Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why are home-educators so scared of being monitored?

Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board has responded to the Consultation on Home Education Guidelines with the claim that:

"One of the overarching themes identified during the course of the SCR [Serious Case Review] was that visitors from the Home Education Service were not able to see the children alone and were not able to gain the views of the children."

This refers to the Eunice Spry case, which was indeed a sickening catalogue of abuse perpetrated by a home-educating foster mother who was also a Jehovah's Witness. This case was a one-off. Home-educating parents do not usually abuse their children, any more than do Jehovah's Witnesses or foster parents. It seems extremely unfair that Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board should call, as their response does, for the law to be changed to enable regular monitoring in the form of home visits for electively home educating families.

In some ways I do sympathise with their position: Eunice Spry was free to abuse the children in her care for two decades in Gloucestershire, which does reflect badly on that Local Authority. But, as the excellent letter from Gloucestershire Home Educators to Beverley Hughes points out:

"The suggestion here is that if she had not had that legal right then she would not have had the opportunity to abuse the children. We would like to point out that she had been abusing the children while the Local Authority in the guise of Social Services was visiting. She was also approved by Social Services as a foster parent and eventually as an adoptive parent. Such approvals should be lengthy and stringent and should include talking to the children, yet Social Services missed any signs of abuse. When she did eventually adopt the children she was visited by the Local Authorities Home Visitors for home educators. Yet again the Local Authority did not pick up on any abuse, despite the authority voicing concerns on a number of occasions including just before Spry adopted the children. She was also seen, as were the children, by hospital staff and GP’s, yet no clear systematic abuse was noted or, if it was, no adequate action was taken to protect the children."

So, even if the law was changed to allow for regular monitoring of home-educating families, enabling face-to-face contact between Local Authority education employees and home-educated children, rare cases of abuse are unlikely to come to light.

So why are many home-educators so resistant to the idea of being regularly monitored by our Local Authorities? After all, we all home educate because we want the best for our children. No sector of the population was more horrified by the Spry case than ours. We do, with very few exceptions, cause them to receive efficient full-time education suitable ;
a) to their age, ability, and aptitude, and
b) to any special educational needs they may have,
exactly as required by law. In fact, it could be (and often is) argued that we are the only group of parents who are in a position to ensure the suitability and efficiency of the educational provision because we do not delegate this responsibility to Local Authorities, as most others do. The extent of our investment of so much time and commitment to our children's education demonstrates quite clearly how important it is to us and our children for the most part are in receipt of the highest quality of precision-targeted personalised educational provision. So, what have we got to be scared of from local authority inspectors? Here's what:

Regular, external monitoring of autonomous education causes serious damage to the quality of the provision.

I just had the following chat with Zara (15), in and amongst her packing to go and stay with friends for the week:

"How often do you feel curious about something and go and find out more about it, from books or the Internet?"

"Several times a day. All the time, actually. If I'm not working on my art stuff, I'm researching something I want to learn more about. Why?"

"I just wondered how that feeling of curiosity would be affected by the knowledge that you were due to be questioned about your education or even just your wellbeing by a Local Authority home education inspector today?"

"I'm not, am I?"

"No, silly! I'm just asking because I'm about to blog about why we don't like having home visits."

"Oh phew! Well, it'd just kill it. I wouldn't be curious about anything at all. In fact, I'd be terrified. The visit would stress me out for weeks, before and after, and so I wouldn't be learning much at all in that whole time."

"Why would it stress you out so much?"

"Well, what if they think I'm not learning the 'right' thing? Or that I'm not learning it in the 'right' way? Depending on their background and prejudices and opinions about what's important and what isn't, they might decide what I'm doing isn't 'good enough', even though it's perfect for me. That'd put me right off wanting to know anything about anything."

How many 15 year-old schoolgirls spend most of their time "researching something they want to learn more about"? Not many. All the ones I've ever known spent most of their time perfecting their make-up and developing their social life. Curiosity extended as far as wondering who fancied who and education was something undertaken with extreme unwillingness and reluctance. And yet Zara is no socially-excluded nerd. She loves make-up and fashion just as much as the next teenage girl and she has a wide circle of acquaintances. The only factor she doesn't share with most of her contemporaries is schooling. Zara is free to learn, therefore she wants to learn.

She doesn't have to justify that learning to anyone, or learn according to anyone else's schedule or priorities. She can follow her own interests and she is naturally interested in the world around her, as anyone else would be. She can read, write, work out bills and accounts, navigate the Internet, formulate and debate powerful arguments about current affairs and demonstrate many more functional skills which are necessary for her survival and success in the world throughout her life but above all else, she has curiosity and self-motivation.

And that's why we home educate. And that's what we're scared of being damaged by unwarranted intrusions from inspectors who know everything about schooling and nothing about home education. There's a LOT to lose from regular monitoring of home educators by home visits, and not a lot by way of safeguarding anything or anyone, to gain.

More on this from me later, I hope, when I've put Zara safely on her train and finished reading Fraggle Rock to Lyddie, amongst other things. Busy day today! I'm planning to finalise my response to the consultation tomorrow.


Blogger Louise said...

Oh! fraggle rock, have you had that since you were a kid then!

