. I guess some people wouldn't be happy with sharing that amount of personal stuff - but we look at it as an awareness raising exercise ;-)

Our local LA bod said that our ed phil was 'interesting' and she says that our report is 'unusual'! But she is perfectly happy with it - she is quite an open-minded individual, so I guess we're lucky.

12:16 am, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I think we're lucky here too Allie, but I know a few areas where, like Ruth, autonomous HErs are very unlucky.

Mr I in S.Yorks recently wrote in a letter to a parent something along the lines of: "I need to see some of the child's work in order to assess his progress in numeracy and literacy to enable me to make a decision about whether or not the provision is suitable. Obviously not everything will have been written down but there will be something in writing and this is what I need to see. In the absence of this I have to conclude the provision is unsatisfactory and refer the family back to the education welfare department."

Like the people at Ruth's LA, he obviously has no idea how autonomous education works and firmly believes that its results should be comparable, at any time, with those of school children. In fact most autonomous learners' output would, I'd guess, be significantly 'behind' that of schoolchildren until about the age of 12, after which it would be significantly 'ahead'. But it would depend what subjects you were looking at and how you were looking at them - and on the individual families and children, of course.

The thing is, any of us could be unlucky enough to land an LA like Ruth's, or a Mr I. for an 'inspector' at any time. I wonder if the upcoming changes will make this more, or less likely? I guess it might actually make things easier in areas like Ruth's - but it's all guesswork at this stage isn't it?

I think it would be useful for us to have an official-looking, standard 'bundle' of info about autonomous learning to present them with to help them to understand how it differs from schooling. I'm wondering whether there's anything like that currently out there, or whether it's something that needs doing? Would it make a difference, do you think Ruth? If it was easily readable?

Autonomous learning is so different from homeschooling that I think we need a separate kind of approach to use in our dealings with LAs.

I think we have to work from the assumption that LEA people do have children's best interests at heart and just have no understanding of the different educational processes - I think that's probably true for the most part.

8:05 am, March 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in fear of the check ups. It's mainly because we really don't know who we are going to meet and if they are in need of colonic irrigation or not. (ahem). I just deleted a 15 thousand word comment because just thinking about this gets me frothing at the mouth. *sigh* I'll try and stick to 10 thousand words Gill;)

In some ways it helps to have a little friction about this there are days when I am not up to being supermum and then the one thing that will fire me into action is the thought that I am not going to give the authorities any space to say that we don't create here.

The kids can be truculent about no doubt their lives would be all milk and honey if I let them dance completely to their own tune. Alas, I cannot. They are not the only members of this family I have to consider. I have others under my wing too, and I cannot have strife off the authorities right now. So you could say that 'autonomous' isn't an option for us, simply because we haven't got the energy to defend it and we have to play carefully. The way it works over here..we'd have no chance of being left to be if we couldn't swamp them in stuff to chew on. I can show excellent examples of my kids 'work' and it keeps the authorities out of my face.

Whether what we create is good enough for the authorities is something I have yet to find out for sure. I have a deal with the kids that their life is one of Riley, and to protect this there is a certain amount of paperwork and flannel we have to bury the authorities under from time to time. If the kids are really not upholding their end of the bargain (is not much and it takes little time) I do say, and i will admit this: "So. You wanna get your momma put in the dock eh? You wanna trouble your momma? You won't do a poxy bit of maths for me to show The Man? You'd rather see me go into battle would ya?" And the really awful, I-mean-it-you-must: "They will suggest you return to the schooled environment if you do not at least show some signs of doing something they merit. Is that what you are angling after? It's not really that you want to read another comic is it? it is really that you want to go back to school. I am sorry. I just didn't read your signals correctly."

Am acid tongued super bitch mother with chip on her shoulder. Am between the authorities and sometimes very unhelpful children. But somehow, it works out. It's not like I am threatening them (er...that's my line) just saying it like it is (and it really is like that). We are in this together and while I love home edding my kids..I did have a really lovely cushy job in a kindergarten and an education I was following that I gave up to do this. I will home ed, I will be the interfact between my kids and the authorities, but the kids have to help. Just like they have to do the washing up when it is their turn.

