Why are home-educators so scared of being monitored?
"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.