Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The petition, and DCSF replies

First, we've got a petition about the review.

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to to remind his government that parents must remain responsible in law for ensuring the welfare and education of their children and that the state should not seek to appropriate these responsibilities."

It only went up late yesterday and it's already got 353 signatures. I've put a link near the top of my sidebar list: I'm looking forward to watching that grow.

Next, people have received some replies to their complaints to DCSF. I'm pleasantly surprised that the replies seem to vary a bit this time: we're used to all receiving the same duplicated statement that essentially means nothing, but some of the ones that came in yesterday were actually quite interesting - and illuminating.

I'll quote the relevant excerpts that stood out in my mind, and tell you what I thought when I first read them:

The Review of Home Education is being led by Graham Badman, former Director of Children's Services at Kent County Council. Mr Badman has decided that he wants his review to be informed by material from a wide range of stakeholders, so he decided to offer the opportunity for organisations and individuals to contribute to the review by filling in a questionnaire.

A wide range of stakeholders?? How dare these people claim to hold stakes in our families? I'm talking about the Local Authority officers who were presented with this set of sixty of the most leading questions you could ever possibly come across. Stakeholders? How? Why?

Once the Review is complete it will be presented to Ministers who will then decide whether or not to take forward any of the recommendations. We anticipate that any Review recommendations that trigger proposals to change the law or guidance would be subject to a full public consultation.

This looks like a pre-arranged plan to me. Just call me cynical.

We are committed to ensuring that systems for keeping children safe, and ensuring that they receive a suitable education, are as robust as possible.

Why are they running schools then?

We have been progressively strengthening the systems and it is good practice to ensure that they are operating as intended. An independent review of home education is part of this continuing commitment to strengthening the system and to ensure all children achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes.

Now hang on a minute. Is it written in law that our children have to have these five outcomes foisted on them, whether they want them or not? Let's see:

The law in question is Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 and it says nothing about "ensuring all children achieve the outcomes". It actually says:

"Arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the well-being of children in the authority’s area so far as relating to .. [the five outcomes]"

which in itself is a ridiculous statement that ignores the existence - let alone the importance - of parents and fails to allow children to set their own outcomes. But still, "..with a view to improving.." is a very different thing from "..ensuring all children achieve..", isn't it? A definite case of mission creep if I ever saw one.

The guidelines on home education that we issued last year have not resolved the concerns of some LAs about their ability to fulfil their responsibilities in relation to home educated children.

Right, and those sixty questions aren't designed to exacerbate those concerns or anything, are they?

We know there is an issue now and it is right that we identify any barriers – perceived or real – to children’s entitlement to achieve the five outcomes. We will take whatever action is necessary to strengthen the arrangements.

They're going to close the schools? ;-)

We are not singling out home educating families. Every child – whether home or school educated, is entitled to the five Every Child Matters outcomes.

It's just.. urgh. I haven't even got words for this, but will try. First, attending school does not lead to the outcomes in question. School children might be better trained in giving the required responses, but come on. I don't need to trawl up all the 'schools are failing' news stories, do I? We'll be here all day.

And is every home with a child in it going to be subjected to monitoring and visits? Oh - probably, if some of these people have anything to do with it. But the crucial point is: would visits and monitoring actually make any positive difference to the chances of those outcomes being achieved? Of course not! Inspection visits into the family home are extremely stressful events to endure. They will do nothing whatsoever to "ensure" that any children are being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution (I still don't know what this actually means) or achieving economic well-being. The repeated visits to Eunice Spry's children didn't, did they? As a non-abusing mother I've received LA visits from a reasonable and friendly LA liaison person, and still I can tell you, there is nothing remotely helpful about them. It's an ordeal, and it's frightening because the family is at the mercy of whatever prejudices the inspector may hold.

The Department has recently announced a review of safeguarding in independent schools, non maintained special schools and boarding schools.

Has the department issued a press release suggesting that children at independent schools, non maintained special schools and boarding schools are at risk of abuse, neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude? I don't think so, which rather gives the lie to:

We are not singling out home educating families.

However, parents who abuse or neglect their children will find it easier to conceal this if they say they are educating their child at home as they will not be seen regularly by a teacher or other professional.

Every single abused person I know went to school. I have never knowingly met a home educated victim of abuse.