But that isn't to say I feel fantastic about having to coerce them. But I do defend the fact that I do. I think I will relax a bit more over the years though:) xxx Luv from 'EF' xxx

12:25 pm, March 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..erm...I meant 'interface'..not 'interfact'

'EF' xxx

12:28 pm, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi EF :-)
Hmm I wonder how many families are HEing in different ways due to state involvement, or threat of it? I'd be really interested in knowing whether its a UK thing too.

5:33 pm, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I'm wondering whether there's anything like that currently out there, or whether it's something that needs doing? Would it make a difference, do you think Ruth? If it was easily readable?

I am not sure cos I know 4 of our "inspectors" went to a workshop about autonomous education with someone from EO. One definitely seems to understand it to some extent and was happy with my letter I sent with no other evidence. What I have found tho is it does not seem to be up to one person to decide if the evidence is satisfactory when a report/letter or ed phil hits their desks. One will say it is fine but tell you someone else higher up wants more. ( as they did to me but I have heard no more since I wrote back) Also there is no rhyme nor reason to what is acceptable - I know one or two who have sent one A4 side letter in and have been left alone for another year but others who have shown more but jumped through many, many hoops ( 3 month follow ups, more evidence e.t.c)before they have been happy. Another aspect of the problem is SEN. The inspector who came to us two years ago knew my boys had been dxed ASD. It was news to us. The paed sent the letter to the School Health before she told us. They get bogged down with SEN and full potential and seem to think they have to assess the SEN child so they can judge if what we are doing is suitable. They forget HE children do not have to be a school base standards and levels.

I know a few who HE in a way they wouldn't if they felt braver.

7:28 pm, March 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated but have you posted a new "softer bronte-esq" picture of yourself for any specific reason?

Blog Lurker

9:22 pm, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth, so they're winging it really, aren't they? They don't actually have any consistent idea of what HE looks like in order to be able to make any decisions about it. They need an official, laminated A4 sheet with bullet points for guidance and no big words.

Maybe we should make one for them.

Lurker, I was bored of the old one and fancied a change. Which pic do you prefer?

10:27 pm, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Yes they are winging it. I also think they want a tick box sheet of what autonomous H.E looks like. That might work:)

10:47 pm, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

If we take the Harrison judgment as a starting point, "to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society" is easy to prove, for autonomous learning. Give an autonomous child access to the Internet, and it will set about getting prepared for just such a life.

"Achieving that which it sets out to achieve" - a good ed. phil. sorts that one out.

"One which enabled the children ‘to achieve their full potential’". This one's really interesting actually, because I think we could make the case that autonomous ed is the best way of achieving it because we're helping our children to develop the most personalised learning system possible. Autonomous ed is the absolute ultimate in personalised learning, isn't it?

11:11 pm, March 23, 2007  
Anonymous Lucy B said...

hello Gill,

Would love to brainstorm a 'this is what autonomous HE can look like" type bullet-pointed list with you all. I think the trick would be to be very vague (as it can be so different for everyone) but in the most specific terms. I've got various examples of some evaluation sheets that the Dfes currently use to evaluate arts projects in schools ... perhaps some of the points they look at (there's lots to do with confidence, using tools, resolving conflicts, identifying own learning gains, etc etc) could be tweaked to meet our needs? Dunno.

8:15 am, March 24, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Autonomous ed is the absolute ultimate in personalised learning, isn't it?

Yes it is:)

Lucy B - I also think the idea of a bullet pointed list is great. I was talking to another H.E yesteday and we agreed autonomous learning is so hard to pin down it is almost impossible to explain it to anyone who does not already do it. Even other H.E sometimes! When you have the mindset of most L.A officials coupled with some hostility and predudice in many cases it looks like a case of educational neglect to them when they come into the home. If they had a set of vague tick boxes that can be adapted to any family I think we might be on a winner.

1:29 pm, March 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, let's do it :-)

Are the evaluation sheets online anywhere Lucy?

