Thursday, February 19, 2009

My answers to the review questions

The deadline is tomorrow and I've deliberately left this until the last minute, to give myself as much time as possible to learn about the ECM outcomes referred to in the questions. I've read some absolutely brilliant responses from other people (and borrowed from some of them) though. If the nearly 1300 (so far) responses from home educators are properly taken into account, I can't see the outcome of the review presenting us with many problems and it might even solve a few. Well, we can hope.

1. Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.

YES. As far as I know, there is no system for specifically safeguarding children who are educated at home, and nor should there be. Local authorities already have powers to act if they are concerned about any individual family. S. 437 gives them the right to insist on information about home education if there are any doubts, and SAOs give them access to the child - once they have an SAO in force and the child is in school, they can see them. If there are cases that LAs are worried about they should use existing powers. Social workers always will have a difficult job. They don't have special powers to predict they future: they don't know which child will be hurt and which won't. They are paid to use fine judgement. They shouldn't expect the job to be easy, and the public must understand that mistakes will always be made. Policing the population to the point where mistakes are not made would be to completely remove any hope of familial privacy and autonomy.

2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

YES. Taken as read, without the distortion in meaning provided by the aims, and then the associated documents and indicators, there is no reason why home educated children should be less able than schooled ones to achieve those five outcomes, if there is a legal obligation for them to do so, though I can't find any such obligation written in law and I strongly believe that people should be allowed to determine their own outcomes.

(a) Be healthy

YES. I know several children whose health needs were not attended to in school and have had to be home educated to ensure their continuing good health. Home education affords freedom to exercise spontaneously throughout the day and to eat healthily when hungry, which children do naturally. Being confined to a classroom is not conducive to good health. The wording of the specific requirement for every child to receive '2 hours per week of high-quality PE and sport' needs to be changed to "every school child" to retain familial autonomy and to prevent Local Authority officers from feeling the need to try to assess the quality of physical exercise in home educated children.

(b) Stay safe

YES. Home educated children are usually far better supervised than schooled ones, spending most of their time with their parents and/or in small groups. The consistency of care for them enables any safety issues to be quickly spotted and resolved. If parents do not keep their children adequately safe from harm then this is a child protection issue for which there is a legislative and procedural framework, regardless of where the child is educated.

(c) Enjoy and achieve

YES. I've never met a home educated child who didn't enjoy and achieve. However, four out of five of the stated aims relating to this outcome are dependent on school attendance, which conflicts with Section 7 of the Education Act. These aims need to be rewritten in the framework to reflect the true legal position, in my opinion. The ability of home educated children to 'enjoy and achieve' would be impaired by Local Authority monitoring, which is stressful for children and their parents and which restricts the vital spontaneity that plays such a major part in our lives.

(d) Make a positive contribution

YES. Again, every home educated child I know can be said to do this and the specific aims listed under this outcome are not difficult for home educated children to meet. But the precise measures and definitions of 'Path to success' and 'Participating in high quality structured activities' are far too restrictive for home educating families. This and many other ECM framework-related problems for home educating families could easily be solved by the use of the term 'every schoolchild' instead of 'every child', and 'all schoolchildren' instead of 'all children' in all of the PSAs and DSOs. This will enable home educating families to retain their autonomy and home educated children to set their own outcomes without Local Authorities needing to be worried that they aren't meeting their statutory responsibilities.

(e) Achieve economic wellbeing

YES. Home educating families tend to be extremely good at managing their finances and I have never met a home educated child who was suffering from material deprivation in any way. But this outcome, on closer inspection, actually has two very specific *other* meanings. The first is a requirement that the family income be greater than 60% of the national average, after housing, tax and other standing charges are taken into account, and the second is that both parents should be working full-time. These are not legitimate requirements and, if imposed, will constitute a severe breach of human rights and civil liberties. They will also be extremely damaging to children, especially home educated ones whose stability and autonomy will be lost. The strategy being rolled out to attempt to impose these requirements needs an urgent rethink, in my opinion.

3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?. If you answered no, why do you think that?

NO. Section 10 of the 1984 Children Act speaks only of a duty to promote the outcomes, not an obligation to ensure them. This drift from 'promote' to 'ensure' can only be due to a severe case of mission creep which surely needs to be nipped in the bud. It is not a legitimate function of either local or national government to try to impose certain pre-set outcomes on people.

4. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?

