Thursday, November 29, 2007

Consultation results and new guidance on EHE to LAs

The collated and summarised responses to this consultation on government's Home Education Guidelines to Local Authorities were published here today and the resulting new guidance can be downloaded from here.

I'm very pleased to see that they clarify certain points which have caused problems between some home educators and their LAs, such as:
  • "Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home";

  • "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";

  • "The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing";

  • "Section 175(1) [of the Education Act 2002] does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education";

  • "Section 11 of the 2004 [Children] Act sets out the arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, this section does not place any additional duties or responsibilities on local authorities over and above section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002";

  • "Local authorities should organise training on the law and home education methods for all their officers who have contact with home educating families";

  • "Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made";

  • "Home educating parents are not required to: ... provide a broad and balanced education .. [or] reproduce school type peer group socialisation"; and

  • "It should be appreciated that parents and their children might require a period of adjustment before finding their preferred mode of learning and that families may change their approach over time."

There are one or two points about which I'm less happy, for example:

3.11 Local authorities should bear in mind that, in the early stages, parents’ plans may not be detailed and they may not yet be in a position to demonstrate all the characteristics of an “efficient and suitable” educational provision. In such cases, a reasonable timescale should be agreed for the parents to develop their provision.

- which seems to make an automatic blanket assumption that local authorities will have information that makes it appear that the parents of recently deregistered children are not providing a suitable education in order for them to be seeking to agree a reasonable timescale for the supply of information about the provision; and at the end of section 3.6:

Parents might prefer, for example, to write a report, provide samples of work, have their educational provision endorsed by a third party (such as an independent home tutor) or provide evidence in some other appropriate form

- which term (appropriate form) just might encourage some authorities to imagine themselves to be the arbiters of such appropriateness.

But on the whole the guidelines seem sensible and sympathetic to the postcode lottery position to which EHE has previously been subject and appear to be a victory for civil liberty over the tyranny of some self-styled Home Education Inspectors - who will be duly outraged by them, I suspect.

So I'm relieved by this outcome and grateful to everyone who made efforts towards achieving it, but the price of freedom being eternal vigilence I see it as being a battle won, not the war.

When every parent and every child in the UK has a real, informed choice about whether and how to make use of state schooling, that will be a state of affairs to thoroughly celebrate.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Excellent letter from AHEd to Ed Balls

I love AHEd (Action for Home Education). Here is a letter the group has formulated and sent to Ed Balls, the Minister for Government Sticking its Nose into Family Life.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A petition, a game and some thoughts

I've signed this petition against the imminent Contact Point database, which plans to correlate many details about every child in the country and their families and make them freely available to any 'practitioner' - which essentially means anyone having contact with a child in a professional capacity. The idea, ostensibly, is for the various professional bodies within health, welfare and education to be able to pool and share information about children so that fewer problems are missed. But as the recent loss of 25m child benefit records (including names, addresses, bank account details, children's names and dates of birth) proves beyond all doubt, it is not safe or sensible to gather and store information in this way.

I don't believe in the motives for the child database anyway. Like many other ideas which pretend to be from central government (but which are, I think, actually generated by international business interests) it seeks to override and distort the natural functions of people, communities and societies. Most people instinctively care about children. This instinct is hard-wired into us to enable our species to survive. Yes, sometimes this mechanism fails, but I fundamentally disagree with the purported reasons for its failure.

If we didn't have a system of education and employment which focused primarily on training, by stick and carrot, people to do things they didn't really want to do - if, instead, we allowed educational freedom across the board then would people come to childcaring posts with their instincts and integrity intact? I suspect they would.

Also, if we didn't have multinational programmes of economic migration in the interests of facilitating the global economy instead of simply enabling people to live happy and healthy lives in strong home-based communities, then maybe we'd be in a situation where no children slipped through the net.

