Sunday, May 13, 2007

Transcript: the Radio 5 Live home education debate.

Debating home education this morning on Julian Worricker's BBC Radio Five Live programme were:

Julian Worricker (JW), presenting the show,
Tony Mooney (TM), a 'home education inspector',
Fiona Nicholson (FN), a home educating parent,
Theo Nicholson (TN), Fiona's fourteen year old son,
Ayesha Hazarika (AH), a political commentator and comedian who appears to have been invited on the show to discuss Cherie Blair,
and Nick Watt (NW), political editor of the Observer, who was also there originally to discuss Cherie Blair.

It was unclear why these last two people were included in the debate, because it transpired they both knew even less about home education than Tony Mooney and the result was a rather shameful 'ganging-up' by those four (Tony Mooney, Julian Worriker, Ayesha Hazarika and Nick Watt) on Fiona and Theo, who were stuck in the Sheffield studio away from the four people in London. What doesn't come across in the transcript is the issues with sound engineering, which meant that Fiona and Theo's interjections were often drowned out by the London studio voices.

Here is my transcript of the discussion anyway:

----Transcript begins------

JW: A record number of children are now being educated at home, but concerns are being raised by some officials that some of those being home-schooled are doing little or no work, as parents use it as a front for truancy. A recent government study suggested that 16,000 children are being home educated, that’s three times as many as eight years ago. So is home education simply becoming an excuse for some children to slack off? Well to discuss this, Tony Mooney is here, who is a home education inspector. Tony, good morning. Erm, and Fiona Nicholson is a home educating parent and a Sheffield representative of Education Otherwise and her son Theo is with her..

FN: Hello

JW: as well. Erm. Fiona, Theo. Good morning to both of you.

TN & FN: Good morning.

JW: Now, we’ve had quite a lot of correspondence about this already from people just knowing that we were going to talk about it so it’s clearly a burning issue for some. Tony, explain what the rules are at the moment.

TM: The rules are that first of all, if you’ve got a child and it gets to the age of five, and you don’t want to send it to school then that’s it. Nobody can do anything about you. If you send the child to school and then get the child out of school to educate at home then you’ve got to report it to the head teacher and the governing body. Unfortunately the rules are very very slack with regard to home education. First of all, I don’t have the right to see the child or to go to the home. I don’t really have the right to see work that the child’s doing. It’s very difficult. About 80% of the parents don’t cause me any problems. I do go to homes and see the children. But what I’m seeing is a standard of education which I think would be laughed at in schools but as far as the law is concerned it’s adequate for home education.

JW: You say you don’t have the right to do that list of things. Erm, what do you have the right to do at the moment?

TM: Well, when I see the child I talk to the child about the work they're doing and write a report, which I’ve got to do. But if the parent so wishes they can just give me a timetable of what they’ve been doing, present some work.. and I don’t even know if they present the work that.. if the child has been doing it! But most parents do toe the line with me and let me go in and talk to the child and themselves.

JW: OK, Let’s hear Fiona and Theo’s story and then I know they’ve got issues with some of the things you’re saying and vice versa no doubt. Fiona, before we get into the issues, tell us a bit about your decision erm and obviously we’ll talk to Theo as well but why did you decide, I think from the word go, that Theo should be taught at home?

FN: Er yes, I decided that Theo wasn’t going to school. He has never been to school or to nursery. It was a decision I made based on being with Theo all the time thinking that he wouldn’t fit into the system and I just wanted to deliver far more er.. cliché.. personalised learning, at home.

JW: Right. And is it a decision that you have ever regretted?

FN: No. Not for a second.

JW: And how do you go about..?

FN: And this was in 1993, I decided when he was born and he is now 14.

JW: Right. How do you go about structuring a typical day, a typical week, for him?

FN: There isn’t a typical day or a typical week because I facilitate all his learning and I support him in anything he wants to do and I introduce new educational opportunities for him. I make a lot of resources available. We discuss everything very exhaustively, so, you know, I couldn’t possibly give you a typical day – even a typical hour. Except it would probably involve a lot of talking.

JW: Right. Theo, how do you feel about all that?

