Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A précis on our specific problems with the five outcomes. And a brief note about Professor Heppell.

Apparently there is a need for a précis on our specific problems with the five outcomes. I've written quite a lot about them in the past week or so and, having studied some of the associated Public Service Agreements, aims and indicators I think they might potentially present serious problems for any parent. But I will attempt some brevity now and try to narrow the issues down to those pertaining to Elective Home Education.

'Make a positive contribution' mostly relates to young people being on something called the 'Path to Success', and this in turn relates to them working towards certain levels of qualification by certain ages. But 'success' is a subjective term, with more than one definition. My 'young people' here, for example, have all chosen not to work towards any qualifications because they wanted to continue focusing on their own off-syllabus work instead. They're not concerned about 'getting a job' because their career plans are all about self employment, in fields that don't require specific (or any) qualifications and of course they're free to gather them later in life, should this prove necessary. So, although at first glance they comply with the five 'aims' of 'make a positive contribution' (especially 'develop enterprising behaviour') they won't score on the many indicators or other PSA measures of this outcome. Will this ever be a problem for us? I don't know. It depends on how strictly the PSAs are interpreted by various officers and overseeing bodies. But it could well be. This outcome also requires 'More Participation in Positive Activities', which on closer inspection turns out to mean: 'Participating in high quality structured activities' mostly relating to Extended Schools. While most home educated children can be said to 'participate in high quality activities', the structure of these is not always apparent and - until now - hasn't had to be. Our children don't generally tend towards criminal activities, but will this be taken into account by the enforcers of this outcome?

'Achieve economic wellbeing' is perhaps the most worrying of the five outcomes for many home educating families, especially the associated aim 'Live in households free from low income'. This is not a vague term, but is measured specifically as being less than 60% of the national average income, after taking housing, income and council tax and standing charges into account, which leaves a figure that I think most home educating families will never earn, especially as it disregards Child Tax Credits and other government support. But most of us are sensible and thrifty people whose children lack no essential provisions. Yet will this be taken into account? From reading the relevant PSA, it seems not. Furthermore, there is a stated intention to involve Job Centre Plus as one of the listed 'relevant partners' with a view to ensuring that all parents achieve full-time employment. It's not difficult to spot the obvious problem this will present to most home educating families.

'Be healthy' also relates to the 'path to success', as well as 'offering a varied menu of activities and childcare between 8.00 am and 6.00 pm, including sports activities, play and other recreational activities;' - which is OK as long as it remains a mere offer, but not if it becomes a compulsory requirement, as home educating families are usually accustomed to arranging their own sports, play and other recreational activities. There is also a specific requirement to ensure each child receives '2 hours per week of high-quality PE and sport' which again leaves us at the mercy of whoever will be judging the quality of our children's PE. Until now, as parents, we've been trusted to evaluate these things for ourselves but there is nothing in the ECM framework and associated PSAs to indicate that we will continue to be so trusted and, in fact, a lot to say otherwise.

Four of the five aims of the 'Enjoy and achieve' outcome refer directly to school attendance which, of course, home educating families won't meet. Straight away, that presents a problem to Local Authorities who think they have to ensure that every child meets all of these specific aims. If the review of elective home education does nothing else useful for us, it could at least recommend that these aims be rewritten to encompass other methods of educating than at school, in line with Section 7 of the Education Act.

The Staying Safe: Action Plan [opens pdf], relating to the 'Stay safe' outcome, refers to 'different services working together as a Team Around the Child (TAC), using the Common Assessment Framework and sharing information where necessary about children at risk of harm'. If the definition of 'harm' means 'not achieving the official measure of all of the four outcomes' due to home education then this presents us with a very real problem. Also, many of us home educate partly to protect our children from the well-documented damage that repeated testing and monitoring can inflict, but the ECM programme in its detail seeks to override that parental decision.

We can perhaps look to the review to clear up some of these issues for us.

On the subject of the review, I note that Professor Stephen Heppell, of the panel of 'experts' being consulted, has failed on two occasions now to answer my direct question: "What is your interest in Elective Home Education?" even though he was participating in the discussion. This omission speaks volumes, as does the result of our poll yesterday, in which 266 people said they thought the position of home educators did not seem to be adequately represented in this review so far, and only 3 people said they thought it did.

When Professor Heppell complained that my analysis of him was incorrect, I withdrew my comments immediately and apologised. I trust that when the review is published, home educators will be afforded the same courtesy.


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