I'm being idealistic, I know. I am optimistic - perhaps not always realistic - about human nature, though I do realise that there will always be people who want to abuse children. But I think the Laming Inquiry went (as per its brief, no doubt) completely along the wrong track. We cannot and should not be relying on a collection of paid professional strangers to be responsible for children's welfare. Laming's report sought to strengthen this reliance instead of seeing it as the fundamentally flawed concept it is, and concentrating on finding the real reasons for Victoria's tragic death. Because Victoria Climbie was killed by her "aunt", not by her social workers, doctors and schoolteachers.

If I was Laming (which, of course, I wouldn't ever be, because this would require ethical contortions which are well beyond my capabilities) I would have been asking why Victoria was placed in the care of strangers, and why it was in this woman's interests (who wasn't exactly her aunt, I gather, but some kind of distant relation who had previously brought other children to the UK) to assume care of the child. Surely the fault and the blame lies in the underlying causes for this kind of child trafficking? Because if a child is a commodity to be bought and sold, the chances of that child coming to harm must multiply exponentially.

What kind of global economy is this, which tempts poor African families to send their children to the UK with strangers? Do they think our streets are paved with gold? Could they be seen as being correct in this belief, relatively speaking? Why do they think (or know) their children have no chances of improvement in their own localities, so that sending them here is seen as an opportunity for them? Wouldn't a responsible global economy which existed for the benefit of the masses want to get to the bottom of this phenomena and sort it out? But this one doesn't. Instead, it sees the solution as an opportunity to create more employment, therefore generate more spending - and as a licence to remove any remaining obstacles that prevented it from mining (and trading) our personal data.

In our grief for Victoria, numb with shock about the horrors of her short life, we allowed this deliberate distortion of logical process to go largely unchecked. Laming is a lord, so he must be right, we reasoned. And: what do we ordinary people know about the protection of children? we asked ourselves. Not enough to save Victoria.

I think we were wrong about that. Yes, The System did fail Victoria - but it was a much deeper, widespread, malevolent and more pervasive system than the one pertaining only to childcare professionals.

Which brings me onto this game, brought to my attention by Paula over at Aspie Home-Education (whose blog is an amazing mine of enlightening information). Opinions about this game are divided. It's meant to be for school children at Key Stage Three level - aged 11-14. But what is its purpose? Is it meant to encourage further acceptance of and compliance with an already corrupt system? Or dare we hope for the involvement of a secret subversive intent? Because playing the game through to its conclusion would certainly impact on anyone's thinking and assumptions.

Please, play it for yourself and decide. I'd be really interested to find out what more people think of it. You can access the game on this page. It's the one called 'State of Debate' - second in the list.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Never again

We went to one of our local parks the other day, which contains a Tudor mansion, the gardens of which are undergoing renovation. We spent some time looking at this and chatting to the workers before walking through the woods to the play area. Walking through the trees, we were looking at what grows there at this time of year and discussing the reasons for this. We also discussed the history and development of the area and its current pattern of management. In the play park we talked about the evolution of the health and safety culture, how insurance works and how the two are connected. And we played, of course. There's an excellent little zip wire and a bird's nest swing there, amongst other equipment. We discussed the possibility of building our own zip wire and had a look at their one to get an idea of how we might construct one.

This is all quite a normal day in the life of a home educating family, of course. There was nothing particularly special about this park visit that made it extra-educational or enlightening. But next we went to Sainsbury's and the checkout person asked Lyddie the increasingly inevitable question: "No school today?"

Lyddie just answered "No." I kept quiet and should have remained so on reflection, I think. Her way of handling it was probably far better than mine turned out to be.

"Are you ill?" persisted the woman.

"No," answered Lyddie.

"Oh! Why no school then?"

This is what I shouldn't have said, but did: "She's home-educated." I'm not going to respond in this way again, because by answering her question I justified her right to ask it. She wasn't even asking me, so there was absolutely no reason for me to take it upon myself to wade in and get involved.

Her next question to Lyddie (ignoring me) was: "What have you been doing today then?"

And, even after everything we'd just done at the park Lyddie came out with her standard reply: "Just watching TV."