NO. Absolutely not. There currently is no system for supporting home educating families and nor should there be. Individual families might ask their Local Authority for individual support and receive it or not, but this has never needed a 'system' and nor does it now. Also, recent government documents have led us to believe that 'support' is no longer a word that officially denotes voluntary participation on the part of those receiving it, so I don't think home educating families will be queuing up to request such a thing.

5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?

NO. Please read the latest Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities and you will then see that there is no system for monitoring home educating families, and nor should there be. Routine Local Authority monitoring of home educating families is both stressful and damaging to the children's education, because a child's will to learn is dependent on curiosity and spontaneity - both of which are stifled by official monitoring. I have had experience of this with my own children, and seen evidence of it in many other home educating families. This is why we resist the imposition of official monitoring systems for our children.

We have been officially asked for, and duly provided, our opinion on this so many times now in recent years that many home educating families are starting to feel severely harassed by these processes. I think it's safe to assume that if we didn't want an official monitoring system last year, or the year before, then we still don't want one now and nor will we next year, or the year after that.

6. Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?

I think that government - and any other sensible people - should resolutely ignore anyone who tries to incite hatred against a law abiding minority group by speculating in this way.


Blogger Gill said...

"Your response identifier is 1278."

11:02 am, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Just nodded my head off...extremely good response Gill and wishing I could drag mine back now and add a few more points!

12:35 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks very much Carlotta - you're very kind to say so. I was thinking it was a bit of a rush job, myself TBH. Not half as funny or direct as some (having just seen Heidi's daughter's hilarious response to the 'support Q' on AHEd, about which we're all in stitches here!) and not half as long and deeply considered as others (like yours). But well, I left it until the last day and had to fill it in while the children were all around me, being - well, children!

What do you think about the idea of trying to use the review to push for changes to some of the ultra vires wording in the ECM framework etc?

Bit late in the day for such a plan, perhaps, but the review is technically open to suggestions/comments until May, isn't it?

12:42 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

I especally love your neat answer to Q6. The CA was of course 2004 not 1984 though sci fi fans will recognise the slip!
I agree that the review is ongoing and we could /should all be submitting written responses direct to the DCSF review team if one knew who they were.
Like we haven't got anything better to be doing!
My kids are currently totally fed up with all this review business, as am I.

1:21 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh LOL, did I put 1984?? Doh. Freudian slip.

1:30 pm, February 19, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great response, Gill. I really think, with the way the questions are worded, and how they are so presumptious and loaded, that the person setting them must be either ignorant of the law himself, or hoping that respondents will be, and I said so in my response to the "monitoring" question.

It's just bloody insulting. And 1278 doesn't seem like a very high number - aren't there supposed to be about 20,000 home educators in this country or something? Where the hell are they all?

1:57 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

Debs, my son just did his response and got 1335. It is low really when you consider the numbers of HEers, BUT for a consult it's actually a pretty high number for us. Especially considering we've only had 5 weeks to get them in, and there is still a day to go, so I think we could get to 1500 or beyond, hopefully.

2:13 pm, February 19, 2009  
Anonymous Jax said...

I've been wondering where the home educators are too. I'm beginning to suspect that there is a large group who do not engage via the internet, who aren't a part of these consultations, they aren't reading our blogs and they aren't on our lists. They probably aren't aware of the groups they could be attending and may well be suffering all kinds of indignities at the hands of EWOs and social workers throughout the country.

How do we reach these ppl? Could we fundraise for adverts in magazines? Or could we get articles in these little free magazines that get handed out in doctors surgeries, in bounty packs and so on?

Any thoughts?

2:23 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

It's a good point, but I also think that if people aren't engaging with the wider HEing community, there must be a reason for this - i.e. they don't want to. Also many people are resolutely non-political and refuse to read, respond or think about such issues even if they're going to directly affect them. Weird (and very sad IMO) but true.

4:19 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger these boots said...

Just wanted to say that I have responded to the consultation (number 1403).

If you go to the consultation without registering or logging on, there is a box requesting your postal address. We are a family who are not known to our LEA and I was worried about having to give my address on the consultation response. However, I first registered with the Dfes site. I was not asked to fill in my address at any point on the registration form, just my name and email. Then I filled in the consultation online. At no point was I asked for my address. I also did not have to receive an email to confirm my registration, so presumably I could have used a bogus email and name if I was so inclined.

So - even if you are not known, please respond!

Please feel free to circulate this information to wherever it's useful.