TN: Oh it’s pretty cool it, like, works. I know stuff and, like, I’m learning.. things.. erm. It seems.. yes, it works pretty well. I’ve not felt disadvantaged or anything like that.

JW: But what about the standard assumption that you miss out on the fact that you’re not in a classroom with lots of other kids of the same age..

FN: Yeah, he certainly misses out on that..

JW: .. mixing with, learning to mix with them and all that. Is that not something you feel that you’re missing out on?

TN: No Not really. I mean there’s like groups of like people that I socialise with but it’s not really my scene in all. It’s not like I’m missing out on socialising if I wanted to.

JW: And are there things that you’re worried that you’re not learning that you ought to be learning because you’re at home rather than in a slightly more structured school environment?

TN: No because I know I could just like go and find stuff out if I was inclined to so I don’t really feel like I couldn’t learn stuff if I wanted to.

JW: And what about exams? Are you taking exams in the near future?

TN: Erm, we’ve not decided yet, but we’ve got it set up so that I could if I wanted to.

FN: He’s not going to do GCSEs. If he wanted he could go to college at level 3 at 16 without GCSE.

JW: Was that a joint decision that you’ve taken, Fiona, with Theo?

FN: Er, yes. With Theo and with his father.

JW: Right. Cos there comes a point, doesn’t there, and this I think is where the doubt lies, that whether you like it or not there’s a system in place in this country that says if you take this exam you get this far or you do that or you do the next thing..

FN: GCSEs are being scrapped though.

JW: Yeah, ok, but there are other exams along the way. At some point if you don’t fit in, you might have to pay the penalty, is the point I’m getting at.

FN: Erm, sorry, I don’t really understand the point you’re getting at. If you can go to level 3 at college when you’re 16, if you can do Open University or university entrance on a level 3 qualification or on an interview and portfolio then why does the fact that you haven’t taken SATs at 7 and 11 disadvantage you? I’m not following.

JW: Tony, where do you stand on what you’ve heard from Fiona and Theo?

TM: Well, again, you’ve got someone who’s very articulate, obviously had a good education herself. The great majority of the children I see are not from that kind of background. They’re from working class estates. The parents have pulled..

FN: I live on a council estate.

TM: Right, but you’re very articulate. But they’re working class estates where the parents have had difficulty getting their children into school, or they’ve been bullied or things like that and they take them out as a last resort or a way of not being taken to court because of truancy.

FN: And so what support do you offer them at that point?

TM: Well this is the point. I’m not supposed to give any support at all, although I do..

FN: You could do what you weren’t supposed to if you wanted to though, couldn’t you?

TM: Oh yes. Yes, let me finish. I’m I’m I do give a lot of support.

FN: That’s great.

TM: I advise them on the books to buy, how to, especially the books which erm are self-help books which give the answers and how to do and approach the problems. But even so, the kind of families I’m dealing with most of the time, the support is not there. It may last for six months erm, but at secondary level the parents find it really difficult to sustain the teaching.

FN: I’m sorry, are you making a distinction between working class people and middle class people here?

TM: I’m not making a distinction at all, I’m telling you what I’m finding..

FN: What’s your shorthand for, you know, council estates and the kind of people who aren’t articulate? I don’t really understand what you’re saying..

TM: Well, what I’m saying is that the parents who are pulling them out have got no idea about educating at home. Not like you.

FN: And, and you help them?

TM: I try to give them as much help as I can.

JW: Fiona, it’s surely better. It’s surely better, if somebody does take the decision that you have that they are proven, under some sort of system, that they can actually handle it. That they can actually teach their child as effectively as that child surely deserves to be taught?

FN: Well I’d like to remove the word ‘teach’ because I think that children learn and that’s completely different from being taught, but yes, I agree that families who home educate should be given as much support as they want in order to make as effective a job as they need.

JW: Right. Let me put this email to you, Tony. Richard House writes: “Home education is burgeoning because families are voting with their feet and rejecting the appalling state of the testing-obsessed anxiety-saturated, mainstream system.” He has more to say, but that’s the crucial point that he wants to get across.

TM: I think the majority of people who take their child out of school don’t have that as a major issue. Erm.. Cer.. A few might, but not the majority that I visit.

JW: We’ve had several emails echoing that though.