She always says this to the question of 'What have you been doing?' and it is a bit much to ask of a five year-old to expect them to sum up their day's activities. 'Watching TV' means she can reply without having to think about what she has done. It's an automatic answer and it also has the virtue of being usually true to a small extent, even though it excludes everything else she's been doing. Lyddie usually likes to have Cbeebies on in the background at home while she's doing other things, though it's usually ignored.

Checkout person made an audible intake of breath and we could almost hear her thoughts as well: "*Gasp!* They're truanting then!" So I laughed and said: "She always says that!" and went on to talk about the renovation project at the park. Our interrogator was somewhat mollified but still obviously felt quite confident and right to be in the position of an 'interested member of the community', checking out Lyddie's educational provision.

Well, I'm not going to validate this position any more. Why should I contribute to the insane self-policing of society that says: "Every child should be in school." ? Next time someone asks Lyddie why she's not in school, I'm going to ask them why they're asking and at least force them to admit their suspicions. Even after that I will not supply explanations and will simply see what happens next. A call to the Education Welfare Department? The Police? Bring it on. We did more *education* in the park in that two hours than many school children do in a year, anyway.

Someone just said on one of the home ed lists that the phenomena of spot checks by strangers is increasing and our experience does bear this out. When we deregistered 8 years ago we were hardly ever asked. Now it's almost a daily occurence when we're out. Sometimes we're asked several times in one day to justify our reasons for not being in school.

The sight of a child in the company of its parent in school hours is increasingly treated with hostile suspicion when in fact this should be the natural, default scenario.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Home ed film

Here's a short film about home ed, first posted to this site by Georgie. I enjoyed watching it and would like to recommend it for anyone who is curious about what home education can look like in action.

Friday, November 09, 2007


etymology n (pl. -ies) 1 a the historically verifiable sources of the formation of a word and the development of its meaning. b an account of these. 2 the branch of linguistic science concerned with etymologies. [OF ethimologie f. L. etymologia f. Gk etumologia (as ETYMON, -LOGY)]
etymon n (pl etyma) the word that gives rise to a derivative or a borrowed or later form. [L f. Gk etumon (neut. of etumos true), the literal sense or original form of a word]

- The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

We go in for etymology quite a lot around here, and our copies of the above-cited Concise Oxford Dictionary, along with Collins and a few others, are well-thumbed. They're especially useful in deep, heated, (usually political) debates in which increasingly long and obscure words are being employed and finally someone says: "I'll look that up, to prove you wrong!" and the origins and exact meanings of a particular word are poured over and considered upon.

I find it fascinating. Our choice of words says so much about us and our motives and with words it's possible to change people's thinking about their view of 'right' and 'wrong'. Whole, lucrative professions are of course built on this alone - politics, religion, teaching and writing being the ones that immediately spring to mind. In many respects it could indeed be said that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Modern day English politicians seem to be particularly aware of the power and meaning of words, choosing them carefully and cunningly in an attempt to skew the public's perception of what they're actually saying. "Offering help" or "support" instead of "coercing", for example (see my previous post for documented instances of this). Then we get into the nonsensical realm of trying to assert people's 'responsibility to make full use of the support offered' - which sentence appeared several times in a government policy document I was reading recently, and which, of course, is another convoluted way of saying 'coercion'. I could go further and say 'bully' and probably would, if I was also a word-crafty politician. Except that then I'd be on the other side and having to buy into such laughable concepts as asserting people's 'responsibility to make full use of the support offered'.

In this world of word-warfare, a good dictionary is our best defence. Ours have also been key learning tools in our home education. Our teens are all extremely adept in their use of dictionaries and Lyddie became interested when she was about three years old, wondering why all those letters were indented into the pages. The appendices and preceding chapters contain invaluable information too. We often refer to these to check points of syntax, amongst other things.

According to this Wikipedia page, the original Oxford English Dictionary was the life's work of four men, three of whom died before its completion! I plan to invest in a full copy of this before much longer. Online dictionaries can be useful I find, but not as versatile as the real thing. You can't feel the weight - physical and metaphorical - in your hand of an online dictionary.