Zara explained so clearly why I would not want home visits. Although quite an eloquent person the thought of being grilled at my home with my kids present on my educational provision sends shivers down my spine. Sort of like being gulity til they deem you innocent. I know lots of people have lovely visits but it is still something I would rather do without yet I think the time is coming when we actually won't have a choice. Just like if you are a single parent on benefits that HAS TO work when your child is 12. Where is the choice there? A free country???
In the words of Jim Royle (because as a Mum on benefits all I do of course is sit watching the Royle family on tv!!!) "My a##e"!!!!!

11:46 am, July 26, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I've now got the theme tune stuck in my head (there's a few episodes on You Tube)

I just cannot support the need for monitoring HE - if the LA is using the Eunice Spry case as an argument for montioring then perhaps all Jehovahs Witnesses should also be monitored and there should be even more monitoring of foster carers (I've done the odd bit of work for SS but they rely on my OfSTED registration, so I've never actually had a social worker out re. the respite care I've done).

Of course this is utter madness, there is no reason to monitor Jehovahs Witnesses or foster carers because there is nothing that I know of that indicates that they are any more likely to abuse their children (or those placed in their care) and therefore it follows that HE-ers are no more likely to do so either.

How many other cases have there been in the news re. the abuse of HE-ed children (as no doubt the papers would seize upon that nugget of info.)?

I think any move towards monitoring based on the Eunice Spry case would be prejudicial.

12:04 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Pete said...

Dotty: Abuse by home educators pales into insignificance compared to abuse in schools by both children and adults.

But it's the norm, so "not news".

SO "not OUR responsibility" say social services.

How is home education something for SS to get involved with, when chronic, endemic bullying isn't?

12:57 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Another reason why people are anxious about monitoring is that they are fearful of an escalation of intervention in their lives. If x (education)person from the local authority doesn't think much of the tidiness of your house, or the speech patterns of your toddler, will they feel duty bound to send round y (social services) person? People don't generally want unrequested visits from strangers telling them how to live their lives.
It is so ironic because when people are *looking for* help and support from education, social or health services they often don't get it - or it's too late or inadequate.
Maybe if the birth families of those poor kids who ended up with Eunice Spry had been able to access decent support they wouldn't have ended up handing their kids over to a sadist.

1:24 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Re: Fraggle Rock Lou, I've no idea where it came from! But she caught the programme on someone's TV when she was out visiting and has been talking about it ever since. Then I caught sight of this on our bookshelves. It's the first book we've read together that's got proper chapters, so a big step-up for her. But because it's Fraggle Rock, it's keeping her interest.

As regards the single parent stuff, we should have a chat about that sometime :-)

Nikki, I'll have a look on You Tube! I gather it's replaying on one of the satellite cartoon channels but we don't have them here.

I fully agree with your whole comment, of course.

Pete, I assume that's a rhetorical question. Hope so anyway, cos I can't answer it! Good point, well-made :-)

Allie - yes, quite. It's an incursion too far into family home life. People can't live healthily under constant supervision. There's no need for it and it's not good for them.

Do we need to be countering some of this with evidence (perhaps in the form of existing research papers) demonstrating the psychological damage cause by living under surveillance?

1:50 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I noticed before the one and only visit we ever had the children were pole axed into frozen inertia. After it fretting and worrying cos of what was said and too focused on the outcome of the visit to do any coherant learning. The inspector was so derogatory about ds handwriting ( he was 6!) he didn't pick up a pen for a year after it and only on the absolute promise I never showed her it again. Why anyone would "welcome" H.V is beyond me. I would sooner have my teeth pulled with no anasthetic. They are nothing but an intrusive stress in my experience.

7:39 pm, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Very well-put Ruth. They're absolutely counter-productive. They're supposed to check that a suitable education is taking place, and what they actually do is prevent one from taking place.

8:25 pm, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Gill. I wasn't going to respond to the Consultation bec my child (sson to be children) are pre-school age.

But now I'm going to respond!!


6:45 pm, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Glad it helped, J :-)
All the best for your big event! xx

7:04 pm, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Rosie said...

Thanks for sharing Zara's views; it clearly demenstrates the problems with monitoring. I had a heated discussion about this topic the other night with an ex- headteacher- at my ta chi class! I'll have to blog about it if I can remember it enough.

2:00 am, July 29, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh I hope you do Rosie, that sounds like a good one.
My problem now is how to translate what Zara said into a consultation response. The thing is though, I get the feeling DSCF(? is that what they're called now?) doesn't actually care about children learning anything. I don't think there are many of us left who do, are there? Eventually earning, yes. Learning? Nah..

8:18 am, July 29, 2007  
Blogger shukr said...

This is so helpful. Thank you Zara. Not only might the children be affected this way, but I also will not parent/ educate my children with the same oomph and joy if I'm worrying about how to frame it all for the LA's satisfaction.
It's like giving birth, a process, an unfolding, the birth of the butterfly and all that.
I *love* being at home with my children, just watching them blossom into their own selves, it is nothing short of miraculous, and only because we are not on the end of somone else's string.

11:54 pm, July 29, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Beautifully-phrased, Shukr! :-)

12:46 am, July 30, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home