TM: Well, you might be taking.. you might be taking a sample of people who want to get back in touch with it. A lot of the people that, that, that I go and visit won’t be listening to Radio 5 Live for a start. [Laughs]

JW: Well, that, that obviously we can’t test here and now. Erm, Ayesha and Nick are listening to this. Ayesha. Thoughts on what you’ve heard.

AH: Well it’s ver.. I mean.. [sigh] The.. I.. I guess my, just, my, my worry is, you know, how.. how do you know that your child is gonna be ok and how do you, you know from getting into uni..

FN: How does anybody ever know that?

AH: I’m sorry. Just let me finish. And er.. even with employers as well, I mean.. in a fiercely sort of competitive labour market now, you know, when employers are looking through people’s CVs.. their education is very important and if your kid’s up against someone who’s got straight As right throughout their kind of education history, and your child, you know, may be, you know, brilliant, erm, in many respects, but they’re, like, well.. I did, you know, me and my mum had great chats around the kitchen and I feel like a very rounded person. I think, you know, the the the child with the better education is probably going to get the job.

FN: Sorry, define education?

JW: Er, Nick, you, and then I’ll come back to you Fiona.

NW: I mean, I’m sure that, I’m sure that erm, well, you know, Fiona is doing what she thinks is right and Fiona sounds highly articulate and we, we obviously don’t know the circumstances there, but, I would just, I mean, agree with Ayesha that on, on two points really. We may not like the examination system. We may think it’s too controlled. We may think it’s too centralised, but at the end of the day if you don’t have exams you will not get such a good job in life and you will not be as successful as you could have been. That is just the reality. And the second point about schools is that it’s a really really important part of growing up, of socialising, of interacting with society. It’s not just about doing exams. It’s about learning to get on with boys, learning to get on with girls. Having rows, falling in love.. erm, that’s life.

JW: Fiona, deal with.. erm, an awful lot of points there, er.. heading, [laughs].. largely in your direction..

FN: Yeah. I’d just like to ask if people have seen the recent Nesta survey for people for 15-16 year olds staying, in the 21st century the UK needs to develop an economy based on creative skills, life skills, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and that those are all identified by FTSE companies as a bigger skills shortage area than literacy or numeracy.

NW: And that’s why you need to develop those skills in school, with kids, with other kids. It’s called social interaction.

FN: And you develop those..?

TN: But if everybody goes to school and gets all exactly the same qualifications then what is to identify somebody who is more creative or whatever..

FN: And you socialise with your peers in school?

TN: .. if everybody’s just got the same exams, got them through the school system the same way, then employers are actually going to have to have something else to identify erm, them by.

FN: Yeah, you need something you mark you out.

AH: I mean, you're right, creativity is very important and creative industries are now one of the fastest parts, growing parts of the economy and erm, but underpinning all of that are very very kind of core educational skills like literacy and Numeracy and science projects. And I know many CEOs in FTSE.. er.. companies.. and, as well as the creative, and you’re right, the creativity and the softer skills are stuff that people are looking at for when er, but those core, core skills are still very very important to this country..

FN: Well, of course they are, of course they are.

JW: Erm, Tony. To you, finally. Erm. You’ve talked about the system we’ve, I think, generally acknowledged around the table that Fiona is not a problem here, it’s the wider picture that you are worried about. Do you think that is going to change?

TM: No I don’t. I think more people are going to pull their children out of school as well, erm, as the government gets tighter on truancy. But the government has got to really look at what’s going on. I think it’s lax. It’s got a, it’s got a policy of every child matters, based on the UN convention on the rights of the child which says we’ve got to secure the best outcome for all children and young people who are under 18. They’re turning a blind eye to what’s going on at home.

JW: Ok. We will have to leave it there, but thank you all very much for taking part. Thanks to Tony. Thanks to Fiona and Theo in our Sheffield studio as well. A huge amount of correspondence on that. 10:53.

-----Transcript ends------


Blogger Gill said...

Someone who doesn't home educate, but who listened to the show, has just said to me that Tony Mooney came across as being very elitist and did himself no favours whatsoever in the programme. He said Fiona Nicholson, on the other hand, did an excellent job in highlighting his biased argument.