This means that LAs do not have the same level of assurance about the welfare of children being educated at home, and there is a greater risk that the warning signs of abuse of a child not in school will not be picked up at an early stage.

So, don't other abused children have families? Friends? Neighbours? All that the school system does is have people looking for an arbitrary set of signs which could (and will) encompass everybody and everything. A naturally shy child who clings to her mother; a responsible family using alternative medicine; a headstrong child who prefers not to wear coats; a child who will not be hugged when distressed.. the list goes on, and ordinary, loving families will be hounded and persecuted on this basis, while children who are being seriously abused and neglected will go unnoticed, as ever.

We are aware of allegations and concerns in this area but we want to establish what evidence is available.

That's easy, we can help you with that. Straight from the horse's mouth. "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no," as Vijay Patel, the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor famously said on Radio 2. But perhaps he meant to add a " - yet.". Well, good luck with that, Mr Patel.

This is not just about that whether or not home education is currently used to cover child abuse, but also about ensuring that proportionate measures are in place to prevent it being used in future as a cover for neglect, forced marriage, or other forms of child abuse.

Yes, we know all about your 'child neglect' and our children are all being made to wear coats now, etc., whether they wanted to or not. Thanks for that.

Home education is protected through the Human Rights Act.

Good, but isn't that being scrapped?

There are no plans to change the right to educate at home.

Just to make it as difficult as possible, and lucrative for the various businesses and industries concerned.

I'm pinning my hopes on Mr Badman being a good man and giving due weight to all the "evidence" he receives in the course of his review. But those sixty questions don't bode well in that respect, do they?


Blogger Louise said...

I can't remember where but I read something about there being a follow up consultation. I reckon like most things it IS pre-planned. A bit like the welfare reform - lone parents who home-educate where never going to be exempted. It feels like we live in a democratic society but all it really means is some people believe that we are listened to because we have things like these coonusltations but in my mind they already have an agenda and go ahead with what they want to do anyway. Grrrrrrrrr.
And OMG I read the LA questions. It brought me back to my A level sociology. Thinking of how subjective and leading those questions are. The LA's must be rubbing their hands in glee right now.

10:08 am, February 04, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

I think you're right, Lou and yes, some LAs will be very pleased indeed by those 60 questions. We're just like prey to some of them, aren't we?

I think there's going to be a public backlash soon though. When you take this kind of thing into account along with the anti-poverty stuff and the 'Normal Family Life = Child Abuse' NICE guidelines, well - they might slip it all in as legislation, but when it starts seriously affecting normal people's lives, it will start to be challenged. I hope!

4:17 pm, February 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm finding your blog very informative. Thank you for the time you are taking over this.

I do hope there is a backlash soon. the Ending Poverty document doesn't even veil the words of getting EVERY PARENT into work. That means forcing mothers away from their children doesn't it?
I have a single mum about to join my homeschool group. I really hope she will be able to stay home with her daughter who has been badly bullied in school. (Gosh! There's an unusual story!)

4:35 pm, February 04, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Mum6kids. Thanks for your kind words.

It does indeed mean trying to force mothers apart from their children and that should be spelled out at every opportunity, IMO.

As for your single mother friend, she perhaps already knows that Working Tax Credit + Child Tax Credit for single parents engaged in 16+ hours a week of paid work roughly adds up to the current rates of Income Support, and that the work can be self-employed, and based at home. It doesn't even have to be able to provide any actual extra income, as long as it's working towards that. Well, you can't force a business to be profitable all the time, right from the word go, can you?

I know people who are planning to write books, for example, or do accounts, or just set up ebay shops.

Not that any of that makes it ok, but it might help your friend to keep managing. I hope she does. :-)

4:49 pm, February 04, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

Some of you comments made me smile Gill:) I think tho it is a done deal. I am sure this is an exercise in being seen to be "fair" but behind the scenes they have already made up their minds what course of action they are determined to take.

9:57 pm, February 04, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

Do you have a link somewhere on how to contact the DCSF? I'm assuming these are not letters in response to the questionnaire or am I mistaken?

8:29 pm, February 05, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth, I think you're right. If this review goes nowhere, I will be extremely surprised.

Lotusbirther, I'll have a look around...

These seem to be the addresses people have written to. They've then received replies from different people, but their emails did get processed.

You can see some letters and their replies here.

4:02 am, February 06, 2009  
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1:30 pm, February 27, 2009  

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