5:12 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

And I would think there are quite a lot of people in home ed who are in regular contact with the LA, who follow the or a curriculum, and are therefore under the impression that this review is not about them. Or are not even aware of it. Do you think registered home edders have been notified personally about the consultation? They should've been... but somehow I don't think so.

5:15 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

Great response, Gill.

Jax, in my experience you are right when you say some people,
"probably aren't aware of the groups they could be attending and may well be suffering all kinds of indignities at the hands of EWOs and social workers throughout the country"
I think that can be the case. Once the PTB become aware that the family they are targetting is part of the local HE community and getting some support, they often back off.

One of the things we have worked hard to do here is try to ensure that EOTAS bods from our local LA give people an up-to-date list of all local groups etc. We just have to hope they do.

Having said that, Gill is right that some people just don't want to engage with group/community stuff.

5:25 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks for that you three. Yes, I wonder how many people might have responded if they'd known they could do so completely anonymously. I suppose we'll never know.

5:27 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Louise said...

Did mine today after putting it off lol. I was 1315. Wondering if my big girls would like me to help them fill one in now ....

6:26 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

Great response Gill. Mine was 2202but tbh I found it hard going. Whatever I said seemed like it could be misconstrued. I think that is what they were hoping for by the wording of the questions. I also pointed out there is no system for monitoring and support but did wonder after I clicked submit if that was precisely what they want to hear so they can then say "We will put one in place." Same with the 5 outcomes. They don't apply to HE children but I bet they are wanting to make sure they do. I fear a huge change of law is being foisted on us very soon. It is depressing.

As regards reaching HE who are not on the internet all I can think of is posting infomation in places they may go like libraries and asking HE who attend local groups to put them in the picture. I agree tho Gill some HE do not want anything to do with it which is very shortsighted but their choice. I have seen that on lists lately when the whole thread is about this consultation and someone comes on whining about something that can wait until after it..sorry for being a grumpy old cow:)

6:46 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

1315 is good going, isn't it? I wonder how exactly they're going to be "analysed and presented to the Reviewer". That's quite a job for somebody, isn't it?

Ruth, it's a matter of working out how and where the law can be changed though. I can't work it out myself, except to bring out a piece of statutory guidance, which would presumably fit in well enough after a three-month full public consultation spell in early summer, to coincide neatly with all the publicity surrounding the KI case.

6:56 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

We're up to 1400 now apparently..

7:00 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

Ruth, it's a matter of working out how and where the law can be changed though. I can't work it out myself, except to bring out a piece of statutory guidance, which would presumably fit in well enough after a three-month full public consultation spell in early summer, to coincide neatly with all the publicity surrounding the KI case.

Well that is what I think too. They know well enough none of us are going to adhere to any "new guidelines" so to make us comply with any of their half baked ideas they will have to change the law ( easy to do now cos of SI)and it will be easier to do that on the back of the KI case when they will hope to gain public support. It is almost pre-planned. I have always wondered why the KI case has been so long in coming to court.

7:01 pm, February 19, 2009  
Blogger Merry said...

Max is busy doing his now and i plan to do it with my eldest 3 tomorrow as well.

I like that you've been concise and informed - and not lost your temper - well done! (I was slightly rude on mine!)

8:52 pm, February 19, 2009  
Anonymous Techno said...

Over 1600 now. Seems a lot of us have mulled our responses over for as long as possible.

Thanks again, Gill, couldn't have responded as well as I did without your efforts over the last couple of weeks. Loved your response to Q6. Pithy & concise.

11:24 pm, February 19, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all you comments and thoughts on the whole consultation malarky, I took alot of it on board when answering (no 1094). Great to-the-point- response. :-)

11:43 pm, February 19, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smiley face :o)

Much love n admiration.
Tracy M

12:13 am, February 20, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

As this was announced as a consult that turned into a review and as responses to letters from dcsf do not commit to consulting before acting on the findings because technically in holding a review that seeks widespread input they can claim to have consulted (whilst avoiding complying with consult rules) I am alarmed to find this 'consultation' that is going to have it's report published in the spring.
Try not to choke when you read the sections describing moving childrens services into school, SS, maverick paediatricians and thought police on hand ready to process all the neglected children

I do like your response Gill :)

12:32 am, February 20, 2009  
Blogger Heidi said...

We reached 1600 last night, I believe. Mine was 1869, just after 2 today. Come on, you HEds!!! lol

I was rude in places - no time to calm down and re-edit before submitting.

2:59 pm, February 20, 2009  

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