I hope this is how the rest of Five Live's normal Sunday morning listeners perceived the interview too.

1:09 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

I think Fiona and Theo did a good job in what was a very tricky situation. TM appeared very unsteady when Fiona actually challenged him on his class based assumptions. It must have been very frustrating not to be able to finish him off. I was very annoyed that they gave him the last word.

1:24 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Me too, Allie.

1:30 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Merry said...

5 live really need taking to task on their persistance with this; they are doing themselves no credit at all. Humphf.

1:40 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger emma said...

Fiona is a complete ice queen - brilliant - just points out the errors in every single thing the other people say, and with such poise (well, from the transcript). There's a woman who can think on her feet :-)

1:41 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

I personally think it was a waste of everyones time. Fiona wasn't given the opportunity to get out anything useful or worth while, TM was allowed to be the classist bigot he clearly is, (although I think she did a great job of pulling him up on that) and the presenters weren't prepared to open their minds for even a moment. No change really then, and as the dumbed down ones got the last say, as always, the dumbed down listeners will be nodding along in agreement with them because it's a darned sight easier than thinking. Grr, mutter mumble.

1:45 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, her voice came across very clearly and she stayed calm and exposed the weakensses in other people's arguments very well. If only the sound had been better balanced, she'd have demolished them even easier than she did, and the presenter did a hopeless job of balancing the debate between them all. He was quite right to be embarrassed when he said "Erm, an awful lot of points there, er.. heading.. largely in your direction.." She'd asnwered the first point and he himself spoke over that. But it was ok because she came straight back with the Nesta report which they had no choice but to agree with.

Funny that they think creative skills, life skills, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills and problem-solving can all be better learned in school, than out of it! Just goes to show the extent of the effects of institutionalisation in this country. :-(

1:47 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Tech, I wonder what it will take to open people's minds. Maybe just time?

Nah, I'm being too optimistic there, aren't I. State schooling has had time, and look at how much damage it's done.

1:50 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Well as I'm reading Illich at the moment who was so prophetic about what the world would be like with the continuation of schooling, and as it was written nearly 40 years ago and people still (largely) haven't opened their minds, I've no idea. Possibly the drip drip effect of ever more parents taking their children out of school, and the naysayers seeing the proof of the pudding with their own eyes. I really don't think more of these type of interviews will do anything other than cause frustration to the interviewees and the HE *community* though.

1:54 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I guess what we do - the proof of the pudding - is so unbelievable to the people in the system and many of its products, because we're like the boy who shouted that the emporer has no clothes. We expose the monumental waste of time and money that the school system is, and the fact that their qualifications are just bits of paper which don't mean much in the great scheme of things.

That bit about: "if you don’t have exams you will not get such a good job in life and you will not be as successful as you could have been. That is just the reality." - well, it's not the reality in our house! Tom and Ali could wave a few paycheques in their faces which would completely disprove that point.

2:06 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Well quite - I've blogged my thoughts about the delusion qualities of the exam system.

2:06 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Dani said...

"I guess what we do - the proof of the pudding - is so unbelievable to the people in the system and many of its products, because we're like the boy who shouted that the emporer has no clothes."

That's just what I was saying after we listened to the programme. We *know* that autonomous HE "works", even by their standards of enabling someone to go to university if that's what they choose to do, but when we say it they flat out disbelieve us. Or they make the person saying it into a special case - it's alright for you because you're so educated yourself/your child's a genius or whatever - but for everyone else it wouldn't work. I find it very frustrating.

I thought Fiona and Theo did very well - and Tony Mooney was something of a disappointment in a way. I thought he might have a more complex position, but he just came across as another person who can't see past their own prejudices.

2:20 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes he just can't seem to get past the nose to the grindstone way of thinking, can he? Which is very odd, given his earlier published opinions about personalised learning etc.

He even said to Fiona, "Not like you," even though he really had no way of judging her educational provision on the basis of that interview alone.

He heard her accent, ascertained the fact that she's eloquent and decided on that basis that she's 'fit to home educate'. Presumably if you can't speak so articulately, then in his mind, you shouldn't be allowed to home educate.

Prejudiced b***ocks.