I think it's a good idea to look at them, but I wouldn't want to be tied to DfES criteria that can be changed on the latest whim. But we can certainly get some ideas from them, to make our stuff look vaguely familiar.

Differences between educational neglect and autonomous learning.. hmmm.. I'll do a bullet-point post on that later that we can work on, shall I? It fits in well with some of the things Ali was saying the other day.

2:06 pm, March 24, 2007  
Anonymous lucy b said...

There's *some* info on that evaluation stuff online here:
if you click on Evaluation Matrix User Notes and then flick through/scan the resulting rather dry and dusty Word doc, there may be some useful ideas we can adapt. Otherwise I can email an evaluation sheet, as there's one lurking on my desktop waiting for me to feel inclined to fill it in for a current project I'm involved with :-/

There used to be a question on their forms (not sure it's still current) which was something like: "what does this learning look like?" or "what does success for this project look like?" Never did quite get my head round the question in the various circs I had to answer it, and was undecided if it was a good question or not, but I certainly found it an interesting starting point for thinking.

I was thinking very much in terms of using some of their language - *where* and *if* it's appropriate for what we do - and certainly not necc using their criteria, or whatever, which probably aren't relevant to what we do. Sometimes, I think that if you couch something in language that's familiar, then it's given more credence than otherwise. :-(

2:33 pm, March 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well since you ask I guess I will tell.

Piccy one (old pic) sort of conveys to *me* (IMO) a sort of image that says.

"hey reader, I know who I am and I know what I know and I am strong, modern woman who can do anything and even if I think I can't I will have a damn good go. Also I took this rather good piccy of myself looking young and fresh even though I have a undisclosed number of children, some of whom are nearer twenty than ten".

Piccy two says,

"Hmm I think that I will explore the more softer side of my image and what this may convey, I look like a sort of 'need a man to help me girlie' but on closer inspection look at the wry way my mouth rises in the corner, this tells you that yes, I have a soft feminine side that I choose to display when it suits me, but actually life has made me complex and stong but I have not conformed to any one sterotype"

I think both are nice.

Just a bit o fun.


2:52 pm, March 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Number of children is disclosed and age and everything!

And ooh, interesting observations! I was actually just thinking: "Oh phew, another pic in which I look vaguely human. I can get rid of the old one that's been around forever, then."

Zara took the first one: she's definitely good with a camera.

7:49 pm, March 24, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

"Mr I in S.Yorks recently wrote in a letter to a parent something along the lines of: "I need to see some of the child's work in order to assess his progress in numeracy and literacy to enable me to make a decision about whether or not the provision is suitable. Obviously not everything will have been written down but there will be something in writing and this is what I need to see. In the absence of this I have to conclude the provision is unsatisfactory and refer the family back to the education welfare department."

Ah now, I have some experience of the infamous Mr I and had some 18months of letter writing and a meeting with Ed. Welfare, was issued with a notice of an intention to issue an SAO (etc, etc.)

However, I stood firm on behalf of my eldest son (who was not comfortable with having his work inspected) and he never saw a scrap of written material from my eldest. Still, we were eventually in receipt of a letter confirming that he found the provision of education within our home to be satisfactory.

That's not quite the whole story - but for brevity (considering I want to watch Resident Evil and it's already started...)

However, we were one of the last families I was aware of involved in such a debate at the time to be 'left standing', due IMO no little to the bullying stance taken by this LA.

Unfortunately, the next round of families are now going through a similar experience.

It's rather by-the-by for us as my eldest decided to go to school f/t in January (after much *debate* etc.) However, as I have younger children who will be HE, it's a matter of principle that I will continue to challenge this (albeit after a short period of taking stock, de-stressing and having a serious think about what might need to happen next).

The line is here that evidence of written work must be shown and families have been told that their children MUST be seen as a matter of welfare.

It's not that I'm against showing examples of work and certainly my other son has done - that was his choice - and that's the point, it is a choice supported by law.

The LA is maintaining that they will not be satisfied by anything else.

(take deep breaths folks :0)

Anyway, slowly we're moving forward in the challenging of it.

9:13 pm, April 04, 2007  

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