2:37 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Exactly Dani. Which is why I think that the only way we will ever get people to believe is when they see it with their own eyes. No amount of telling them AE or even non AE HE works will make them believers. It is too much for many people to take on board - it makes a mockery of their lives if we're right doesn't it? That's a hard pill to swallow, and people will doggedly refuse to let it into their consciousness because to do so would be too painful an exercise.

I was talking to a parent at our recent LA meeting, they've been HEIng their son for about a year; he was telling me how he's discovered that he is having to learn alongside his son because he doesn't have the knowledge that the IGCSEs require, and he thought this was a bad thing, that it showed his lack of knowledge to his son. After a few minutes talking to him and saying how actually I believed it was good to learn together and that we shouldn't expect to know everything, and neither should our children expect that adults know everything, plus some stuff about how children are naturally inclined to learn given the time and peace to do it, you could see his eyes light up - it was a real light bulb moment for him, and that was a fellow HEer. He wouldn't've got that from listening to a radio interview, or from reading a newspaper article, he could only get it through first hand experience and through being pointed in another direction by someone he was freely able to question - IYSWIM?

Understanding will only come to people when they are ready for it, we will never be able to force it - if we do we are as guilty as the education system we dislike.

2:39 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Gill "personalised learning" is just another of the buzz words that educationalists use. Like "learner centred".

In essence they are meaningless, because in the end the are twisted, turned, manipulated and poisoned so that they can be controlled and directed by the directors of the system, the educationalists.

It is just another fashion trend, think back how many of those there have been.

One day, it is entirely possible that "autonomous learning" could be tripping merrily off these people's lips. It doesn't mean that what they are talking about will have much to do with what you mean when you use the term. They would want to control and direct it the same way as they do everything else.

2:48 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL yes I've read some interesting ideas about autonomous learning recently, along the lines of: "It works, so how can we sell it?" !!

3:01 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Big box containing a flash card with


printed on it?

3:29 pm, May 13, 2007  
Anonymous Bishop Hill said...

Ayesha Hazarika is a former special adviser to the Labour party. The interview therefore had three people who we can be sure were against HE up against Fiona and her son. This is what the BBC calls impartiality.

3:42 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

ROFL Tim! Yup, that'd do it! That'll be £50,000 please. Kerching! *Laughs all the way to the bank..*

Hi Bishop. Oh is she? I didn't realise that. Hmm.. looks like a bit of a set-up then?

4:22 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"Understanding will only come to people when they are ready for it, we will never be able to force it - if we do we are as guilty as the education system we dislike." - excellent point, in my opinion BTW

4:32 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

This study whilst acknowledging the value of autonomous learning does have the letters GPS included big brother aint gonna give in easily

8:50 pm, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Lin said...

Haven't got anything to add that hasn't been said already. Just wanted to say thanks to Fiona for putting forward the fact that 'lower class' parents are also fully capable of home educating.

Thanks also go to you Gill for the transcript. I'd missed the radio show and kicked myself when I saw it being discussed on another blog so it was great to be directed here for the transcript. :-)

10:09 am, May 14, 2007  
Blogger Mother Damnable said...

Gill thanks for the transcript!

I get so fed up of all the "class" B****Ks* YOU are up to the job we just worry about THEM!

Meanwhile school children are MURDERING each othe for goodness sake!

Where will it all end?

With unhappy, pre programmed people just using their robotic minds to go through life while the PTB laugh all the way to the bank as the plunder the earth, and ensure there will be no future but mindless financial slavery for future generations!

Oh wait a minute that's now isn't it?

1:36 pm, May 14, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

The classist comments irritated me no end (as did the others). I think Fiona and Theo did a great job of maintaining calm in the face of such ignorance.

I did enjoy listening to TM walking into being pulled up re. class though when he mentioned 'working class estates' (as I consider Fiona a friend so just knew she'd snap that one up straight away :0)

Sadly his attitudes are recognisable locally and I believe a similar 'world-view' informed part of my difficulties with the LA and that of other families in this area.

Going back to an earlier post, this has been flagged up:

(tubhat is the verification :D )

12:14 am, May 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...







1:27 pm, February 27, 2009  

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